By Mira Vogel, on 18 July 2017
For my project I interviewed pairs of students and assessors discussing their experiences with assessment in various digital modes including blog, website, video and podcast. These are the forms students’ work can take as they are asked to make their first steps in conceptualising an audience beyond academia.
Again and again I heard students express the view that the primary need of their audience was to be engaged, to have their interest kept. ‘Eating your own dogfood’ is a slang term for using your own product or process to test or promote that product or process. I decided early on in this project that dogfooding would be to make my final report using the kinds of digital tools and abilities we increasingly expect students to deploy, posting the outputs somewhere I could build an audience and count the views and links. I would need to monitor the time I spent on this, though. As an investment in my skills, would it be a good one? I heard about many students whose interest, pride and/or determination led them to put in far more effort than their tutors required – but if I were a part time student with kids and a job, could I manage this? In any case, would these be the kind of skills I would use again soon enough to remember them? Compared to typing out a text report which, as altmetrics are beginning to reveal, chances are hardly anybody would read, would it have more impact? I have heard from a tutor who didn’t participate in my project because he had abandoned assessing student media, that unless students can see how their effort builds skills which will help them in future endeavours, they are reluctant to spend their time this way.
With this in mind from the beginning (and enabled by the total impossibility of anonymity in my project) I video-recorded the conversations with the intention of editing them into thematic films of no more than 3 minutes each, which I would cut with screenshots or footage of the students’ work. I have made three of these videos so far, and find they have striking benefits I hadn’t really grasped before. Unsurprisingly, because they include non-verbal cues – including the other parties in the conversation – they are immensively expressive compared to typed-out quotations. They are engaging, and this invites longer excerpts than I would get away with if I typed out the quotations. The ability to edit in excerpts from different interviews with illustrative footage and stills from students’ work has two major advantages: one is that it sustains engagement and the other is that it allows me to communicate the theme in question more succinctly and elegantly through my selections, sequencing and other editing decisions than I could with words. Having typed no end of widely-ignored verbal reports, I am hopeful about reporting in this way (and after all, this is not new – ask anybody involved in teaching documentary film making in UCL Anthropology).
All that said, this approach brings new challenges. One is the kit. I wanted to restrict myself to the kit students tend to have already, namely a phone and iMovie. In fact I succumbed to buying a gorilla grip (because I already had a camera phone mount and my existing grip broke and what’s the point then of having the mount?), and then ended up using an old phone to take a second higher-quality sound recording. I succumbed to buying a portable light because I really wanted to light interviews in darker rooms and then, because the light made my participants squint, deployed a portable light diffuser which I’d noticed in the Arena Centre kitchen. My department paid for an educational licence for video editing software. I could have claimed all this back but students wouldn’t have that privilege. If I had been a student my relative wealth would have placed me at a potential advantage (and managing this level-playing-field factor comes up in the discussions).
There are ethical challenges too. I obtained consent to record but by remixing these discussions what I am doing here is basically taking out of context, or making new context. Of course we do this in typed form but for the reasons above, these videos are more impactful, especially where they juxtapose contrasting views. Trust is important – I have a duty to leave my participants as willing to participate in future projects as they were before they encountered mine – and this kind of very rich, expressive, attributable quoting seems to imply new levels of consent. So my consent form promised that participants would have the chance to check the films, and were free to withdraw at any time. Nobody has raised any problems so far but I am still in the thick of making videos and sharing them with the relevant people via OneDrive, which is why I can’t post my videos quite yet.
However, I did get consent to show the ones I’ve made so far at the recent Connecting Higher Education conference at UCL, where the feedback I received included “enchanting” and “outstanding evidence”. Not the kind of response I tend to get for my 20-pagers.
Here, for now without the videos, is the presentation visuals including plenty of images and quotations. Need this bigger? Here’s the link to the original.