Friday, May 9, 2014

Multimedia Decoding: "Observe-Reflect-Question"

Video is the fastest growing medium on the Internet and increasingly young people are consuming cultural content. The 30-minute documentary Kony 2012 became a worldwide trending topic on the Internet and in less than a week more than 80 million people had viewed it. The video vividly depicted atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) over the past two decades. It called for students to immediately join a movement—by sharing the video, signing online petitions, and “Liking” on Facebook—with the ultimate goal of pressuring world leaders to capture Joseph Kony by the end of 2012.

Emotions ran high because of the vivid images in the video and many teenagers came to school asking their social studies teachers to address the issues.  Yet, as teachers soon realized, many of their students were ill-equipped to critically analyze the content: not just the video itself, but also the ways in which the video had become enmeshed in a Web-based campaign and broader social networks.

As many teachers abruptly came to realize, critical inquiry of video -- increasingly the norm for consuming information -- needs to become part of the primer for teaching 21st century literacy.  Teaching students how to decode video is foundational to the development of effective global citizens in our networked world. 

Fortunately, The Library of Congress “Teaching with Primary Sources” series located at  provides an excellent “Observe-Reflect-Question” framework for video analysis. The questions below from TPS-Barat Primary Source Nexus are adopted from the Library of Congress list of video analysis questions: 

OBSERVE: Identify and note details

  • What type of video recording is this (documentary, entertainment broadcast, animation, advertisement, speech, interview, press conference, testimony, etc.)?
  • What is this video recording about? What is the main topic or theme?
  • What is the title of this video? Is there any other text? If so, what information does it provide
  • What is/are the main setting(s) of this video recording?
  • Is there live action? Are there special effects or animation? If so, provide a brief description of what you see.
  • Who helped to make (perform, produce, or broadcast) this video recording?
  • Are there details that suggest the time period this video recording relates to? Is the creation date listed in the bibliographic record? If the creation date is listed, was this video created at or around the same time period the content relates to?
  • What other details do you notice?

A distinguishing aspect of video is that it can be seen multiple times in different ways. Students can rewind to review any part, or the entirety, of the video or slow the video down to focus on a particular element. In addition, students can watch a video without listening to sound to help focus on particular aspects of interest. Students might then be able to better understand how music is often integrated to create an emotion or reaction and even manipulate a viewer into action.  

As students move to critical analysis, they should be prepared to reflect more carefully on what they have observed and start to draw conclusions: 

REFLECT: Generate and test hypotheses
What tools and materials might have been used to create this video recording?
Why do you think this video recording was created? What might have been the purpose of making this video? What evidence supports your theory?
What tone does the video recording have? Why do you think this tone was used? How does the tone affect the feeling or mood of the video?
If special effects or animation are present, how do they affect the feeling or mood of the video?
Who do you think was the audience for this video recording?
What do you think the creator might have wanted the audience to think or feel?
How do you feel during and after watching this video recording?
Does the video recording show bias through words or images? If so, towards what or whom? What evidence supports your conclusion?
What was happening during the time period this video recording represents? If someone created this video today, what would be different/the same?
What did you learn from listening to this video recording? Does any new information you learned contradict or support your prior knowledge about the topic of this video?

Finally, students should ponder the questions hardest to answer and consider how they might find more information to help them answer these questions:

QUESTION: What didn’t you learn that you would like to know about? What questions does this video recording raise? What do you wonder about . . .

Also, teachers should encourage encourage transmedia navigation so that students not analyze online video in isolation. Students must learn that they should consider multiple sources of information on the topic as it may provide a more balanced perspective. Is there an independent news article on the topic? Are bloggers offering varied viewpoints? What are their rationales and motivations? Are visitors being encouraged to “like” a video or post or perhaps join a Facebook group? Why? Who is behind it? What does the makeup of the group tell you about their interests and motivation? Are you being encouraged to act in a certain way, such as supporting a campaign? Who benefits if you do? As such, students should consider viewpoints, data and information found in posts, images, charts, graphs, interviews, reports, and surveys. A good rule of thumb is to teach students to study at least three separate source elements and three points of view. 

Unless students learn to decode and analyze video, they will be at a disadvantage to deal with varied communication challenges in both their professional and personal endeavors and may fail to become discerning information literate citizens in a global age.  The implications for individual development and for fostering a productive democratic society are enormous. Teaching video decoding and analytical skills must become a priority. The most successful and forward-thinking schools are already in the process of examining their curricula and their instructional approaches to determine what steps need to be taken to provide teachers with training, if necessary, so that every student is prepared with multimodal literacies.

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