The Focal Point

The Future of Media Education, the Death of Textbooks, and Other Minor Matters

Photo by Thyago

I’m gearing up for my annual trek to the University Film and Video Association Conference (UFVA), which runs August 3-6 in Boston at Emerson College, one of the world’s top film programs. Hundreds of film and video professors will be convening to discuss curriculum, screen films, scope out educational resources, and connect.

Why I Go

UFVA is my favorite conference for networking with current and prospective authors, as well as identifying emerging curriculum trends we need to address. Unlike NAB, which sometimes resembles The Amazing Race, UFVA is a relaxed and intimate event conducive to conversations.

Come talk to me, I’m easy to spot: I’m the one handing out free textbooks and asking for feedback. (First one’s free, then the kids pay. Pretty sweet deal.)

Success Stories

Every time I think there’s a book on absolutely everything, I meet someone who has a completely fresh take on a seemingly over-published subject. And that actually gives me shivers down my spine. And this often happens at UFVA.

A perfect case study: I got to know Mick Hurbis-Cherrier (Hunter College) there. He’s the author of Voice & Vision: A Creative Approach to Narrative Film and DV Production, now in its second edition. I love this book for reasons Hamp Overton (University of New Orleans) expressed best: “Too many textbooks leave out the ‘why’ when explaining production. It’s easy to get sidetracked into explaining technical details, but unless you can explain its relevance to the story, why teach it?”

As if Mick were not already a charming and brilliant author, he also introduced me to his colleague (and illustrator!) Gustavo Mercado, whose book The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition published to rave reviews and has already been translated in many languages—the Turkish edition just hit my desk today.

Last year, I was introduced to Kathryn Ramey (Emerson College), who wanted to write a book on experimental filmmaking. Score! I’d been looking for the right book in this area for years, knowing that the primary resource was Xeroxes of Xeroxes of a handwritten booklet. In the succeeding year, the germ of an idea has developed into a solid book, and we’re meeting to discuss the schedule and publishing plans.

The Future of Media Education

This year’s theme is the future of media education, which is building into a crisis in the field, not just for educators, but also tech firms and content companies like ours. The entire landscape is changing before our eyes:

  • Students—especially film students—are visual, experiential learners.
  • Now that gear is so inexpensive and powerful, students arrive at college with lots hands-on experience.
  • Genres are blending and morphing. Does it still make sense to have separate film and TV departments, for example?
  • Learning is not necessarily bound to the classroom and can take place online and in any number of formats.

Are Textbooks Dead?

I’ll be participating in a panel on August 6 called Are Textbooks Dead? and tackling some of these issues with our esteemed moderator Robert Patton-Spruill (Director-in-Residence, Emerson) and panelists Hakan Satiroglu (Director of Business Development, Xplana), Jason Tomaric (FilmSkills), Howard Phillips (Center for Digital Imaging at Boston University), and Daniel Gaucher (Emerson College).

Spoiler alert: as a textbook publisher, I probably won’t be working the death angle too hard: textbooks are changing, they’re not going away. And Focal Press (still spritely at 73, thank you very much) is changing, too. We serve visually-oriented readers with drastically changing media consumption habits, and we are responding with visual, affordable, and multimedia-rich options on a number of platforms.

As well, we’ve teamed up with filmmaker and author Jason Tomaric to launch FilmSkills, a groundbreaking video-based web site built in partnership with hundreds of educators—including our academic advisors at Emerson, Rob Patton-Spruill and Rob Sabal.

It’s the visual way to learn about all aspects of filmmaking, and we think of it as a living, breathing online textbook and curriculum support tool. If you’re an instructor, you can judge for yourself by trying out a free trial here.

Here’s to a memorable UFVA where we sort this all out!


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1 Comment
   Leigh Mosleu said on August 2, 2011 at 11:05 am

Good, terse article – especially for high school media teachers who need to share resources.

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