Several years ago, an articulate student first raised the question in one of our classes of whether showing video clips—brief excerpts from films—was a legitimate educational activity, or just some kind of delicious, illicit scam in which students get to groove on movies while hanging out, and faculty get to goof off while pretending to higher pedagogic purpose.
Today, we openly welcome such expressions of conspiratorial skepticism, to the point of sometimes referring in class to this form of learning experience as SCAMS—“Strategically Crafted Audiovisual Moments.” Where the strategy comes in is in trying to break away from the idea that, in the classroom, the text is primary and the video clip secondary: we try to match the video clip (almost always less than ten minutes in length) and the course content closely enough to permit the clip to complement (rather than just supplement) the text content. The video clip is a dramatic way to capture a class’s attention, and this helps us to achieve course objectives more effectively. Our ideal is to identify and apply a clip that not only grounds and realizes an important concept from the printed text in a concrete though unfamiliar context, but also allows us to extract and explore relevant related concepts in guided discussion. One reason for our confidence and enthusiasm about this technique is that we have seen marked improvement in student understanding of the course concepts we teach when we use video clips, compared to our earlier, textbook-only versions of our courses. Another reason is that, in their end-of-semester course evaluations, students rate the way video clips are used as one of the most effective features of both courses.