Musings on participating on the panel “A Video Making Extravaganza Answering the Question ‘What Is Free?’ at WIDE/EMU 2013″


By Timothy Briggs, Laura Gonzales, Alexandra Hidalgo, Casey Miles, and Crystal VanKooten

Alexandra Hidalgo (Michigan State University), co-panelist

For WIDE-EMU, I thought it would be fun to ask participants to make short on-the-spot documentaries about the topics the conference was exploring. I was interested in seeing if we could actually accomplish such a feat in 80 minutes. Here is the description that fellow panelist, Casey Miles, and myself posted, via a Google doc, to the conference site:

“A Video Making Extravaganza Answering the Question “What Is Free?”

“In this “Make” presentation, we will make 3-5 minute videos exploring answers to the questions asked by the conference description:

What is “Free?”  What does “free” mean as in open access (scholarship, textbooks, courses), “free” as in liberty (copyrights/lefts, released, unrestrained), and “free” as in without charge (software, conferences, beer)? How do these and competing notions of “Free(dom)” operate when we teach — particularly when we teach writing, and particularly when we focus on the use of technology to teach writing? And what are the hidden and not so hidden costs of “Free,” both literal and metaphorical?

During the first 15 minutes, we will break into groups of 3-4 people and make YouTube style videos where members answer these questions. Because the videos are YouTube style, each group member will speak into the computer and provide their answers to the questions. People who don’t want to speak on camera are welcome to attend. We will be able to use everyone’s help during the editing process. Alex and Casey will bring a number of Macbook Pros with us and we will use iMovie to record people’s the answers. During the next 35 minutes, groups will edit the material in iMovie into 3-5 minute videos, which we’ll post on YouTube. If you don’t know how to use iMovie, do not fear! We will get you started on the editing process.

We imagine that these will not be particularly polished, given the time limit, but that spontaneous aspect of creativity is a big part of our new free culture, so we welcome the unpolished in this project.”

Armed with four MacBook Pros and printouts of eight questions to explore through the documentaries, we arrived at our panel. Having given a very short introduction to the project, we divided ourselves into three groups of three and went off to talk into our computers in different locations so the sound of one group wouldn’t mess up the sound of another. Having worked as a documentary filmmaker for years, I took my group to the hallway and had each of us answer the questions in turn so we could later edit together the best clips of what we had said. It quickly became clear to my group that we had too many questions to answer in the given time, so we ended up skipping around.

I found speaking into the computer, instead of the camera as I’m used to doing, fairly awkward, as did my fellow group mates, but we managed to get something useable and went back into the panel room to edit. We watched all the footage, chose answers that worked well together, and placed them in the iMovie timeline in the order they would go in the final video. That was all we had time to do. That evening when I got home, I trimmed the clips and added titles, as well as creative commons music. Much to my frustration, iMovie had captured the footage out of sync, so that much like a poorly dubbed martial arts film from the 70s, our voices end and our mouths keep moving for a second or two longer. I did some Googling and figured out that this is not a rare issue when capturing footage with the newest version of iMovie. The way to fix it would have taken a few hours of messing with the footage and would have defeated the point of the made-on-the-spot documentaries. It was still a stretch, after all, that I was adding some final editing touches that night instead of just using what we’d edited together at the conference. So I left our video as it was, titling it “WIDE EMU Video Experiment (sound out of sync)” on my YouTube channel and shared it with the rest of our attendees.

Here is the result:

Crystal VanKooten (University of Michigan), attendee
I attended this session because of my interest in video-making for the writing classroom, and I came in not knowing exactly what would be happening.  I grouped up with Alexandra and Bryan, and we went into the hall to record ourselves orally responding to the questions that Alexandra and Casey had provided to guide the session.  Honestly, I was fairly nervous to record myself talking on the spot with little preparation, but I jumped in and did it, hoping that we would have time to edit out the portions of my answers that weren’t relevant.

Once we had each recorded, Alexandra did the clipping and moving around in iMovie, and Bryan and I gave our input as to which portions of each of our segments could be grouped and excerpted to make a little bit of sense.  But most interesting to me, in the end, was hearing the other groups reflect over how they approached the task and worked together (or not) to create some sort of video product in such a short time frame.

Timothy Briggs (Oakland University), attendee
I arrived unfashionably late to “A Video Making Extravaganza Answering the Question ‘What is Free?’” I almost didn’t go, but then I remembered the WIDE-EMU (un)conference is, in fact, an (un)conference, and we do things a bit different at this event. The first thing I noticed as I entered the room was two groups of three participants engaged in video composing. I sat next to the group made up of Alex, Crystal, and Bryan and watched as they edited footage shot with the iSight camera on Alex’s MacBook. They had already recorded themselves individually discussing the concept of “free” and what it means in the context of teaching writing and were in the process of editing the footage, slicing it up, moving it around, and making thematic connections between their responses. Their approach to video composing was documentary-like, not surprising given Alex’s experiences as a documentary filmmaker.

