Student video fellowship: Video to supplement written response papers in a cinema class

Project Summary:

During the 2008-2009 academic year, Satendra Khanna, Associate Professor of the Practice, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, participated in the CIT’s Student Video Fellows program. This Fellows program offered a group of faculty from a range of disciplines the opportunity to investigate how to effectively design student video assignments, assess video work in the courses, and provided streamlined access to technology and support options available at Duke for them and their students.

The focus of Professor Khanna’s class in Poetic Cinema (AMES 139) is principally on the psychological experiences induced by films. The course content consisted of 13 “dense, intense poetic films” from 6 countries. Students were encouraged to dwell on the suggestive, evocative possibilities of film. The goal of the class was to make students aware of the inner process activated by films. The emphasis in class assignments was not on the subject of the student films, but on the emotions stirred by the films or on the quality of intent observation induced by their films.

Students completed three types of film assignments in the course:

  • Students presented a video response to each class film, based on a moment of in the film which keenly pulled their attention. Students were encouraged to use Flip video cameras to shoot their video responses, to keep the process unintimidating.
  • Students completed specific short (one- to two-minute) film assignments, designed to allow them to practice with course concepts and get comfortable with some filming and editing techniques. Students had the option of completing these assignments either as a page of text or in a short video. Most turned in a paper the first week; by the end of the class most submitted a video on Blackboard which all the class members looked at each week. Examples of these short assignments were to create a one-minute video evoking the “presence” of a person at work, or to recreate the effect of time passing.
  • A final video project was a to create a four-minute film whose object was to induce a distinct overall emotion in the viewer. This was an experiment to see how well the students were able to edit, vary and include contrast, so that the outcome is a single dominant emotion.


Khanna’s objective was not to have the students produce quality videos but to help them understand the role of camera angle, lighting, shot duration and editing rhythm in the design of psychologically dynamic films. He wanted to encourage experimentation with video so he paid more attention to the conception of a project rather than its execution.

“One of the things I learned was the potential for repeating the short assignments so that students could improve on their understanding of ways of presenting subjects and backgrounds in profile and half-light, in fragments and slivers.”

Khanna also emphasized the use of economy in evoking a situation, suggesting soft-hitting (“low redundancy”) rather than hard-hitting presentation. In assessing student work, Khanna attempted to address his comments to the overall emotional intensity of a piece of student work. He writes “The difficulty lay in being encouraging while at the same time suggesting that students pare down.”

On a practical level, Khanna discovered that students in the class were not uniformly familiar with Flip cameras or with iMovie editing; a one-time iMovie editing workshop would have been useful. In addition, repeated short assignments helped students understand varied ways to present their subject matter. Khanna describes some other “lessons learned” in the video clip below.