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Video in Educational Research


The page presents some strategies for using your video wisely.

Camera effects

 Although I am not aware of any systematic studies, most researchers seem tobelieve that the effect of "the presence of the camera changing the event beingobserved" can be minimized. It never completely goes away, however. In some"high stakes" assessment contexts, the temptation to "play to the camera" maybe inevitable. Participants need time to get comfortable with the camera. Ifyou are worried about camera effects, do field observations without a camerabefore, during, and after filming.

 The researcher can take some practical steps to reduce camera effects. Theseinclude:

  • Explaining and discussing purpose of taping
  • Practicing Dry runs" - use equipment in class for several days inpreparation
  • Using icebreakers -- make small jokes to relieve tension
  • Modelling natural behavior yourself
  • Leaving recording equipment alone during taping

There are also a few faux pas to avoid. Never draw attention to the factthe participant is being recorded. Moving microphones or pointing the camera ina participant's face is bad. The videographer should avoid moving, and move assilently as possible. Leave plenty of time to set up equipment before theevent, so the event is not delayed or disrupted by equipment problems.

Overcoming biases

There is no simple recipe for overcoming the biases of the video medium. Theresearcher must be aware that videos are a constructed record, and investigatethem as such. This means the researchers must be clear about their researchpurposes prior to taping, and develop systematic video recording strategy thatis true to those purposes. As part of any data collection, researchers shoulddocument what camera angles and microphone placements were chosen, and why.

The best way to recognize biases is through triangulation. Gather field notes before, during, and after video taping. These will often tell you if thepresence of the camera radically changed participants' behavior. Through directobservation you can visit many small groups of students, and thus gauge therepresentativeness of the single group in the video. Likewise, field notes canprovide a good concise overview of the events that occurred on a particular,and can point out issues worthy of investigation.

 In addition to field notes, collect copies of materials that participants used.Copies of their worksheets, overhead slides, computer software, or textbooksare invaluable while trying to make sense of a video. It is also a good idea tomake a floor plan if participants were in a complicated space (like aclassroom). Photographs of "fixed" features of the room, like posters andworkspaces can also be helpful. Finally, interviews can be a good way to getparticipants' perspectives on their behavior, which can point out biases in thevideo.

Finally, practice your videography technique in pilot studies. Try manydifferent camera and microphone placements, and notice the differentperspectives and biases they introduce. Through practice, establish asystematic approach to getting the data you need.

Progressive refinement

  • Usually start with general content log.
  • Progress towards some organized notes.
  • Transcribe last, as this is very costly.


 Supplement your video with:Field notesgood to get a general overview of what happened during filming

also can provide some sense of whether a particular small group was typical

Interviewsget the participants perspectives

Floor plans, photographsgood for a quick orientation to a complicated space

Materials used (worksheets, slides, etc.)so you can see what the participants were working on

Ways of using the tape

Your notes should:

  • Stimulated recall: Debriefing interview where participant watches tape
  • Focus Group: multiple participants react to tape
  • IAL: multidisciplinary brainstorming session
  • Content logs
  • Reliability among multiple coders (usually best to first segment the events)

Content logs

This is your primary index to the tape.

Start with a header:

  • identifying information
  • contextual information
  • participants
  • abbreviations used
  • name of logger
  • Use brief, memorable, unstructured annotations
  • Get beginnings and ends of major episodes and summarize them
  • Don't transcribe full conversation, but do jot down memorable phrases
  • Keep short notes on things that "pop out at you"
  • Try to highlight areas of the tape worth reviewing carefully
  • Use keywords that you can search for, if possible. But if something doesn't fita keyword, describe it in a phrase, sentence of paragraph. Don't ignore thingsthat seem important but don't fit your preconceived frame

Don't delegate logging! You will miss many of the insights that are possible from video if youdon't log it yourself.

A Group Analysis session (IAL)

This can be a good way to get a broad set of ideas about a tape. And a goodopportunity to learn about your colleague's perpectives. It is not a good wayto systematically analyze a tape.

  • Introduce a short segment (5-10 minutes)
    • Explain why you made the tape
    • Discuss who the participants are
    • Describe the activity
    • Introduce the setting
    • Try not to present your theory or analysis
  • Watch the segment:
    • The first time through, watch without stopping
    • Then review, and allow anyone to pause the tape and make a comment
  • Maintain group discipline
    • Force people to cite evidence ON THE TAPE for their conjecture
    • If the tape is stopped for more than 5 minutes, somebody is probably theorizingtoo much
    • Beware theories that are overly general, for example, explaining everythingaccording to the participant's gender, profession, or role. If the participantsare maintaining a gender role, there must be specific events in THIS TAPE thatmake is so. Find the evidence. Stereotypes are not evidence.
    • If viewpoints are strongly antagonistic & negative to the participants onthe tape, stop the session. You are not going to learn anything with thisanalysis group, and you might harm the subjects.
  • Audio tape the discussion
    • Review the tape and make an outline that organizes everything yourcolleagues said
    • Treat these ideas as hypotheses. Try to systematically verify patternsthroughout your corpus.
    • Don't ignore dissenting viewpoints. Try to find the evidence in your tapes thatproves them wrong.

Representation formats for your analysis

Word processor textsGood for unstructured logs and comments and transcripts. Easy to use.

TablesCan organize multiple views of the same event into columns. More awkwardto use.

Database recordsGood for coding and counting. But doesn't handle unstructured analysiswell. Forces segmentation of the event at a uniform granularity.

Hypertext linksSeems like a good idea, but hardly ever works in practice. Too confusingto navigate.

Presentation Strategies

Video as a "Fair Witness"

  • Passive camera line of sight.
  • Emphasis on participants' discourse and action. [Audio is critical.]
  • Continuity of the record in space and time.
  • Priority on recording of "bounded" activities from beginning to end.
  • Minimum alteration of the activity being recorded.
  • No observer "voice over" commentary.

Video as a Narrative Argument

  • Voice of sobriety/Voice of Reason
  • Unaltered historical record.
  • Film maker has the right of composition, but not rearrangement.
  • Informing logic.
  • Video record as evidential backing for an argument about the historicalworld.
  • Sounds and images in the service of evidence rather than plot.
  • Argument is framed in the voice-over commentary of the narrator.

Video as Scientific Case Study

  • Demonstrate a valued outcome.
  • Tell a developmental story.
  • Locate glimpses of the theoretical mechanism in the process.
  • Maintain a singular focus in your narrative.
  • Keep total elapsed video to less than 15 minutes.
  • Narrative framing commentary conveyed live, not on tape.

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