Can We Have it on Video?

In this post, CNDLS Graduate Associate Elad Meshulam, who worked as producer and editor of an Israeli news program before entering Georgetown’s Communication, Culture, and Technology program, shares some of his thoughts on video and education.

As videotaping technologies evolve and become more accessible and easy to use, we can see how they spread like wildfire. Everyone wants everything to be documented and saved on tape. The purpose of it is not always clear, but since every smartphone is capable of filming moving pictures in TV broadcast quality, and since it takes only several minutes to save clips on a hard drive, all of us are slowly becoming documenters, and our computers are turning into tremendous archives.

The documentary trend is growing in our classrooms as well. Conferences and events are being regularly filmed and published in order for people to take part in them online. More and more faculty members want to film their lectures, or at least part of them, in order to upload them on the web and make reviewing lectures more convenient for their students. Besides, we all want an online presence, don’t we? This is where they say our future lies…

Many philosophical issues have been raised on this matter; how it affects the way we experience events, sets cultural narratives, and designs a collective memory. These are all highly interesting questions, but when we deal with combining video and education, specifically in classes, what we really need to ask is: how can we make it work?

Unfortunately, many times we see that teaching methods, which work in class, do not apply as well in a filmed class. Students, who come with a set of expectations about what to anticipate from their professors while they sit in front of them, have a totally different “mind set” when they sit in their homes in front of the monitor. They usually are much less patient and passionate, and moreover, they unconsciously wish that the session they now watch would match the expectations they have from the medium they use to watch it.

Let me offer you an alternative way of thought towards this, which might cause a little bit of inconvenience for us as scholars. With an obvious different goal (albeit not that different), once our lecture is online, where people watch films and TV shows, we have to think of it as a product of “entertainment.”  Our viewers are no longer just  “students;” they are now also an “audience.”  I’m not saying that this should change the messages or types of knowledge we transfer, nor our mission. I am saying we need to change the ways we think of them and present them.

When preparing for class, we all think of the best way to teach, to get our students alert, engaged, interested. The techniques we use to do this are appropriate for classrooms, not for mass media. We have to start thinking of it with “entertainment” tools when we just start planning our sketch. If we want our video to be as good as our class, we should prepare it in this orientation.

For a start, we should make things much more visualized, integrating as many visual elements as possible, demonstrations, video clips, photos, and moving graphics. We all do that today with PowerPoint and Prezi, but should do it more if being filmed. Moreover, we should start to consider other visual issues, such as: How does the “set” look? Is our room good enough? Can we ask to use a nicer room with better lighting when being filmed? Are the chairs in the room in the right order? Do our students sit in a way that will look good? Where do I stand or sit in the “set” that will look the best way possible on the monitor frame?

The session’s architecture is very important as well. How can we plan a session that will include more differentiated elements, which will help the viewer navigate it when watching? How can our session be more balanced in terms of lecturing vs. discussion? How can it be more rhythmic?

While planning the session, we should think of the student sitting at home, having total control of what and how he watches. It is no longer the case of a student that feels bad to show us he is bored or didn’t understand. The student at home will just scan your lecture as he wishes and do four other things while watching you. Don’t fight it; just help him go through it in a way that will allow him to gain the most from the lecture.

Many of us are not aware of the fact that there is a huge similarity between the processes of planning a lecture, and of building a mass communication product. A good lecture works as a good TV show line-up or a good film should: it makes sense; lets one thing lead to the other; has clear messages; is interesting, surprising, and appealing. There should be a plot and characters that the viewers could understand and relate to. By the end, they are both very enjoyable, albeit in different ways, to the audience.

I’m not saying this because I think we need to see ourselves as “entertainers,” however, I do say it, because the students, who are watching you online, are expecting to be “entertained” more than you — and even they — think. Matching the message to the medium is our first step to make it work.