“The ability to tell stories through moving images is what gets young people,” says Henry Knudsen, who teaches media and technology level 2 (one year) and level 3 (two-year extended diploma) qualifications from the University of Arts.
“Film media is an interesting world - I teach the moving image component which is mainly about film production: story-telling, scripting, ideas for sets, production and the technical aspects of editing.”
Henry’s necessarily holistic approach to such a diverse subject means spending considerable time discussing ideas, challenging students to follow up their own concepts, treating each member of the class as individuals. It’s a quality that one of his recent students, Amy Ransom, highlighted in our account earlier this month of her own inspiring student journey to overcome problems caused by autism.
Spending time with each learner is key
“He was a natural, always taking time to talk to us and help us in any way he could,” says Amy. "He’d produce targets related to our area of research and study rather than blanket rules and expectations, so that we’d have more creative freedom while also staying on track with the task.”
Anything but formulaic in his teaching style, Henry also creates much of his rapport with students by spending considerable time with each learner. “In almost all my classes,” says Henry, “I continuously hold one-to-one, in-depth conversations with all my students.” He doesn’t believe a teacher’s place is front of class. “I don’t just let my students sit there - I’m always sitting down with them, mentoring them, going through their work so I’m continually aware of the challenges they face. Communication is everything to me.
“Whatever tasks the students complete come with reflective evaluation via writing and presentation - I always ask them for a short evaluation of what has been discussed in a class or lecture.”
Different perspective on teaching film
Henry’s background may help account for his different yet successful approach to teaching. He got into drama and photography while at school in Denmark and then moved to the UK (his father is Anglo-Danish) to take a performing arts degree at Brighton University including video production. A postgrad diploma in theatre studies followed at London’s Royal School of Speech and Drama. Then it was back to Copenhagen, where he worked at various TV stations and did film and media supply teaching across colleges and schools, taking up his first full-time college teaching post in 2004.
He moved to the UK in 2010 because of family links and a wish for new challenges, taught performing arts and film media at Newham college for three years, took on more agency work across London colleges and schools and, since September 2018, has been full-time at Richmond upon Thames College.
‘An unusually talented student’
His recollection of Amy? “She’s unusually talented - after leaving last year she’s already working as an editor in a film company. She’s exceptionally good at designing websites as a visual artist, working with concepts and ideas.”
“She just gets on with her assignments and delivers. She’s technically good at making videos and meticulous about her research - you should see the way she conceptualises ideas for her projects.”
“Her main challenge has been about acquiring self-confidence in her work - sometimes if we were looking at her website [students have to submit all their work via their own personally designed website], she’d question the quality of her work and if she could make the deadlines. I'd reassure her that things were definitely ok and, needless to say, she always did meet the deadlines.
All student work is presented and marked on-screen
“I helped her through reflective discussions about layout, concept ideas, story-telling narratives, the aesthetics of her website, and organising her research work. I’m also there to help learners reflect on how things look on screen. We’ll only mark student work presented on websites.”
What’s been the Covid effect? Henry has still managed to continue his one-to-one meetings and has replicated most other activities online.
“Before lockdown, for instance, I was giving lectures on technical skills in cinematography, focusing on camera techniques when filming such as focal length, aperture and speed, plus presentations on areas like editing and sound design techniques. I got the students to write their own reflective logs . . .”
Seamless switch to online teaching
Given the courses’ web-based nature, students were able to continue their research and analysis of film productions over the summer term, and talk and write about aspects of characterisation, directing and production.
“Since March, we’ve been doing only online projects using the Microsoft Teams videoconferencing platform. Second-year level 3 students continued their final projects online, though they were not graded officially this year. One student, for instance, produced a documentary film about her homeland of Angola, others made vlogs on life under lockdown at home and I encouraged them to use the film medium to show aspects like the atmosphere of barren, empty streets.”
“In new classes this new term, blended learning includes an assignment spent analysing 10 different film productions/TV series that they like. They will then go into more detail on three of them and write up the style and history of one individual director.”
Let your enthusiasm lead your teaching
Henry’s key advice to would-be media and other lecturers is to show real passion and enthusiasm for your subject. “I’m an enthusiast by nature in all the subject matter; I try to inspire my learners by producing something other than just mechanical formulaic training sessions.
“I’m there to explore their own wishes and creative dreams - I tell them that whatever film they are analysing has to be something they find interesting, because they are finding their own voice.
“The students work in quite an individualistic way. I engage with them about the story and the story-telling technique, I try to energise them and get them to explore and dissect the story, to uncover what motivates them. It makes them more enthusiastic, more driven.”