Visualising Differences

15 June 2021

Educational project

Visualising Differences

Visualizing Differences (VIDI) challenges students to critically reflect on dominant societal discourses and media images of diversity, difference, and social exclusion by creating their own films. Through visualisation, students go beyond textual learning, acquiring a different and deeper understanding of academic and societal discourses on diversity and increasing societal impact by bringing their critical films into the public domain.


By diversity we refer to any kind of racial, ethnic, sexual, religious and other difference from the model of dominant identity (generally: white, Western or native Dutch, able-bodied, sane, heterosexual, and/or male). The focus is on groups that are traditionally considered vulnerable and disadvantaged based on their difference (lgbtqi+ individuals, migrant populations etc.); groups that remain socially excluded and marginalized by stereotypical representations in public and media narratives. Academia is not excluded from that observation: a Western, native Dutch, ‘white’ perspective remains dominant in many, if not all, academic disciplines, notwithstanding honest efforts in that respect (amongst which Utrecht University’s Diversity project).

This project teaches students media-awareness in a time of fake news and increased attention for diversity and inclusion. It connects with the University’s vision and our Faculty’s strategic agenda regarding the education of critically engaged professionals for a pluriform society. The main educational innovation concerns the focus on film-making rather than on writing skills. This expansion of skills education connects with the development of the REBO Skills Academy (part of our Quality agreements 2019-2024), aimed at establishing a faculty-wide offer of skills education geared to current demands from society and the professional field for interdisciplinary-trained critical young professionals.

Goals and results

VIDI aims to realise nuanced and inclusionary understandings of cultural diversity, gender performance, ableism and beauty, as its main motivation and raison d’etre. It operates on two levels, an offline and online lab.

One of the outcomes is the Teacher’s Manual, on which more information can be found below.

a place for students to experiment with film-making and critical reflection on dominant discourse on ‘difference’, through visual, rather than textual representation.

VIDI offline lab is an initially extra-curricular, hands-on seminar, planned outside regular course timeslots. Two rounds of 7 seminars have been realized during winter/spring of 2022 and 2023. They are thematically embedded in three master programmes of the participating faculties – MA Global Criminology (REBO); MA Gender Studies (Faculty of Humanities) and MSc Cultural Anthropology: Sustainable Citizenship (Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences) and can become a structural element in these courses, through regular EC’s financing, after the project’s completion. Students eligible to participate are motivated master students of these three programs (approx. 15 per year), selected through written motivation notification.
Participating students team up in groups of three students from at least two of the three faculties involved, to ensure disciplinary diversity and cooperation. Seminars are taught by the UU lecturers leading the project, along with a number of (film-making) experts.

Our already existing contacts to cultural institutes (among others: Pakhuis de Zwijger, ILHIA LGBT Heritage, ATRIA Kennisinstituut voor Emancipatie en Vrouwengeschiedenis [Amsterdam]; Casco Art Institute, Studium Generale, ‘t Hoogt, Louis Hartlooper Complex, [Utrecht]; cinema/ cultural hub in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) and art/film festivals (Cinemasia, Transcreen) provide opportunities to showcase students’ films and discuss their effects.

The project was deemed succesful, as students and teachers alike explored the possibility of translating textual knowledge into visual knowledge, ultimately leading to a fruitful endproducts. The bridge between the textual and the visual is certainly worth further exploring.

an online platform (Life Long Learning UU virtual platform) for both students and UU teachers outside of the project, who plan on engaging with visual learning.

The online lab is a constantly expanding, interactive teaching manual, featuring knowledge clips, PP presentation, literature, DIY videos, a repository of student-made films/ docu’s, expert manuals on film-making, assessment tools etc. Through the platform interested parties can consult experts and UU staff involved. It contains all building blocks for the development of a MOOC after completion of the project. Educate-It is partner in familiarizing staff with online teaching tools and providing access to the LLL platform.

In terms of intended results, VIDI can achieve the following:

  1. Didactic innovation: discover and gain experience with a visual, rather than textual way of communication and representation.
  2. Diversity & interdisciplinarity: students acquire an in-depth understanding of diversity and its relation to processes of social exclusion. They take part, critically and visually, in societal dialogues. Interdisciplinary collaboration teaches them to look at ‘difference’ from multiple perspectives.
  3. Lifelong learning for both students & staff: the project strengthens students’ academic specializations and teaches them transferable skills to be utilized throughout their career/ life. Teachers involved learn from inter-faculty collaboration (theoretically), as well as from experts (visual analysis and filming skills).
  4. Immediate professional skills training for students: Learning to make films is a skill that students can immediately put to use in their master research projects. By showing the films in cultural institutions, students learn to ‘translate’ and distribute their academic work to stakeholders, build a professional network and prepare for the job market.
  5. Societal outreach: The films created by students initiate significant and critical debate on pressing societal questions of diversity. By showcasing them in cultural institutes in the Netherlands and abroad impact is provided beyond academia.

The Teacher’s Manual is a comprehensive, reflexive guide that maps out the conception, organization, preparation and realization of VIDI. In interaction and collaboration with the education specialists participating in VIDI (Hanne ten Berge and Judith Loopers), the major and minor parts of the project’s history were collected in order to create a manual that, on the one hand, reports and streamlines the process while, on the other, tentatively explains how interdisciplinarity, didactic innovation and lifelong learning are achieved through VIDI (see report, especially pp. 4-18).

One of the main aims of the project was to map out a potential assessment framework for student films. Our rationale was not to have students create films that are aesthetically or technically perfect but rather, as mentioned above, to have them create films that are intellectually stimulating and critically nuanced – an original way to ‘write a paper’, but in film. In order to do that, we have paid sufficient attention in delineating an experimental assessment process for the films created during the project ( see manual, especially pp. 18-21).


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