The video essay: transforming education through creativity

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Students in the School of Arts at SOAS inspired the creation of a pioneering learning tool, an introductory guide to video essays. This is available open access in ‘Learning on Screen’, with the aim to offer a research and practice-led introduction for students, teachers and creative researchers approaching the video essay for the first time.  

The video essay is described as “a kind of academic practice that encourages creativity, but more importantly action”, notes Estrella Sendra, the School of Arts tutor who has co-authored this guide. As such, they foster a collaborative and transformative learning environment, where education becomes a practice of freedom, where students and teachers are co-producers of knowledge. 

The Guide was officially launched on 14 December 2020 at an online event organised by Learning on Screen in collaboration with SOAS, University of London. It was streamed live on the Facebook page of the SOAS Film Society, with the participation of Alix Lafosse, a SOAS alumni who founded the society along with further class members of the postgraduate film module Film and Screen Studies, where video essays were part of the creative assessment methods.

The launch event illustrated the highly reflexive and collaborative dimension of the guide, by bringing together pioneering scholars and educators engaging with video essays in their research and pedagogy, including Prof Tracy-Cox Stanton (Savannah College of Art and Design and Founder and Editor at The Cine-Files), Dr Charlotte Crofts (UWE Bristol and Editor in Chief of Screenworks), Dr Shane O’Sullivan (Kingston University and Curator of Archives for Education), Prof Christian Keathley (Middlebury College and Founding Co-editor of [in]Transition, Will DiGravio (Host of The Video Essay Podcast and Editorial Board member of Screenworks), Alix Lafosse (SOAS alumni and founder of Guiti News), as well as the two authors of the guide, Dr Estrella Sendra (SOAS and Associate Editor of Screenworks) and Bartolomeo Meletti (Learning on Screen). It attracted over 300 people from all over the world, including the UK, USA, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, India, Mexico, Senegal, Spain, Sweden and Turkey, among other countries.

The guide includes six different sections: Introduction to Video Essays, speaking of the value of video essays in film research and pedagogy; Finding Coherence Across Journals, with reference to the existing guidelines and criteria for their publication; How to Make Video Essays, with a step by step guide with suggestions from the preproduction phase to the postproduction; Copyright Considerations, with considerations  when reusing existing materials; Dissemination, with a list of journals and websites where to publish video essays; and a Case Study on the insightful and transformative experience at SOAS implementing video essays as creative assessment methods in the film modules since September 2019.

The initiative has been led by Estrella Sendra, Senior Teaching Fellow in Film and Screen Studies, who was amazed at the quality of the video essays submitted, but felt, nonetheless, that class members needed further guidance on how to engage with this creative and critical form of knowledge production and dissemination. Partnering up with Bartolmeo Meletti, from Learning on Screen, has meant that the guide has now become an internationally accessible tool, with SOAS as a worldwide reference for the transformation of the learning experience. 

Ever since its publication, educators and researchers from all across the world have noted the important gap this guide is filling, stating, “Congratulations, this is an excellent and long overdue resource which will be of great benefit to the field”; “This is a fantastic resource, and for me, incredibly timely!”; or “having a resource like this will be hugely useful for those of us interested in taking this further”. 

Estrella Sendra was awarded the SOAS Director’s Teaching Prize for Inspirational Teaching in 2019-2020, following her first experience of implementing video essays as a creative assessment method. The quality is such that the School of Arts has now opened a category for Video submissions as part of the School of Arts Audiovisual Awards. Further information: ‘Video Essays: Curating and Transforming Film Education through Artistic Research’.

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