Assessing the validity of student work

We all want to win. Whether we work toward making a touchdown, getting a solid test grade or winning a film award, all of us want to come out on top. But should we sacrifice our integrity for merely a title or trophy — or for that matter, the ability to call our work our own?

Recently a group film that I worked on over the summer was selected to be screened at the annual Harvard-Westlake Film Festival. To be honest, I didn’t even know that it was in the running because I hadn’t helped make this domestic violence PSA with the intention to get anything out of it — except the experience of learning how to make my first film.

Of course, I was really excited that our film was chosen. But the more I thought about it, I questioned if I could really take credit or even deserved the honor.

Our group had a professional filmmaker help us with the majority of our animation, and I wondered, to what extent could we call the work our own?

Hoping to expand my knowledge of filmmaking, I participated in the Cuba Digital Storytelling Adventure in January.

I was surprised, however, when I learned that most of the footage for our student films would come from professional filmmakers that chaperoned us. During the trip, although I was able to conduct my own interviews, our chaperones framed most of the shots and filmed most of the crucial footage.

Furthermore, once we got back, all the footage was uploaded into a single stockpile and shared with all students on the trip.

For me personally, I felt conflicted between whether I was grateful I had a stockpile to rely on or if I should have expected a more independent experience.

This made me question: Where is the line between student-produced work and teacher work?

If I didn’t film the majority of my Cuba video, can I take full credit for work that was only partially mine?

Thinking about this also prompted the question of how eligible are the films that we enter into competitions?

The All American High School Film Festival is a competition that our school has entered, and one of the eligibility requirements is that the “the film’s director(s) must have been in high school while filming the project.”

But how could one be the director without having filmed the actual content, especially without crediting the cinematographer? One adult chaperone includes student films in his profressional credits but as the executive producer and not as the cinematographer.

Could I have created the same video if I had access to the film stockpile without actually having gone on the trip? If so, aside from the obvious cultural experience, my week immersed in a foreign country almost seems to be a disappointment.

Even in my experiences in Chronicle, where a byline clearly distinguishes who wrote the article, I’ve questioned whether the author is the only contributor to the story.

While we come up with our own ideas and write the stories without help, they must go through a lengthy editing process by various students and teachers. And sometimes, some research for a story is done by students other than the author.

It makes me wonder where we can draw the distinction between what is our own work and what is not.

The same issue is apparent in the college application process. It’s widely known that some students receive aid on their college essays. But, again, the line that suddenly makes your work someone else’s is unclear.

Is the competition and never-ending pressure to get into college pushing students to hire tutors that will basically write their entire essay and supplement answers?

It’s scary to imagine that the stress of applying to college could influence me to sacrifice my integrity. I hope that never happens. Since my first year at Harvard-Westlake, I’ve learned a lot about the community and its value of honor — especially when we sign the Honor Code on all assignments.

But can our striving towards excellence really be deemed as honorable as we believe?

 

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