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Film Short Creation - Carleton College

Collection Date: Fall 2007

  • Name: Humanities Professor 1
  • Email:
  • Title:
  • Institution/Organization: Carleton College
  • Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: Case Study of Film Short Creation Assignment

Collector Info:

  • Name: Andrea Nixon, Heather Tompkins, and Paula Lackie
  • Email: moved to restricted page
  • Title: Director of Curricular and Research Support
  • Institution/Organization: Carleton College


The scope section is provided by the collector, with input from the scholar(s), and attempts to estimate the scope of the group that performs the processes described: How broadly do the practices described in this story apply to others in same field, in related fields, etc?

  1. This case study is centered on a film short assignment type which is commonplace in the scholar's field.  Students in this case study were asked to create a film short and, in most cases, this was the first time that students had worked with FinalCut Pro or engaged in visual storytelling. 
  2. Both the faculty member teaching this course and all students enrolled in the course participated in this exercise.  This type of assignment is commonplace in the scholar's field.
  3. The assignment was designed 1) to give students experience in visual storytelling through the creation of a video and 2) to diagnose students' facility with a visual mode of expression.
  4. The intended audiences are faculty members using film/video creation assignments and students enrolled associated courses.
  5. The faculty member has used a variety of assignment types to accomplish these same educational goals.  In fact, one finding of this case study analysis was the importance of creating support infrastructure(s) that anticipate fluid assignment designs.
  6. It would be helpful to create a forum in which faculty members could compare approaches to creating assignments, identifying potential sources of institutional or consortial support, and ways of evaluating student work. 


Please provide some keywords that will allow us to group or cluster related stories--or aspects of stories.

1. Was this story collected for a particular Bamboo working group?  If so, please include, as keywords, the appropriate group(s).

  • Education
  • Institutional Support

2. Suggested keywords:

  • Consider
  • Discover
  • Engage
  • Interact
  • Share

3. Please list additional keywords here:

  • Assignment 
  • Teaching
  • Learning
  • Evaluating Student Work
  • Discussion Forum
  • Film
  • Video
  • Visual Storytelling

4. Related Stores: Are there parts of the story that related to other collected stories? Please provide title(s). 

This case study is one in a series of four case studies designed to answer the question: Are the sources of support that Carleton College provides well suited to the work demanded of students and faculty as they make curricular use of visual materials?  The full research report which contains both the case studies and associated survey research is available at: "Curricular Uses of Visual Materials: A Mixed-Method Institutional Study."


Please include the text, documents, media, or other material which comprise this story
(eg. "self report", "questionnaire", "ethnographic interview")

Notes on Methodology:

The courses that served as the basis for the case studies — all taught during the Fall Term of 2007 — differed in the degree to which students were expected to find, access, create, interpret, or present visual materials. Each case included interviews with the faculty member, conducted at or near the time in which he or she was grading the completed assignment, and with five students, conducted after they had documented their work on the targeted assignment. The interview questions for faculty members as well as the location logs and photo survey that provided the basis for student interviews are included in Appendix A of the full research report.

Staff members conducted the interviews with the faculty participants. A group of five student researchers conducted one-on-one interviews with the student participants. Two student researchers and the study lead transcribed the recorded interviews and coded the interviews within the qualitative research tool Transana. The coding scheme employed in this study is included in Appendix B of the full research report. Each case was analyzed through a co-listening/co-viewing exercise that included a student researcher who had transcribed and coded the case, two support staff members new to the study, a staff member who was part of the research design team, and the project lead.

Case Overview:

The film short creation assignment was designed to give students enrolled in a 100-level course experience in visual storytelling through the creation of a video and to diagnose students' facility with a visual mode of expression. While the assignment required students to use videoediting software, the professor considered the assignment to be a conceptual exercise rather than a technical one. Students were encouraged to "focus on collecting images that capture their experience this year at Carleton." The videos did not include audio in an effort to focus students' efforts on the visual composition of the assignment.

Faculty Perspective:


This assignment followed a series of readings and discussions that involved analyses of a variety of media forms. Previous course assignments paid particular attention to "how different forms communicate information and ideas through visual means." Students were not expected to have previous experience with video editing. In cases where students did have experience, they were encouraged to work collaboratively with their peers.

