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Video in Educational Research

General Information

This page presents general information that every researcher should know about the use of video for research purposes..


  • Preserves more aspects of interaction (vocalization, gesture, eye gaze, props, etc.)
  • Allows repeated examination of data
  • Allows multidisciplinary analyses
  • Allows data collection in more naturalistic settings (not just lab)
  • Allows in-depth micro analysis
  • Grounded theory. controlled emergence of new categories
  • Avoids "what I say" vs. "what I do" problem that can occur in self reports
  • Can explore lead-up to critical incident (e.g. computer crash, conversational meltdown)


Equipment costs money, training time, maintenance

Remember: Data reduction is hard

  • Video data is time consuming to watch
  • Typically 4:1 for a good content log, and 10:1 for a transcript
  • Creating transcripts prematurely can eliminate the advantages of video, because a transcript only has a fraction of the richness of the original data.

Representation for analysis is hard

  • Variable granularity of events
  • Diverse, non-linguistic nature of data
  • Often want to juxtapose different kinds of notations
  • Often want to combine unstructured and structured annotation

Methodological challenges

making videos

  • understanding video as a constructed artifact
  • ethics of making videos
  • technical aspects of making videos

analyzing videos

  • structured vs. unstructured analytic notes
  • transcription (any system has theoretical assumptions embedded)
  • representing non-linguistic data
  • mismatch of "normative" categories to video-based observables
  • how to sample rigorously?

interpreting videos

  • control the use of vivid vignettes!
  • steps to ensure unbiased and representative sample
  • steps to organize, filter, weigh evidence
  • steps to progressively refine interpretation
  • steps to triangulate the evidence

Ethical issues

Generally it is legal to tape public behavior in a public space (e.g. a speakerat an outdoor rally that anyone can participate in). A classroom is a privatespace, and therefore requires consent. Taping a private conversation in apublic space is not legal either. All private taping requires written consent.Consult with Human Subjects Review Board. While few cases ever get to lawyers, one rule to follow is that if you can get consent, you should. For example, if you are asking people in depth questions at a public event, the courts are likely to require consent for the use of the recordings in a commercial context. In practice only projects like broadcast magazine shows get releases at public events.

Ethical guidelines for distribution of video on computer networks, ordistribution via CD-ROM are non-existant. The laws developed for broadcast television may or may not apply. Think carefully and get legal advicebefore proceeding.

Issues in informed consent:

  • subjects free to refuse?
  • subject understand use of tapes?
  • subject may request destruction of tape?

Recommend getting progressive levels of consent, as necessary

  • small research group only
  • scientific conferences and meetings
  • general broadcast
  • NDEC has release forms online

 Video Release Forms for Researchers

Selected Video Release Forms...

This page gives you access to various media release forms used by a number of projects. Each project has taken a different approach to what to say and what to include in the legal release form. This collection is a work in progress please feel free to send comments or contribute your forms.

Release Forms from Vanderbilt.  These have been submited by Mitchell Nathan of Vanderbilt University.

Release Forms from EDC.  These have been submited by Babette Moeller at EDC and were used by The Center for Children and Technology (CCT) in collaboration with Bank Street College of Education. There is a Spanish language version.

Release Forms from CAVPP.  These have been submited by Raul Zaritsky at Northwestern and were used by The Chicago Area Violence Prevention Project in cooperation with the Department of Surgery at Cook County Hospital.

Consent Forms from CoVis. These are the form and instructions used by the CoVis project of Northwestern University, School of Education.

Beware "fair use:"

  • If a video is made available publicly, a broadcaster may use "snippets" under the"fair use" doctrine of the US copyright code WITHOUT your permission. Ingeneral, never give away copies of your tapes.
  • Place a label at the beginning and end of all of your tapes stating that they are only for professional use and may not be used, in anyway for public broadcast.
  • For very sensitive material, superimpose a copyright notice, or statement of "for professional use only" on the screen. In practice, no broadcaster will use tape with an on-screen exclusion graphic.

 Understanding Biases in Research Videos

Video offers the researcher a large gain in data gathering capabilitiescompared to audio recording or direct observation. The gains can leadresearchers to overlook the limitations of the medium, leading to dangerousmisconceptions. Three misconceptions are discussed below, along withsuggestions about how the researcher can control the biases of the medium.

