Academic Technology Center
Teaching with Technology Collaboratory

Using Video to Better Reflect Reality

Associate Professor of Rhetoric & Director of the Center for Communication Across the Curriculum Lorraine Higgins

"Seeing the videos better prepared the new tutors... they knew what to look for in an observation, and were better armed to conduct their own conferences."

When Lorraine Higgins trains new tutors to run writing conferences in her Peer Tutoring and Writing course, she does so with the help of a series of videos she filmed and edited with the Academic Technology Center in the Spring of 2005. These custom-created videos have become an integral part of the tutor training program.

Prior to making the videos available to her class, Higgins had students in the course analyze transcripts as a means of better understanding both the theory underlying writing conferences, and the process of conducting a conference. This approach, however, was lacking in several very important ways that would never adequately be addressed through text alone. "Written transcripts," Higgins asserts, "don't make visible to students important aspects of tutoring...body language, tone of voice, use of physical space, cultural differences.... The videos provided our tutors with a more realistic example to analyze."

Higgins first came to the conclusion of creating the videos by reflecting upon how the use of media continues to play a role in her own development as a teacher and learner. "In my research on the writing process, I have often recorded writers thinking out loud as they plan and compose their drafts...I've learned so much from that that it seemed natural."

Despite this history, however, Higgins did feel some trepidation about the video shoots initially. "It seemed a daunting thing to do on my own," she notes, "but given the resources and support it was easy for me to do."

Recognizing at the outset of filming how important it would be for the videos to accurately reflect a writing conference, Higgins approached each video shoot with only a skeleton outline of what was to take place. "I didn't want them scripted; I didn't want the perfect session. I wanted the videos to be natural, to include breaks in the conversation."

To that end, the videos have been very successful, helping students to "understand the nature of tutoring," and to "get a sense of the whole process that a description or transcript wouldn't enable them to do."

The videos also improved new tutors' ability to perform observations of their veteran peers, another essential part of the tutor training program. Prior to the videos, Higgins was never entirely happy with how prepared the new tutors were going into these observations. Without a sound understanding of the tutor/tutee dynamic, they often failed to notice important aspects of the conference. The videos helped to address this, Higgins notes, largely because "the ability to pause midstream for a discussion and to replay parts has given me, as an instructor, more flexibility in the way I use tutoring examples. You can't replay a live observation."

In addition to the flexibility they offered, the videos were also edited extensively to incorporate visual callouts and voiceover emphasizing key points and concepts. These edits included a brief Camtasia video walking tutors through the steps of entering a conference report into the CCAC database. Though written instructions had previously managed the job, Higgins notes, "the live, online demo with screenshots and voiceover made the process much easier to follow."

The tutors themselves found the videos to be not only an effective training instrument, but also a fun way to make a contribution to future tutors at the CCAC. "I had many volunteers to participate in the filming and production of the videos," Higgins remarks. "Getting students to participate at all is a challenge, and this motivated them to get involved."

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Last modified: Feb 06, 2008, 09:52 EST
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