Ask questions first, shoot later

March 3, 2006

Film and video can be wonderful teaching tools, but to maximise their potential you must think clearly about what you want to achieve, then plan with military precision, advises Harriet Swain

Worried that your students are spending too much time in front of the television and not enough on their studies? Maybe you need to combine the two.

Video can help illustrate a point and enhance student learning by showing them things rather than just talking about them, says Mike O'Donoghue, lecturer in the educational research department at Lancaster University. He says showing a filmed interview with the author of a key course text may even encourage students to engage more with the book. "It can give new insights into his writing," he suggests. "They can play the video through as many times as they like and it adds a new depth to their understanding."

Adrian Vranch, academic developments manager at Plymouth University, and a founder member of Diverse (Developing Video Resources for Students Everywhere) says that using video over the web can give your teaching wider reach. Plymouth offers real-time video presentations with responses via e-mail or chat text, live videoconferencing tutorial sessions and on-demand web TV.

Murray Weston, of the British Universities Film and Video Council, says academics should view picture and sound content as primary and secondary source material in the same way as written sources. This should include updating viewing lists in the same way as reading lists, and knowing where students can get hold of particular films or moving images. "It should be part of the fundamental knowledge that they carry with them," he says.

On the other hand, don't be shy of asking for help. Björn Haßler, research assistant at the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies at Cambridge University, says you should find out about technology support services at your university as well as seeking out colleagues who already use video. His view is that a well-chosen technology framework helps to realise your creative ideas.

Gayle Calverley, resources and technology adviser at Manchester University, says you must start by thinking about what you want students to learn. This will influence the kind of help you need. For example, you may want students to go out and interview people, in which case you will have to get hold of the right equipment for the students and get advice on training them to use it. Alternatively, you may want to produce a demonstration video, and will have to find out where best to put the camera and microphone and how to distribute your film. You need to think about whether students will be watching the film during a practical class or on their own, when it may be a good idea to include questions and pauses, giving them time to answer.

She says it is always worth bearing in mind that you are creating resources for the future. You can use the film your students make to teach the following year's cohort.

Vranch says that if you're using video via the web, you have to make sure that the university's networks and servers are able to deliver it and think about firewalls and bandwidth limitations, which may affect how the student receives it.

O'Donoghue says that if you are doing the filming yourself, you need to plan meticulously, so that the finished product fits your brief and looks professional. "A lot of people do it as they would on holiday," he says.

"They record things and hope they get some use out of it. But with a little preparation and thought, it will illustrate the point you are trying to make more clearly." This involves being clear about what images you want to collect, what you want people to say if you are filming interviews, and the message you want to put across. You will also have to think about sound and lighting.

Ha'ler says people often don't pay enough attention to audio. "You would never use your camera without looking at the video, for example through the viewfinder," he says. "Likewise, you should always use the camera with headphones to listen to the audio you're recording." The camera you use should have a separate audio input and you should be able to set the audio level manually, he says. You also need the microphone as close to the speaker as possible (for example by using a tie-clip microphone).

O'Donoghue warns that you need to be aware of ethical and security issues, especially when filming children. "Think about where you are pointing the camera and who is going to access it," he says. You need to be conscious of respecting privacy and obtaining permission to film when necessary. If you are using material filmed by someone else, you also need to consider the legal minefield of copyright, which is much tighter for video and sound than for text and pictures. So long as you are using a piece of film that you have acquired legitimately and are showing it at an institution as part of your teaching, you should be OK, although it is wise to check what licences your university holds. But as soon as you copy the film and distribute it to students for use off campus, including over the web, you could be in trouble.

Calverley says you should check the terms and conditions of retrieving material - sometimes different conditions apply to the same material, depending on where you get it from. You also need to be aware that websites sometimes change the material available so don't build a course around it without checking first.

Weston points out that moving pictures tend to be particularly good for conveying issues, and much less useful in cognitive learning such as conveying dates and facts.

Further information

Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching: www.trilt.ac.uk </a>

British Universities Film and Video Council: www.bufvc.ac.uk </a>

Education Media Online: www.edina.ac.uk </a>

Developing Innovative Video Resources for Students Everywhere: http:///elisu.gcal.ac.uk/diverse2006 </a>

TOP TIPS

Seek advice

Plan well in advance

Think about sound

Be sensitive to legal and ethical issues

Practise

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