In arguing for the right to produce critical video essays as those featured on this site, I don’t think it takes much to see their potential as educational resources. But one doesn’t fully appreciate this point until one starts to learn how they are being used as educational tools.

Based on a couple of comments to some of the video essays on YouTube, I’ve learned that there are students who refer to these videos for their papers or class work. I only hope that they are properly citing the source; lest there be any confusion on the matter, copying soundbites from a video to one’s own scholarship without citing the source amounts to plagiarism just as much as if one were cribbing from a written text.

But just recently I have learned of an instance where a teacher actually used one of my video essays in a classroom, and the way they did so is quite illuminating. I received this message from Misa Oyama, a former lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley (Go Bears!):

I just taught a senior seminar called “Modern Horror” (19 students) for UC Berkeley’s English Department, and we spent one week on “Zodiac.” I asked a student to hook her laptop to the classroom projector (Berkeley classrooms have wireless access), so that we could watch your YouTube video essay on “The Vanishing”/”Zodiac”. It was probably the most effective illustration of film criticism the students saw all semester, because students could see the shots and scenes simultaneously with your commentary, rather than just reading descriptions of the scenes like they do with conventional film criticism. I used your essay in conjunction with Manohla Dargis’s review of Zodiac, to show how different viewers could do close readings of scenes from the same film to support their own interpretations. What I think students really liked about your video essay was its accessibility; it’s a rich, complex reading of Fincher’s work but presented in a personal, sometimes informal (the line “fuck-it-all” for Fight Club got a big laugh) way. After reading lots of academic film essays, the students seemed to find this refreshing. One of my students said it inspired her to want to make her own short video essays about her own reactions to films. I think it also made some students want to see “The Vanishing,” because they asked me about it afterwards (and I made sure to tell them to see the original, not the remake).

Before showing the video in class, I put the YouTube link in my bSpace website for this class, so that students could comment on it. However, not all the students have high-speeed internet access at home, so I got the feeling that most students were seeing it for the first time in the classroom.

It’s weird that Big Corporate Media would have a problem with your work, because you’re obviously not trying to pass these films off as your own, and you’re encouraging people to look deeper at films they might not know about. I’m not sure if it was because of your video, but one student got so obsessed with the Zodiac story that she bought the Zodiac DVD.

I hope you continue making these kinds of films, because there is definitely an audience for them.

It’s exciting to think that the use of this video essay in class was a valuable supplement (not a replacement) to more traditional forms of classroom “texts,” and furthermore, that it may inspire students to try out this form of scholarship on their own. I’m still fairly surprised that this form still isn’t as prevalent as it could be.

Here’s the video essay on The Vanishing and Zodiac: