Innovative Teaching Resource Promotes Audiovisual Literacy and Diversity

LSA Technology Services partners with the Department of Film, Television, and Media to create a unique video dictionary repository for students.
by Alyssa Longo, Administrative Assistant
From left to right: Shawn Jackson, Vincent Longo, Matthew Solomon

Over the last few years, Matthew Solomon, Associate Professor, and Vincent Longo, Doctoral Candidate, from the Department of Film, Television, and Media (FTVM) have been working hard to incorporate more audiovisual components into the program’s introductory course—Introduction to Film, Television, and Media (FTVM 150). Previously, the course required students to write essays analyzing specific film and media examples, but now those written papers have been converted to audiovisual assignments that provide students the opportunity to make their arguments using their own voices and the media they are learning about in a more hands-on way. Students are asked to produce three audiovisual essays in which they form an argument with supporting evidence presented through voice-over and onscreen text combined with selected film and television clips. 

To further extend the use of audiovisual pedagogies in the course, Solomon and Longo have partnered with LSA Technology Services staff to build a unique video dictionary repository explaining terms students need to learn for the course. In addition to the audiovisual essays, used as a form of student assessment, Solomon and Longo wanted to use videos as a teaching tool. One main course objective is to have students fully understand key analytical terms that are used in the field of film, television, and media studies. Instead of using a traditional textbook, Solomon and Longo wanted to build a collection of videos that define important concepts and techniques that students need to understand in order to analyze media effectively. “There are some pretty good written glossaries out there, but ultimately to see a tracking shot in action, you can’t really read about that in a book. [With these videos] you’re not only hearing the person define it, but then you’re seeing it onscreen with multiple examples,” explained Longo. They started by consulting with FTVM production faculty—Robert Rayher, Jim Burnstein, and Dawn Hollison—who agreed that an audiovisual learning tool would be a great addition to the course. With support from other faculty members, they turned to Monika Dressler, Ph.D., and her team in LSA Technology Services who had previously helped incorporate the audiovisual essay assignments. Excited to partner with Solomon and Longo again, Dressler strongly encouraged them to apply for the New Initiatives/New Infrastructure (NINI) grant. After receiving the grant, they began work on the Audiovisual Lexicon Project and were partnered up with Shawn Jackson, Instructional Video Consultant, in LSA Technology Services.

In addition to defining key concepts, another goal of the project is to create a space where students can learn not just from the course instructors, but also from many different educators in the field of media studies. The project, called “The Audiovisual Lexicon,” will be a “diverse resource, such that, rather than one voice of expertise, there are multiple voices of expertise. We see the bodies that those voices belong to, it’s not some disembodied master figure who’s dictating it down to those on the ground, but really it’s one of our peers,” explained Solomon. They also plan to include a wide range of age groups, genders, sexual orientations, races and ethnicities, as well as people with disabilities. There are some predetermined terms that are used in the FTVM course, but Solomon and Longo wanted to diversify the resource by incorporating terms used by peers from around the world. Both media scholars and media practitioners were asked what terms they used in their own teaching, and had relatively free reign to select what concept they defined and what media examples they used in their explanation. This helped “introduce more diverse filmmakers, more diverse types of films, films that don’t fit the traditional film canon of traditional Hollywood cinema—[the participants used examples from] queer cinema, black cinema, and transnational cinema,” commented Jackson. Including participants with various backgrounds and examples from a wide range of media to coincide with the definitions highlights the diversity of media makers, genres, and subjects as well as scholars within the field of media studies.

The team began by shooting a small number of the videos locally with U-M faculty and faculty visiting from other universities across North America, but a major contribution to the video dictionary repository occurred at the Society of Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) Conference in Seattle, Washington on March 13-16, 2019. Jackson and his team played a major role in all of the video shoots, but especially while filming the 52 videos at this conference. Marga Schuhwerk-Hampel and Mary Lou Chlipala from the FTVM department were extremely helpful in taking care of the logistics involved with getting Solomon, Longo, Jackson, Marciel Peres, LSA Technology Services Video Coordinator, Andy Holman, LSA Technology Services Media Assistant, and two FTVM students working as production coordinators—Jordan Stanton and Sydney Simoncini—to the conference. The team worked from 8:30 AM to 6 PM shooting 30 minute sessions with each interviewee back-to-back for all four days of the event. Jackson, Peres, and Holman were responsible for every aspect of production including managing the equipment and determining the cinematography, location, and set decor. Even though they were limited to a hotel suite, Jackson said he “wanted every video in this lexicon to look different...Considering that students would be watching 45 minutes of these videos..., we wanted to make sure that it wasn’t repetitive, that it wasn’t going to be a chore, and that there was going to be some visual interest in what was being presented”. To do this, he made sure to change the background (wall vs. window), use different lighting techniques, or use the limited props available in the room (chairs, lamps, etc.). 

With a collection of 70 videos to work on over the summer, Jackson, Holman, and several LSA Technology Services student staff members have a lot of exciting work to do editing each interview (consisting of 15-30 minutes of raw video) down to a concise three minute video that will be a part of the Audiovisual Lexicon. To start, everyone was assigned 10 videos to create a rough cut, which were then reviewed by Solomon and Longo who provided notes to be included in the final edits. Each video has a final editor who is responsible for incorporating the notes, improving the cuts, fixing the color and sound, confirming the audio correctly reflects the interviewee’s intentions, plugging in the media clips that are referenced, and adding the university’s branding. A majority of the LSA Technology Services student staff who are editing the videos are FTVM majors. “In some ways they are the ideal people to be doing that work because at the end of the day that’s the audience for this project. If they can see all of this footage, put it together, and it makes sense to them, that’s exactly what we want,” said Longo.

Solomon and Longo are excited to use some of these videos in the upcoming fall semester. “We are just scratching the surface of what is possible in terms of teaching and learning using audiovisual tools like video, VR, et cetera. The idea would be to embed these [videos] into teaching and learning as extensively as possible,” noted Solomon. Instead of using precious lecture time defining terms, students will watch these videos on their own time, and Solomon is working with Jackson and the Center for Research, Teaching, and Learning (CRLT) to figure out different student-oriented activities that can be used in its place. The ultimate goal for this project in the future is to have The Audiovisual Lexicon available to the public to be used in other universities. 

Both Solomon and Longo believe that the partnership they have with LSA Technology Services has been crucial to the success of this project and their work as educators more generally. “This wouldn’t have been possible in another setting without the individuals who were involved...thank you to this entity which has been endlessly supportive of pedagogical innovations around technology. I would highlight Moni Dressler and her enthusiasm for every initiative that’s come out of FTVM and her commitment to make them possible,” enthused Solomon. Longo strongly agreed, “they have the expertise, the resources, and the support to make anything happen…everyone has always been unbelievably supportive and pointed us to not only resources internally, but connected us with CRLT and the Sweetland Writing Center. [LSA Technology Services] has really been a hub which has connected us to many parts of the university”.

LSA Technology Services strives to make our services and technology an integral part of each person’s LSA experience, whether you are faculty, staff, or a student, we can help you with your projects. As Jackson stated, “There’s no bad time to bring these kind of projects to the fore...[Matthew and Vincent are extremely busy] yet this project is still going, still succeeding…That is what LSA Technology Services is here for, to provide these opportunities”. 

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