IU’s ‘screen ecology’ permeates classrooms, common spaces and even Assembly Hall
Classroom monitors that project lesson materials, Assembly Hall’s digital scoreboard and video display, and Franklin Hall’s multi-panel, 24-foot-by-12-foot commons screen are all a part of what associate professor Stephanie DeBoer refers to as IU’s “screen ecology.”
Students in her Screen Cultures class analyzed this ecology and then made their own contribution to it.
Screen ecologies, DeBoer said, are the environments in which screens exist and the capacities in which we interact with them. In her course, students analyzed these environments and considered the ways in which we exist alongside them, influence them and allow them to influence us.
“The way I conceived of the course was thinking about using the campus as a lab, and thinking about screen cultures on campus as a way of thinking about screens in our everyday lives, how they mediate our relationships with other people and our world around us,” DeBoer said.
She said screens serve a variety of functions, from displaying announcements to advertising events or providing useful information. For the first part of the Screen Cultures class, students observed the campus’ use of screens and discussed theories about their purpose.
“The thing about screens is we don’t really pay attention to them until we start noticing them,” DeBoer said. “But they are part of the architecture of our campus that mediate what information we see and when.”
Senior Taylor Davis noticed this as well.
“The class has helped me notice screens more, especially since in this age we tend to not necessarily acknowledge them because we’re so used to their presence,” he said.
The second part of the course addressed the history of IU’s screen ecology. The IU Libraries Moving Image Archive, which is in the midst of its Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative, provided a sample of 200 educational films for students to explore.
“One central place to think about is the history of the educational film collection here, which speaks to the long history of IU being a central repository, producer and gatekeeper for educational film,” DeBoer said.
For their final project, students constructed their own movies using recycled content from these 200 samples. The completed films were screened for five weeks in the lobby and Learning Commons of the Wells Library with the support of IU Libraries and the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities.
Film archivist Andy Uhrich said the relationship was not only beneficial for the Screen Cultures class, but also helped the Moving Image Archive as well.
“I learned a lot by watching them,” Uhrich said. “It was very intriguing for me as a specialist in this area, just seeing the themes that came up.”
The students created the videos for public display and explored themes they identified in the archived content. The videos covered topics including “A Woman’s Home in a Man’s World: An Educational Story,” “Spectacles in Educational Films,” “Educational Films and Their Use in Understanding Life with Disabilities” and “The Evolution of Scientific Film.”
DeBoer said the project helped students understand films in today’s context and prompted them to ask how they can “be responsible to the footage that’s there, but also be responsible to the kinds of viewpoints we have today.”
Uhrich said not all of the films have aged well, and points to one example of a film from the 1950s about how women who have had heart attacks can continue to be productive housewives.
“The students definitely picked up on some parts of the movies that when you watch them now you think, ‘Oh, that’s terrible,’” Uhrich said.
For their editing, students had to consider the setting and audience of their videos. Because the videos would be viewed in a public setting, DeBoer said they were less of a narrative showcase and more a tool to explore the history and nuance of screen ecologies.
Sophomore Lucas Coniaris faced this challenge in his group’s project.
“Typically, when I’m editing, it’s with video that I have captured previously and I’m using it to tell a planned story,” he said. “Finding that story within previously existing work was a challenging but fun experience.”
Uhrich said he remains impressed by the outcome of the course in its first year.
“They did a really amazing amount of work,” he said. “It’s a fantastic example of the creative ways that faculty and students can do stuff with this collection.”
DeBoer said she hopes Screen Cultures students gained an increased awareness of how screens impact their own lives and the value of films like the ones they explored in the archive.
“My hope is that they will begin to understand that there is a history to educational films, that screen cultures are not new and also that there is a huge repository here,” she said.
Chris Forrester also contributed to this story.