“This is what I was trying to say”: challenging outcome led documentary filmmaking in higher education

Ross Adamson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An outcome led approach to learning reflects and helps produce performativity as a key ‘policy technology’ (Ball 2003) in the construction of student and teacher subjectivities. In such assessment procedures, complex social processes of learning are reduced to simplified ‘categories of judgement’ (op cit.). I have been teaching a documentary storytelling module for over five years and I consider documentary filmmaking as one such ‘complex social process’. Students in my classes choose to make films about people, places and issues of importance to them. However, in this teaching, in line with much educational practice, I assess my students’ documentary filmmaking solely in terms of technical, aesthetic and administrative criteria. Reduced to these bullet pointed learning outcome statements, the actual complexity of the cultural, technical and social activity that comprise filmmaking is solidified into a commodified form. The actual lived experience of engaging with others during filmmaking is marginalised, or worse, completely ignored by my current practice. This paper describes action research with my students that aims to understand the emergent learning involved in filmmaking which lies outside a commodified learning outcome approach. Through ‘active inter-views’, the research is opening up a space in which I can engage with my students in meaningful dialogue about their university work freed from the prescriptions of curricular activity. Rather than merely finding out from my students what they’ve learnt, the research encounter is jointly productive for both participants. I argue that such research can contribute to a critical pedagogy through its emphasis on a reconfiguring of teacher and student subjectivities and by recognising the educational significance of documentary filmmaking as an ethical and social act.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCinema Journal Teaching Dossier
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2015


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