Movies don’t substitute teachers

Adam Duke

I foresee a future where instructors will no longer show their students films during class time.

See, when I go to class, I expect some level of interaction with my professor: be it them lecturing for the hour and me trying not to fall asleep, or a group activity where we consult the instructor and I try to care about the opinions of my peers.

In both examples, attempts at real-life discourse are being made.

When the instructor elects to show a movie instead, no matter its relevancy, I can’t help but feel disappointed. Here I am – in a class that I’m paying top dollar for – and the teacher is taking the easy way out of teaching by showing a movie over hosting actual interaction.

Full disclosure: when I said “I’m paying top dollar” a sentence ago, I didn’t actually mean I’m paying for my education out of my own pocket yet. My insurmountable student loans, in part, come from the government, which in part comes from taxpayer dollars from good citizens like yourself.

By the way, thank you, good taxpayer, for this wonderful education I’m receiving.

For clarity, I’m only really talking about video clips that exceed about 10 minutes. That arbitrary line, for me at least, is the difference between classroom conversation facilitator and a professor excusing themselves from teaching that day.

I fully understand that videos are a great and efficient way of conveying information that can otherwise be hard to teach in a traditional lecture format. Given the choice between watching
An Inconvenient Truth (Guggenheim 2006) and a three hour long lecture about global warming and climate change, I’m forced to admit that nine times out of ten I’m going with Mr. Gore. And if a professor chooses the same, then I have to ask: why do I need that professor to teach me in the first place?

In a perfect world, video-watching assignments would be assigned as homework. Class time would then be used to analyze and talk about the movie and conversation would flow from there. I know the realities of this are grim; distributing media legally and reliably is an industry all on its own.

Perhaps in the future, there will be an online streaming service available exclusively to students. That way, professors wouldn’t have to worry with the copyright-laden and legal drama that is embodies the hassle of distributing video content. Then class time would be optimized for lively debate and discourse about the materials we watched for homework.

Classroom time is important because it offers valuable face-to-face interaction with the professor. Communication during a movie is difficult and rude; no one wants to be that guy talking over the movie.

First dates at movie theaters are lame for that reason. For approximately two hours, both parties are expected to be quiet and limit communication. I mean, she might hold your hand or something, but if it’s a first date then your chances are slim and you probably should have taken her ice skating or somewhere where communication is encouraged. Otherwise, what’s the point?


In a previous life, I was once a film major. Viewing movies in class was more of a given than say in my astronomy class, where for a good number of our labs we would watch episodes of
Cosmos and other science programming. It was good stuff, don’t get me wrong, but I’d rather watch it at home on my own and spend my limited class time attempting to pay attention to my professor.

Adam Duke

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