Since this assignment was designed to give students an initial opportunity to compose and edit a film, the assignment was not given a letter grade. In the course of the interview, the professor indicated that the completed assignments were critiqued in terms of the ways in which students needed to develop their facility with visual storytelling. The following criteria represented areas in which the professor wanted students to develop in subsequent coursework. (See Table 2.1 for a list of criteria and quotes from the professor's interview.)

The first criterion related to the originality with which students selected the narrative represented in their completed project. The next two criteria related to the placement of the camera relative to the action and the composition of the images being filmed. Finally, the professor considered the manner in which students edited their video clips. These criteria were derived from course readings and discussions earlier in the term.

Table 2.1: Case 1 Faculty Criteria



Creativity in

[Professor reflecting on thought process of students approaching the
assignment] "Okay, so that is what everybody else is going to do. So
now, how do I evoke this in a way that is not just default obvious which
is essentially a medium shot of 'here I am falling asleep on top of my
books'? You know, let's shoot this, suppose you disassemble the image
and you do it through extreme close-ups ..."

Placement of
camera relative to

I had one student ... who really internalized [camera placement] and
worked with interiority and introspection, and the close up. She got it. But
generally students stayed way too far back ... and are thinking much too
casually about the relationship between the camera and the action.

Depth of

Let's think about where we are positioning our characters, and let's think
about whether we want to create some composition in depth. Do we want
depth in the image? And, some students got this. A few of them were very
self-consciously playing with compositions in depth or shallow focus in
other things but not to the extent that I would have hoped.

Editing (e.g.,

... classical continuity editing, wherein--we study this in the class--there
is a tradition and a history of putting images in relation to each other in
order to create a transparent, fluid sense of reality. So there are cuts, but
they are invisible. You don't see them because here is motion carried
across the cut and so forth.

Materials or Tools Available to Students

Students in this entry-level class used a high-end video-editing tool, FinalCut Pro, to complete the assignment. There was some discussion in class about why the faculty member had students using FinalCut Pro rather than an easier-to-use tool. The professor explained that part of the goal of the assignment was for the class to "move beyond iMovie," an easier-to-use contemporary video-editing tool, and get a sense of more advanced tools in the field. The professor and an academic support professional made sure that training specific to the videoediting assignment was available to the class. Students already experienced with FinalCut Pro were encouraged to assist their peers as well.

Support Arranged by the Professor

Students had one class session's worth of training during which they learned about working with cameras and FinalCut Pro. This session was led by a full-time, permanent staff member and an educational associate. Given that 25 students were enrolled in this course, students worked in shifts on their assignments in order to ensure access to the cameras and other equipment necessary for the assignment.

Over the years, the professor has used three distinct versions of this assignment and continues to refine it in an effort to prompt students to produce work that is increasingly creative and sophisticated. In the most recent iteration, the professor discussed the assignment with an academic professional. In previous versions of the assignment, students interpreted the assignment as if the purpose were to produce a music video, emphasizing audio over visual composition.

So [the academic professional] was the one in the midst of our conversation who said, "Well, maybe what if you were to just not have
them do the sound?" And we were also thinking, "That would make it a lot easier ... . It would streamline [the assignment] but suit the
curricular ends." I thought that was really good so I am sticking with this for the next round.

Like the assignment itself, the professor's conversations with the academic professional were iterative and intended to refine both the assignment and support available to students.

Important Findings

 A series of important findings came from the interview with the professor. The first related directly to student learning. The professor also made suggestions about the ways in which the College could support work in terms of the creation of assignments as well as other elements that are important to recognize in considering a coordinated support model.

Reflecting on the professor's own experiences in constructing this entry-level assignment, the professor noted the greater the restrictions placed on student work, the more interesting the completed assignments. The restrictions are "really forcing them ... to think visually" rather than, as noted above, enabling students to make music videos with which they are more comfortable but which were not the emphasis of the course.

