A few months before his death, one of Roger Ebert’s far-flung correspondents, Kevin Lee, compiled for RogerEbert.com a list of video essays he deemed representative of the emerging art form. In his post, Lee informs readers that most of the projects, while seemingly professionally done, are actually produced with “consumer-level equipment,” suggesting that virtually anyone can take on this task. Indeed, the only limits of the video essay, as Lee sees it, are “those of imagination and intelligence.” I agree with Ebert’s “far flunger” here and, for these reasons among others (e.g., video essays are current, fun, and useful), I have chosen to integrate the video essay into my media studies classes. So far, the assignment has succeeded. I chalk this up to two things: Millennials’ willingness to figure out the technology and grading rubrics.
Millennials and Becoming Tech-Savvy
According to Pew Research, Time, MTV Insights, and copious other recent publications and surveys, Millennials—or those born around 1985 through the end of the 1990s—are the most technologically savvy people alive today. They are, after all, the first generation to grow up with all things digital, able to access virtually anything with the touch or swipe of a button: computers, Internet, cable, cell phones, photography, music, video, social media. But even though 75% of them have created a profile on a social networking site, 59% of them consume their news via the Internet, and most of them spend 2 hours of their workday surfing online for non work-related material, this does not necessarily make them “tech savvy.”
In fact, over the last few years, I (a Gen-Xer) have had to teach several of my Millennial students how to sign up for Tumblr, create a Twitter account, set up a WordPress blog, and download videos from YouTube. Needless to say, when I considered requiring my students to create video essays for their primary projects, I was concerned. I didn’t know how much explanation of programs like Handbrake, iMovie, and Windows Movie Maker would be required. After all, at least 75% of them had never ripped a commercial DVD or inserted an .mp4 file into a video-editing program. After three years, this figure is still about the norm.
With that in mind, here’s how I’ve broached the video essay project: I briefly discuss the software, I rip a DVD chapter in class, and I embed links/tutorials on our course website. After that, I do little else, instead forcing the students to decipher the rest of the assignment on their own. And for the most part, they do. In other words, it’s not necessarily a tech-savviness inherent within an entire generation that helps to make this assignment a successful one, but the students’ willingness to spend time figuring out the technology after it has been introduced to them. Like anyone who is hard-pressed to create something by a specified deadline, Millennials can become tech-savvy.
Different Projects, Same Grading System
Given this basis, for the past three years I have required my media studies students to produce video essays. For example, rather than composing a traditional written shot analysis (i.e., several typed pages scrutinizing roughly ten successive shots from a film’s scene) my Introduction to Film students do this on Vimeo via voice-over narration, freeze frames, and (occasionally) nondiegetic inserts. Similarly, my Cinema History students now explore and present to their classmates noteworthy moments in film history via the video essay. Finally, through the video essay, some of my Critical TV Studies students analyze one American television comedy from 1990-present using each of the three perspectives we cover in class: media industries, media messages, and media audiences. (Sample projects embedded below.)
Admittedly, these are altogether different types of video essays. Certainly, a video shot analysis, which requires virtually no editing or sound manipulation (it’s an examination of successive shots after all), differs drastically from my TV students’ comedy projects, which demand a compilation of various clips, stills, and screenshots, as well as the integration and manipulation of nondiegetic music. That said, for the most part, I grade all of my classes’ video essays similarly.
Grading Rubrics: Itemize the Process, Promote Fairness, Grade Quickly
Through detailed rubrics, I weigh each aspect of the students’ multi-level projects:
1. initial phase (topic selection, thesis statement submission)
2. argument/format (introduction, thesis, reasons, supporting evidence, conclusion)
3. style/aesthetics (image, voice, pacing, text, sound, music, montage, rhythm, edits/transitions, etc.)
This method of assessment serves at least three purposes. First, these rubrics and the video essay itself illustrate to the student that rhetoric, or the “art of argument,” is a lengthy and often rewarding process that may successfully be brought into the twenty-first century. As instructors, we know that making successful arguments requires a series of steps (brainstorming, thesis-crafting, research, writing, revisions, etc.) and that, at times, some parts of our output may be stronger than others.
Students ought to be made aware of these realities too. This is one reason my video essay rubrics are so detailed. They itemize the entire project—from the title, which should grab the reader’s attention and reflect the thesis, to the length of the video essay, which (in most cases) should be roughly 5 minutes (not underdeveloped and not excessive) to indicate that the creator has control over his/her argument. Similarly, via my rubrics, students are reminded that their thesis statements should be easy to locate, arguable, and clearly stated, and furthermore, that their conclusions should not only sum up the project, but also ask the viewer to think further about the media text under consideration. Indeed, a quick scan of one of my grade sheets reveals the rhetorical process.
