Students in Lora Taub-Pervizpour and Susan Leggett’s documentary research class spend several hours each week at the Just For Kids afterschool program in Allentown, coordinating activities and creating "digital stories."
If globalization is the wave of the future, Muhlenberg’s program is right on track. The communication faculty consists of eight full-time and three part-time members, many of whom offer their students an international perspective; Assistant Professor John Sullivan, for example, has done extensive research on Latin American media, while Assistant Professor Lora Taub-Pervizpour has researched in Brazil, and Department Chair David Tafler, associate professor, has an ongoing field research assignment in Australia.
Approximately one-third of the major's courses are directly focused on film. There are several faculty members with film expertise. Dr. James Schneider, whose courses include film theory and criticism, documentary film and video production, combines theory and practice to create a comprehensive film program. “In my teaching, I’m especially concerned to bring something of a theoretical orientation to production,” he says, “and to draw out the practical implications of the more theoretical courses.”
To bolster the film offerings, Tafler reintroduced a visual communication course to provide a cognitive, grammatical and aesthetic overview of narrative and documentary film construction. Students learn the theoretical concepts, then apply them by assembling flipbooks and storyboards, and completing camera and continuity assignments. The course provides the foundation for the more advanced production courses and complements the information taught in methods of film analysis courses.
There’s plenty of room for critique and hands-on analysis in the film program. In the spring of 2005, the communication department will host an Exploratory Film Series to bring active filmmakers on campus. The series will become a regular part of the College’s cultural and curricular environment as a companion to the biennial Living Writers series.
Film is not the only active-learning topic in communication. Taub-Pervizpour stresses the department’s commitment to examining the inextricable links between communication theory and practices. “We prepare our students to link communication with everyday activities,” she says, pointing out that fieldwork is a key component of the documentary research course, a core requirement she team-teaches with Dr. Susan Leggett ’88, assistant professor of communication.
Documentary research students
learn about the process of documentary work and are introduced to storytelling
through weekly attendance at the Just For Kids program (JFK) at Allentown’s
Church of the Mediator. In addition to their two days a week in the
Muhlenberg classroom, students must attend JFK at least once a week,
and many students choose to go more often. The unique after-school
program unites three generations - a group of older volunteers, the
Muhlenberg students and students from Raub Middle School - with the
chance to learn and play. Activities such as basketball, dance, arts
and crafts and board games are combined with opportunities to learn
computer and even cooking skills, coordinated by the communication students and senior volunteers.
Coursework required for the class is fully integrated into the fieldwork students perform, as they complete field notes and produce digital stories. “The digital story is a slide show composed of both visual and audio elements to produce an individual story on the assigned topic,” explains Mike Geller ’04, technical assistant for the course, who frequently holds workshops to aid students in producing these stories.
Many students so enjoy the storytelling experience that they help teach the Raub Middle School students how to produce their own digital stories. The experience allows students not only to develop the technical skills of production, but also to understand the process by which people tell their own stories in their own voices. “When students take their competencies to the middle-schoolers, they learn more about their own skills and abilities as they teach,” says Leggett.
“Our project builds on the ‘funds of knowledge’ that each generation brings to the collaboration. Activities that engage these knowledges—from digital storytelling to dancing—help us break down barriers of communication built on differences in age, race, ethnicity, class, education, and experience,” Taub-Pervizpour and Leggett explain. “For students who want to become professional communicators, this experience is invaluable. They learn that meaningful communication is always achieved through struggle, across different lived experiences, different histories, different understandings and visions of the social world.”
The successful relationship between the documentary research class and the JFK program, which supports Muhlenberg’s commitment to service learning, led the College to nominate Taub-Pervizpour and Leggett for the Thomas Ehrlich Award for service learning. “It was a great pleasure for the college to nominate them for this award,” says Dr. Carol Shiner Wilson, dean of the College for academic life. In addition, five Muhlenberg students presented their documentary work at the Mid-Atlantic Undergraduate Conference held at Messiah College in the spring of 2003. The students also presented at the student-faculty collaborative research showcase during President Helm's inaugural weekend in October.