 ... [the students] are very sophisticated but then somehow all of the things that they knew and were able to recite, rehearse, play out analytically,
critically, in their classroom discussion and so forth, did not appear as strong when they were actually putting these things into practice.

The professor reported that the students in the class were particularly skilled at critiquing visual forms of expression developed by others based on criteria discussed in class. Some students had trouble transitioning newfound understanding about visual modes of expression to their own compositions. The professor also noted the importance of making the prompts and instructions more overt in order to focus student work on a mode of expression with which many students are unfamiliar.

The second finding reflected the professor's own practices in creating this assignment. (See Table 2.2.)



Create opportunities to
discuss assignments

The one good thing about the very act of having these
conversations [such as the interview] is that it makes me think
a little more carefully about my assignments ... . What am I
asking students to do? Why am I asking them to do this and so
forth. ... I think I can do better [in terms of] being more overt
... building the assignment [with the goals in mind] and through
ongoing conversations with support [staff].

... helping faculty to think creatively about constructing
assignments that would be doable within the limits of our
nine and one half week terms ... [and] where these kinds of
assignments might sit in their curriculum.

Provide a forum for faculty
members to discuss the
evaluation of student work

[One] question that is arising across campus, and faculty have
a lot of anxiety about this, "Okay if I have students do creative,
visual, oral, other kinds of media projects, how do I evaluate

Create assignments that
allow students to build on
their conceptual strengths
and express themselves

... what kind of prompt can I provide that helps them synch up
what they are so good at doing, which is spoken and written and
conceptual stuff, and now how can I construct a prompt that
will allow them to translate that into practice. Into something
that is more indicative of the skill that they do have.

Distinguish between
tool manipulation and
conceptual work

Frankly [students] may be able to push the buttons more quickly
but conceptually there is still a lot of work to be done.

The professor also had suggestions on ways in which the College could provide additional forms of support to faculty members in constructing such assignments, among other things.  The professor spoke at two points in the interview about creating opportunities for faculty and staff members to discuss assignments. The professor made a distinction in terms of creating assignments in keeping with the goals of a specific course as well as thinking in broader terms about how best to construct assignments that fit into Carleton's terms. On a related note, the professor also mentioned the importance of the College hosting discussions about the ways in which assignments are evaluated. As is apparent in criteria noted above, the professor had clear ideas about how to evaluate this assignment. The professor expressed an interest in sharing insights with faculty members who may not have as much experience in making curricular use of the visual.

The second set of quotes in this category relate to the importance of creating assignments that help students apply their "conceptual strengths" to assignments that require them to express themselves visually. Additionally, regardless of students' facility with the interfaces of some contemporary tools, the professor felt there was still much to be done in terms of conceptual development.

In addition to suggestions for supporting the creation of assignments, the professor had suggestions for other forms of institutional support. The comments in Table 2.3 reflected the professor's suggestions for the larger support model as it relates to faculty members, technologies available, and the support of students. In terms of support for faculty members, the professor suggested that it is important to provide efficient opportunities for faculty members to learn to use technologies. Learning about technologies is not sufficient; it is also important to prompt faculty members to consider working with academic support professionals while assignments are still in their formative stages. Finally, the professor noted that it is important for people who provide the technical infrastructure to realize that once an assignment is developed, it is likely to change.

Table 2.3: Case 1 Faculty Suggestions for Institutional Support -- Other Support Elements



Provide opportunities for
faculty members to learn
relevant technologies

I think that the hitch in the getup is that we faculty are not often
up to speed with regard to the technologies and feel a little
reluctant because it is time consuming. "Oh God, I don't have
time and I don't know how to do it. The students are probably
way ahead of me anyway."

Advertise the sources of
support and remind faculty
of the importance of
seeking help while creating
or fine-tuning assignments

You guys should do some sort of publicity campaign. ... But,
it has got to get into the lifeblood of our thinking to not wait
until you think you know what the assignment is [but] to not
forget to consult with support and resource services as you
are formulating the assignment, not after you formulated the
assignment. To get that conversation or dialog going early.

