The Speech Communication Teacher: An Experiential Intercultural Communication/Video Documentary Course

Sandy Sudweeks
Golden West Community College

Goal: To strengthen teaching and learning about issues of diversity through an experiential education model which integrates an intercultural communication course with student video documentary training and campus/community presentations.

Recently I participated as a faculty team member in the -ISM (N.) Project, a national media arts/public service grant funded through the Institute for Public Media Arts to utilize video documentary as an educational tool for reflection, learning and empowerment regarding issues of diversity. The goal of the team-taught course was to provide an experiential course wherein students would gain the knowledge, theory and skills to work across lines of difference in increasingly diverse communities. Although this was an extensive curricular and faculty development project of a broad scope, the course itself could be modified to be taught effectively at any campus that has a video technology department or instructional unit.

The majority of the course we taught focused on developing intercultural knowledge and skills. I taught a modified version of the typical intercultural communication course, which I adapt according to the student population and current events. For this project, I removed some of the course material and assignments to allow for video documentary instruction and development. The video instruction was a brief, general introduction to documentary production.

Student Recruitment: The course, not surprisingly, requires more work than a typical intercultural communication course. Although the intercultural communication academic content and assignments were modified to allow for the introduction of the video instruction, students must put in more time than usual outside of class to develop and complete their videos. For example, when making videos it is necessary to shoot more footage than is to be used in order to have adequate material for final editing and selection. Consequently, students need to be aware of the greater demands of the course, as well as the unusual opportunities that it provides for education, skills and technological development. The course is particularly attractive to students in the social sciences, film and video, business, education, social services and student campus life. It is also attractive to international students because of the unusual education and the opportunity to work closely with American students. I publicized the course through fliers, presentations in other courses and campus clubs, and faculty solicitations, emphasizing the knowledge and skills to be gained, the fun of working with other students, and the "resume value" of the course for future academic and career development.

Teaching Team Development: To develop a similar course, the instructors who work together will be working closely to integrate the two components of the course. It is important that they understand and value the opportunities and demands of developing a "learning community," can work cooperatively, are committed to student development, and are flexible. This is a project which puts extra demands on both students and instructors, and the use of technology can create unexpected events. It is also valuable for the instructors to be committed to cooperative learning strategies (structured, interdependent learning and discussion strategies), as experiential learning does not lend itself well to "teacher-centered" instruction. In all, this project is an exciting opportunity to teach and learn at a level not common in the typical classroom.

Instructional Resources: The text I generally use in the intercultural communication course is Bridging Differences: Effective Intergroup Communication, because of its coverage of key issues and because it has many useful self-assessment surveys on pertinent topics. I supplement the text with other readings and newspaper articles on topical issues as the basis for short reflection papers prior to class discussions, and I show classroom videos or lend them to students for extra credit viewing. A variety of newspapers can be viewed on the internet (e.g., LA Times, NY Times). Many of these newspapers have extensive coverage of diversity issues, and articles can be downloaded for free on the day of publication, or for a small fee from archives. Many of the videos I use I've taped free from cable and public television (e.g., Arts & Entertainment's "Being Japanese," and PBS's "Talk to Me: Americans in Conversation"); these can be used legally for educational purposes. Many pertinent videos are available at very low cost (some as low as $20) from the network. Clips from popular television programs can be shown (such as "All in the Family," "The Simpsons," "He Said/She Said: Men and Women in Conversation," and various talk shows).

Developing Classroom Community and Mutual Expectations: On the first day of the class, we introduced ourselves to the students and reviewed the syllabus and the two components of the course. We then conducted a "pet peeves" session, wherein we discussed students' pet peeves about teachers and other students, and our pet peeves about students. This set the tone of soliciting student input, establishing an open discussion climate, and setting classroom norms and expectations. The open classroom climate that evolved helped to support discussion of controversial issues, encourage students to work together to meet course requirements, and made it easier for instructors and students to solve problems and modify the course as we went through the project.

