Teaching Audiovisual Media in Chile: Problems and Challenges after COVID-19
Skip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
Traditionally in Chile, the academic year begins during the first week of March each year. The social protests of October 2019 led to the rescheduling of the 2019 academic year, delaying its close from December to January of the following year and setting expectations about how the 2020 academic year would start. During the Chilean summer break, the possibility of protests sparked by the social crisis restarting indicated that a normal academic year for 2020 seemed highly unlikely. That was until the government confirmed the first Chilean coronavirus case on March 3rd. On March 18th, the government declared a State of Emergency and has extended it every three months since then. On March 20th, the first death from COVID-19 on Chilean soil was registered. By the end of November, that figure had risen to 15,000. Moreover, lockdowns were in place in many cities throughout the country and are still ongoing at the time of writing.
Chile taught the first academic term of 2020 exclusively online due to this crisis. A process that, predictably, unveiled the problems of virtual teaching without a strategy: most universities used virtual platforms, the majority on Moodle, as repositories (while it is true that distance learning is not new in academia, its principal use previously was to supplement face-to-face education). Additionally, induction courses on digital platforms were not mandatory in most universities, which resulted in professors having to learn on the job. Finally, according to a survey conducted by the University of Chile, 80% of university students had never taken a virtual module before. This lack of strategy led to many scholars implementing what was called “corona teaching”, meaning the virtualization of face-to-face classes without changing methodology or syllabus.
The impact of COVID-19 also laid bare the inherent problems of a developing country’s society in crisis, affecting both students and professors: slower internet speed connection in rural areas when compared to cities; not all students owned a personal computer, many share a desktop with other members of their household; also, many educational platforms fell under the strain of several concurrent users. Many of these difficulties, as well as the loss of the teaching-learning experience, led to some student unions calling for online strikes.
These drawbacks mentioned above about online university education also impacted audiovisual media teaching. Since film and media programs largely depend on practice-based workshops and media analysis, coordinators had to reformulate academic syllabi for practical reasons (this included screenings or video editing workshops). While centers tried to alleviate the absence of face-to-face delivery strategies using virtual classes, there was insufficient preparation. Moreover, this new scenario implied a methodological demand to maintain modules (as far as possible) at a university teaching level, preventing them from becoming mere YouTube tutorials. How have film and media education institutions faced this virtualization, bearing in mind these methodological and infrastructure challenges? More notably, how can the film and media academic community incorporate these new online teaching experiences into future applications? Clearly, this is an ongoing process that requires flexibility for exploring and learning.
Given that there is no formal experience of distance learning programs in the film and media field in Chilean universities, the unexpected and forced implementation of online education strategies affected film teaching. This lack of virtual teaching experience impacted academic plans, transforming them while the modules were being taught, leading to both methodological and operational problems. For instance, the amount of time invested (or rather the lack of it) during the virtualization of modules eventually impacted the modules’ delivery. In what follows, we will expand on specific methodological issues about the teaching of cinema, acknowledging but not going into depth about those drawbacks common to all online teaching, namely the uncertainty of the students’ presence, lack of interaction, etc.
Screenings are one of the areas most affected by this sudden adaptation of film modules in Chilean academia. This problem is twofold: first, virtual infrastructure. Many university online platforms, usually supported by Moodle, could not handle the uploading of large files; there was a delay when streaming screenings through video conference apps such as Zoom, etc. Trying to solve this led to a second problem: using copyrighted media in film schools for teaching. In the case of Chile, the pedagogical use of films and audiovisual resources is regulated by Law 20,435 of Intellectual Property, which, problematically, does not mention online platforms, although it does not prohibit them either: “Article 71 Q. Incidental and exceptional use of a protected work for the purpose of criticism, comment, caricature, teaching, academic, or research interest is lawful, provided that such use does not constitute covert exploitation of the protected work” (our translation). Regarding Chilean films, educators could count on national free streaming services such as Ondamedia.cl and Cineteca Nacional Online. In addition, the Universidad de Chile, the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and the Universidad de Santiago run streaming video resources with dedicated collections on Chilean cinema and local audiovisual heritage. However, the availability of digital versions of non-Chilean copyrighted material is low. Teachers partially overcame this difficulty by sending digital files of film extracts to students to download or by uploading these extracts to platforms such as YouTube or Vimeo. In this way, asynchronous study sessions of cinematographic works replaced face-to-face viewings, given that streaming these pieces of video diminished the pace of the class. This issue also revealed a different appreciation of copyright from that which exists in Western countries.
Reformulating practice-based modules to online experiences also impacted teaching strategies. This resulted in a complete transformation in terms of collective creation, prioritizing individual works due to the restrictions imposed by sanitary isolation. Undoubtedly, this is one of the main innovations in distance art education since a new sense of collectivity has been responsible for a structural rethinking of traditional practices. Thus, it is often a single person who performs the usual roles of audiovisual production such as direction, production, camera, photography, montage, sound, etc. This directly affects the learning stages in the creation of audiovisual work, especially during the first and last years of undergraduate programs.
