Workshop 2015 Session Notes: Student-Created Video

One of our first two sessions this past weekend was on student-created video: digital stories, video essays, remixes and other motion-picture media students create as an assignment or exercise in a course.  Since that is an area of expertise for me and I was facilitating the session, it probably turned into more of a Q and A than we intended. But to be fair, there are a number of issues, some conceptual, some logistical and technical, that are important to address, so I completely understand the desire to mold it in that way.

We started by talking about what brought each of the participants to the session, and out of that introductory conversation came some useful comments.  Some participants felt that student-created video assignments are valuable because students feel the process of creating a video is more fun than writing an essay.  One question to consider in response to this suggestion is whether this sense among students will be a lasting one, especially as faculty become more comfortable with assigning video projects and genres of scholarly video production like the documentary and the video essay become more established.  Others felt this could also be a detriment, in that the “cute” factor as one participant put it can be more of a driver of the video quality than the intellectual ideas the assignment was supposed to encourage.

We moved from there to a range of concerns participants had with these kinds of assignments.  There were three core issues we discussed during the session:

  • How much tutorial time and effort is necessary with students today to ensure they have the tools available to make a competent video?
  • What about evaluation of video work? Rubrics or other methods of assessment?
  • What is the legality of posting student work online, both in terms of the fair use of copyrighted material and of their own rights to protect their work?

Regarding the first set of questions, I shared that I’ve written a piece for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) Teaching Dossier called “Production as Plug-in” in which I lay out a number of ways to approach the issue, depending on what your pedagogical goals are. We talked about my argument there in broad strokes, but briefly, my experience is that how much tutorial you build into your course schedule depends both on what your objectives are for your video production assignment and what your comfort level is with guiding your students through that work.  Though you by no means must be an expert, there is probably a minimum amount of assistance you should at least know where to point them to for most projects.

Regarding the second set of issues, we discussed that the key is keeping the focus always on what it is you want your students to practice or develop through the assignment, and crafting your criteria around that.  I did do a little research after the session, and there are some tools out there that are pre-built – and EdTech Central both have some good links to others’ rubrics for video projects – and some good advice on engaging the rubric-creation process in more depth so as to create your own if you’re interested.  I don’t use rubrics but I give my students a list of “evaluation criteria” phrased as questions that, if answered in the affirmative, constitute successful completion of the assignment.

Finally, regarding the last set, we talked about how the legality of posting work online is a contentious one, as I’m sure most readers will be aware.  As we discussed in the session, the issue of copyright goes “both ways” so to speak: concerns arise both about the use of others’ material in student projects, and about how free others will be to use student-produced material in their projects.  The latter question is actually easier to address because copyright law stands clearly on the side of the creator.  So assuming the student produced the material entirely on their own, they retain the right to decide who can copy it and who cannot. Enforcing that right is the harder part of that battle, but the volume of new material being produced every day is so great (even just to one sharing site) that students’ projects are adrift in it, so the likelihood of another finding and using a student’s work illegally is also quite low.

Most thorny is the question of whether and when a student is legally allowed to use another’s material in a project for a course.  Such “fair use,” and the nuances of the federal act and the case law that surround it, are both too voluminous for this post and not fully in my area of expertise.  In my field of media studies, we are lucky to be able to build on the work of several scholars who do have that expertise, and who have been working for the last few years to develop a set of “best practices” for working with copyrighted content in video production.  The best statement of those practices currently is a document also produced by SCMS, and while it is oriented toward media studies faculty and courses, it can be generally useful to others as well.

Given the brevity of the session and the scope and depth of these topics, we really only were able to touch on them at the workshop.  But we’re likely to have additional lunch or Saturday morning workshop sessions in the future, so if you’d like to see something like this topic discussed in the future, let us know here in the comments below. 🙂