This post was one I produced for my VIDL Series “In Pursuit of Digital Pedagogy”, which you can read here.

In Pursuit of Digital Pedagogy: A Series on Digital Tools in the Classroom

New to the series? Check out Part I and Part II

So we’re finally at the end of this series on Citizen Journalism, and as is often the case the end point is much different than the one I envisioned in September when I first proposed the idea to the VIDL team. Since my first forays into this method, I’ve learned a number of new digital tools, explored alternatives to Citizen Journalism, and finally, created what I hope is a productive and effective alternative method for teaching - Citizen Research.

For this final post, I continued my infographic/multimedia essay piece, but I also blogged on this method of Citizen research, so read the post . You can find the final post here at Medium and let me know what you think about the overall use of this tool to ‘make’ my argument.

In addition to the infographic/multimedia essay, I also decided that for my final piece I would try out Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker and make my own video essay. Whether the end result was successful remains to be seen, I figured that I should continue my forays into learning new tools/methods with each post so please bare with my video essay. After reading the Picktochart post, check out this connected video here.

So what is a video essay?

After watching my video, you might still have this question and all I can say in my defense is that this video is my first and I won’t be quitting my day job to be a video editor anytime soon. Nonetheless, I feel the video essay was actually ideal for my argument, as I was making an original argument that could benefit from some dramatic music and stirring visuals. Furthermore, my argument lacked any data visualizations or primary source materials.

Royal Roads University provides a good overview of video essays here. The site defines video essays as using: “audiovisual materials to present research or explore topics. Like written essays, they may contain an introduction, argument, supporting evidence, and conclusion.”

Similar to textual ones, a key aspect to video essays is the narrative. A video essay allows for the visualization of a story and/or argument through a combination of imagery, audio, video, and sometimes text.

Some great examples of video essays include Matthias Stork’s “Transmedia Synergies: Remediating Films and Video Games”, which examines the relationship between movies and video games. Another great resource is, which is a site dedicated to creating video essays on complex ideas - you can check out their essays. These examples demonstrate the potential for video essays when you can get high enough production value. A series of student productions can also be found at

So why video essays? And how can video essays work in the classroom?

By now you’ve hopefully read my ideas about using infographics and multimedia essays in the classroom, and I would generally place video essays into the same category. This type of assignment can build upon existing written essays as a either a companion assignment or a standalone piece. Similar to a traditional essay, video essays do follow a narrative. However, at least from my perspective, the format felt more unfamiliar than an infographic, and how you present evidence to support your argument was harder for me to visualize in video form. In some ways, video essays are closest to the historians’ maxim of “show, don’t tell” when it comes to crafting essays. Yet at the same time, due to the novelty of the video essay I wasn’t really sure how to show or what to show when.

Nonetheless, I think that video essays are useful in the classroom but that I would caution that if like me you are a novice with audiovisual then be sure to bring in an expert and perhaps try out making your own video before you assign one. There are a number of conventions about videos that I completely ignored, and next time I would hope to do more preparatory work on how to pace and visualize my argument.

The last issue to consider with video essays, though this point is true for all online work, is the question of intellectual property and creative ownership. Unless you are shooting your own material for your video essay, you will likely be remixing videos and images that you find online. Contrary to academic standards of intellectual property, remixing is a completely acceptable and legal form of creative work. However, a key point for both educators and students is engaging with online standards of intellectual ownership - namely, the Creative Commons licenses. You can read more about the various types of Creative Commons licenses here, but generally speaking many of the videos on YouTube or Vimeo are available for use under some version of Creative Commons licenses. You can search on those sites for videos with certain licenses, and I would recommend using either Attribution, Attribution-ShareAlike, and/or Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. Using the Creative Commons licenses is also a great exercise for discussing the broader question of what constitutes intellectual property and academic standards of plagiarism.

So what tools should you use and how difficult is it to make video essays?

To make my video essay, I used Mozilla’s free tool popcorn maker, which allows you to use video clips from YouTube or Vimeo, images, audio, and text to create a web hosted video. Popcorn maker is fairly straightforward and easy to use, with drag and drop functionality. At times the site could be glitchy, but for a free tool it worked pretty consistently. The other benefit is that you can share and embed the videos fairly easily.

Overall Assessment of Mozilla Popcorn Maker

Allows for Creative Content Creation: A
Ease of Use: B
Open Source: A-
Ease to Publish or Share: B (because you cannot download your movies)
Ease of Assessing Learning: A
Ability to Integrate into Curriculum: B- (depending on your previous experience with video editing, as well as your students)

Recommendation: Great tool with a low barrier to use and high potential for innovative learning.

Alternative tools?

In addition to Popcorn Maker, I also wanted to mention some additional tools for video essays. First is iMovie for Macs or iSkysoft for PCs, which are two desktop options that are supposed to be fairly easy to use and offer more customization and templates then Popcorn Maker. However, if you want a web application I would also recommend checking out eduCanon. EduCanon is a free site for educators to use in the classroom that allows you to create videos with embedded content like quizzes and additional information. I haven’t used any of these tools, but all of them seem promising alternatives that have their own pros and cons.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I would highly recommend video essays as an addition to any classroom, but would caution that these types of assignments can often feel less rigorous to students. So I would advise a conscious effort to keep the emphasis on the overall goal of the video, and make sure that goal supports the learning outcomes of the class. That being said, I would also caution that any attempt to assign a video essay as a one week assignment or busy work might not be the best idea. Videos essays like normal essays take time to formulate, and often rely on a set of narrative and structural principles that the students need time to understand and internalize.

Have you used video essays in your classroom? What was your experience? Do you have any videos to share? If yes, please feel free to post links in the comments!