Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Do Documentary Films Play an Integral Role in Environmental Education?

Amanda Giddon is a rising senior at Duke University studying Environmental Sciences and Policy and Visual Media. Amanda is interested in exploring the intersection between the two disciplines.

Social movements are created out of social media interactions alone, and many students are opting to learn online, rather than in a conventional classroom environment. Accordingly, educators have come to a fork in the road: do we disparage screen time, and hope that today’s youth will cling to established teaching methods, or do we embrace visual media in our day-to-day lesson plans? How do we get students to listen, and more importantly, how do we inspire them to act?  

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

This question is especially relevant to environmental education, which relies heavily upon the support and proactivity of young people. It appears that environmental activists are opting to embrace the shift. Environmental education and advocacy has adopted a digital channel to increase awareness and promote behavioral change—documentary film.

Researchers have begun to study what specific features make environmental documentaries compelling, informative and inspiring. Several recent case studies have made progress in identifying these operative characteristics, but there remain many unanswered questions about what makes for the most effective environmental picture.

One study by Tasod A. Barbas found that non-verbal, less conventional documentary was more effective in the development of environmental knowledge and feelings about insects than the traditional medium. Another study by Mo Bahk found that narrative films (in place of non-fictional documentaries) could also be an effective educational and motivational tool due to their ability to create suspense, their non-invasive ability to present environmental issues in “a natural setting of life experiences,” and their increased capacity to provoke emotional, empathic responses.

A study by Jessica M. Nolan evaluated the effectiveness of the renowned documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The results showed that after seeing the film, viewers exhibited significantly more knowledge and concern about global warming, in addition to an increase in motivation to reduce greenhouse gasses through behavioral change. However, after a one-month period only a few participants took substantial actions to reduce greenhouse gasses. Accordingly, this study confirms the public criticism that An Inconvenient Truth functions as a successful informational tool, but may fall short as a valuable motivational technique.

These experimental studies yield thought-provoking results, but are limited by sample size and highly specific conditions. The studies leave many stones unturned, spawning numerous opportunities for further research. Some important areas for further study include the duration of impact of environmental films, how the degree to which environmental documentaries assign blame for environmental issues affects the motivation of audiences to take action, and how documentaries of diverse subject matter differ in effect.

The film-to-film comparison is effective and insightful, but not entirely comprehensive. To more meticulously evaluate environmental pictures as an educational tool, the films should be measured against traditional teaching techniques such as assigned textbook readings and lectures. The lack of scholarship comparing formal teaching methods and digital media prompted my own experimental study.

To compare the educational value of environmental film and traditional classroom lecture, I split up a class of Duke University students into two groups. The control group received a lecture about smart growth technologies while the experimental group saw a documentary of comparable duration and subject matter, Build Green.

In response to the in-class lecture, many students suggested that the lesson be more interactive. Several students proposed that the teacher employ a Socratic technique, where the professor would ask the class to answer questions about smart growth before he or she continued on to explain the subject. Students also requested more anecdotal evidence from a range of international locations, in addition to more tangible examples of how to realistically implement smart growth technologies as a college student.

Students also found that the video lecture fell short in several capacities. Several students suggested that the video be supplemented by lecture notes to cover relevant topics that were not discussed in the film, in addition to a post-video group discussion to debrief about the lesson’s core concepts. A few participants also found the video to be too lengthy, and suggested that it be cut down in detail. Students suggested that making the video more relatable could also help hold their attention.

My experimental design comparing lecture-based lessons and film-based lessons illustrates that students are receptive to both modes of teaching. However, the feedback from both groups seems to suggest that a combination of lecture, interactivity and media support and reinforcement might provide an optimal mix of inputs to generate the most engagement and commitment. 

 These results are in tune with the onslaught of online learning, specifically the “flipped classroom” dynamic, where students watch video lectures outside of the classroom, and participate in discussion or do practice problems during the class period. Although these techniques are undoubtedly increasing in popularity and scope, more research should be done in regards to the teaching style’s relative effectiveness and motivational value. Further investigation can help revolutionize the way students perceive environmental issues, in addition to a range of other disciplines.

——–

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

‘Just Eat It’: Documentary Explores Food Waste From Farm to Fridge

Sean Penn’s ‘The Human Experiment’ Reveals the Toll of Toxic Chemicals

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A man walks on pink snow at the Presena glacier near Pellizzano, Italy on July 4, 2020. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP via Getty Images

In a troubling sign for the future of the Italian Alps, the snow and ice in a glacier is turning pink due to the growth of snow-melting algae, according to scientists studying the pink ice phenomenon, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Climate activist Greta Thunberg discusses EU plans to tackle the climate emergency with Parliament's environment committee on March 4, 2020. CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2020 – Source: EP

By Abdullahi Alim

The 2008 financial crisis spurred a number of youth movements including Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. A decade later, this anger resurfaced in a new wave of global protests, from Hong Kong to Beirut to London, only this time driven by the children of the 2008 financial crisis.

Read More Show Less
A climate activist holds a victory sign in Washington, DC. after President Obama announced that he would reject the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal on November 6, 2015. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

The Supreme Court late Monday upheld a federal judge's rejection of a crucial permit for Keystone XL and blocked the Trump administration's attempt to greenlight construction of the 1,200-mile crude oil project, the third such blow to the fossil fuel industry in a day—coming just hours after the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the court-ordered shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Read More Show Less
A forest fire in Yakutsk in eastern Siberia on June 2, 2020. Yevgeny Sofroneyev / TASS via Getty Images

Once thought too frozen to burn, Siberia is now on fire and spewing carbon after enduring its warmest June ever, according to CNN.

Read More Show Less
The Colima fir tree's distribution has been reduced to the area surrounding the Nevado de Colima volcano. Agustín del Castillo

By Agustín del Castillo

For 20 years, the Colima fir tree (Abies colimensis) has been at the heart of many disputes to conserve the temperate forests of southern Jalisco, a state in central Mexico. Today, the future of this tree rests upon whether the area's avocado crops will advance further and whether neighboring communities will unite to protect it.

Read More Show Less
Independent environmental certifications offer a better indicator of a product's eco credentials, including labor conditions for workers involved in production. Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Jeanette Cwienk

This summer's high street fashions have more in common than styles and colors. From the pink puff-sleeved dream going for just €19.99 ($22.52) at H&M, to Zara's elegant €12.95 ($14.63) halter-neck dress, clothing stores are alive with cheap organic cotton.

"Sustainable" collections with aspirational own-brand names like C&A's "Wear the change," Zara's "join life" or H&M's "CONSCIOUS" are offering cheap fashion and a clean environmental conscience. Such, at least, is the message. But is it really that simple?

Read More Show Less

Trending

The CDC is warning that people with type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, whole organ transplants, and women who are pregnant could experience more severe outcomes if they contract COVID-19. LeoPatrizi / Getty Images
Read More Show Less