(More on) the making of A Vision of Students Today

Several people have asked me for more details on how we made “A Vision of Students Today.” Certainly, it was the actual act of producing the video, not the video itself, that was the true learning moment for those of us involved in the project. I would certainly recommend this kind of collaborative project to anybody trying to create a rich and meaningful learning moment.
Here it is, step by step (with a link to the Google Document that it is based on).

Step One: As this was a class in cultural anthropology, I frequently asked the students to observe the culture around them and often used the classroom itself as the object of cultural analysis. So by the time this video was created (about 12 weeks into the semester) many students had become keen cultural observers of the classroom. I had two primary goals for the making of the video: 1. to let my students enhance their skills of cultural analysis by observing their immediate environment, and 2. to give them a platform to express their insights to a larger audience. (We were specifically addressing anybody with the power to help change the current environment of Higher Education).

Step Two: I presented the overall idea for the format of the video to the class (students holding signs) and then created a Google Document and invited all 200 students to provide the content for the video. I included the following instructions at the top of the Google Document:

What is it like being a student today?

So the basic idea is to create a 3 minute video highlighting the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime.

We already know some things from previous research (and if you know of any interesting statistics, please list them along with the source). Others we will need to find out by doing a class survey. Please add whatever you want to know or present.

I also included a few lines to get them started.
You can see the final Google Document here.

Step Three: Several students wrote messages about their own specific situation. (e.g. “I watch 5 hours of TV every day). We converted these to questions for a class survey. The survey was distributed online. 131 of 200 students responded to the survey. You can find a discussion of the results here.

Step Four: I brought the survey results and the Google Document to class on the day of filming. We went through the survey results and decided which ones we wanted to include. We then went through the Google document selecting what we wanted to include and what we wanted to leave out. During this process several students had new ideas about what they wanted to include and started creating new signs. As you may notice, many of the best lines do not appear on the Google Document for this reason. All of this, including the filming, took a full class period of 75 minutes.

Step Five: I took all the footage home to edit. I filmed the intro scene (of the empty classroom) about two months later to help set the stage. The intro scene is in many ways a visual presentation of the prompts I would use to put them in the mode of doing a cultural analysis of their immediate surroundings. (“If these walls could talk, what would they say?”)

Conclusion: This was a remarkable experience for many of the students involved. Many of them have expressed to me how important that day in class was – not because it was later viewed by over one million people – but because it allowed them to really start analyzing how they are learning, and more importantly, they felt empowered to reshape their own learning environments. As I pointed to in a recent post about “schooling” and “learning” – it took this kind of exercise for many students to discover themselves as good learners – even if they seem to be “bad students.”


Associate professor of cultural anthropology. Ed Traceur. Hacker. Car-free.

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8 Responses

  1. Martin says:

    Thanks for that insight into the making of the video. The vid was great to watch and a worthwhile project for so many viewers.

    But it sounds like all those involved in the video itself got more than they could ever imagine from it. That’s fantastic to hear. It’s wonderful when a project can be successful from every point of view.

    And to provoke further positive discussion is an added bonus. Congratulations!

  2. Mihaela V says:

    Thank you so much for explaining step by step how you used research, cultural analysis, and collaboration to create this video. I’ll share this with my students, in case some of them would like to create an alternative senior thesis project. (Clemson University, South Carolina, Communication Studies)
    I’m following your work and can’t wait to see the next video! If you need any help in terms of research or data collection, please let me know, I’d be honored to help you.

  3. annette says:

    thanks for sharing the process of making the video – this is such a great example of a creative research process incorporating reflection and reflexivity and a wonderful ‘product’ at the end that speaks to so many constituencies – congratulations..

  4. Aaron Bowen says:

    As the others say, than you for sharing! I particularly enjoyed this video and am glad to read the follow-up discussion of the creation process!

  5. Lorene says:

    that was an amazing video. my son is 22 and I had NO CLUE what was going on in his head. Now that I see what the generation is thinking, I can at least ask a question of him that doesn’t sound entirely stupid. I learned that the culture of students is totally unprepared for global climate problems, like floods and lack of electrical power and wilderness survival, and when the ocean rises and the world becomes hotter and hotter. Unless that’s what they discuss on FaceBook? and MySpace? not sure. I think there are survival problems that none of us have thought about. Maybe those are the jobs that they will have in the future. I sure think so myself. I am a Science Channel Junkie, and there are just too many global climate problems for the world as it exists today that are going to change the world as we know it now.

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