Let's get emotional: the use of films in teaching tourism

Hyung highlights the key findings of her exciting work on using films and critical pedagogy in a tourism context

[Guest post by my Middlesex colleague and CYGNA member Hyung Yu Park ]

Tourism and critical pedagogy

My teaching paradigms and practices in Higher Education have been grounded in challenging the existing norms and values of society by including less dominant, alternative, individualised perspectives in learning. This faith and passion for teaching tourism as an area of critical thinking and reflection was shared by my co-author and ex-colleague, Dr. Maureen Ayikoru. We wanted tourism education to help students to develop more collaborative and responsible ways of managing tourism industries as future managers and leaders. We were keen on transforming our classrooms into discursive spaces where critical thinking, creative interaction and Socratic dialogue are an expectation. We both used films in our lectures and seminars as a tool for creating this discursive space.

We therefore decided to develop a research project which aims at critically examining the roles of films as a critical tool in enhancing experiential deep approaches to learning. We managed to secure  funding from the UK Higher Academy’s subject network for Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism. Tourism management and studies have not been fully recognised as an area of critical pedagogy given that the nature of tourism is mainly seen to be business-oriented and commercial. However, tourism is an inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary subject which is deeply grounded in both business and social sciences. Understanding tourism dynamics in varying contexts needs critical thinking and a careful reflection on the wider nexus of politics, economy and culture that contemporary tourism is embedded in. We hope that the publication of this paper will contribute to disseminating this message clearly across different academic disciplines.

Films as a tool of critical pedagogy

We used films as an important teaching and learning tool, with a belief that films can portray and deliver the subjectivities of either real or fictional characters, which can eventually lead to harnessing students’ multiple and situated voices. We put a strong emphasis on the inclusion of students’ voices in practicing critical pedagogy by incorporating various films in both lecture and seminar. The socially constructed, power-laden and ideological nature of films is of great relevance in stimulating students’ interest in critical and complex issues. We argue that the use of films to unravel such issues while centrally situating students’ voices in its critique becomes a valuable feature of critical pedagogy, which aims to facilitate the development of criticality and emotionality in the learning process in tourism education. For example, films were used as an integral aspect of learning and teaching in some sessions that are conceptually and contextually difficult to convey to the students, such as tourism impacts in developing countries, sustainable tourism and ethics and responsibility in tourism development and management. We mainly used a range of short films, news clips, or documentaries of up to 10 minutes, during the 60-minute lecture and up to 20-30 minutes in the 90-120 minute seminar classes, followed by questions and discussions. The discussions took place during lectures, where each student was free to contribute their views to the whole class, or in the seminar classes, where students worked in small groups or debated with each other.

Apart from teaching the curriculum, we, as tutors, support students’ personal ethical growth and global citizenship. This point clearly links to the Graduate Attributes which most of the universities embrace as part of their programme outcomes, i.e. students’ ability to understand their roles as citizens and make a positive contribution to the communities they operate within through appreciation of social responsibility. Given the fact that students will most likely travel during certain times of their life, sustaining their critical awareness and emotional engagement throughout various travelling experiences is expected to contribute to their life-long learning development, which is one of the main tenets of higher education. Crucially, we argue that films used in a learning environment act as stimulants for the emergence of multiple perspectives of the ‘said’ and the ‘unsaid’, hence encouraging and facilitating students’ active participation and critical engagement with the topical content. This teaching strategy supports the development of higher order thinking skills that are of crucial significance in higher education.

Why are films effective?

Images and imagery are critical in understanding the complex and intricate dynamics of tourism management both in theory and practice. The use of films in teaching tourism is thus pertinent in facilitating both conceptual and contextual understanding of the critical issues in tourism being examined. By way of visualising, recontextualising and discussing the studied content, students are able to develop a qualitative approach to both critical thinking and reflection (cf. Hibbert & Cunliffe, 2015). In this sense, films are thus useful in harnessing and nurturing criticality in pedagogic practice. Furthermore, the emotional responses evoked by watching relevant films prove to be constructive in enhancing cognitive and critical engagement with the issues. They then  develop, challenge and transform students’ personal perspectives and understanding of society and the world, which should be one of the primary goals of higher education. In contrast to popularly held beliefs in the extant literature, we show that negative emotions are also useful in contributing to students’ reflexive reflection, thereby facilitating deep approaches to learning. Negative emotions elicited from watching the films are particularly useful in provoking deep emotional responses with the learning content. Emotional connectedness while watching films facilitate the learner’s realisation of multiple perspectives and articulations of different parties involved in tourism development, with particular reference to less dominant narratives of disempowered groups. As emphasised previously, tourism management education generally tends to be apolitical, despite the fact that tourism is unmistakably bound up with wider political, economic, and sociocultural conditions and changes in a given context. It is thus important to incorporate a pedagogical tool such as films through which critical thinking can be facilitated in learning.

  • Hibbert, P. and Cunliffe, A . L. (2015) Responsible management: Engaging moral reflexive practice through threshold concepts, Journal of Business Ethics, 127: 177-188.

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