Video Essays as a teaching tool: a testimonial

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:

Author: alsolikelife

This is my pet project

  • http://www.blogofimagination.com John

    What about the authorship of Graysmith's eponymous book that ZODIAC is based on? I think that the ending to Fincher's film is faithful to Graysmith's assertion that Arthur Leigh Allen was/is the prime suspect and is not a direct product of Fincher's interpretation. This partially negates your 'auteur' reading of the ZODIAC to me.

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  • alsolikelife

    Fair enough. Since the time that I finished the video I've heard a pretty good account of the ending of Zodiac as not so much a foisting of a “happy ending” or dubious sense of closure as I claim in the video. The weary look on the victim's face as he positively identifies Arthur Leigh Allen undercuts the sense of closure by reinforcing the sense of a psychic wound that can never fully be healed. The damage has already been done.

  • http://www.blogofimagination.com John

    In my opinion, Jimmi Simpson (the actor who plays Migeau (the victim) in the final scene) hit it out of the park. In a haunting and troubling way, his identification of Allen reminds the viewer of the physical and psychic damage that the Zodiac killer inflicted. And, because of Fincher's great utilization of the song, I don't think I can ever hear 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' the same way again.

    It's too bad Fincher had to waste all of the credit he got with Zodiac with something like Benjamin Button. As Mark Kermode said: “it's Forrest Gump with A-levels.”

  • http://moveease.blogspot.com Matt Parker

    Admittedly, I've seen neither film, but from what I can tell from your video essay, the criminal in the Vanishing proceeds not unlike a detached surgeon, steadily refining his craft, while the investigator in Zodiac is obsessed and very personally and emotionally invested in his task, not unlike Jack Nicholson's character in “The Pledge.” Although on the surface both seem obsessed with their work, the actions of the criminal in the Vanishing seems truly indicative of mental insanity, while the obsession of the investigator in the Zodiac seems closer akin to the personality disorder of a work-a-holic, retreating into a self-obsessed world of work because he can't deal with real life.

  • alsolikelife

    hmm, i think either description could match that of the workaholic or the mentally unstable… i forget if i made this point in the video, but they also describe two stereotypes of the artistic persona.

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  • http://www.simply-psychics.co.uk clairvoyant

    using new media for learning is brilliant

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    Yes i agree i think video does help with education seem to sink if you can see it as well…

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    I don't think it would replace anything just help as an aid.

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    A brief exploration of the background of the real killers: of the boys and young men who pull the trigger.

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