Curriculum Renewal to Capture New Opportunities in Screenwriting

Penny Johnson and Noel Maloney give us an update on the major internal review of the Advanced Diploma of Professional Screenwriting. It’s interesting to think about the external drivers of this review.

Screenwriting by Jgmz at English Wikipedia

This year, the Advanced Diploma of Professional Screenwriting at RMIT has embarked on a major internal review of its curriculum. There are several compelling reasons for doing this now, ahead of the program re-accreditation process due in 2018.

Industry conditions are undergoing rapid change. On the one hand, traditional screenwriting opportunities in Australia are shrinking. Television drama seasons are now shorter, and feature film projects are increasingly more difficult to finance.

On the other hand, there are emerging opportunities for Australian screenwriters to work internationally, which a recent research project funded by the Vocational Development Centre helped identify. New digital platforms and more access to technologies also mean filmmakers have unprecedented access to creating screen narratives. These new platforms are also changing the nature of screen narratives.

Factor into this our changing cohort. Younger students, due to the popularity of media and theatre studies in schools, increasingly have experience in writing and producing screen-based projects. Older applicants are also bringing an impressive portfolio of short films they have written, directed and distributed.

So, the need for a review is pressing. Our program advisory committee (PAC) and the student staff consultative committee (SSCC) have provided useful insights. We have also undertaken a program-wide assessment survey, mapping the types of assessments completed in every course, and this has revealed patterns of over-assessment that need to be addressed.

However, the most useful activity we have done in this process is to consult our teachers. In screenwriting we have a marvelous resource: our mostly sessional teachers are active practitioners as well as experienced educators. Over the past six months, we have interviewed them individually about how we might better equip students to navigate this rapidly changing landscape, and then provided them with transcripts of the interviews to enable further reflection. This process has yielded rich insights and creative suggestions.

This research has produced three key themes we will use in redesigning the program.

Making

The assessment survey reveals an inordinately high number of granulated activities across the program, at the expense of projects that better reflect industry realities. This correlates with increasing feedback from our SSCC to reduce micro assessment, and provide better opportunities for students to make work that will better support their portfolios.

Engaging

Our program has strong industry connections. However, we need to build greater industry engagement for students throughout their studies. The 2014 anthology film project, ‘One Minute to Go’, which we produced with guest director Denny Lawrence in collaboration with 16th Street Acting Studio, was a good start. Next year, in conjunction with the City of Yarra, we will produce a documentary anthology to profile the changing nature of Smith Street, Collingwood. These projects, more than anything else, give our students the opportunity to work creatively and contingently in complex environments.

Integrating

Over the past three years, we have seen an unprecedented number of student-initiated film projects. As well, the highly successful student-led RMIT Screen Network, now in its second year, creates opportunities for students to meet, pitch and develop projects. Despite this, teachers and students have reported a sense of disconnection between these co-curricular activities and our formal curriculum requirements.

These themes produce two key questions:

  1. How can we reshape our curriculum to emphasise holistic, industry relevant projects?
  2. How can we build links between non-assessed activities and our core curriculum that will benefit student learning and employablity?

Over the next month, we will seek to answer these questions through a series of staff and industry workshops. We feel optimistic that many of the suggestions offered so far can be readily addressed in next year’s curriculum. Competency-based vocational education, for all its stringent reporting requirements, allows a degree of flexibility in delivery and assessment. Competencies can be relatively easy to re-contextualise, in order to respond to changing industry and student need.

So far, this renewal process has been a richly rewarding one for all concerned. Our teaching staff and students have welcomed the opportunity to be heard: a reminder perhaps of the value simple, in-depth conversation can offer.

One thought on “Curriculum Renewal to Capture New Opportunities in Screenwriting

  1. Great work Noel and Penny – a really interesting insight into the processes you have undertaken for renewal – yes agree in-depth conversations are indeed a fabulous way to catalyse in-depth and meaningful change. Sadly these kinds of conversations are too often in short supply as we cry out for instant gratification – good on you for taking the time. Cheers Angela

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