A plot, the usual song and dance routine of a Bollywood potboiler and two heroes battling out for the heroine. But no, We aren’t talking of Ranbir Kapoor and Imran Khan fighting over Deepika Padukone, but Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein defending their world view theory. And it’s coming to a classroom in your college.
College, you ask? Yes, we say. Why not get the visual story telling techniques of Bollywood filmmakers to make lectures as interesting as films?
Storytelling techniques of commercial cinema revolve around plot, characters, dialogues and structure. Let’s take our previous example of Newton and Einstein. In a regular classroom, the difference between Einstein’s world view and Newton’s would emerge as theory and formulae on the blackboard. In a movie, it would take the forms of characters — one representing Newton and the other Einstein — and instead of fighting the villains, they’ll be duelling about “absolute” and “relative”. So, instead of listening to a monologue by the professor, students will get the lessons through dialogues, action and loads of masala, in our signature Bollywood style.
“I think lectures, as we currently do them, are completely antiquated. They were invented before there was Internet and TV and universities have just been slow at moving away from them,” says Luis Von Ahn, computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
What if Mani Ratnam were to make a movie to teach math or physics or even Shakespeare? Not the plain vanilla webcasts of lectures that you would find on Youtube or Academic Earth. He would, of course, make it with the best lecturers, use the best technicians and animators, and employ the time-tested story telling techniques of commercial cinema.
What if you have a library of such high quality lectures that universities across the world can access?
Students will learn from some of the best lecturers from across the world. But will that be equal to being in a classroom? As good, or better, say researchers who compared video lectures with traditional ones. There can be innovations. One example is lectures in a modular form — short, 10-15-minute-long movies, explaining a single concept. “Students can access these anytime; view them on their mobile phones or iPods while they commute,” says M.S. Krishnan, professor of business information technology at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
For colleges, the benefit is clear — better value to students. Like text books, lectures too would come from different parts of the world. Private universities that rely a lot on guest lecturers, would find it easier to replace some of them (and parts of what they teach) with videos.
College days are fun, but we need to make classrooms and lectures fun too. Movies are sure to do the trick.
(This story appears in the 14 August, 2009 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)