Academic journal article Adult Learning

Moving beyond "Bookish Knowledge": Using Film-Based Assignments to Promote Deep Learning

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Moving beyond "Bookish Knowledge": Using Film-Based Assignments to Promote Deep Learning

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article investigates the effectiveness of a film-based assignment given to adult learners in a graduate-level group counseling class. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with four students; data analysis suggested film-based assignments may promote deep approaches to learning (DALs). Participants indicated the assignment helped them draw connections between the film and the course material as well as helped make course concepts more concrete and applicable to their professional settings. The article also presents instructional design strategies for incorporating film-based assignments in adult learning settings.

Keywords: deep learning, film- based pedagogy, adult learning, instructional design

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Educators strive to help students develop meaningful understanding of important concepts, while recognizing students' own approaches to learning can be as important as teachers' instructional strategies. This article investigates the effectiveness of a film-based assignment given to adult learners in a graduate-level group counseling class. The idea of students learning deeply, rather than settling for surface understanding, resonates as a worthy aspiration. Despite this hope, Weimer (2012) stated, "Sometimes our understanding of deep learning isn't all that deep" (para. 1). Deep learning is often defined by what it is not: It is not a focus on memorization or being satisfied with minimum requirements (Hamm & Robertson, 2010), it may not correlate with test scores (Biggs, 1987; Campbell & Cabrera, 2014), and students may not be using deep approaches to learning (DALs), even when they think they are (A. Anderson, Johnston, & McDonald, 2014; Ke & Xie, 2009).

The focus on what deep learning is not leaves researchers to explore what deep learning is, and it leaves practitioners wondering how to promote it. In addition, much of the research (e.g., Martin & Saljo, 1984; Nelson Laird, Seifert, Pascarella, Mayhew, & Blaich, 2014) seeks to evaluate the learner's inclination toward deep or surface learning approaches. In our recent evaluation of a film-based assignment given to adult learners (graduate students), we noticed participants alluding to DALs; this observation led to a targeted analysis of the data, specifically related to DALs. In this article, we first explore and compare deep/surface approaches and film-based learning as presented in the literature. We then briefly describe the assignment that fostered DALs and outline the findings of our supplementary analysis (Heaton, 2008) exploring the following research question:

Research Question 1: How do adult learners in a graduate-level counseling class experience deep approaches to learning in response to a film-based assignment?

We conclude by identifying instructional design principles that adult educators can apply to promote deep learning among students. Ultimately, this article suggests intentional course design can promote DALs.

Literature Review

Although the classroom use of films is well established within counselor education (e.g., Toman & Rak, 2000), this case explored the effectiveness of a film-based assignment for promoting learning objectives. Therefore, this literature review draws from research related to deep and surface approaches to learning as well as literature surrounding film-based teaching and learning.

Deep and Surface Learning

The fundamental difference between deep and surface learning, as described by Martin and Saljo (1984), is "whether the students focused on the text in itself or on what the text was about" (p. 39). They found students who concentrated on understanding what a text (or lecture) was about were better able to remember content, while students focused on remembering discrete pieces of information were less likely to remember content or grasp the overall point of the text. Campbell and Cabrera (2014) explored the connection between responses to the DAL scales on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and grade point average (GPA), finding that, while pre-college academic ability was a significant contributor to GPA, the DAL scales on the NSSE did not significantly contribute to student GPA. …

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