Video Composing the Diss

I’ve been composing a video as part of my dissertation work over the past few weeks, in part as a final project for the Computers and Writing graduate course that I’m auditing with Dr. Melanie Yergeau, and in part because I’ve always wanted to make videos as part of my dissertation.  So this one is an experiment, to see if what I make really adds anything that I need to the written prose.  A few reflections here about what I’m learning along the way!

I see this video composition as part of my methodology for the dissertation – a new way to interact with and analyze my data.  The main way I’ve been interacting with my data as I’ve been writing up chapters has been by way of more traditional “qualitative analysis” – that is, I interviewed students and instructors, observed class lessons, and collected documents.  Then I transcribed the interviews and observations and went through and coded the written representations of the data, or, I put labels on everything!  Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.  But basically, I’ve been working a lot with the written text, and adding more written text (codes) to that written text to help me think it through.

So the video editing has brought me back (closer anyway) to the original data sources, which (obviously) aren’t just written text.  I’ve been looking at video footage from my classroom observations and from the interviews.  I’ve been listening to the voices of my participants again, and I’ve been seeing their faces, their bodies, their clothing, their hair.  I’ve been interacting a whole lot more with the digital products that the students in my study created, and weaving pieces of these products together with interview and classroom footage (this aspect of this kind of video composing project is SO COOL.  I can watch a student’s video, and then superimpose the student herself talking about the choices she made over the top, so you can watch/listen to both at once).

The video composing has also made me pull back from individual pieces of data a bit more.  In the write up when I’m working with written transcripts and quotations, I find myself writing about a certain quotation or classroom incident for a good chunk of time, for hours, for days.  But in the video composition, I see the whole picture in my mind’s eye more often, and I don’t fixate as much on smaller moments.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that the video is so much faster: I can see and hear multiple pieces of data quickly in the video, whereas it takes much longer to read an account of the same moments and analyze them.  In the video, I also see and hear the learning happen in the students.  I see them in different outfits as time passes, and suddenly, they’re talking differently, too – they use a term like juxtaposition in a class discussion, or they talk about how thinking about their imagined audience helped them to make a compositional choice, and then I can see evidence of that in their product.  Their learning overall seems more apparent to me as I create, watch, and listen.

And then, well, there are the cool parts of making a video.  I get to use music, and organize sections of my composition according to the musical breaks or the melody.  I get to use text movements and choose fonts, to play with animated transitions and backgrounds.  I get to watch tutorials on youtube, and learn new software platforms, and learn to edit with a brightly colored keyboard made specifically for Final Cut Pro.  There are some lame aspects, too: I have to video edit on campus, and the booth I’ve been working in gets ridiculously hot.  I had to buy an expensive external hard drive that was compatible with both Mac and PC and spend about 3 days figuring out how to partition the drive on a campus machine (thanks to Melanie for helping me figure it out eventually!).  And video editing, well, it’s slow!  Hours upon hours upon hours to work on one small section.  I’m much faster (and probably more skilled) at writing paragraphs, I tell you.

In the end, I’m glad that I’m doing both for my dissertation, even if both video and written paragraphs don’t end up in the diss itself.  Composing in multiple ways is valuable to me as a researcher, and it is helping me to think about my data from various angles.  I wish I could post the video I’m making here, but you’ll just have to wait until the diss is out in full effect.  For now, it’s back to the editing booth.