Seeing is believing (and vice versa): video research in education

A film record of an event is never neutral: to Labov’s observer’s paradox the camera adds extra layers. What you believe influences what you show the camera and how you point the camera:

There is no situation that is not altered by the presence of an observer. Being in front of a camera incites the person filmed to a form of reflection whereby they question their actions as they are accomplished. People show how they think they ought to be represented. Being behind the camera, on the other hand, engages the person filming in a creative act whereby they do not fully control their own activity but at least partially act automatically and intuitively, often without reflection.

Baptiste Buob, filmic ethnographer, (CNRS)

Researchers are also influenced in their analysis of video material by the theories they espouse. What you see depends on what you believe to be important:

Theory is like a torch. In classroom research, different theories will light up different parts of the classroom – a multimodality torch will illuminate some aspects, an applied linguistics torch will show others. A researcher does not see a classroom and then apply a theory; as a researcher, your theory allows you to see the classroom. Your theory enacts the classroom and the classroom enacts your theory. We need concepts in order to turn the torch on and shine it on the classroom.

Carey Jewitt, multimodal social semiotician

While some use video as a means to access information and modes of communication and expression which are otherwise unattainable, others use visual material as secondary data, to support the investigation of language use, for example.

We can use video to make sense of the process of making meaning in the classroom. Close analysis of video of classroom talk shows that teachers overwhelmingly ask closed questions soliciting one precise, expected answer requiring a low level of reflection. Similarly, group work is often a waste of time because children don’t know how to use talk to think and learn collectively.  However, exploratory talk in groups, or interthinking, can improve both group performance on reasoning tasks and later individual performance, supporting a Vygotskyan view of sociocultural learning.

Neil Mercer, educational psychologist (Thinking Together, University of Cambridge)

Here, effective exploratory talk – where participants engage fully with one another to justify their views, argue cogently against others’ arguments, and attempt to reach compromise – leads to new ideas and improved reasoning abilities. Believing in the power of thinking together leads to new ways of seeing.

IR-Vidéo (Instrumentation des Recherches pour l’analyse des données Vidéo de pratiques éducatives = Instrumentation of research for the analysis of video in educational contexts) is a 5-day methodology course for education researchers on video in educational contexts. It is run every two years by the ViSA research group (Vidéo en Situations d’Apprentissage et Enseignement = Video in teaching and learning), a federative research structure principally involving the ENS Lyon and the Université Bretagne Ouest. Both course and group aim to bring together researchers using video in different educational areas to harmonise best practices in the constitution, exploitation and sharing of complex corpora involving video.
The course involved 3 types of classes
  • 4-5 hour plenary sessions with invited speakers (Neil Mercer on classroom talk, Carey Jewitt on multimodal research in learning, and Baptiste Buob on film in anthropology)
  • hands-on workshops on technical issues (recording, editing, transcribing, tagging)
  • collaborative group sessions on analysis of educational video
Some thoughts on three aspects of the course in three upcoming posts:
  1. video research methodology: constructing data
  2. analysing video data
  3. tools for organising, editing and annotating video.

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