Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Lights, Camera, Action ... Using "Reel" Life to Bring "Real" Life into the College Classroom

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Lights, Camera, Action ... Using "Reel" Life to Bring "Real" Life into the College Classroom

Article excerpt


Among its seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education, the American Association of Higher Education includes the encouragement of active learning, the encouragement of cooperative learning among students, and respect for diverse talents and ways of learning. Research in higher education supports the contention that integrating both active learning and cooperative learning strategies into the college classroom enhance the learning environment.

While there does exist a rich menu of alternatives to traditional projects which faculty can add to their repertoire, it is important to continue to communicate to colleagues methods which have proved successful in the classroom. This article describes the use of movies or "reel life" to enhance the learning experience by bringing "real" life into the classroom and having students apply what they have learned. One specific project, the Movie Project, which has been developed over several semesters and used in an individual income tax accounting course, is presented in detail.

Evidence from the authors' classrooms as well as the literature indicates that students not only enjoy the projects but also develop an appreciation of the impact of the subject matter on their everyday lives.


The subject matter in both authors' classrooms--income tax accounting and health information management--is highly technical and statute-oriented. While traditional lecture and other more passive learning methodologies are employed for the initial introduction to the material, research in higher education (Bonwell & Eison, 1991; Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991; Meyers & Jones, 1993; and Silberman, 1996) and business education (Becker, 1997; Bradford & Peck, 1997; and Salemi, 2002) shows that effective instructors select alternative strategies that involve students as active participants in the learning process (the concept of active learning) and use a variety of teaching methods including their superior presentation skills to stimulate interest in the subject matter. Active learning includes any of a number of activities in which the students participate rather than passively listening to a traditional lecture. "A single teaching method typically cannot create all the conditions necessary for a given learning objective. In practical terms, an accounting instructor needs to carefully employ multiple teaching methods to achieve all the learning objectives of a given accounting course, since these objectives likely encompass the full range of types of objectives" (Bonner, 1999). With active learning, less emphasis is placed on the transmission of information and more on developing higher-order thinking skills in the students. Students must "talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives" (Chickering & Gamson, 1987).

The Movie Project in tax accounting is a group project. Working in peer groups, a first step in "cooperative learning," can be useful in helping students understand and retain material, aids in developing better communication skills, (Lie, 1999) and helps students prepare for the reality of the job-world where cooperative interaction is a daily occurrence (Kagan, 1994). In more than 168 studies conducted between 1924 and 1997 which compared the efficacy of cooperative, competitive (students compete against each other for the higher grades) and individualistic (students are evaluated against predetermined criteria) learning, results indicate significant increases in achievement when cooperative learning strategies are employed rather than competitive or individualistic approaches (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1998). Further, these studies indicate that interpersonal relationships are enhanced when cooperative rather than competitive means are used (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1998). Other researchers report that students are more willing to take responsibility for (their) educational experience when they have more input into decisions (as will be seen, in the case of the Movie Project this involves the decision to include an issue on the identification list) rather than being dependent on and subordinate to the teacher (Rubin & Hebert, 1998, and Forsyth & McMillan, 1991). …

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