The Social Problem Documentary: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Creating Media Tools that Address Societal Problems

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For the past 7 years at Rowan University my Documentary Film Production class has been working with the psychology and sociology departments to create 25-minute video documentaries that address many of the societal problems in the US. These documentaries have paired Radio/TV/Film students with sociology, psychology, and journalism students, as well as appropriate members of our surrounding communities. The student documentaries have addressed the social problems of binge drinking, sexual assault, racism, hazing, and drug addiction. The Rowan University Center for Addiction Studies (based in the psychology department) has funded many of these documentaries, and distributed them to all 54 New Jersey colleges and hundreds of New Jersey high schools. The student documentaries also have been funded by Security on Campus, Inc. This organization has distributed the documentaries nationally to over 10,000 colleges, high schools, police operations, rehab centers, and the US Navy. Customized, interactive websites, DVD design, and additional video resources have also been part of the projects. I thought the conference attendees would be interested to hear how this innovative, interdisciplinary approach to creating socially conscious media can be both a great learning experience and have a positive impact on the surrounding community. In the end, the success of our program is directly related to the students, who are the same age as the target audience. They create documentaries that are hard-hitting and relevant. The fact that the research is grounded in fundamental sociological principles enables the students to see the bigger societal picture and tell their stories better. Creating multi-media in support of the documentary subject is a bonus for everyone.


Keywords: Societal Problem, Multi-Media Technology, Interdisciplinary Teaching, Documentary Film
Stream: Technology in Community
Presentation Type: Workshop Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Prof. Edgar Eckhardt

Chairman and Professor, Radio/TV/Film Department, Rowan University
Glassboro, New Jersey, USA

For most of my professional and teaching life I have been dedicated to creating a socially relevant documentary world for myself and my students. The experience of teaching young media production students not only the techniques of making a documentary, but the power a completed work can have in the world outside of college has been exciting and humbling. Since the mid-90’s the documentaries produced by students in my documentary production classes have won over 60 regional and national awards in juried competitions, including 6 Cine Golden Eagle Awards and a student EMMY. But more importantly, their documentaries are being used throughout the United States as tools in the fight to reduce campus crime, binge drinking, sexual assault, hazing and drug abuse in high schools and colleges. I have tried to integrate my own creative and professional life with my television production classroom. While teaching fulltime, I have worked at WCAU-TV, Channel 10 (NBC affiliate in Philadelphia, PA) for 7 years as a documentary and magazine story producer. I have worked for 14 years as the media producer for Odyssey of the Mind, Inc., the international creative problem solving organization. I feel strongly that everyone has an obligation to contribute meaningfully to his/her community. Colleges are uniquely positioned to connect with their surrounding communities. Student projects can have a large impact on lives. In 2006 I received the nationally sponsored Lindback Award for Teaching Excellence. I would love to share our success in creating socially conscious documentaries at Rowan University with the conference attendees.

Ref: T08P0392