Lights, Camera, Heritage!


Summary

Dr Sara Perry wanted her first year undergraduates in the Department of Archaeology to develop their skills in communicating their research to the public, using creative methods such as video production and blogging about their experiences for the Yorkshire Museum. Students were able to engage with the Heritage Practice module in a professional way, equipping them with the skills to connect the theory to practice and presenting their work in a public forum.

Keywords: video, group work, blogs

Aims and Objectives

The module seeks to provide students with transferrable media production, presentation and evaluation skills for the Heritage sector (and beyond) through developing understanding of audience needs and approaches to engaging and communicating with the public. Students were required to complete a variety of tasks, including working in groups to produce a short video, developing skills in a number of key areas:

  • Creative, technical, group work and organisational skills required for video production
  • Visual storytelling and developing a narrative to engage an audience
  • Critical reflection throughout the video production process
  • Deeper levels of subject understanding through interview preparation and research
  • Evaluating audience reception of the final output via multiple methodologies (survey, interview, observational analysis).

Overview

Module learning outcomes required students to be able to demonstrate skills in understanding audiences through various data collection approaches, communicate archaeological information to a range of different visitor groups and curate collections and exhibitions. Activities that help to deliver these outcomes included:

  • Video production project filmed on the Star Carr Archaeological site to explain activity on the excavation to a number of different audiences. The final videos were to be included in the Yorkshire Museum’s “After the Ice” exhibition
  • Working with Yorkshire Museum’s collections on the development of the “After the Ice” exhibition, focussing on the use of video to help present items within the collection to the general public
  • Audience evaluation to gather feedback on the effectiveness of the videos produced and how they fit into the overall exhibition
  • Public, reflective blogs documenting the production process, developing alternative communication skills to engage audiences
  • Curating final year-end exhibition.

The mix of activities aligned to learning outcomes represented “a nice tight package that allowed the students to follow everything from creative development to final output and study of various audiences, and the videos were the hinge throughout that activity”

Methodology

The module took a highly collaborative approach to delivery with contributions from a number of parties bringing specialist external input on key areas including;

  • Curators from Yorkshire Museum provided access to collections, insight into explaining archaeology to the public, provision of the video production brief and the opportunity for students to have their work displayed in a high profile museum space
  • Professional international film makers delivered training and input into the film production process, particularly planning and filming
  • University of York Collaborative tools team provided support and training with using the blogging platform
  • University of York E-Learning Development Team provided input and troubleshooting with video editing and post-production.

Video editing and post-production were completed using open source software or applications that came free with standard Windows PCs, such as Windows Movie Maker and Audacity. While the limited functionality of the tools caused some anxiety and frustration at times, this represented a sustainable approach to media production that students would be able to build on after the end of the module.

The final videos and links to the student project blogs can be found below:

A Mystery of Starr Carr student project blog

 

A Yorkshire Man and his dog student project blog

Reflections

The module “allowed [the students] to go through all the highs and lows of the creative process and do it in a very nurturing and safe environment”. This provided students with both challenge and support for a high profile, real world project that helped them to develop a wide range of transferrable skills within a short time frame.

The module was successful at guiding students with no background in video production through the entire production process to create high quality output through a highly practical, project based approach. The module received a great deal of positive feedback from students, reporting high levels of engagement and motivation throughout the process, resulting in greatly increased confidence in newly acquired transferrable skills and a high degree of satisfaction arising from successful completion of a finished product which is then displayed in public:

“It was also exciting to see the project come together in such a short period of time. At the beginning of the module, our task seemed impossible; three weeks later, we had completed films that were being praised by their reviewers.”

“The best aspect was probably the sense of achievement when seeing our finished films when all of the hard work was out of the way.”

“The video project has greatly improved my understanding of the subject as it has expanded my knowledge of how heritage can be presented in many different ways and through different mediums. It has shown me a modern and innovative way of presenting ideas surrounding heritage projects and also allowed for a great deal of creativity and freedom of thought which I really enjoyed.”

“I would definitely use the skills I have learned through the video project in the future, probably to produce projects that present aspects of heritage in an exciting way to an audience.”

“I enjoyed the planning and filming stages the most. Whilst planning my imagination ran riot and then, what were raw and unshaped ideas, took form in the filming stage.”

“The opportunities we had to examine the archives and talk to professionals on the Star Carr project made me feel like an established professional filmmaker. It was exciting to have access to such amazing resources despite our inexpertise.”

“I really enjoyed the creativity and freedom of ideas that came with the project. I was never bored and always mentally stimulated by the activities we were doing.”

“I really enjoyed the video project as it has allowed for creativity, freedom of thought and a learning experience that feels unique compared to other courses. I also feel it has prepared me at an early stage for the kind of skills that a future place of work in heritage may require. For example: working in a small team, presenting things in an engaging way, preparing an exhibition. The Heritage Practice module as a whole has given me the confidence to challenge myself and apply for internships this summer including in my CV the skills I have learned as a result of the module.”

Transferable lessons learned

Some of the main lessons learned for making these projects work include;

  • Use external expertise where possible – students reported that receiving dedicated expert input on various aspects of video production helped to increase their confidence and guide them through the process
  • Provide an interesting and where possible “real life” brief. Students were motivated to produce high quality work by the notion that there would be an audience for the finished film
  • Break the video production process into well defined stages with opportunities for reflection and feedback at key stages
  • Use free / low cost editing and post production software to encourage sustainability
  • A number of students observed the limitations of the editing software, an issue that can be overcome with further training from staff at key stages in the production process.

Next Steps

Case study last updated: July 2013

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