3, 2, 1, action? Students need more guidance when it comes to video assignments

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In my three years and one month as an arts and business student at the University of Waterloo, I have had to complete at least five video assignments. However, I have very few video editing skills, and what I do know, I have picked up through trial and error while scrambling to complete these projects. 

When I approach my professors for help, they typically do not offer much support. Instead, it seems as though they expect their students to have video-creation skills because we are of a generation that is “digitally native” — we are young and use technology frequently. We do not. As much as some of us may use our devices, we are not necessarily creating video in our free time, and even if we are, it is not necessarily in a format or style that translates well into academic settings. 

I have nothing against video assignments as a concept. It is important for students to have opportunities to present their learning in different formats, and video editing skills are increasingly valuable in a world where technology drives many industries and many companies create video content. 

Consistently, though, students are expected to meet high standards without having access to sufficient guidance. 

Many professors who assign video-based work are unfamiliar with the technology we are required to use. Not only can they sometimes not support us with the execution of the project, but they are also sometimes unable to provide the level or quality of feedback necessary to improve our video skills. 

Ultimately, instead of being an effective learning experience, these assignments become major stressors. They are often completed last-minute, with the aid of whatever quick tutorials I can find on YouTube, though these tutorials rarely provide enough information to help me master the technology.

In the business world, this problem exists too: many co-op job postings expect arts students to have advanced proficiency with video and graphic design software, even when they are not hiring for design-related roles. 

A former supervisor of mine said without training in video or graphic editing, the quality of our work would never match what a professional designer could create. She also noted that it would take an untrained creator significantly longer to complete a video or design project, which is an inefficient use of time. 

This is not to say that students should avoid developing video and design skills if they do not plan on being professional designers. 

There absolutely should be a push to encourage students to advance their skills in many areas — as the saying goes, better a jack of all trades than a master of one. 

Those students who are interested in design should absolutely pursue it, even if it is not through their university program. There are several clubs and organizations on campus that train students to use design software – Imprint is just one example – as well as countless online tutorials, many of which are free. Students can also take classes in digital arts communication at UW, or enrol in online courses from other universities. 

But not every student will want to advance their design capabilities on their own, nor should they need to. If companies want high-quality video content, they should consider working with videographers, rather than expecting employees with other backgrounds to magically be good at creating videos. 

Maybe the saying should be revised — better a competent jack at a few trades than a jack that tries every trade and can do none. 

So if professors want to include video-based assignments in the curriculum, they should offer more guidance, including in-class instruction, help during office hours or other tutorial sessions and direction toward the resources and supports on campus for video creation. They should also be aware of best practices so they can offer specific feedback about the content and form of student submissions. 

Additionally, if video is to become the norm, the Writing and Communication Centre (WCC) should offer more workshops and individual support sessions for this form of communication. 

This is not an unusual request. Many of my classes require us to prepare PowerPoints and other presentations. Accordingly, my professors often include advice on how to prepare strong presentations in their course materials. Similarly, when one of my first-year courses had a speech as the final assignment, my professor spent half of a class explaining how to structure a speech and offered some advice about our body language and speaking style as well. The WCC has recently begun offering a workshop on the basics of podcasting because students are now being asked to turn in podcasts in some of their classes. 

Importantly, the video support, from professors and other sources, needs to address both the technical aspect (how to use video software) and the communication aspect (how to present information effectively through video). Every medium requires a different approach to be successful — you wouldn’t write a blog in the same way you would an academic report, nor would a speech be structured the same way as a social media caption, even if they all cover the same idea. Good video scripts are not just an academic paper that will be read aloud with images. 

If students are given this support, there is no reason they cannot develop the necessary skills to do well on video assignments and understand how to create effective video content in their future roles. Without this support, however, we are being set up to fail, or at least flounder our way to completion.