Recognize that the process
of creating assignments is a
fluid one

... [It is important to be] fluid and go with what you sense
students are needing. ... And frankly, after you set up the
infrastructure for any particular assignment, I will run this for a
little while but then I will change it. I will change it completely.
... The students get too rote once they get wind of what the
essential assignments are ...

Make technology seamless

Technology, make the technology more seamless. The
technology should be transparent. [Students] should be able to
communicate their ideas as fluidly as they do through spoken
and written language with the technology.

Provide equipment
collections sufficient to
support larger classes

[Generally] you guys do a great job of backing us up in terms
of the gear. The challenge I think is large groups, these intro
classes sometimes tend to [have] 25 to 30 students.

Share the support burden
between faculty and
academic support staff

How could we make the crowd management issue more easy for
faculty who might already be inclined to be doing these things
but are just reluctant ... . Support could go a long way towards
saying, "Look, it is all set up, just throw them in our direction,
tell us what you need and we are there."

Provide support for student
work that facilitates
departmental efforts to
recruit majors

It is just [that] we have had our little objectives here for
activating the lab and introducing students to [the department]
and [for] growing ... majors ... . But, that doesn't mean that
that can't happen without more collaboration with [support

In terms of technology, the professor noted the importance of making the technologies as transparent as possible. This helps students communicate ideas visually as "fluidly" as they are accustomed to doing with the written word. The second suggestion in this regard involved working to have equipment collections sufficient to support larger enrollments in courses.

The professor's first suggestion highlighted the importance of giving faculty members the option of working heavily with academic professionals when providing opportunities for students to learn a given technology. Some faculty members may want to teach their students a given technology themselves. Other faculty members may opt to have academic professionals set up and conduct class training sessions, as happened in this particular case.

Furthermore, academic support units should be aware that some courses can serve as gateways for future majors in a given department. Academic-support mechanisms should be designed in ways that facilitate departmental recruitment efforts rather than undermining them. This may mean, in cases where a given department has a physical lab, that training is held there or in other cases that the training sessions are contextualized within the academic department
rather than foregrounding the role of the support organization.

In the film-short project, the professor gave a series of detailed suggestions about the evaluation of student work, assignment creation, and the general support infrastructure relevant to the course. This case study also involved interviews with five students enrolled in this course. The students provided rich insights into their own processes in completing this assignment.

Student Perspectives

Student researchers interviewed five students enrolled in the course that required the film short creation assignment. The interviews were semi-structured and covered the photo surveys and location logs submitted by the student participants. Students were asked to select from a range of five specific prompts to take photos relating to their work on the assignment and five about their experiences on campus in general and to log the location and time of day of each work
session associated with completing the assignment.

How Do Students Engage the Carleton Campus?

Students in this course made broad use of spaces on campus, in large part due to the nature of the assignment. Students filmed portions of their assignments in various college structures and engaged the campus more broadly than they likely would have if the assignment had not prompted representations of each student's life at Carleton.

Forms of Support

As noted above, students in this case spent a class session with an academic support professional learning FinalCut Pro and how to work with the cameras available for the assignment. Student 4 noted the importance of the initial training session as well as the support available in the departmental lab. Student 1 worked both in the academic department associated with this course as well as a campus-wide support unit that had a similar array of software and equipment available. While students were working intensively on this assignment, they were given extended hours to work in the departmental lab. Student 3 reported going to the Gould Library's reserve desk to check out movies. Other students likely used this service as well, but that work took place earlier in the term and was outside the scope of this series of interviews.


In the course of the interviews, students identified a number of barriers they experienced in completing the assignment. Table 2.4 contains a list of these barriers and the quotes out of which they were distilled. There were two general categories of barriers identified by students in this case. The first category related to the complexity of working with the information technologies required in this assignment and the second related to limited access to resources.

