How do you invite people – teaching staff, students, and societal partners – to think differently about doing and making education, especially when we would like those people to reorient the focus of higher education towards the university’s mission of creating societal value?
Operationalizing this mission is not easy, and there is no silver bullet answer to the 'how' question either. To invite EUR's stakeholders to think alongside us in coming up with possible answers and ideas, we wanted to create two distinct videos that inspire us to think beyond teaching and learning as has happened in the last decennia. I (Almar Bok, Learning Innovator at Impact at the Core) interviewed the filmmakers about the development process of the videos, and in this blogpost, I will share some of the behind the scenes and the perspective of the filmmakers.
I reached out to Simone Punzo and Laurent Masson – two EUR alumni – to help me translate my ideas into visually appealing, understandable and cohesive videos. Simone and Laurent started their Chilled Winston Studio (CW) after their studies: a creative agency specialising in audio-visual and written works.
One of the reasons we reached out to CW is that they are trying to avoid creating a fabricated image using the right hyped words and jargon. Instead, they put authentic beings and experiences at the center. And through their stories, the audience gets a sense of what the work is about. CW: “Videos and marketing these days are always about algorithms and key words, buying ads and whatnot. And of course, we have to be realistic about this industry, but we want our videos to be organic in the sense that we feel that if the people who watch the video and in a human way are connected with what you are doing, they are going to want to be a part of it. It’s bypassing the marketing firewall and fake Instagram ads and zooming in on the individual people that make up the organization. That is something with which we try to distinguish ourselves.”
Simone and Laurent studied at EUR, both did their bachelor's at EUC, and shared why they chose to work on this project: “For us, it was not so much the video brief that made working with you [Impact at the Core] interesting, it was more about what you people stand for. You have a cool and important story to share. If I think back at my student time, I would have wished you guys were there to change the way we learn and teach. And EUR is also our house, we came from there, and we want the help them pioneer and explore new ways of doing education. We know that everybody learns differently, and that should be the main goal of university and teaching: that everybody who learns differently is able to learn the way they want to learn. You are trying to harness everybody’s individual capabilities and then use that to better them rather than saying: well, students, here is our box, fit inside of it, and if you don’t, we will have to mark you down, which is so silly. So, for us, this was a chance to support your mission.”
When we drafted our ideas for the videos, we wanted them to serve multiple objectives:
1) Those that see it should have a basic understanding of what Impact at the Core does and what we try to accomplish when we design impact-driven education.
2) It should invite university staff to add the next chapter to the book on impact-driven education. The story is still unfinished, and with every project, we revisit and revise the way we collectively understand and approach impact-driven education. So far, we have only uncovered the tip of the iceberg, and there is still a lot to learn and discover.
3) We want the audience to rethink the foundations and limits of higher education: what are its functions, and which boundaries do we need to shift to initiate (societal) change?
We came up with two video treatments: the 'what if - dreamscape' and 'the impact mosaic'. The first one should invite staff to rethink what education could look like if we allow ourselves to dream and go beyond current institutional limitations. The video opens with a dreamscape, using what-ifs to pose alternative ways of thinking. What-ifs are extremely useful as "What if' is the first proposition of all possible worlds: it is the question that enables the re-imagining of the present and alternatives ways of doing, thinking, and making with and beyond the disciplinary practices of the sciences and the arts".* CW says: “With the first video our aim was to contextualize the problem, the what-if is an interesting way to visualize the traditional structures that we need to change, and to highlight that the university should not be a reactive institution to societal change, but rather be pioneering and creating change. We filmed the interviews for the mosaic videos first, and those stories informed the what-ifs”.
The second video introduces the audience to different perspectives on the relevance and meaning of impact-driven education and the role of Impact at the Core, that once brought together, form their own story. Each person in the video was interviewed for at least an hour and filmed separately from each other, not knowing what the other person would say and being asked different questions relevant to their position with the university. One might think that is not a very efficient way of creating a 6 minute video, but it makes sense if you think about what the essence of the video is: “What we want and achieved with these videos is that nobody talks about their work in such a way that it says: ‘we are better than you, or better than anybody else’, or ‘we are amazing’, but by focusing on the question: why are YOU doing it and what is your personal motivation. I think the biggest struggle is getting people to be honest about it. Because as soon as you put a camera on people, you only want to say the right thing, the best thing and the smartest thing. That is why these interviews are longer, because after an hour, an hour and a half, people are exhausted from trying to say the right thing. And eventually, you let that guard down and show the real you and the real experience that you had comes out.”
The real picture
Surprisingly, there are similarities between the philosophy behind impact-driven education and the filmmaking approach CW takes. In impact-driven modules, we depart from authentic, real-life situations (and thus the real controversies and dilemmas) to grasp the full complexity of societal problems, the controversies and ambiguities surrounding them and to develop a cognitive and emphatic relationship with the subject matter. Part of this authenticity is engaging with stakeholders, actors who have a real interest in an issue, who feel the problem themselves or have a responsibility to deal with it. Simone and Laurent are trying to capture the real picture with their work as well. CW: “. “For us it is important that the people in the video feel comfortable and confident about what they share, to capture the real message that they want to share. The aim for us is to keep an open mind and try to find out whatever the individual wishes to share, to be curious about their stories. We try to remain flexible with what we expect. Because if I come in with the idea that I am going to help someone to share their story, but I assume I know which story they should tell and tell them this, without knowing who they are or what they are doing, then we are clearly going to get it wrong at best, and unnatural at worst.”
Simone and Laurent reviewed, cut and edited the over 10 hours of material into a flowing story, highlighting our shared ethos while there is still room for differences, nuances and sometimes contradictions, which is to be expected when you ask people about their ideas, experiences and understandings. CW shares: “When we started with interview one, our interview list was like 6 or 7 questions and by the time we to interview 9 or 10, they were like 40 questions because there are some many new things that we didn’t think about or consider that we got curious about.” An animator then created visuals to complement each person's story. CW: -The animator we chose to work with is a real professional really good at visualizing complex material in a more comprehendablelanguage, using her awesome rendition of triangles and circles. Her artistic style really fits this type of storytelling and the natural conversations we had when filming. In our opinion, it really makes the video stand out. Her name is Didi Walker and she is based in Australia.”
Working on this project was very refreshing for Simone and Laurent. Simone: “All interviewees provided such a reality check about the bubble the university is operating in and were unfiltered in their views about what needs to be changed. And everybody was also honest about not knowing or having the perfect solution but that you were trying to figure it out together. We were pleasantly surprised with how much of these people within the university are trying to push the change.”. Laurent added: “That is the main point, you weren’t saying: we know everything and can tell the rest what they need to do. You are not trying to say: we have all the answers to innovation in education, but you are saying: we have hundreds of bodies in the university that want educational innovation, but they are all doing it alone, in their own corner, not sharing or collaborating, or integrating what they learn on a central level. And you are essentially trying to create an umbrella that brings everything together, which you can’t be if you come in saying: I know what everybody should do, and they should listen to us. No, you have to be there and listen to the teachers and the students, and we didn’t expect to hear this from a university project.”
CW concludes with “For us, we are always extremely happy to work with the university and what was really cool as we worked through these videos with you, is how much we grew attached to your story by going through the conversations with all the constituents of your organization. I remember the more we were talking to people, the more we got excited about the work being done. Ultimately, we were excited to help you share your story.”
*Van den Akker, R., Noordegraaf-Eelens, L., van Eekelen, B. F. and Teeuwen, R. (2021). Delta Studies: 7 Propositions for Arts/Sciences Education. European Journal of STEM Education, 6(1), 18. https://doi.org/10.20897/ejsteme/11394