Students make documentary videos: archaeology and beyond

By Marcos Martinon-Torres, on 21 August 2014

Most students are fed up with writing essays, and most teachers are fed up with writing them. Of course they serve a purpose, but surely there are other ways to assess what our students have learned and are capable of doing, while keeping them learning, and helping us learn too.

Thanks to an E-Learning Development Grant, last year I piloted an alternative assessment for my undergraduate Archaeometallurgy course. I gave students the opportunity to produce, plan, write, shoot, and edit 5-minute documentary videos on a topic of their choice, provided that they were relevant to the course syllabus and aimed at an educated, nonspecialist audience. The result was remarkable success: a good number of students embraced the challenge of using their smart phones for something new, and engaging different parts of their brain . They produced very creative and informative videos. Together, they presented interviews, experiments, museums and archival research on a wide range of topics, such as the production of weapons in Roman Britain, Mycenean gold, crucible steel, the Benin brasses at the British Museum or the rather more modern history of the aluminium in our cans of Coke.

Without a doubt, for many of these students, who had no experience of videomaking, this assessment took longer than other options. Far from complaining, however, they appreciate the fact that they were prompted to learn new skills that will be useful outside the classroom. Needless to say, I learned a lot too, not only from their videos but also from trying to guide them in an area outside my own comfort zone. As their videos will soon be uploaded to a Youtube channel, the students will also be contributing to democratising access to knowledge – another useful lesson learned by all.

Luke Davis wrote a news item for the Teaching and Learning Portal where you can find a few more thoughts about the experience, as well as a a link to a blog by one of the students, where she presents her video as well an interesting assessment of the whole experience.

This would not have been possible without the help, stamina and creativity of David Larreina, a PhD student who was recruited as a TA to create guidelines and offer surgeries to the students. David created two sample videos as well as a detailed set of guidelines in wiki form, which the students found very informative. Importantly, these videos and guidelines are written in such a way that they should be useful for people outside archaeology, considering similar assessments for their own courses – or those simply willing to create short, documentary videos for any purpose.

I very much hope that you find these guidelines useful – if you use them, or if you would like to discuss any of this with a view to using videos as a form of assessment, feel free to get in touch.