Bridging Art and Science

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The course uses movies as a primary tool for learning about global development and sustainability within the framework of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Students learn about storytelling and watch a series of five prescribed movies; each one linked to the SDGs. Lecture time is used to discuss the movies within a broader context. Students are also provided with coaching on movie-making skills and produce a short 5-7 minute movie which forms part of the grade.


Teaching Mode (Combination of Synchronous & Asynchronous)

The course uses movies as a primary tool for learning about global development and sustainability issues within the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The course has a ‘sandwich’ structure: a 3-week block of movie-making is held in between two blocks of watching and reflecting on movies. At the beginning and towards the end of the semester, students learn about storytelling and before each scheduled class they watch a series of five prescribed movie; each one linked to one of the five core topics of the Agenda 2030 (Planet, People, Prosperity, Peace, Partnerships).

Students must make the time to watch these movies independently. In the first 30-40 minutes of the class, external guests and ETH lecturers provide information, data and research on the topic of the movie for that week. After this, the students are guided through a discussion in which they bring together their reflections on central aspects of the movie with the more technical information that was presented to them.

During the middle of the semester, we focus on the technical skills of movie-making, including instruction on how to use a specialized software. Students then work in groups to apply their acquired storytelling- and technical skills by producing their own movie on a specific sustainable development topic. Individual group coaching was provided so that students could adapt and refine their production before presenting it for the final assessment.

Student Participation & Involvement

Student participation is integrated in 3 ways:

1. Q&A: Students ask questions during class related to the theoretical / factual information provided by the invited presenters. Often these questions are contextualized based on their takeaways from the movie.

2. Movie Reflections: During the second half of the class, students are asked specific questions related to the movie. For example, what messages does the movie convey? From who’s perspective does the story unfold? Why might this be problematic or advantageous? Does the movie narrative confirm or contradict what we know from science & research? Such questions lead to rich exchanges between the students who often share differing perspectives.

3. Group Work & Peer Grading: Students work in interdisciplinary groups to produce their own movies which also involves meeting outside of class hours. Two classroom sessions at the end of course are dedicated to screening these movies. After each screening, all the groups are asked to grade the movie which their peers have produced along various criteria. Prizes were given for the best movies as voted for by the students themselves. These results did not however influence the grading for the final assessment.

Communication, Support & Feedback

Moodle was used as the main communication channel between the lecturers and students. Half-way through the semester each group received a one-to-one coaching session with a movie-making expert. The aim was to give students the opportunity to get feedback on the narrative they were developing as well as get answers to technical questions on movie-making once they had already experimented and used it for a couple of weeks.


To receive 3 ECTS and a grade for this course, students must submit:

1. A short film (5-7 min) prepared and produced in groups and related to one of the dimensions of the 2030 Agenda (People, Prosperity, Planet, Peace, and Partnerships). The film counts towards 60% of the final grade.

2. A short reflection paper (max 4 pages) on one of the films discussed during the course which counts towards 40% of the final grade. We provide a loose structure for the paper by asking students to:

· Explain the issues and challenges the movie attempts to portray and how these are relevant to the SDGs and trends in progress (or lack thereof)

· Identify the perspectives from which the movie unfolds, what biases this may create and what information is left out?

· Assess how science/research can help to answer some of the questions/issues and/or challenges raised in the movie, including references to the relevant literature

· Provide ideas for what countries and the global community can or should do to progress towards solving some of the problems raised

How teaching has been changed since the beginning of the pandemic

The course has gone through various iterations – changes have taken place including making the movie watching element asynchronous (but this change was not triggered by the pandemic). Several classroom sessions had to take place online due to Covid and student engagement was lower compared to in person settings. We could improve this by adding more structure to the discussions by for example, making better use of online break-out groups and reporting back after the break out session.

Nevertheless, the flexibility provided by making an important time-intensive aspect of the learning (watching the movies) take place asynchronously gives students time to reflect and think of questions.

In addition, the movies produced by the students had to be screened via zoom rather than in a classroom. However, this was not optimal largely due to technical challenges associated with streaming very big files on zoom.

Our thoughts and ideas for the time after the pandemic

There should be at least one or two lessons in presence at the beginning of the course so that students can get to know each other. This is important since they have to subsequently work in groups for the movie project. Secondly, it is more motivating for the students to have an in person class when the movies they have produced are being screened. The asynchronous parts worked well (watching movies and coordinating with team members on movie production). There were some students who did not watch the movie before the classroom discussion, and sometimes if they have watched the movie several days ago, they forget. In the future, we will show some scenes of the movie (10 mins) to refresh minds and also use this as a basis for more specific discussions.

The second change we would like to try out is to ask students (in pairs) to volunteer to moderate the classroom discussions on the movie and provide discussion notes. This would involve them doing some background research on the topic, which they would do asynchronously. Students can then choose between doing the reflection paper or the moderation session as part of their final assessment.

Overall course structure and goals provided above under teaching mode. The below graphic illustrates the didactic concept which uses a mix of synchronous and asynchronous formats. Both formats integrate the students own active participation and learning from each other.

What discussion points are you particularly interested in when exchanging with other lecturers?

How to encourage inter-disciplinary exchange. Course participants typically come from diverse academic disciplines and students make their movies within a group that is inter-disciplinary as a way of thinking outside academic disciplines. What methods have other lecturers used to build these inter-disciplinary thinking?

How do lecturers approach teaching in cases where students have very different starting points of knowledge. E.g., students include Bachelors, Masters, and PhDs?

Course Description

Sustainable Development - Bridging Art and Science
In this course students deepen their knowledge about global development and sustainability issues. We will show five movies each of them linked to one of the five P`s (Planet, People, Prosperity, Peace and Partnerships) reflecting the topics of the 2030 Agenda. Afterwards the movie will be critically discussed with researchers and relevant stakeholders from the broader society.
• Students get a broad understanding of some of the most important issues and discussions related to sustainable development.
• Students get exposed to diverse realities of young people in developing countries
• Students can critically reflect upon the information that is presented to them in the movies and relate it to the broader discussions around sustainable development.
• Students reflect on issues concerning communicating research and the realities of low-income settings to a wider public.
25 - 30
Teaching Power: