Just days after I wrote "Using Film to Contextualize Course Content" I ran across this article in Scientific American Mind "I Learned it at the Movies: Hollywood as Teacher." Wray Herbert notes that "Educators believe that the vividness of film can be a valuable teaching tool, enlivening and reinforcing students' memories for otherwise dry historical text," and that movies can be yet another tool along with lecture and textbooks. I'm a firm believer in this concept.
This article though also focuses on what happens when movies get it wrong? Reporting data from a recent Psychological Science article (Butler et al., 2009), he underscores the importance of a good teacher making use of movies in a classroom where that teacher must highlight inaccuracies and errors in the movie. Doing so 'tags' the information for the student and allows for the movie to bring concepts to life in a compelling way, while not in turn 'teaching' inaccurate information.
This method is extremely important when using films to exemplify psychological principles. Hollywood often gets it wrong when it comes to psychology. "Split" personalities, amnesiacs, and wacky therapists run rampant with heavy doses of fantasy being portrayed as reality. Assignments that have students critically evaluate the correct and incorrect content, and those that have students compare and contrast accurate versus inaccurate portrayals of psychological disorders (for example) are critical to make the best use of movies in university courses.
This brings me to another point. Most of the movies I show in psychology courses in fact are not what are considered "psychology movies"; in other words they are not about mental disorders. Rather, I often choose movies that portray the other myriad topics in psychology that go beyond what might be found in an abnormal psychology chapter in an intro to psych textbook (like those having to do with sensation and perception, cognition, motivation, emotion, relationships and on and on). Using movies at all in the classroom also allows for discussions of stereotypes and cultural perspectives on the discipline.
Using Films to Contextualize Course Content: http://www.psychologicalscience.com/motivation_emotion/2009/12/new-design-launched-using-movable-type.html
I Learned it at the Movies: Hollywood as Teacher: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=i-learned-it-at-the-movies
Butler, Zaromb, Lyle, & Roediger (2009). Using popular films to enhance classroom learning. Psychological Science, 20(9), 1161-1168. http://psych.wustl.edu/memory/Roddy%20article%20PDF's/Butler%20et%20al%20(2009)_PsychSci.pdf