Sample Grade Sheet Rubric
Second, detailed rubrics promote fairness and thus mercifully eliminate virtually all student grade complaints. Truth be told, I can count on one hand the number of assessment complaints I’ve had from students since I began grading major class projects with these rubrics. Because each section or step of the assignment is given a point value—e.g., 5/5 as Excellent/Expert and 1/5 as Unacceptable—students can see quickly where they’ve excelled and, conversely, on which elements they still need to work. Moreover, psychologically I would imagine this layout helps students to recognize, for instance, that although their supporting evidence might be lacking (3/5), their narration technique throughout the video essay is strong (5/5). In their minds, such indicators are arguably more clear-cut than a circled grade of “C” atop a five-page essay. I assume this is what also prompts some of my students to express, “Yes, this is exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for,” upon receiving their first grade sheet of the term.
Finally, although rubrics require a great deal of work upfront, they expedite the assessment process in the end. I won’t lie: creating one of these page-length rubrics is time-consuming. For example, as I generate these, I must look closely at my syllabus’ project description, the goals of the course, the rules of rhetoric, and the formal issues of video essays to ensure that each step of the assignment is accounted for and that each is weighed fairly. But once all of this is in place, the evaluation itself is relatively quick and painless (not to mention that grading video essays is usually more entertaining than grading written ones). In short, I pull up the student’s video essay on Vimeoitalics removed, click Play, and, as I watch, fill out the grade sheet and make a few notations. Grading a five-minute video essay normally takes about 7-8 minutes.
I’m aware rubrics don’t work for everyone. Some of my colleagues, for example, find them too rigid, and it’s been reported that some students, college-level and below, simply find themselves “working toward the rubric,” sadly forgoing their own tone, opinions, etc., in the process (Khon). This, however, has not been my experience. Perhaps it’s because I do not initially show my students the detailed rubric. What they receive instead is one-page checklist asking them to compare their video essay (and, sometimes, an attached written assignment) with the numerous reminders and requirements listed on the sheet.
This checklist is essentially my grading rubric. In other words, my students are not going into this blindly. From the start, they know what I am looking for within their projects—ultimately, the same thing Roger Ebert’s far-flunger cites in his list of representative video essays: some technical know-how, intellect, and a bit of imagination.Click images to play video essaysShot analysis: Office Space
Sex and Sensation: How Hollywood Popped Its CherryFriendsWorks Consulted
Andrade, Heidi Goodrich. “Using Rubrics to Promote Thinking and Learning.” Educational Leadership 57, no. 5 (Feb. 2000): 13-18.
Faden, Eric. “A Manifesto for Critical Media.” Mediascape (Spring 2008), http://www.tft.ucla.edu/mediascape/Spring08_ManifestoForCriticalMedia.html.
Gouveia, Aaron. “Wasting Time at Work 2012.” Salary.com. March. 2012, http://www.salary.com/wasting-time-at-work-2012.
Khon, Alfie. “The Trouble with Rubrics.” TheEnglish Journal 95, no. 4 (2006): 12-15.
Lee, Kevin. “The Art of the Video Essay.” Balder & Dash. RogerEbert.com. Feb. 3, 2013, http://www.rogerebert.com/balder-and-dash/the-art-of-the-video-essay-a-page-by-kevin-lee-grandmaster-of-the-form.
MTV Press. “Young Millennials Will Keep Calm & Carry On.” Jun. 18, 2013, http://mtvpress.com/press/release/young_millennials_will_keep_calm_carry_on.
Popham, W. James. “What’s Wrong—and What’s Right—with Rubrics.” Educational Leadership 55, no. 2 (Oct. 1997): 72-75.
“Roger Ebert’s Far Flung Correspondents.” RogerEbert.com. http://www.rogerebert.com/far-flung-correspondents.
“Rubrics.” Howard University Library. http://www.howard.edu/library/assist/guides/rubrics/default.htm.
Spandel, Vicki. “Speaking My Mind: In Defense of Rubrics.” The English Journal 96, no. 1 (Sep. 2006): 19-22.
Stein, Joel. “Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation.” Time May 20, 2013.
Kelli Marshall is a lecturer of Media and Cinema Studies at DePaul University. When she is not incorporating video essays into her classroom, Kelli researches two rather disparate fields: Shakespeare in film and popular culture, and the film musical, specifically the star image and work of Hollywood song-and-dance man Gene Kelly. Follow Kelli on Twitter at @kellimarshall and/or read more about her take on film, TV, and social media on her blog, MediAcademia.
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The assignment asks your group to make an interpretive argument via a short film of 4-5 minutes.
Assumptions for this assignment
- the video essay makes an argument about subject matter
- the argument is an instance of communication and should be easy to understand
- the argument is supported with clear and specific evidence
How To Go About Making Your Video Essay
Part 1: Draft Topic and Argument
- You and your group members should brainstorm a topic (a film genre, an important/weird/interesting film, a director, a plot device, a stylistic technique) and explain why you are interested in your topic.
- Example: Wes Anderson’s costumes; the cult film Troll 2; Bourne’s action sequences; the portrayal of women in slasher films
- You should then describe what your argument about your topic will be.
- Example: By depicting over-the-top gore while also referencing film history, Quentine Tarantino challenges audiences to reconsider what makes a “quality” film. OR Over time, the editing of Bourne’s action sequences increase in speed, suggesting an audience increasingly familiar with and bored by the genre.
