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Jun 29 2012

Designing a Video Assignment for First-Year Students

Bethany Bradshaw in the NCSU Libraries' Digital Media Lab

Bethany Bradshaw in the NCSU Libraries' Digital Media Lab

Last spring, I had the pleasure of supporting an exciting digital media assignment for an ENG 101 class. The assignment, called a “digital auto-ethnography,” asked students to make a short video telling a personal narrative of their participation in a social group.

At the Libraries, we provided help to students doing this assignment in a number of ways. First, I made sure they knew about our Technology Lending program, which has video cameras and audio recorders that students can use for projects like this. I also promoted the Digital Media Lab as a great place for them to ask for help with video editing.

Last, I organized “iMovie Basics” workshops for members of the class to attend. These covered the basics of video editing in iMovie in a manner suitable for beginners. Taught by our student workers in the Digital Media Lab, our workshops are a great way to learn basic digital media skills.

The auto-ethnography assignment was the work of Bethany Bradshaw, a graduate student and instructor in the English Department at NCSU. I asked her to share her thoughts on the assignment and the work her students produced for it. Snapshots from some of the students’ videos are included below.

Where did you get the idea for the assignment?

Bethany Bradshaw: I have been interested in multimodal and digital composition for quite a while, and I did some research on the topic last fall. In the spring semester, I found out that my co-teacher and mentor Megan Hall was planning to assign an autoethnography and presentation for our students’ final project, so I asked her if I could transform this assignment into a digital composition. She was completely supportive of the idea, and I so I modified her assignment based on my research and experiences with composing multimodally and digitally.

Bonding with fellow First-Generation Indian-Americans, from autoethnography by Samruddhi

Bonding with fellow first-generation Indian-Americans, from autoethnography by Samruddhi

What do you think was the biggest challenge students faced?

BB: Almost all of the students encountered technical difficulties at some point during the project, and many of them had never created a digital composition before. However, the digital media lab staff was incredibly helpful and supportive throughout the process, and everyone was able to produce a video he or she could be proud of.

What surprised or impressed you about the videos the students created?

BB: I was really impressed with the quality of my students’ videos, both in content and in production. But I think I was most surprised by the emotional impact their compositions were able to convey: they were at times funny, touching, and inspirational, which I think speaks to the power of the digital medium and my students’ ability to utilize it effectively.

Jordan interviews his big brother on why he plays football, from "Football = Life" by Jordan Dash

Jordan interviews his big brother on why he plays football, from "Football = Life" by Jordan Dash

Were you pleased with the results of the assignment?

BB: I was really impressed with how quickly my students were able to adapt to composing in a digital medium. They were able to take the same composition skills of invention, revision, and developing effective rhetorical strategies that we had been developing in written papers all semester and then translate these skills into a digital context without much trouble. Although they did have trouble with new technologies at times, they all learned how to take advantage of the library’s digital resources (both in equipment and expertise) and were able to create pretty sophisticated videos as a result.

Dean Malecha interviewed, from "The Journey So Far" by Laura

Dean Malecha interviewed, from "The Journey So Far" by Laura

What was the biggest challenge for you as an instructor?

BB: I was unfamiliar with some of the technologies that my students were using as well, so I was bit nervous about answering their technology-based questions. I had to learn along with them at times, and I also attended an iMovie workshop, which was incredibly helpful. I also did a lot of referring (and at times, physically walking) them to the digital media specialists, who were also very helpful. If they learned nothing else from this project, my students at least learned how to get digital support from the library.

What advice do you have for an instructor who’s interested in offering a digital media assignment?

BB: Go meet with the library. Also, scaffold your unit so that most of the students’ planning and conceptual work is completed early. Have them use storyboards to draft their compositions. Then, build in lots of time for the actual composing process – the process of making a video can be a much more time-intensive than the process of writing a paper.

Danielle shows off her skills, from "Gymnastics" by Danielle

Danielle shows off her skills, from "Gymnastics" by Danielle

Anything else you’d like to add?

BB: I was so encouraged by my students’ commitment and enthusiasm during this project. Many of them spent hours composing and editing their videos, and their hard work was evident and impressive.

Adam here again–for me personally, this was a great experience. Bethany invited me to watch the students’ videos in their final class, and I was blown away by their creativity and originality. The NCSU Libraries is always available to support instructors in offering digital media assignments, and students in completing them. For this kind of assistance, contact me personally or fill out a Technology Consultation request.

Adam Rogers is the Emerging Technology Services Librarian at NCSU Libraries. He can be reached at

4 Responses to “Designing a Video Assignment for First-Year Students”

  1. Paula Denmon says:

    What a wonderful assignment from a terrific young teacher and writer, and an amazing young woman, for whom I have the deepest admiration.
    And thanks Adam Rogers for an interesting and visually captivating story.

  2. Neva Hand says:

    Thank you, Adam, for this inspiring piece! Having known Bethany for several years, I am pleased to see that her enthusiasm is still contagious and her problem-solving skills remain intact.

  3. Anne McCrady says:

    Bethany has been fascinated by narrative for as long as I have known her — how great that she is inspiring others to tell stories in new ways!

  4. Lori Moores says:

    So interesting to read about the work one of my former students is now teaching to others! Bethany was one of the best 14 year old writers I had ever read in freshman English, and I’m so proud to see her sharing her gift with others in new and exciting ways!