Boosting video literacy in the classroom


Teaching filmmaking | Mandate Bern University of Applied Sciences BFH | Concept Pia Fehle, Hynek Bures | Year 2017

This month I was given the opportunity to teach filmmaking to students from the Bern University of Applied Sciences BFH. I would like to share with you a few insights from this event. But first …

Why do students of agriculture need to know filmmaking?

The school asked its students from the department of Agriculture, Forest and Food Sciences to present their final dissertation in the form of a short 1.5 minutes video. Typical subjects of dissertations focus on agricultural practices, use of forest land, or agricultural value chains. The videos are then posted on the school’s webpage. On the one hand, these audiovisual examples are aimed at attracting new students. On the other, the videos promote the students’ work when looking for their first employment. - Pretty smart, isn’t it! By boosting the students video literacy, the school acquires a audiovisual advantage over its peers. It is a nice, simple transmedia approach to promote your work, yourself and your organisation not only through the written document, but with video as well.

How did the course go?

Together with Pia Fehle who is organizing the video exercise at the BFH, we decided on a 4 hours crash course on how to use your smartphone or small camera to tell your story. I structured the course into 3 components: planning, filming and editing your video.

We started the course after the usual classes at 5 in the afternoon. The planing part focused on drafting the story: What to say? What to omit? What structure to use to tell the story? - I worked with the students on their examples using the famous 3 acts story structure.

We then proceeded to the second component, filming your message. After providing them with the basics of do’s and don’ts of camera work, the students recorded themselves in front of the camera. Their voice could then be used as a voice-over for their video - adding further elements, such as photos, graphics... and some students explored drawings as a way to communicate their message.

Up to know, all was going well. The students were with me, listening to theory and doing the exercises. But now came the great challenge: using a new software to arrange your video into a short story. In addition, some students were working on PC, others on Mac computers.

[Here an online tutorial I have created for the Swiss Red Cross]

Can you learn to edit video in 1 hour?

At around 7.30 p.m. we started with the last module, editing your video footage into a story. In order to progress with all students together I wanted to work with them on the same software. Prior to the course the students downloaded and installed Lightworks on their computers. Lightworks is a free / low-cost multi-platform editing software. It is probably the cheapest multi-platform editing software. The software has one main drawback: it is a professional tool!

I guided the students through the software: importing the footage, putting it on the timeline, adding a title. During the process I noticed I was loosing the students. On some laptops the software was bugging. So while giving assignments to the others, I tried to find solutions for those with software problems. Then by 8.30 p.m. many students just were tired from the long day, or needed to head home. - Thus the final course component fizzled out… the students had a first impression of the software, but weren’t yet there to finalise the edit.

How to change the end of this video course?

I still believe that you can learn the basics of an editing software in 1 to 2 hours, IF optimal learning conditions are met. In my case I would like to improve on 2 aspects: the proper editing software and the proper timing of the 3rd component: editing your video.

First, it is more adequate to use an editing software that is slightly less professional. Not only the user can handle the software better, but his or her computer as well reducing the software compatibility problems. For Mac users iMovie should be the preferred choice. With this free software you can definitely make a good looking video. For PC users the choice is more difficult, since Microsoft discontinued its Movie Maker in January of this year. For now, there is no free alternative for PC users, unless you download the discontinued version. I would tend to recommend Adobe Premiere Elements. Unlike other Adobe products, this one you pay upfront instead a yearly subscription.

Second, to learn a new editing software you need to come with a fresh mind. Introducing this technical step at the end of a 4 hours video course is too demanding. Thus learning to edit your video must be done at a different moment. For example, when students have compiled all their visuals and are ready to assemble everything into a story. 

And it makes sense to divide the students into two groups: Mac and PC users. Each group is then taught at a separate moment, so that due attention is given to the software at hand and the students’ challenges with it.