1: Video captures what an observer would see

Compared to the human eye, a video camera has many limitations. For example,because video has low resolution, it is generally impossible to simultaneouslysee writing on a document or blackboard without zooming in. But such zoomingwill exclude the broader activity. A human eye can easily see both at once.

Video also has a low contrast ratio. This means that it can tolerate only alimited range of brightness. Whereas a human observer can see both an overheadprojector image and participants in the darkened room, a video camera willoverexpose the image or underexpose the participants.

Video has less depth of field than a human eye. This means it takes constantwork to keep different elements of a situation in focus in a video camera. Ingeneral, we are unaware of focussing problems as direct observers. Video alsohas a narrower field of vision, especially since direct observers can rapidlyturn their head to track action as it occurs. A live observer can easy watchfaces of two participants who are having a dialog across the classroom. Asingle video camera that tries to move from participant to participant willmake the viewer sea-sick.

Audio microphones have less selectivity than human hearing. In general, it ismuch easier to attend to one conversation out of many when you are directlyobserving the situation. In a video recording, any extraneous noise becomes veryannoying and distracting. While, you listen in person such noise would not interfere with your understanding. With video, a situation with overlapping noise can make a conversation impossible to understand.

2: Video has no point of view

In part because of the limitations above, the process of recording introduces adistinctive point of view on the proceedings. This point of view can severelydistort the underlying event and impede inquiry.

For example, in recording the audio portion of the event, it is good practiceto put microphones as close to the participants as possible. However, aunidirectional lapel microphone on the teacher can do an exceptional job ofselecting the teacher's voice and reducing classroom noise. This can make theclassroom seem unnaturally "dead." Conversely, a poor microphone choice andplacement (e.g. placing a lapel mike in the middle of a classroom) can pick up every cough and chair squeak, making a teacher hard tohear. This amplified background noise can make a classroom seem chaotic,unruly, or inattentive.

 Likewise, one might put microphones near a particular group of students. Thesemicrophones can pickup whispered comments that otherwise would be inaudible toan observer. If students are making disparaging remarks, the classroom climatemight appear very different than it appears to an observer. If only a goodstudents have microphone, the class will seem better than if only a few badstudents have microphones.

Video images are also highly composed. Distortions can occur by focussing onone participant to the exclusion of others. Using direct video out from acomputer screen will capture a flicker-free image of the screen, but missparticipants gestures in front of the screen. Focussing on materials studentsare using can lead to neglect of their facial expressions.

 In general, there is no way to achieve a neutral point of view. You will haveto clarify your purposes in making a video recording, and use this to guideyour construction of a video point of view.

3: Video captures context

Because video captures so many more features of human interaction than do othermedia, it is common to say that video captures context. To say whether contexthas been captured, one needs some definition of what it is. As a workingdefinition, let's assume that context refers to those aspects of the sharedsituation that are available to the participant and relevant to the meaning oftheir actions.

 Assuming this definition, it is clear that video can capture many aspects oflocal, short-term context, like the materials students are manipulating. Butvideo is a poor medium for preserving non-local, long-term context. Forexample, while working together, the students know what they did yesterday andthe day before. Capturing a long-term sequence on video is difficult, andtime-consuming to watch. A journal or diary is much better at capturingchronological contextual information. Likewise, a teacher knows a lot about thepersonal history of each of her students. A transcribed interview is a muchbetter technique for gaining access to this context. In some situations, like aschool playground, participants move rapidly among many activities andsettings. Giving an appropriate overview of this activity on video would bevery challenging. Field notes from participant observation might give a morecoherent view of the playground context.

Contrast with other methods

  • demographic surveys
  • questionaires
  • interviews
  • journals
  • portfolios
  • field observation
  • video observation

Video is obviously "data for analysis", but also...

  • As part of a design cycle for interactive materials (computers, museums)
  • Video clubs: reflective practice learning circles for teachers
  • Video portfolios: assessment based on video performances
  • Video Exemplar libraries: disseminating instances of best practice
  • Training researchers to "see" in the field
  • IAL: Creating multidisciplinary dialogue

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