Part I: Introduction to Social Group Differences

The first part of the course focused on learning about oneself and others as cultural and ethnic beings of our different socialization experiences. An effective approach to teaching cultural differences is to emphasize that we must examine our differences, as these are sources of misunderstandings, as well as our similarities, as these provide the bridge to develop diverse communities.

We began the class by studying social identities: exploring what race is and isn't, and general cultural and ethnic differences. For this course, in the interest of time, we focused primarily on two theories of cultural variability: individualism/collectivism, and high/low context communication styles. We then studied and discussed issues of ethnic identity and, more briefly, other social identities such as gender, social class, physical ability, age, etc. Issues related to sexual orientation, though referred to periodically, were discussed in more depth later in the course when the students are more comfortable with each other and me, and when they had more experience exploring issues of difference and the social values and power structures associated with diversity.

Assignments included text and additional readings, text self-surveys, and reaction papers based on these materials. This prepared the students to discuss various aspects of the issues in class, which was done in both small, cooperative learning discussions and in large group discussion.

Part II: Introduction to Video Documentary Processes

The video instructor had given the students an introductory conceptual article about making documentaries, and he based his initial instruction on this material. Subsequently, he introduced the students to use of the camera and shooting techniques. Students then went out in teams to videotape various campus activities, which were evaluated and discussed in class. They were given their first video assignment, which was to film a 3-5 minute video segment titled "Who Am I?" as a product of various important social group memberships.

We used a modification of a "storyboard" exercise to assist the students in conceptualizing who they are and developing ideas on how to present it visually. It involved having students graph a lifeline of significant events, and then to select six of those events that they thought influenced who they are as cultural beings. They then thought of ways to depict those events visually. The students used this strategy to develop their individual videos, consulting over the next few weeks with the two instructors to refine and film their ideas. I expanded the discussion of subsequent classroom instructional videos to include not only content but also simple observations of video production techniques. At a later point we used two classroom sessions to view the students individual videotapes, with attention primarily on the content of the information the students presented about themselves.

Part III: Intercultural Interactions

The remainder of the semester focused on the intercultural communication course. This included a number of experiential activities, such as the BaFa BaFa simulation and other exercises intended to provide real and simulated intercultural experiences. Several ideas on intercultural activities have been addressed in previous editions of "The Speech Communication Teacher." Students also worked on developing ideas about what types of topics they would like to address in the next video assignment, a group project to be designed and videotaped in small teams. This assignment was to be on a topic related to "an intercultural issue that affects my community." The term "community" can be defined as narrowly or broadly as the students choose.

Part VI Group Video

During the first two months of the next semester, the second half of the project, students worked primarily on developing and videotaping their group documentaries. It is important for the video instructor to emphasize the legal and ethical guidelines required in videotaping subjects. Though the major academic coursework demands were in the previous semester, to facilitate students' receiving credit for their subsequent work they registered for a two-credit Special Topics course. They met approximately once a week as a group with each of the two instructors to develop additional skills in pursuing completion of their documentaries. Though the majority of their time was spent learning additional video documentary techniques and developing their videos, the students also needed additional communication training related to working in groups.

As the students moved into the teamwork aspect of the project, I provided information on effective group communication processes and project planning. This was done in an informal discussion format. These large group sessions were followed by "consultation sessions" with the individual groups, intended to assure effective interviewing techniques and appropriate application of intercultural communication concepts. For example, one group needed assistance with developing a questionnaire for international students, and another needed assistance in assessing students' views on campus discrimination.

In summary, students reported that the course "was stimulating and exciting," "developed a sense of community," "was a great opportunity to learn video technology," "gave an opportunity for self-reflection on important issues," " helped me understand myself and others," and "has had a great effect on my communication and views of others."

In addition to providing a learning vehicle, the students' videos can be used subsequently in a variety of campus activities. Some activities might be making classroom presentations on diversity issues, conducting topical student discussion panels, and participating in student government programs or community-based programs. These presentations could include both the students who produced the videos and the instructors.


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