Virtualization also affected modules such as film editing, as it was impossible to do group workshops on university premises. The methodological challenge here is to teach using editing software through online strategies at a professional level without the material resembling a tutorial already available on YouTube. This challenge also unveils another problem similar to the one mentioned earlier regarding copyright, namely the availability of licenses for editing software traditionally used in the Chilean filmmaking industry. As universities purchase such licenses, students normally use this software installed on university computers for homework; purchasing student licenses is not an extended practice, as it might be in developed countries. For this reason, those professors we consulted shared that they reached a tacit agreement to allow (but not to promote) the use of trial versions or pirated versions of licensed software. In this way students could edit their works at home while promoting a shift to free versions of different software. However, running these applications is a problem for students with slow computers, and it also reveals the number of households that have only one computer to share among various family members.
The virtualization of theoretical and practical film and media modules not only implies a challenge in terms of their elaboration but also opens the field up to methodological experimentation for this type of module. One expression of this is in the unwitting adaptation of blended-learning methodologies, defined as “the organic integration of thoughtfully selected and complementary face-to-face and online approaches and technologies.” As all academic activities moved online, this adaptation transferred practice-based experiences to asynchronous learning in the private space (such as screenings and video editing). This leaves most of the face-to-face synchronous learning mainly focused on lectures. Feng Su and Namrata Rao have termed this full-time online teaching experience caused by COVID-19 as blended online pedagogy.
Homework assessments also presented challenges of their own. Teaching or supervising on-location workshops was not an option due to several lockdowns across regions. Even with the ease of lockdowns, group gatherings remain limited, an experience that may persist in the short term. Many universities confirmed that the second semester would be taught online (August–December 2020). Furthermore, this confirmation extended through to the following academic year that started in March 2021.
Possibly, the main concern detected in online audiovisual education lies in the pre-existing technological and labor precariousness in the country, affecting both academics and students in the delivery of online modules. We can unpack this precariousness into two strands: weak infrastructure and connectivity.
Firstly, weak infrastructure became evident in practice-based modules/workshops such as film direction, photography, montage, and sound. These types of modules are usually taught using professional equipment. However, under COVID-19, students and teachers could only use the technological resources available to them at home, such as personal computers, cell phones, tablets, cameras, etc. This resulted in workshops modifying their practices according to each member’s domestic infrastructure, thus determining both the themes addressed and the aesthetics used, displacing the usual professional technical standards of audiovisual work. At the same time, it has exposed imbalances regarding the possibilities of production and knowledge available to students, as the methodologies adopted often did not take into consideration the availability of equipment to professors and students.
Secondly, connectivity has been a key issue in delivery. The fact that the internet connection depended upon professors’ and students’ data plans (determined by each participant’s economic and technological possibilities) impacted the teaching of the first semester. Due to the pandemic, and since the academic year starts in March, many students from the provinces stayed at home instead of moving to their university’s city, revealing the differences in connectivity throughout Chilean geography. Students faced these crucial problems of connectivity when streaming or downloading videos, for instance. Thus, frustrations about education delivery due to connection instability partially led to, in some cases, “online strikes” (as mentioned earlier) called by students, who willingly refused to join online classes as a symbolic protest, unprecedented in the history of Chilean education.
Students’ mental health problems also strongly affected their individual work. A preliminary approximation carried out in 2014 detected that 26% of university students in Chile suffered from some degree of depression. A survey carried out among students of the Film and Television Department at the University of Chile in July 2020 in the context of the health crisis that asked the question “how have you felt in recent months with the pandemic and the current semester?” found that the most popular terms used by audiovisual students were “unmotivated,” “overwhelmed.” “anguished,” and “bad.”
These methodological and infrastructural problems also compound the lack of coordination between the Ministry of Education and universities in collaboratively developing educational strategies that foster standard educational policies, which ultimately in a pandemic context exacerbate the differences in tertiary education found between the universities. There are cases of lack of coordination, for example, in the implementation of methodologies and plans that did not consider the technological and digital literacy challenges faced by professors and students.
Along the same lines, both academics and students focused on the problem of how to use online media to teach. On the one hand, a repeated complaint made by professors was the lack of interaction with the students who, blaming their unstable connection, turned off their cameras, did not engage with the virtual class by participating actively, or did not deliver evaluations on time. On the other hand, students argued academic overload, which led to incorporating breaks during teaching times. In both cases, it becomes evident that the implementation of online technologies with the virtualization of teaching did not contemplate the social, psychological, and cultural conditions of both academics and students. Thus, educational institutions reacted with delay, providing basic technical training and support in a short period of time, failing in most cases to meet the standards of face-to-face sessions, especially for practical workshops in audiovisual production. In a similar vein, theoretical modules suffered a decrease in the number of hours for readings, analysis of audiovisual works, and writing of critical essays.
