By John Jones
For this project, I asked students to choose a chapter from one of our course texts—either Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed or Abelson, Ledeen, and Lewis’s Blown to Bits—and then translate the major themes and arguments of that chapter into a video, re-presenting or remixing the content of the chapter in a way that both honored the original purpose of the author and was suited to audiovisual media.
This was the first time I had used this assignment, and it was also the first time I had assigned a video project for an online course, where the logistics of online instruction would make it more difficult for me to provide support for students new to video production. Given this situation, I tried to describe the project as broadly as possible, giving students flexibility in how they conceived of the final project. I hoped that this would both put them at ease as they tackled a potentially new and daunting form of media production and also spur their creativity. As I put it in the assignment description:
There are many different forms your project could take. You could use the documentary form to present the ideas of the authors, illustrating their purpose with news clips and other media. You could create a narrative around the chapter, using fictional characters or settings to illustrate information in the book. You could animate the chapter, or otherwise illustrate its contents.
I am open to any of these options or others you can think of; the only firm requirement is that your project should take advantage of the resources of video—editing and the grammar of video, the use of still images and video clips, narration, and sound effects—to engage the argument of the chapter.
The project, then, had two primary goals: First, during the process of creating the video students would necessarily have to deeply engage with the content of their chosen chapter, going beyond their engagement with it in other assignments such as class discussions. Second, by creating a video they would learn basic video production skills in line with the purposes of a multimedia writing class. Using an existing text as the basis for this assignment would both simplify this process—they would not have to start from scratch—and would also give them the opportunity to explore the affordances of audiovisual media through the process of translating a textual argument into a different medium.
Heather’s video achieved both goals, demonstrating both her facility with the video format and her understanding of the themes and arguments of her chapter.