Active Learning Documentary

 “For a long time, teachers were almost the only authoritative source of information and knowledge in the classroom. Now we have access to the outside world and a vast amount of information.  It’s time for educators to shift from ‘dispensing’  knowledge to helping students navigate the world of knowledge on their own.”  – Professor Yong Zhao

The Issue

The data is clear. Active learning is more effective than requiring students to sit passively while we pour knowledge into their heads.

So why is lecture still the predominant teaching method? Considering the reams of paper and pixels consumed on active learning research, the hockey-stick rise of Flipped Learning studies, and over a thousand years of education reform, why is classroom lecture still alive and well?

This perplexing question led to our decision to produce a documentary looking at exceptional active classrooms, classrooms transitioning to active learning,  and classrooms holding on to the passive learning traditions of the past.

The Mission

Span the globe, ask the most thoughtful educators, scholars and school leaders we could find, a very simple question, Why is classroom lecture not dead?” Record their answers, sprinkle on some production value, then contact Netflix.

The Plan

If you’ve ever watched a documentary and thought, “I could do that,” it probably means you have yet to take the first step. Steven Spielberg confessed to starting each of his movies in stark terror – and he knew how his movies would end. A documentary like this is a different beast. Sure, we could begin with a fixed idea and capture talking heads and moving pictures to support it. But we’ve chosen to just start the project, ask the questions and see what surfaces.  That said, the future of this documentary is better planned that it sounds. I’ve worked in Hollywood on two Emmy- winning teams and received four Emmy nominations and an Emmy award for public affairs programming. So the good news is we have access to exceptional production talent.

Getting Started

Greeley, Colorado is an unlikely location for the first shoot. So why did it beat out Harvard, Stanford and the University of Michigan? Because thoughtful educators from all three would be in Greeley for three days in June, and so would we. But would we find a good space to film? Would we have sufficient lighting? Will anyone of the people we want to interview agree to answer our questions on camera? Who knows, but we’re going to be there anyway, so we pulled together our “equipment and crew,” and jumped head first into the deep end.

Below is a clip of raw footage from our first interview with Professor Eric Mazur, a member of the faculty of education at Harvard University. Eric shared a new perspective, gave us fresh food for thought, and opened doors into new rooms we’ll want to explore. 

Errol St.Clair Smith
Executive Producer