In conclusion, the forced restructuring of educational practices in audiovisual creation displaced the emphasis from collective work to a cinema of individuals, which will probably change the syllabus, pedagogical strategies, and communication between professors and students. In this regard, UNESCO has published a set of recommendations anticipating the reopening of institutional education, focused especially on Latin America, bearing in mind the redesign of learning/teaching processes. New challenges arise regarding how technologies will interact with the narrative forms that emerge from this period since the precariousness and diversity of technical equipment affect the points of view, themes, and aesthetics deployed under these circumstances. This recalls how university filmmaking made between 1964 and 1973 in Chile used the limitations of its time (16mm film, absence of studios, portable cameras, etc.) to articulate a characteristic visuality of the time. Thus, we need to discuss and integrate a combination of technological resources and flexible methodologies into audiovisual education, as this type of constraint could open up a new style of image-making.
Vladimir Rosas received his MA in Film and Screen Studies from Goldsmiths, University of London, and is currently a PhD student in Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick. His research work focuses on audiovisual microhistories through amateur media.
Luis Horta is the Coordinator of the Academic Program of the University of Chile’s Cineteca (Film theatre). His research specializes in the audiovisual heritage, aesthetics, and language of cinema. He has published several books in Spanish about Chilean cinema.
Khalili, Hossein. “Online Interprofessional Education During and Post The COVID-19 Pandemic: A Commentary,” Journal of Interprofessional Care, 34, no. 5 (2020): 687-690. doi:10.1080/13561820.2020.1792424. ↑
Universidad de Chile. “80 por ciento de los estudiantes de educación superior nunca había tomado un curso virtual,” Uchile.cl, https://www.uchile.cl/noticias/164324/estudio-revela-el-impacto-del-covid-19-en-la-vida-de-los-estudiantes (accessed September 4, 2020). ↑
La Tercera. “El gran test de las clases on-line,” LaTercera.cl, https://www.latercera.com/tendencias/noticia/el-gran-test-de-las-clases-online/JOJOMO7S2BAB3FNRJYPPHGUZ3I/ (accessed September 17, 2020). ↑
Bio Bio Chile. “Alumnos de la PUCV se mantienen en paro online: académicos criticaron duramente la medida,” Biobiochile.cl, https://www.biobiochile.cl/noticias/nacional/region-de-valparaiso/2020/04/18/alumnos-de-la-pucv-se-mantienen-en-paro-online-no-tendrian-internet-ni-computador.shtml (accessed September 4, 2020). ↑
In order to scrutinize the current situation, we have asked a number of film and media scholars in Chile about their experiences and opinions, through an online survey. ↑
Except for film appreciation courses, aimed at the general public. ↑
Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile. “Ley 20,435 que modifica la Ley 17,336 sobre Propiedad Intelectual” (Law 20,436 that modifies Law 17,336 about Intelectual Property), bcn.cl. https://bit.ly/34hIW06 (accessed September 17, 2020). ↑
The university streaming platforms in Chile are: www.cinetecavirtual.uchile.cl, run by the Universidad de Chile, with 450 videos; www.archivofilmico.uc.cl, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, with 183 titles; and www.archivopatrimonial.usach.cl, run by the Universidad de Santiago, with 102 videos. ↑
Garrison, Randy, and Norman Vaughan, Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles, and guidelines. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, 2008). ↑
Su, Feng, and Namrata Rao, “Developing a blended learning model in the context of COVID-19 pandemic,” Researchgate.net, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341709279_Developing_a_blended_learning_model_in_the_context_of_COVID-19_pandemic (accessed July 9, 2020). ↑
Baader M., Tomas, Carmen Rojas C., José Luis Molina F., Marcelo Gotelli V., Catalina Alamo P., Carlos Fierro F., Silvia Venezian B., and Paula Dittus B., “Diagnóstico de La Prevalencia de Trastornos de La Salud Mental En Estudiantes Universitarios y Los Factores de Riesgo Emocionales Asociados.” Revista Chilena de Neuro-Psiquiatría 52, no. 3 (September 2014): 167-76. doi:10.4067/s0717-92272014000300004. ↑
“Resultados encuesta 3er año Cine y TV- Síntesis” (Internal report). Instituto de la Comunicación e Imagen – Universidad de Chile, July 27, 2020 ↑
UNESCO IESALC. “Covid-19 y educación superior: De los efectos inmediatos al día después,” Iesalc.unesco.org. http://www.iesalc.unesco.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/COVID-19-ES-130520.pdf (accessed September 14, 2020). ↑