Casey Miles (Michigan State University), co-panelist
When Alex asked me to be a co-panelist for this workshop I immediately said yes for two reasons. First, I’d wanted to check out WIDE-EMU since it started and this workshop was a perfect opportunity. And second, I was eager to work with Alex, a fellow feminist filmmaker. In the workshop I grouped up with Laura and Victor, two new PhD students in my graduate program. Since I’m entering my third year and nearly out of coursework, I saw this as an opportunity to get to know them a little more. Being a co-panelist and a filmmaker I decided to try to take a backseat as our group made decisions about our video. We decided to just turn the camera on and record ourselves having a conversation using the questions as a guide. We were very aware of the camera recording us so the conversation had moments of awkwardness, moments of laughter, and moments of useful dialogue. We included all of these moments in the video because it captured the context of the situation—PhD students in a video workshop at an [un]conference on a Saturday. Our conversation on “free” revolved around trying to answer what does free even mean, or is there even such a thing? We didn’t reach a final answer but we did muse quite a bit on what free means to us.

Laura Gonzales (Michigan State University), attendee
Since I’ve had little experience making videos, I was initially reluctant to try making a video in such a short period of time. After struggling to come up with a set plan, my group decided to just let the camera roll as we talked through the questions presented to us in relation to the conference theme. We stopped recording when we thought we had captured something interesting, and we watched and edited the footage as we went along. What was most interesting to me throughout this process was using the video making as a way to process and reflect on the conversation we were having as it was happening. It was helpful to think of the video not as a thing we had to produce, but rather as a methodology to help us answer the questions before us. This, I think, has further implications for how we can incorporate video making as a tool for rhetorical thinking and teaching.

You can check out our messy but perhaps helpful video here:

Timothy Briggs (Oakland University), attendee
I also checked out what the other group was doing from time to time. This group was made up of Casey, Laura, and Victor, and their approach was quite different. As Casey says in the video, “we’re just recording our conversation.” And that’s what they did and then edited it, so the result is snippets of dialogue circling around the concept of “free,” sometimes appearing to veer off but always connecting back to this central theme. The editing is not smooth, which is completely appropriate for the way they shot the footage with sometimes Laura not in the frame, Victor in the midground, Casey to the side, and the group I had joined in the far background. As I watched their finished video, I couldn’t help but think about Casey’s ongoing video project “The Gender Project” and it’s rawness and honesty and subversiveness.

Alexandra Hidalgo (Michigan State University), co-panelist
Here is the third video:

Although the panelists started with a structure similar to our video, where each person spoke at a time, they eventually turned it into a conversation where we can see all three of them on the screen. Unlike the other groups, they managed to complete the video, with beginning and ending titles, within the timeframe of the panel. They seemed happy with the results, explaining that they had very much enjoyed themselves in the process of making it. They seemed impressed that they’d managed to make a completed video in such a short period of time.

Timothy Briggs (Oakland University), attendee
As we neared the end of the session, I learned there was a third group made up of Chelsea, Jessica, and Pam. They had left the room to record and compose their video and didn’t return until the end. Their approach to the video is almost a cross between the other two groups. It seems documentary-like with the detailed responses and written text identifying the participants the first time they appear on the screen. But it’s also very conversational with most of the video framed as three writing instructors discussing the concept of “free” and the implications for the classroom. I don’t personally know any of the participants in this group, so I can’t speculate as to why they employed this approach. But I found it interesting that this group, which had left the room, ended up using a style that seems to be a hybrid of the approaches utilized by the other groups.

Crystal VanKooten (University of Michigan), attendee
I left the session with some important questions:  What are the ethical implications of asking students to record themselves and potentially publish these recordings to the web?  What is the role of planning, preparation, play, and experimentation when composing video?  How might students work together to share functional and rhetorical responsibilities when composing video?

Alexandra Hidalgo (Michigan State University), co-panelist
What I think is most interesting about the way this panel worked out is how different the three groups’ approaches were to completing the assignment. I had, of course, expected that the content of each video would be different, but I was amazed by the completely different approach that each group took to making the documentary in the first place. If we’d had a full day to make the videos, we’d have ended up with something much more polished, but the variety of form and approach might not have been as marked. I’d say our video making extravaganza was a success for uncovering three very different ways for academics to express their ideas through moving images.


  • Laura Gonzales

    Laura Gonzales is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Writing Studies at the University of Texas, El Paso. Her research focuses on highlighting the benefits of linguistic diversity in professional and academic spaces.

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