MAKING THE JUMP: A VIDEO SERIES ON INNOVATION IN DIGITAL HIGHER EDUCATION
Like many educators, I find myself repeatedly facing new technologies. Some are built explicitly for learning environments (Canvas), others are built for media production (Adobe Creative Cloud), and yet others for who knows what (TikTok anyone?). And while I can usually, more or less, find technical guidance online and on-campus—from how-to guides to workshops to consultations—what seems less prevalent are the pedagogical considerations: How does this fit in my teaching? How can this tool or suite of technologies help students develop 21st century literacy skills or digital fluencies? How might these emerging authoring platforms enhance learning experiences in my class? Or, perhaps just as valuable, what are other people doing with these technologies? How might their strategies, approaches, and orientations fit within my own perspectives and purposes?
These questions reside at the heart of this digital project, which is intended to (a) fall somewhere, stylistically, between podcast, variety show, and pedagogical how-to; (b) provide situated responses to some of these prompts (and be responsive to emerging situations); and (c) to share, in a general way, the various insights and innovations happening at the intersections of digital literacy, digital creativity, and digital pedagogy. Thus, during my fellowship year, beyond traditional academic inquiry related to projects of this nature, I have also designed the basic format of this video series, produced branded media elements and key video production assets, and created five pilot episodes—with episode 2 including an additional supportive guide.
The goal with this inaugural set of episodes, which I introduce in brief below, was not only to launch the video series as a thing in the world, but to fundamentally gain a better understanding of the process, to develop a clearer sense of style and approach, to grasp the time required (to go from the pre-production work for an episode through production and distribution), and to refine my sense of audience (and gauge real-world viewer interest). While I have learned a lot throughout this process, there are two things that stick out above all else: (1) time/effort from ideation to completion for each episode is much longer than I expected and (2) designing content and delivery for YouTube (i.e., for a more public-facing engagement) invite an altogether different set of rhetorical strategies.
First, as an ‘army of one,’ the workload for each episode is fairly intense: I contacted interviewees and scheduled interviews, controlled all the production elements and handled all post-production editing, and did all the marketing and distribution (across multiple social media channels). Each step presents its own challenge and requires both a different kind of mental space and a different set of skills (shifting from creator to coordinator to host to editor to social media strategist). As such, perhaps the single largest takeaway for me in this project has been that to do this any notable frequency (i.e., more than once a month) requires either bringing on a support team or to commit to this project as the primary (if not only) thing I do as a scholar.
Second, while the insular world of academic publishing provides the valuable process of peer review, it also creates something of a built-in audience and readership that, in turn, establishes its own set of conventions and expectations. In contrast, when focusing on YouTube as repository and distribution vehicle, even for a relatively defined academic-adjacent audience, requires a different set of considerations. Packaging, presence, and the first 15 seconds matter in ways not directly applicable to traditional scholarly engagements. Moreover, keywords and titles, tag ecologies, and full descriptions (not abstracts) play an important role (for searchability, for visibility, for viability). Additionally, the visual (thumbnail), the hook/opening, and the use of digital interruptions (e.g., on-screen elements, B-roll footage, cuts, etc.) help foster longer viewer involvement with a work. Thus, while clarity of content is still king, if you look at the series so far, by Episode 4 I am far more engaged in the splash opening and the use of digital interruptions to break up the talking-head experience than in earlier episodes. Of course, I never want to lose the digital literacy, digital creativity, digital pedagogy focus of the project, but shifting from the role of creator-host (in the stages of ideation) to editor-distributor (in the sense of episode completion) forces one to think about things like how to improve things like watch-time and click-through rates as much as the general visual experience of the ideas.
Overall, this project has been modestly successful. There are data oriented measurables (like views) that suggest one kind of success, but there are also other immeasurables (like email inquiries, phone calls, video conference consultations, and the like) where the episodes have invited conversations with viewers and interested groups that are just as valuable to me as basic view counts. Thus, there seems to be value in the project and I hope to sustain (if not grow) the series in the coming year—extending beyond just interviews and explainer videos to include more think-pieces, how-to guides, and potential performative creations (from parody to satire).
Episode 1: Interview with Dr. April O’Brien
This first episode features an interview with Dr. April O’Brien, Assistant Professor of Technical Communication at Sam Houston State University and Adobe Digital Literacy Thought Leader. Her research explores the intersections of space, place, race, technology, and rhetoric, and we talk about her teaching (bringing digital creativity into the technical communication classroom) and her research (bringing digital technologies to bear on space/place/race conversations).
Episode 2: Zoom to Adobe Rush
This second episode is an explanation/exploration of a helpful media workflow, pairing Zoom with Adobe Rush, to create videos for class. It focuses on pre-class and post-class video engagements as pedagogical practice, with these entities designed to produce more meaningful and more frequent feedback loops between teachers and students. But it also gestures toward the role this workflow could have for online learning. (In regard to the latter, it was unexpectedly timely).
Additionally, I used Adobe Spark Page to create a supportive Zoom-to-Rush how-to guide: https://spark.adobe.com/page/BpRCCNqd1xvq3/. This scrolling webpage walks users through the basic steps for recording in Zoom and doing some light, but effective edits in Adobe Rush. As of this writing, this supportive guide had over 15,000 views.
[Note: These two projects have been featured in Adobe’s education resources and are featured on IU’s adobe.iu.edu website.]
Episode 2.1: Digital Creativity in Online Classes (a bonus episode)
This bonus episode is a response to the rapid transition to online education brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. With nearly all of higher education moving online, most educators, particularly those inexperienced in online education, were going to end up either (a) using a lot of asynchronous text-based exchange or (b) using primarily synchronous video conferencing as a default approach (or some combination of both), and this episode was designed to offer commentary on and strategies for bringing digital creativity into the online space.
Episode 3: Interview with Shauna Chung
In this episode, I interview Shauna Chung, a doctoral student at Clemson University in the Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design program, about creating digital media (as scholarly practice) and about bringing digital media in the classroom. Shauna not only shares her experiences and key student examples, reflecting her own growth as an instructor, but guides viewers through a basic set of approaches to teaching with and through digital technologies.
Episode 4: Three Tips for Better Synchronous Online Classes
In this episode, I provide three quick tips for improving the synchronous, video-based class experience. Those three tips (teach how you teach, include the social 5, and provide pre-class prep) are meant to help make the online teaching and learning experience better for both teachers and students by thinking about embodied practices, social connection, and student preparation.