Stoke Stories- Embedding transformative social learning and community engagement in filmmaking pedagogy

Case study author: Dr Pawas Bisht

School of Humanities, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

CDF Framework: Authentic Assessment, Employability and Civic Engagement

Project Summary

The project involved the development of an online film archive of the city of Stoke-on-Trent (www.stoke-stories.com); the films curated in the archive are produced by students from Keele’s Media, Communications and Culture (MCC) programme, specifically those enrolled on MDS 20032 ‘Documentary Theory & Practice’.

Each year students work with community partners to document a theme in relation to the city. ‘Stoke: City of Culture’ (2017-18) & ‘Ageing and Creativity’ (2018-19) are the currently featured themes. The archive seeks to provide meaningful representation to a city that is consistently overlooked and misrepresented in the mainstream media.

The aim of the project was to enhance student learning in 2018-19 and beyond. The learning enhancement was focussed in the first instance on Level 5 MCC students enrolled on the ‘Documentary Theory & Practice’ module (MDS 20032). The aim of the module is to introduce students to the theory and practice of documentary filmmaking; this is achieved by students participating in the production of short documentaries while working in small groups.

The project has met its aim of enriching student learning on the module in the following ways:

  • Enabling meaningful engagement and interaction between students and the local community: As evidenced by the deep and meaningful relationships forged between the 2018-19 cohort of students and members of the Ages & Stages Theatre Group (a community theatre group based in Newcastle-under-Lyme), when working on films exploring the theme of ‘Ageing & Creativity’. Jill Rezzano (Head of Education, New Vic and Artistic Director of Ages & Stages) lauded the student films as 'an impressive intergenerational collaboration...a superb set of films capturing the spirit and vibrancy of the people involved, but also very honest, insightful and revealing'.
  • Embedding social learning in the teaching of media practice: As evidenced by the socially relevant and stories themes examined in the student films and in the written critical reflections on practice submitted as part of the assessment.
  • Encouraging peer learning: The thematic coherence of the films meant that the whole class worked as a team; students employed different filmic approaches in their projects but were able to reflect on the connections between their films and work in a dialogic manner. This system enhanced peer-learning and consequently all groups were able to deliver high quality films.

The ‘ability to participate actively, responsibly and collaboratively as an active citizen in the communities in which you live and work’ is one of the key Keele Graduate Attributes. A similar commitment to engaging with and contributing to the regeneration of the local community is articulated in the university’s ‘Our Future’ strategy document. These articulations clearly identify meaningful engagement with the local community and making a contribution to its development defining characteristics of the pedagogic approach at Keele. The ‘Stoke Stories’ project is animated by a desire to find ways of operationalising and embedding this commitment to community engagement and development in the teaching and learning design of specific modules.

The project has met its aim of enriching student learning on the module in the following ways:

  • Enabling meaningful engagement and interaction between students and the local community: As evidenced by the deep and meaningful relationships forged between the 2018-19 cohort of students and members of the Ages & Stages Theatre Group (a community theatre group based in Newcastle-under-Lyme), when working on films exploring the theme of ‘Ageing & Creativity’. Jill Rezzano (Head of Education, New Vic and Artistic Director of Ages & Stages) lauded the student films as 'an impressive intergenerational collaboration...a superb set of films capturing the spirit and vibrancy of the people involved, but also very honest, insightful and revealing'.
  • Embedding social learning in the teaching of media practice: As evidenced by the socially relevant and stories themes examined in the student films and in the written critical reflections on practice submitted as part of the assessment.
  • Encouraging peer learning: The thematic coherence of the films meant that the whole class worked as a team; students employed different filmic approaches in their projects but were able to reflect on the connections between their films and work in a dialogic manner. This system enhanced peer-learning and consequently all groups were able to deliver high quality films.

The films produced as part of the project have been extremely well received in two high profile public screenings. All the films produced under the Ageing & Creativity theme (2018-19) in collaboration with the Ages & Stages Theatre Company (based at the New Vic Theatre) were screened at the Mitchell Arts Centre in Hanley on 4th November 2019. The event was part of the prestigious Festival of Social Sciences sponsored by Economic & Social Research Council. A second screening was organised at the Spode Works in Stoke-on-Trent as part of the Stoking Curiosity event (22-23 November 2019).

The project has been showcased in the 2019 KIITE conference on Social Learning and for students on the BA Liberal Arts programme (in 2019 and 2020) as an example of the successful embedding of social learning in higher education and the development of a ‘civic curriculum’.

The project has also been selected for inclusion in Media Education Summit 2021 to be held in Leeds; this event is the leading global showcase for research, pedagogy and innovation on all aspects of media education.

The pedagogic success of the project has also been recognised in comments by the second marker and the external examiner; both explicitly commended the improvement in the quality student work brought about by the thematically defined and community focussed design of the project.

The relevance of the project and films has also been acknowledged by wider Keele community. Prof David Amigoni (PVC for Research & Enterprise) praised the project for enhancing the university’s partnerships with community organisations and supplementing existing research collaborations. This was in relation to the project’s work with New Vic Education and the Ages & Stages Theatre Company (New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme) on the Ageing & Creativity theme.

This partnership has worked extremely well and New Vic Education have offered us the use of their facility for future interactions between students and community members. The online archive (www.stoke-stories.com) has been admired for its design and has provided a great platform for showcasing the quality of our student work as well as its public relevance. The website has become a prominent element of the materials showcased for prospective students on Open Days and Offer-holder Days.

The model of thematically defined engagement with community partners can be usefully transferred to many other disciplines.

Stoke Stories

Stoke Stories: co-creating positive representations

Dr Pawas Bisht presents at the KIITE Student Education Conference 2019