Teaching Students Problem-Solving With Movies

Faculty Focus: Jim Groves, Hotel and Restaurant Management

One of the challenges that many instructors face is helping younger students learn how to develop problem-solving skills. The earlier we can begin helping students to learn these skills, the better students tend to do in school and eventually in their careers.

I teach HRM 3143: Property Management Systems and Operations, which is composed mainly of sophomore-level students. This class is the students’ first introduction to the lodging industry; so much of the material I present is composed of theories and processes that students need to learn. However, I also want the students to begin learning problem-solving processes. When I first began teaching this course, I did this through research papers. While this method was somewhat effective, it led to quite a bit of grading on my part, and a less than enthusiastic reception by the students.

Three years ago, I was talking with our college’s Educational Technologist about this problem and he mentioned that other universities were using movies to help students learn problem-solving skills. I’ve always been an early adopter of technology, so this process intrigued me. As a result of our discussion, I’ve assigned student groups to produce movies as a problem-solving lesson. Over the past six semesters the process has evolved into the successful class learning experience it is today.

To begin the assignment, students are given a broad topic that requires them to do research beyond the material in their text. I use a broad topic so that students can get creative in selecting their particular project. Student groups submit their topics and then my teaching assistants and I evaluate their choices. Almost inevitably we have to work with students to help them narrow or refine their topics. This is an important lesson to help students learn how to narrow an investigation to get more in-depth information. Students then resubmit their topic selection. If necessary, more discussion is held with groups to clarify their topic further.

Next, they have to communicate their research findings through the use of a detailed outline. What we ask students to do is to provide a path of information through their movie. We also ask that they list research sources and provide artifacts for the movie. Artifacts are clips, slides, movies, music, etc. that will be used in producing the movie. Again, the TA’s and I go over the outlines. We then discuss the outline with the group and ask that they resubmit a revised version. This outline is then peer reviewed by another group for further clarification.

Once the outline is in final form, groups begin the process of producing the movie and developing a script for their voice over. We provide technical assistance so that students are comfortable in producing the movie. Each group’s script is peer reviewed and rewritten. Students then submit their movies for the first time to be peer reviewed and improved. They then submit the final movie to iTunes U where the TAs, industry partners and I evaluate them.

I have found that students really enjoy this process. They are allowed to be creative, research a topic of their own choice, and present their findings in a novel format. The results from the past semesters have been good. Students show better research and are able to understand a problem solving approach better through research. The students also learn to be creative in their communication efforts. This is a critical skill for them entering today’s hospitality industry. Student feedback has been positive with many wanting to repeat this process in other classes.

As an instructor, I find the process requires a “hands on” approach. We spend time in class working during the early stages and during peer evaluation, but I find the learning to be much better than using a traditional written research paper. Students become more engaged in class and are excited about their movie.