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Video and Its Role in Teaching

It became clear to me how important video is to scholarly work and teaching when the National Geographic Channel filmed me and the team from the Vis Center during our digitizing of the St Chad Gospels in Lichfield, England, in the summer of 2010. In working on medieval manuscripts, my research involves much pouring over scholarly writing, my being couched in text and its scholarly dialogues. Video opens a whole new range of possibilities, possibilities that I had not explored. My interview with National Geographic happened amidst the imaging work, which made it difficult: we had a tight schedule and unforeseen technical difficulties were a constant. For instance, controlling humidity in the small room of the medieval cathedral in which we worked was a continual struggle, which is not surprising in England. Too much humidity, even an extra person's breath, could cause the approximately 1300-year-old pages of the manuscript made of vellum (calf hide) to swell from the moisture and waver during the imaging.

To prepare for the interview, I thought hard about the complexities of my research and how to make it accessible to non-experts, including other academics. I felt good about my strategies. But when I sat down for the interview, in front of the camera and bright lights—I sat on a wooden bench with a bank of lights bearing down on me from my right—I struggled to find my fluency. The interview team was wonderful: Jenni Butterworth, an archeologist who had moved from academics to film production, and Mel Morpeth, who had spent time with the BBC. They helped me relax, but I still struggled before finally finding my rhythm. Afterward, I vowed to work with video and try to make it a skill, both for myself and my students.

While the current generation has been called the YouTube generation, watching videos and producing them are totally different. I think it is particularly important for graduate students to experiment with video, be aware of its potential, and have a level of comfort with producing it. The proliferation of YouTube has been quite astounding. On it, you can find instructions on how to do about anything. I have to believe that videos will become more and more significant to scholarly research and the dissemination of scholarly information. Language, and writing in particular, has enjoyed a long run as our most trusted and relied upon mode of communication. We owe our gratitude to Gutenberg for this. But digital technologies, our generation's Gutenberg innovation, offer vast possibilities. I have become determined to refine my video skills and understand what types of scholarly information communicate well through video. As an educator, I feel it is my role to do the same for my students.

Stills from my grad students' videos are on the left and right: they produced videos about what it means to write or how they learned to write. These scaled down versions, presented as animated GIFs (thus their name, "GIF Miniatures), pale in comparison to their full-length videos. But they offer a flavor of their work. What I find so striking about video is how it enlivens what my grad students say and offers a sense of who they are in ways that words do not. Words on a page invite us to believe in Cartesian philosophy’s mind/body split. Video makes it more difficult to separate the life of the mind from the life of the body, which is particularly important if we are thinking about literacy, a skill of the whole body and linked to a community of bodies. I am even inclined to argue that scholarship has suffered when approaching practices of literacy because of the lack of theorizing the body (something current scholarship is correcting), whether we are trying to understand scribal practices in early medieval manuscripts or today's challenges of teaching academic discourse to first-year students.

 


 
Last Updated Nov. 5, 2011


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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