As part of the shift to online teaching, students in my Introduction to Composition course were tasked with creating a video post for their end-of-term research presentations. Oral presentations are an institutional requirement for this course, and face-to-face presentations are typically one of my favorite parts of the class. This solution to the remote-teaching challenge revealed an unexpected truth about my students. When watching their presentations, I was surprised that students were engaged and devoted; indeed, they were even more engaged than during in-person presentations. Perhaps my students found the webcam engaging because they are surrounded by “vlog” culture via YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Possibly it was because they were lonely in self-isolation, so the idea of sharing with someone brought them hope and excitement. Maybe they appreciated the uninterrupted, nonjudgmental glare of the camera, which offered a space where they could think and engage without having to search the faces of their instructors and peers for signs of approval. If the video format worked for my Introduction to Composition course, then it might also work to encourage students in my pre-1800 British literature course to produce sharper and more engaged analyses.
From this experience came my new online video assignment for my online pre-1800 British literature course. I ask students to post one to two minute analytical “vlogs” responding to the prompt I provide based on the weekly reading assignments. The prompt includes the kinds of questions I might ask to inspire an in-person discussion amongst students, related to the video lectures but requiring that students have their own familiarity of the reading. I encourage (via assessment) students to point to at least one specific passage in the reading as part of their video post in order to have them engage with the texts. Students then record a short video of themselves (with their face on camera) responding to the prompt using either a webcam or their cell phone.
The rest of the discussion group (with an average of five students per group) then must respond to at least two original video posts with their own one-to-two-minute response videos within 72 hours. Providing clear guidelines on these responses helps students to avoid the simple “Good idea” or “I agree” statements they often write in online discussion posts. Further, I maintain that there is something about the video form that motivates students to prepare a more creative and engaging analysis than they would for a written post.
The sustained discussion expectation plus the ability to prepare, potentially re-record, and then reconsider their postings has made the analyses they produce for the video posts overall sharper and more engaged than their written postings. For the current 2020 summer semester, I assigned weekly written and video-post assignments in order to see if there were any obvious distinctions in the quality and engagement in the two formats. Each week, students are tasked with posting either a written or a video discussion post (sometimes I assign only written or video posts and sometimes I allow students to choose). Thus far, my general findings are that the video responses students post (as opposed to their written responses) engage with the text more directly and their thoughts are more assertive and opinionated. While a student’s written response often just recapitulates the original post, I have found that students offer more original and critical thought in the video responses.
What pedagogical research reveals is that students become more independent learners through sustained engagement with texts.1 The goal of a literary instructor at the core literature level, which many instructors must teach and most students must take, is to have students become independent in their critical thinking and analysis of the texts. A recent study of YouTube vlogging reveals that consumers of these vlogs (largely the age of the typical college student) regarded themas a form of communication that allowed for “authenticity” and “interactivity.”2 If applied to the classroom, these vlogs could provide students with a form of communication they find more engaging, authentic, and interactive than the usual casual discussion or the more formal presentation. The goal of teaching students to be independent in their learning is the same online as in-person, though many instructors are no doubt struggling with how to do this without in-class discussions and active learning activities.
Recent Scholarship of Teaching of Learning (SoTL) research further demonstrates how students view vlogging as a more autonomous activity than other forms of assessment, and therefore, further invest in the learning process. There is particularly strong evidence for this in the area of language learning, with several recent studies indicating that vlogs are linked to faster learning of a new language as well as sustained understanding of the content.3 The findings of these studies easily relate to literary analysis and vlogs as a method of constructing a larger project, such as a final essay or research project for the course. Shao-Ting Hung’s research reveals that students find vlogging valuable because it assists in organization of ideas while also providing a good representation and reflection of student learning.4 The vlog therefore not only demonstrates that the student understands and can engage with the content, but it also provides a space for students to reflect on their learning.
The recent research applies well to the contrast I see in my students’ video and written posts. There are a few major distinctions between the responses students produce for the written versus the video posts. First, regarding written discussion posts, students tend to spend a fair amount of the word count recapitulating the text’s narrative or ideas found in the posts of their peers; in contrast, in the video posts, students are more direct in their answers to the prompt. Secondly, with the video posts, students tend to go over the time limit (one to two minutes), while in the written posts they often struggle to meet the word count. This suggests to me that they find it easier and more accessible to speak about their ideas. Furthermore, they are creating a sharper analysis because they are saying more about the text that is also more directly related and less of a summary of ideas. Thirdly, the written posts contain more academic language while the video posts are more conversational and authentic. When recording the videos, the students speak with their usual vocabulary and cadence, but they are doing so while discussing Shakespeare or Donne. Rather than posing as a scholarly voice, as they seem to do in their written posts, the students are engaging with the texts as they might engage with any problem that requires critical thinking. The ability to remain authentic produces a more direct engagement with the text, which ultimately results in a sharper analysis.
