Excellence in Media: Leading by Example

Last Thursday marked the first meeting of the Excellence in Media Professional Learning Community (PLC), a group of OSU instructors interested in delivering high-quality videos to students and peers. Today more than ever, faculty who want to delve into video production as a means to enhance their classes have many powerful, affordable hardware and software options to help them achieve their learning objectives. Rapid growth in online and hybrid courses, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), and high utilization of OERs (Open Educational Resources) have all led to unprecedented demand for high-quality educational media. You can see examples of good videos (and a few not-so-good) in places like the Khan Academy, TED, and Coursera.

So what is it, exactly that constitutes high-quality educational media? It’s more than just production value–certainly you can judge media by its technical achievements: is the video recorded in high definition? Is it well-lit? Is the audio clear? These are questions that can be answered with prescribed techniques, and our initial Excellence in Media PLC meetings will discuss these techniques in detail. But later, I hope we can also address the more difficult questions–questions of content. Are the concepts clear and easy to follow? How well are the messages getting through? Is video the best medium for communicating concepts about a particular topic, or are these concepts not really suited for visual treatment? These are difficult questions because there are so many diverse applications of video in educational environments. It’s not always abundantly clear why some applications of educational video are successful when others are not. Approaching this question from the reverse angle–i.e., what is it that constitutes poor quality in educational media–is much easier. Edward R. Tufte sets a precedent for this approach in his book, Visual Explanations. In the book’s third chapter, he deconstructs some popular magic tricks in order to describe what constitutes disinformation design. In other words, he attempts to explain what techniques constitute good information design by contrasting them with techniques that confuse or obfuscate, drawing attention away from critically important elements, which might spoil the illusion in a well-conceived magic trick. If we extend this analysis technique to video, we end up with something like the BBC series Look Around You (hilarious, by the way, and worth the click). This series exaggerates poor information design in video: poor context, lots of irrelevant (or inaccurate) information, and lengthy transitions and interstitials that don’t adhere to visual storytelling conventions or contribute to understanding in any meaningful way. This, at the least, gives us a partial list of what not to do.

One of my goals for the Excellence in Media series is to go beyond the technical considerations. I want to help develop a rubric for educational media that instructors can use to make judgements about what to do, both technically and conceptually. What characteristics do effective educational media have in common? How well does a particular piece of media fit with the learning objectives? And finally, is video the right choice for communicating a particular concept?

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