It is said that one of the first scholars to note the possibility of using film and cinema to teach political science was John D. Millett (1947). This idea came about just after the Second World War. Millett stated, “there is little advantage in employing a film simply to photograph a classroom lecture”. To further expand on this point, there is much more to using cinema as an education tool than simply playing a movie to supplement for lecture time. The idea was later expanded on by Patrick O’Meara (1976), that “the use of film is not only a challenging new direction within political science, but also one of vital future relevance and promise”. Moving forward two years later, Charles Funderburk (1978) affirmed that using feature-length motion pictures in the classroom is a teaching resource of considerable potential for political scientists. As seen above, many scholars support the use of movies in a classroom setting and feel that popular art has a great deal to offer to students understanding of international relations.
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Movies to teach international relations and political science related coursed is becoming more and more popular. Humans in general, are increasingly visually-oriented. Research shows that student retain 10% of what they read, but 50% of what they see and hear (Powner & Allendorerfer, 2008). With an interest and appreciation for popular film and documentary, it’s not surprising that many seek visual stimulation and get much of their information and ideas about the world through television and the internet. With this being said, it makes sense to bring visual material into the class room to facilitate the teaching and help student understand more effectively international politics and regulations. Showing movies in class can provide a common reference point for all students to refer to in order to make arguments, points, or views clearer for other members of the class (Sachleben & Yenerally, 2002). Waalkees (2003), states that after seeing a movie, it can act as an empirical case study that everyone in the class if familiar with. Professors can use this as a hook to begin an active and engaging discussion for the class.
The function or purpose of showing movies in the classroom is because films dramatize concepts such as sovereignty and historical events, making them more understandable to students, and therefore encouraging students to express their view points and opinions (Gregg, 1998). Kuzma and Haney (2001) present ideas on how to use popular and documentary films to stimulate students’ interest in US foreign policy studies through which they expect their students to acquire knowledge of IR theories and history of US foreign policy, as well as critical thinking and communication skills. Films can also make challenging abstract concepts, ideas, or theories such as terrorism, neo-liberalism, or deterrence, more defined, helping students to see and understand the issues in a different viewpoint (Lovell, 1998). Since students have very little experience with these types of issues at hand and do not encounter them in their everyday lives, movies make these issues seem more real and relevant, showing events and issues more vividly than printed text can (Haney, 2000).
There have been numerous studies researching the use of film aiding students understanding of course related subjects. Webber (2005), created a course curriculum directly centered around the science fiction film, Independence Day to help students successfully understand several key concepts of international theory, as well as major paradigms of the subject. Webber selected the movie specifically for its usage of the two-international relation theories, realism and idealism, and the key concept, nation-state.
In an article titled Teaching International Politics in Multinational Classrooms: Popular Films as Pedagogical Aid (2011), researchers took the concept and applied it to Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, where students from over 60 different countries and regions attend. With their various diverse ethnic, cultural, national, political, and religious backgrounds, researchers thought the that use of popular films could be used as a common reference point for all students to actively increase their level or learning and interest on the topics covered in international relations and international politics courses. Results from the research study showed that students who watched the films strongly agreed that the films seemed to bring the concepts and theories of international relations to life in a more interesting and engaging way than normal lectures did. Responds to the surveys showed a high level of student confidence in their own understanding and good indications that actual comprehension of key political issues in the films had been achieved (Takekawa, Vyas, Kikkawa, 2011).
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