I assess these weekly posts with a simple rubric with varying point categories (see Supplementary Materials). The rubric’s main foci are that the students remain within the time limit in order to maintain focus, directly quote from the texts, and that they somehow add knowledge or curiosity to our study of the text. Throughout the semester, one of my student-learning goals is to have students practice close-reading analysis of literary texts, so these video-post assignments are one step in a semester-long process of working towards this goal.
Another benefit of this kind of digital conversation is that it can be created a variety of ways depending on what technological tools are available for instructors and students. At my institution, we use Canvas, and this platform has become the primary lifeline between students and myself (alongside email). I went for a simplistic approach of using the Canvas discussion boards for both written and video posts. I found this to be the best approach for my courses because students knew what to expect and where to post. However, an instructor could replicate this system through a variety of platforms, so long as students are sharing videos with the instructor and their discussion group. Canvas offers the technological ability to record videos within the discussion board, but this assumes that students have access to a webcam. Students also have the option to upload a video into the discussion board by making the video on their cell phones, which makes the using of “vlog” posts more accessible to a wider range of students and campuses.
When returning to in-person instruction with students, this kind of sustained discussion and engagement with a text can be replicated. Somewhere between the formal presentation and the informal class discussion, I will assign my students specific days on which they are expected to provide a sustained (one-to-two-minute) explanation and analysis of the reading for that day. The entire class will then be given ten minutes of time to write down ideas and return to the text on their own. At the end of this time, there will be an opportunity for two or three students to offer a sustained (one-to-two-minute) response to the initial explanation and analysis. This not only provides the opportunity for spoken engagement and discussion, but also the development of reading, writing, and critical thinking skills.
For this discussion, please post a 1–2 minute video answering the following prompt:
Reread the “Song of Roland” page in the Week 2 Module. How well does Gawain measure up to these standards at the end of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? What grade would you give Gawain if you had to assess his chivalric behavior and attitude? Do you think, ultimately, he is a good role model for medieval chivalric ideals?
Remember, you should also post a 1–2 minute video reply to two video posts within 72 hours of the posting due date.
Each post is due by 11:59 pm CST on the date listed. For full credit, the response must address all authors referred to in the prompt. I will expect these posts to contain at least 1 direct quotation from each author under discussion. For written posts, these quotations should be in quotation marks and include a correct in-text citation. For video discussion posts, you should just state that you are quoting and read the quote.
After each Discussion Post due date, you will have 72 hours to reply to two posts written or posted by the other members of your discussion group. For written discussions, these two replies should each be 50–100 words in length. For video discussion posts, your response should be 1–2 minutes. These responses should be more than a restatement of your original posts or simple statements like “I agree” or “Good idea” and should engage thoughtfully with the ideas expressed in the original post. Each Discussion Post will be graded out of 10 possible points (for a total of 100 points over the entire course). (Note that this means that Discussion Posts submitted late will receive a grade of 0.) If you do not post your two 50–100 word replies within 72 hours, you will lose 2 points, per missed reply, from your original Discussion Post grade. (For example, if your original post earned a 9 out of 10, but you did not post your two required replies, then that 9 would become a 5.)
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Chelsea McKelvey is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Department of English at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. Her current research focuses on early modern Protestantism, women’s writing, and pedagogical techniques for making Renaissance texts relevant for today’s classroom and world.
1 Terry Doyle, Helping Students Learn in a Learner-Centered Environment (Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2008), 115–16. See also Jay R. Howard, Discussion in the College Classroom: Getting Your Students Engaged and Participating in Person and Online (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2015), 18; Yu-Mei Wang, “Enhancing the Quality of Online Discussion—Assessment Matter,” Journal of Education Technology Systems 48, no. 1 (2019): 112–29, at 120–21; and Naren Peddibhotla and Arpan Jani, “How Group Size and Structure of Online Discussion Forums Influence Student Engagement and Learning,” Journal of Educational Technology Systems 48, no. 2 (2019): 225–54, at 247.
2 Andrew Tolson, “A New Authenticity? Communicative Practices on YouTube,” Critical Discourse Studies 7, no. 4 (2010): 277–89, esp. 277, 281. See also Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2009), 82–83.
3 Christelle Combe and Tatiana Condreanu, “Vlogging: A New Channel for Language Learning and Intercultural Exchanges,” Eurocall Conference, Limassol, Cyprus (24–27 Aug. 2016); and Wei Ann Ong, Suyansah Swanto, and Asamaa Alsaqqaf, “Engaging in Reflective Practice Via Vlogs: Experience of Malaysian ESL Pre-Service Teachers,” Indonesian Journal of Applied Linguistics 9, no. 3 (2020): 715–23.
4 Shao-Ting Hunt, “Pedagogical Applications of Vlogs: An Investigation into ESP Learners’ Perceptions,” British Journal of Educational Technology 42, no. 5 (2011) 736–46, at 741–42.