News

Lights, camera … learning

Rutgers students choose the video route to meet course requirements
By Coleen Dee Berry
Lights, camera … learning
Credit: Christina R. Strasburger
Rosalie Uyola, left, and Samantha Johnston, American studies
doctoral students at Rutgers– Newark, accept their award for a
video they produced about the special collections at the
Newark Public Library.

Samantha Johnston and Rosalie Uyola, doctoral students and teaching assistants in the American Studies Program on the Newark Campus, could have turned in a term paper for their final American Studies project this spring.

Instead, they put in days of research, interviewed numerous sources, and spent hours editing their project: an eight-minute documentary video on the history of the Special Collections Division at the Newark Public Library. The video, Art for All received a 2008 Chancellor’s Community Engagement Award for student community research.

When it comes to fulfilling course requirements, more and more students on Rutgers’ campuses are reaching for the video camera instead of the word processor. Along with producing short videos as research papers, students also make use of podcasts and videocasts in the classroom.

“For this generation, video is more accessible than print. They [the students] are able to tell stories through video in a clearer way,” said Gayle K. Stein, associate director of instructional technology in New Brunswick. Classes in such fields as English, history, foreign languages, and the sciences increasingly offer a multimedia component as instructors are answering the challenge to integrate 21st-century technology into their teaching.

Professor Richard Miller, chair of the English department in New Brunswick and executive director of the Plangere Writing Center contends that the most important change in the history of human communications is at hand with the digital age. At the English Department’s Writers House, which opened in the fall of 2007, a multimedia approach is part of the creative writing process. Miller maintains that students must be trained to be fluent in the new media and that video has its place in the creative writing tradition.

“You can connect on an emotional level with a video in ways that you cannot with a research paper,’’ Miller said. Video, in many ways, has a longer shelf life – post it on YouTube and you’re capable of reaching a much wider audience than with a research paper.”

“It’s still writing. It’s just writing for a different medium,” said Robert A. Emmons, associate director of the Honors College in Camden and himself a filmmaker.

Emmons and film historian Allen Woll joined forces this semester to teach a seminar on film called "The Informed Critic." In one class project, students participated in a videocast sharing their views on current films. The videocast can be viewed on the Honors College webpage.

Science and mathematics students also are getting into the act. Woll and Emmons fondly remember a video one physics student made last year to explain the mathematical equations involved with bullet trajectories. Honors student Stuart Ross re-enacted scenes from popular movies like “The Good, The Bad and Ugly” and “The Matrix” to illustrate “The Physics of Gunfire.”

“It’s probably faster to write a paper, but I know I’ve had more fun making the videos,” said Ross, now a medical student at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California.

Rutgers educators expect video to become a common fixture in the classroom and in scholarship. Steven Miller, who teaches television reporting in the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies, said video is an underused asset for academics undertaking research. “It offers academics the opportunity to reach larger audiences that are more familiar and comfortable with the genre,” Miller said. 

But anyone who thinks producing a video is easier than writing a term paper is in for an unpleasant shock, students and professors agree.

“It was very labor intensive,” Johnston said about making Art for All, the first video she and Uyola ever produced. “We shot hundreds of hours of footage, and we spent hours and hours editing it. We would spell each other – when Rosie got tired, she’d go home to sleep, and I’d take over editing.”

The acceptance of Art for All for a final course project marked only the second time the producers’ history professor, Clement A. Price, had approved a video for a term paper in his public history course. Price said he had no hesitation about giving the doctoral students the go-ahead.

“It’s every bit as challenging as a term paper,” Price said of his students’ project. “They still had to do all the research, all the interviews.” He also required the pair to submit a written narrative with the video.

In addition to YouTube, viewers can watch Art for All on the Newark Metro online magazine, the Resurgence City online blog, and the Newark Public Library website. The video also has been selected for inclusion in the inaugural year of the NJVid archive, a statewide academic video-on-demand project developed by NJEDge.Net in partnership with the Rutgers University Libraries and William Paterson University.

After going through an editing process that left hours of footage on the cutting room floor, Uyola said, “I believe that filming a documentary short has helped me become a stronger academic writer.”

Archived from December 10, 2008