PART 2: ARGUMENT/FORMAT.
All five of these should be addressed/included in your final project. Turn in your group’s responses to these questions and a short annotated bibliography.
- Introduction: what will your classmates need to know to get them oriented to your video essay? Consider your audience’s likely level of knowledge/familiarity; are you working on something famous or something a bit more niche?
- Thesis: what will you be arguing in your video?
- Reasons: why are things as you say they are in your thesis? What are the underpinning ideas/theories that must be demonstrated?
- Supporting evidence: what specific scenes and shots will you discuss? What filmic techniques are most important to point out? (While it may be necessary to focus more on certain formal elements than others, the video essay should touch on all four major stylistic elements of film art: mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, sound.) What can you include from your research?
- Conclusion: what do you want your audience to take away from this essay? How should we consider your film, genre, director, etc. differently?
- Annotated Bibliography
- Using MLA Style, write citations for a minimum of the following three source types:
- An interview
- A scholarly article
- A non-filmic item of your choice
- Annotate each entry with 3-5 sentences explaining why the source will be useful to you/how it supports your work.
PART 3: Style/Aesthetics
- The video essay itself
- The projects should be aesthetically pleasing. You should consider formal issues in addition to content (consider the following: image, voice, pacing, text, sound, music, montage, rhythm, edits/transitions, etc). Edits/transitions should be clean, functioning as guideposts leading the viewer from one point to another.
- All evidence should clearly relate to the thesis. There should be no question of why you are presenting a given clip.
- Formal elements/quantity: while it may be necessary to focus more on certain formal elements than others, the video essay should touch on all four major stylistic elements of film art (mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, sound)
- Accuracy. All formal elements should be accurately identified and discussed.
- Short supplemental essay: This 2-3 page paper should explain decisions you made in organizing your video essays. Why did you select certain clips or ignore others? How did your thesis and/or other ideas change over the course of the project? What became important to you to communicate as you learned more about your topic? What creative ideas did you attempt in your efforts to communicate your interpretation?
Grading Rubric For Interpretive Video Essay
Proposal (2% of course grade).
Overview (8% of course grade)
In each section of each category, you will be scored as follows:
5: Expert/Excellent; 4: Advanced/Good; 3.75: Basic/Satisfactory; 3: Needs Work 2: Barely Acceptable 1: Unacceptable 0: Missing
Video Essay: Basics 20%
ON TIME: The video essay should be submitted by the exam period.
TITLE: Preceding the video should be a title that draws the viewer in and reflects the creators’ argument.
NARRATION: Some form of narration (whether audio or text) should guide the viewer through the video.
LENGTH: About 4.5 minutes (not underdeveloped, not excessive), indicating the creators’ have control over the argument.
VIDEO ESSAY: ARGUMENT, EXECUTION, ETC. 40%
THE THESIS: should be easy to locate, arguable, clearly stated, and able to be supported with evidence.
FORMAL ELEMENTS: While it may be necessary to focus more on some than others, the video essay should touch on all four stylistic elements of film art (mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, sound).
ACCURACY: The video essay should accurately identify the formal elements throughout the video essay.
QUALITY: All evidence should relate to the thesis; there should be no question about its purpose or significance.
STYLE: The project should be aesthetically pleasing. The author should consider formal issues in addition to content (i.e. the group must consider ideas of image, voice, pacing, text, soung, music, montage, rhythm, etc.). Edits/transitions should be clean, fucntioning as guideposts, leading the viewer from one point to another. Sound should be loud enough that the viwewer doesn’t have to strain to hear.
SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT BASICS 10 %
ON TIME: To be submitted in person at the beginning of the final exam period
LENGTH: roughly 2-3 pages (not underdeveloped, not excessive
FILM TITLES (and titles of TV shows, books, newspapers, journals, websites) should be italicized. The DIRECTOR/RELEASE DATE should be placed in parentheses the first time the film is cited. ACTORS’ names should be placed in parentheses the first time a character is mentioned
SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT: ARGUMENT, EXECUTION, ETC. 30 %
CONTENT/GOAL: This paper should serve as an accompaniement to your visual presentation and a continuation of your argument., It should include pertinent evidence/information, images, dialogue, etc. the video essay may have omitted because of the time constraint (e.g. why you selected certain clips/images and ignored others, why you took on the argument you did, and what others might say in response)> You might also consider the project’s aesthetics : the ordering, shot/scene transitions used, background music and narration style chosen, etc. and how these decisions support the thesis and the overall scope of the video essay.
CONCLUSION: The essay should sum up the project and ask the viewer to think furhtere abou the film (s), messages, etc.
A BIBLIOGRAPHY: The bibliography should be included either at the end of the video essay or the report. It should use correct MLA style
GRAMMAR, PUNCTUATION, ETC.: Responses should be free of mechanical, syntactical, grammatical, and punctuation errors that make it difficult and tedious to read. Also, topic sentences and transition words should function as guideposts, leading the reader from one point to another.
______ Total Project Grade