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Making Videos: First Attempts

posted: 10.5.12 by archived

It’s been a couple of weeks since my first experiment with digital storytelling in my composition class. Because I didn’t want to take too much class time, the assignment was a group one: as part of my scaffolded series, each group of students was to compose a 60-second video that in some way illustrated curiosity, creativity, or persistence. In response to that experience, Traci Gardner’s thoughtful post about A Justification for Composing with Video, and several of my students’ questions about its relevance, I’ve been considering my own defense of its place in my writing classes.

Here’s what I’ve come up with as objectives (or unintended consequences):

  •  Students become familiar with how easy it is to use video-editing software in a low-stakes assignment, where the tech-savvy can help the less experienced. Most groups could complete their videos within our one-hour-and-fifteen-minute class period.
  • As Traci points out, the composition process involved in video production can profitably be linked to the writing process, giving students a visual model that may help them reflect on the stages of composition both of image- and word-based texts.
  • For this class (with my curiosity/creativity/persistence theme), digital composition lets students experience the pleasures of creativity (and maybe the rewards of persistence as well, for those few who struggled with tech difficulties).
  • In addition to the many students who said they enjoyed the project (several made multiple personal videos, which they posted to either YouTube or Facebook), one student pointed out how the project got students talking to each other, which can only help to build the sense of community I hope for in a writing class.

What fascinated me was the variety of approaches the students took. Some brought in pictures from personal albums (or accessed them on Instagram or Facebook), while others found images online; some left the classroom to take pictures or shoot video across campus; several groups shot video right in the classroom with their cell phones, and one group chose to use the Webcam on a laptop. The resulting videos included cartwheel practice on the lawn outside our window, photographs of students’ children and art work, the process of training for a marathon, a silent-movie style conversation without subtitles, and images tracing the creation of a Dungeons and Dragons character.

There were a few problems to be considered. I had intended that students use their own photographs or Creative-Commons licensed images, but in the time limits imposed, students had a great deal of trouble finding appropriate images using either Wikimedia Commons or Flickr’s CC section. Against my better copyright-police impulses, I did allow students to use Google image search results, warning them that this would not be allowed in any other video projects they might do for the class. In addition, a couple of groups did have technical difficulties, largely due to the phones or cameras used to capture images or videos. The multiplicity of devices was a complicating factor, as was my limited technical knowledge, and a test run of devices used would have been wise. (I’d guess about 75% of my students had either cameras or smart phones, so this would not have been a problem if we had tested out devices first.)

I’m planning to offer digital storytelling as one of several options for the multimodal research project that will culminate the course. In that context, I imagine gathering images will be a valuable part of the research process and an aid to organizing thoughts for other, more text-based components, especially for more visually oriented students. In the greater time span allowed (both for production and duration of the video), students will be able to incorporate substantially more text into their projects.

As always, I’d welcome any feedback (and especially warnings!) from those of you who have tried digital storytelling, or any challenges from those who question its appropriateness in the curriculum.

Categories: Holly Pappas
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