Producing with Purpose: Students Using Critical Independent Media as a Tool to Serve the Community


Behind the scenes. Episode 1 (Musicians).

What better way to enhance students’ academic learning and acquire career related skills than by fostering opportunities that will help make connections between our universities and the communities in which they thrive?


Through redesigning and implementing an advanced TV production course into a community service learning experience, students strengthened their production skills while engaging in meaningful and socially aware media environments.

Interviewee from Episode 8 (Storytelling: Transgender Stand Up Comedian).

The Practice

It is inevitable when living and working in a city that is so rich in diversity, culture, and language that students will intertwine with a multitude of people from all different walks of life.

By strengthening community engagement and service learning we strengthen our students’ academic application and their real-life practice, while they gain a sense of belonging, civic responsibility and awareness.

I redesigned my Advanced TV Production course so that students could gain professional-like experiences in television studio production and receive community service learning credit from the University by producing a weekly magazine TV show (8 episodes) dedicated to showcasing and assisting organizations that serve the local community.

At the beginning of the semester my students were broken into four groups, each group consisted of a 5–6 staff production team composed of: a producer, director, writer, production assistant, a field production director, and an editor. Each group produced two episodes during the semester and used their other classmates as their production staff. Students worked on community service projects that involved local artists.

Interviewee from Episode 6 (Street Art: Displacement).

For content, the groups chose a local institution or organization that has partnered with the University’s service-learning program, i.e., a program that connects community members with students. If the group wished to work with an organization that was not already a member of the program they were encouraged to facilitate the pathways to partnership. The group coordinated and attended two events to support their chosen institution where they not only provided the service but also recorded the activities and produced two 3–5 minute audiovisual packages with interviews and b-roll. Both packages were shown during the live TV show episode and were distributed on local Comcast channels.

The episodes were composed of three different block that included an introduction to the show and the institution’s history, an interview, or panel, with special guest(s) and finally a performance or demonstration and outro. To ensure that the project had significant impact for the community, we relied upon the organizations’ leaders to supply us with an assessment of their needs and background on the issues their specific community faced.

Program Distribution:

SF Comcast Channel 75 (Friday’s 7:30pm)

SF Comcast Channel 27 (Friday’s 1:30pm)

SF Commons Channel 29 and 76 (Varies)

In-studio performance by local artist. Episode 5 (Painters).

Why This Course?

Creating a course like this not only required creativity and innovation to design but also dedication and persistence. In order for my students’ to receive Community Service Learning (CSL) credit I had to acquire CSL designation from my University. The course was so well received that I was awarded a Community Engaged Scholarship Faculty grant. The rationale behind submerging my students into their local community through community work was to contribute to positive change for our under served communities and the organizations that seek to support them, to guide my students through personal growth and understanding of the social issues that surround them, to link academic study and audiovisual production with real world experiences, to utilize the experience for critical reflection, engage in high-quality production (including pre-production, production and post-production) and to foster communication skills through interpersonal interactions with their TV production crew (classmates) and clients (the community service institutions).

Outcomes: In many cases, community members played an important role as co-educators for my students, sharing their knowledge of complex social issues and offering mentorship. In past episodes we interviewed struggling artists from: street performers to muralists, hip hop recorders, social activists against neighborhood displacement due to gentrification, and members of the LGQBT community. The feedback I received from my students suggested that this course had a measurable impact on their development and transition into the professional world as evident by my course evaluations and student comments. Examples of student feedback included:

Best experience I’ve had in school. I would recommend this class to any serious student.

This is the most “hands-on” class I have ever experienced. And that’s what it is. It isn’t just a class it was an experience.

I thought you’d be interested to know that “####” won second place for BEA’s #### category! And I just wanted to thank you for your guidance last semester. Without your critique, I wouldn’t have been able to create this piece.

We also had positive review from the community as evident by their feedback and gratitude. Examples from letters to my students from those they featured in their projects:

What a lot of work you put into this episode! Thanks for using our music so well and helping to tell the stories of people making art in SF.

Thank you!!!! The program/work is AWESOME — well done!!!! Love the diversity in selection of voices — love the beautiful quality of filming, the interviews, the editing is excellent — super professional and relevant. You all ROCK! Thank you for doing justice to this timely subject! The hosts were great too — please pass on our gratitude to them and the rest of your team as well. Would love to stay in touch about other future projects you all are working on and possible collaborations!

Thank you so much for creating a video for our organization. This means a lot for us. We would like to post this on our FB and on our news page on our website.

I feel confident that through bridging my Advance TV Production class with community service learning I have been able to enrich my students’ holistic academic experience. Through combining university academia with the knowledge and application of our community members, I have been able to contribute to the interpersonal and intrapersonal growth of my students as members of the media workforce and society while teaching them audiovisual concepts and principals in an effective and meaningful way.

Dr. Oscar Guerra is an educator, producer and researcher. He is an Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University in the BECA Department. His primary research interests include the re-creation of the Mexican-American experience in the United States through the use of critical independent media.


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