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.

Caption Fail?

This activity, from my Computers and Writing class this week and the guru-of-accessibility, professor Melanie Yergeau, was designed to see how accessible the caption feature on youtube really is for video material.  We recorded ourselves reading a paragraph of text (mine is me reading my blog response to the readings from the other day), and then we uploaded the audio to youtube, turned on the captions, and looked to see what would come out.  You can listen to and watch mine below, just click on the CC captioning icon when you press play to see the captions.

Overall, though, I’m surprised at how good of a job the youtube captioner does.  Ok, ok, so the captioner has no idea how to use a comma, and authors Bowie and Zdenek became “slowly and senate,” but who even knows how to say Zdenek’s name anyway?  And digi-rhetors became “digi-renters,” but I’m not even sure digi-rhetors is a word some of my colleagues would recognize if I said it to them face to face.  In class, Melanie mentioned that the youtube captioner does better with a man’s voice – maybe my voice is manly?!?  I am an alto, after all.

All in all, an interesting experiment in accessibility for digital video.  Maybe the youtube captioner technology is getting better, for which those of us who care (or should care) about accessibility can rejoice.

Words to Ponder re: Digital Delivery & Accessibility

Porter argues that we need a robust theoretical framework for digital delivery – a framework that will “help you write,” aid your productive action if you will.  His framework calls attention to bodies, distribution and circulation, access, interaction, and the economics of composing and delivering digital texts.  Bowie and Zdenek also call digi-rhetors to pay attention to the accessiblity of our 21-st century texts:  how can we take a “universe of users” into account as we design and research?  If and when we caption, what do we caption, and why?

These articles have important implications for my own (and my students’) rhetorical action as digital video composers, and I’m left with much to ponder.  I’ll represent the questions and ideas rolling around in my brain with some key words and phrases relevant to video composing:

remix; licensing; keywords and tagging; the posthuman?; to caption or not to caption; “soundtrack”; representing music in words; visual design; WHERE TO PUBLISH??…



Thinking about making video….while listening to Etta

I just heard that Etta James passed away today, which makes me sad.  So I’m listening to her “The Essential Etta James” CD as I compose this post.  Here’s a taste for you, so you can listen while you read.

This morning I attended a workshop on making and teaching video led by MSU’s Danielle Nicole DeVoss.  I was excited to meet her as I’ve used her book Because Digital Writing Matters in a few papers.  It was a small group for the workshop, which made the format informal and conversational, which was nice.  We talked about teaching video in a writing class because most of the attendees were writing teachers.  It was interesting to hear different folks talk about their perceptions of video composing and its role (or non-role) in the writing classroom.  For some, “writing” and video seem like two totally different things, for others, making video opens up possibilities to highlight a rhetorical approach to writing any kind of text.

A few instructors voiced anxieties or frustration with having their students compose in video but not knowing how to help them or coach them when technical issues arose.  I think it’s true that the instructor should have at least a little bit of knowledge about software and hardware; however, I also think that the classroom can become a sort of “workshop” space where students and instructor play and learn together, where no one really is the “expert.”  This approach is a definite switch from the model where the teacher brings in the expert knowledge, but I think it’s a model where collaborative learning is at the forefront, even for functional or technical questions such as how to import a video clip into a software program such as imovie.

Another concern that was raised was how to assess products like videos in the writing classroom – a question which I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about lately, too.  I’ve come to see that setting students up to self-assess (set goals, reflect and revise their goals multiple times, and then evaluate their goals and process) is very useful along with evaluation from the instructor.  This approach highlights not just the video product in the end, but also the process.

I was also happy to get some time to just play around with imovie in the workshop.  Danielle provided us with “found materials” – images, video clips, songs – and we got to spend about an hour manipulating them in imovie and making a short video.  This is the kind of activity that would work great in a writing class to introduce video composing.  I’ve done something similar, but I really like that Danielle provided the materials for us, which saved a lot of searching time.  I think I will steal and adapt for my own classroom in the future!