Table 2.4: Case 1 Student-Identified Barriers



Learning new

Although, I didn't really like the FinalCut Pro program itself or Macintosh
computers in general. ... I just really like Windows better, and so I would
say that is one obstacle to me getting the project done. [Student 2]

... not knowing how to use FinalCut Pro but everyone was really helpful
when I had questions. So it wasn't so much that I wasn't getting the help
I needed, it was just that I had to use a technology that I was not really
comfortable with to start off with. ... Of course they could have done
more explanation but I think that for the project and for the limited time
that it made sense not to. And the amount that we got was enough to do
the project. [Student 4]

Managing large
video files on the

... I had to take all my stuff [files] over there and upload it, and make sure
it was uploaded properly. ...They wanted us to turn it in to the desktop
itself. So either way, like if I had it in [a support unit's lab], I could put it
in my course folder and download it to the desktop. [Student 5]

Hours of
availability for

[Did extended access to the lab help?] Probably not. Because I felt that a
lot of the time I was really asking questions and it wasn't just so much me
just working but I needed that extra help. [Student 4]

Hours of
availability for

I took a picture of that for what frustrated me. ... It would be nice if they
were open between like 12 and 2 I think it was, because the time I had
that I would have liked to use it but it wasn't open then. [Student 4]

Supply of

...We just went in and put in a deposit [for the cameras] and it was a little
difficult at first because when I went in there weren't any cameras because
it was part of the last week and so there were lots of different people
working. But then I managed to get one and keep it for a couple of days
and film and get it taken care of. [Student 2]

of high-end

Probably a crane. I was thinking of super high shots. Almost no one has
them. Only Hollywood does. So that is fine. [Student 5]

In terms of the complexity of technologies involved, three students noted three separate barriers. Student 2 made particular note of having to use an operating system other than the one this person was most comfortable with as well as not liking FinalCut Pro itself. Student 4 discussed the fact that while there was ample help in terms of learning FinalCut Pro, having to use software "that I was not really comfortable with to start" posed some difficulty. The student's remark about "they could have done more explanation" was indicative of the complexity of this particular video-editing tool, but given the nature of this particular assignment the student ultimately agreed with the judgment to limit instruction about FinalCut Pro. Finally, Student 5 noted the complexity of turning in the assignment. This student opted to work in the academic department's lab as well as a campus-wide video-editing lab. Working in multiple locations made turning in the assignment more complicated.

With regard to hours of availability, Student 4 noted limitations in access to the resources necessary for the assignment, including limited hours during which both support and the equipment were available. The class was divided into small groups, and each group, for a limited period of time, was given extended access to the lab beyond the standard supported hours. Student 4 noted frustration with the lack of help during the extended access period.

Two students also commented on equipment issues. Student 2 noted that it was difficult to gain access to cameras for the assignment, and Student 5 noted that she/he would have enjoyed having access to high-end equipment such as a crane but also noted that such equipment was typically only available in film studios.

Additional Observations from Co-Viewing/Co-Listening Exercise

An analysis group comprised of a student, three staff members, and the study lead reviewed the materials associated with this case. In the process of interpreting this case, the group also considered the ways in which the institutional support available at the College might be enhanced or refined to further support this kind of curricular work. The group made a number of suggestions with regard to the support of students and faculty, elements of assignments, suggestions for support organizations, and an overarching suggestion about what members of the Carleton community mean by the phrase "visual literacy." Some of these suggestions reflected sources of support absent in the case, and others were amplifications of successful support elements present and represent lessons learned.

The analysis group discussed the importance of supporting students in the places and times during which students work on their course assignments. In this particular case, participants logged a combined total of 23 hours working on this assignment and 20 hours and 15 minutes of this time were worked between the hours of noon until midnight (13:15 from noon until 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 from 5:00 until midnight). The remaining 2:45 hours took place between midnight and 5:00 a.m. Four of the five students worked exclusively in the departmental lab. The academic department did make extended hour access available to students as they were scheduled to work intensively on their projects. There was a clear interest on the part of students to have even greater access to the equipment associated with the assignment.

In addition to recommending extended access to editing equipment, the analysis group also suggested support come from a mixture of advanced students as well as full-time employees of the College. In this case, help came from a permanent, full-time employee; an educational associate (comparable to a paraprofessional); and students enrolled in the class who had previous experience with FinalCut Pro. The analysis group also recommended the role of advanced students be further formalized so that they might be able to help students new to video production in terms of learning to work with FinalCut Pro, storyboarding (as evident in the work of one study participant), or other techniques that would assist students composing assignments in advance of filming or class screenings.

