Australian Film Television and Radio School on Teaching Creativity Through E-Learning and Blended Learning

Christina Gómez
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Sydney, Australia

How to teach creativity in the classroom. This is the main question that the Australian Film Television and Radio School has been asking itself from the very beginning, since it took on the responsibility of fostering the country’s film industry. The school has a very high reputation, having had five alumni nominated for Academy Awards and four Oscar winners, including Andrew Lesnie, the cinematographer behind Lord of the Rings.

David Balfour, head of Teaching and Learning, and Bree Sigsworth Pryce, course leader, talked about what it’s like to teach the passionate pursuit of excellence that Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) is known for, and how online resources have helped in their efforts to impart knowledge.

When AFTRS was trying to take advantage of the school’s newfound enthusiasm for e-learning in 2014, they were cognizant of the fact that teaching online doesn’t necessarily correlate to a better classroom experience simply because it’s online. They wanted to ensure that online learning would be, in fact, the best medium to get the information across to their students, and if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be used. The first obstacle the school came across was the handling of equipment. Being so well known around the world, AFTRS is recognized for having some of the best equipment in the market, and students look for that when they enroll. Sending every online student, a high-end camera for their course wasn’t an actual option. Thus, the school thought at this point that teaching cinematography online wasn’t a real possibility.

That’s when David and Bree realized that teaching both the theoretical and technical aspects of cinematography in a face-to-face class could lead to information overload. Students wouldn’t fully understand either the theoretical or the practical part; As a result, the team decided it would be best to teach subjects like color, composition and movement online. That way, students could fully grasp the concepts by having the option of going back to each session and review the content since it was housed online. The students would then be asked to make a recording of what they had learned using any camera at their disposal, either their smartphone camera or a more professional one. That way, they could focus entirely on the theory they had learned, instead of the technology behind it, and finding a low-tech solution would, in turn, fuel their creativity.

(Right) David Balfour, Head of Learning & Teaching, Australian Film Television and Radio School and (Left) Bree Sigsworth-Pryce, Course Manager, Diplomas. Photo: AFP Wendell Teodoro.
(Right) David Balfour, Head of Learning & Teaching, Australian Film Television and Radio School and (Left) Bree Sigsworth-Pryce, Course Manager, Diplomas. Photo: AFP Wendell Teodoro.

After students grasped the key concepts, they could then attend their on-campus class and put their knowledge to the test, with the proper equipment. After all, many education institutions globally are embracing new pedagogy techniques, such as using in-person class time as a workshop for the exchange of ideas and practicing a skill. The same is true for radio and television students, as they also need to learn the theory behind certain topics as well as how to handle equipment properly. David and Bree have found that teaching via blended learning is by far the best way to. When first adopting e-learning, AFTRS was nervous about whether it would be able to maintain its reputation and provide its world-class teaching standards without face-to-face interaction between faculty and students.

Both David and Bree agree that although it hasn’t been an easy ride, it has been interesting, and every time they have erred, it has led them to make better decisions in terms of their e-learning curriculum.

AFTRS started its online program in 2015 with about 10 online courses. Some only ran for one semester and showed they didn’t work well for virtual learning, while others lasted the full two semesters. Based on that, they decided they would keep online learning for the 2016 academic year. Also, due to all the options that Blackboard Open LMS provided the school in terms of technology and plugins, they adopted e-learning as they felt it really offered everything they needed.

One aspect they had to keep in mind was that the production of screen and broadcast content is a highly collaborative art form – There is no way one person can direct, act, film and write all at the same time. With this in mind, they needed the technology that would allow students to cooperate with each other. One important factor they have found keeps creativity alive in the classes that usually take place once a week, is keeping an open forum at all times, where dialogue between the teacher and the students never ceases and students are always alert to something that might enrich the conversation or learning experience.

AFTRS also insists in hiring instructors with ample industry experience, such as screenwriters who have just written a movie, to teach what it’s really like to write for Hollywood and other industries. Through a process of induction and mentoring, all industry practitioners are given the skillset to begin teaching their craft. The same goes for accepted students. A portfolio that shows ample creativity and potential is much more likely to be chosen over one that illustrates perfect technique.

AFTRS decided to adopt e-learning because they felt it really offered everything they needed.

Even though the Australian Film Television and Radio School’s online program is still in its infancy after just 15 months, both David and Bree agree that there is enthusiasm for this mode of delivery. In general, AFTRS takes three important areas into consideration when planning its curriculum.

  1. Prioritizing the outcome of the class. Figuring out what the student should look like by the end of the course, what the main parts of the class will be, and what teaching method will be used. That way, they can decide whether a class should be completely online, blended, or taught on campus.
  2. Talking continuously with the industry. Knowing what is expected of students when they graduate, what steps the industry is taking next and preparing students accordingly, as well as giving them sufficient practice so they are prepared for the workplace, are some of the school’s best practices.
  3. Having no fixed point of view when teaching creativity, as everything has to be evolving. Creativity is born through practice, through doing, through reflection and through a community. Creativity is about taking risks and losing the fear of failure. Creativity can’t be right or wrong, it’s an ongoing evolution of someone’s idea.


* David Balfour, Head of Learning & Teaching, Australian Film Television and Radio School and Bree Sigsworth-Pryce, Course Manager, Diplomas.


* AFP Wendell Teodoro.

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