In terms of support for faculty members, the analysis group discussed the professor's suggestions that the College create opportunities for faculty members to discuss assignments. Specific principles identified include modeling effective uses of visual materials as was evident in this case, faculty-led discussions of ways of evaluating student work, emphasizing conceptual learning in favor of tool mastery in cases where the latter distracts from the former, and, particularly in cases where a faculty member is new to working with visual materials, providing opportunities for faculty members to request a team of staff members with relevant background to support an assignment.

The analysis group assembled a list of suggestions for support organizations based on Case 1 that related to: coordinating support efforts, providing supplementary instruction on high-end tools, aligning training and support with specific assignments and student schedules, and coordinating support efforts with curricular discussions. The team-based support of curricular assignments suggested above may well span individual support organizations. Implicit
in this suggestion is a mechanism for coordinating work across support units. To date this coordinating function has fallen to faculty members. While some faculty members may like to retain this central coordinating role, other faculty members may opt for support efforts in which coordination is taken care of through an alternative mechanism.

The College should also consider providing supplemental training, particularly in high-end tools such as FinalCut Pro, for students outside of class sessions. These training opportunities should be focused on the curricular work demanded of students. In keeping with the comments on student support above, students with advanced skills, educational associates, or academic professionals might conduct these training sessions. Training opportunities should be conducted at
times and days of the week that align with student work schedules. In some cases, this will require that training sessions be held on weekends or after the standard business hours of the College. In some cases, existing online training materials may just need to be made available in a more coordinated
fashion, e.g., available beyond the Web sites of the support units who originally created them.

In order for support organizations to align training sessions and resources with assignments, the College should support a series of discussions that explore curricular aspirations of faculty members and student needs as well as the resources and assistance available through support organizations. Additionally, there should be a repository of current assignments that make use of visual materials available to people working in support organizations. This will help in ongoing efforts to align support with curricular exercises. This same collection of assignments might also prove to be a valuable resource for faculty members new to working with visual materials in constructing assignments. Carleton's Perlman Learning and Teaching Center and members of the Visual Culture/Visuality Initiative may be in good positions to host some of these conversations. One element of these conversations may be continued discussions in the definition(s)
of the phrase "visual literacy" as it/they relate to work currently underway at the College.


The film short creation case study serves as an example of both effective existing approaches to supporting curricular work using visual materials as well as a prompt to think about additional ways the College can support curricular work. This assignment built on materials covered earlier in the course, materials which served as models of visual storytelling. The criteria used to evaluate the assignment were derived from the principles covered in the course. Students received support and instruction from a combination of a full-time academic professional, an educational associate, and, in some instances, other students enrolled in the

The professor is on the third iteration of the assignment. The most recent version was developed in consultation with an academic support professional with expertise in video editing and production. Part of the professor's refinements to this assignment include placing additional restrictions on the assignment, in this case omitting audio. The professor has found that the restriction forced students to think visually. The professor also noted that in subsequent iterations
of this assignment, prompts and instructions for the assignment should be more overt. In addition to reflecting on the professor's own practices, the professor also had a series of specific suggestions about the ways in which the institution could provide additional support in terms of faculty members creating assignments as well as providing flexible sources of support aligned with curricular needs at the College.

Student participants in the study noted that they relied on FinalCut Pro instruction available through the academic department as well as materials in the reference collection through the Gould Library. While the assignment was intended to be conceptual in nature, the barriers students identified all related to the technology or equipment in use. Barriers were related to the overhead associated with working with an unfamiliar operating system, learning FinalCut Pro, and access to equipment associated with the assignment. One student suggested that the College make greater use of YouTube in making reference clips available on the network rather than requiring students to check out video resources.

The student and staff analysis group made a series of suggestions for ways the College might refine existing sources of support to students and faculty, amplify existing support strategies and coordination among support organizations, and become increasingly specific about definition(s) of the phrase "visual literacy." One recurring theme in these suggestions is the importance of further aligning support provided to faculty and students alike in terms of course assignments. In terms of students, it is important to provide support during the hours in which students tend to work.

Links to activities