With technological innovations come opportunities for students to compose, communicate, share, collaborate, and express themselves in contemporary ways as well as opportunities for teachers to harness potential academic possibilities. Vlogging, or video blogging, is one way to introduce dynamic content and technologically enhanced pedagogical techniques to students in a variety of disciplines, specifically composition. From student-created vlogs that focus on reflection, collaboration, and community building to teacher-created vlogs that focus on interactive lessons and that introduce a spirit of play to the classroom, vlogs can be significant and practical learning tools; specifically in the composition classroom, vlogs can teach students the power of visual text and can allow them an informal way of exploring the composing process.

Vlogging is not new in the world of pop culture. For years, we’ve seen vlogs as informal confessionals on reality TV shows where the stars spill secrets and as formal staged interviews where the stars are prompted by producers to discuss particularly interesting drama. We’ve also seen popular vloggers such as Jenna Marbles and Mitchell Davis and everyday vloggers such as our next door neighbors, high school best friends, and almost anyone with a smartphone step in front of the camera to share their thoughts and views of everything from how to trick people into thinking you’re good looking to not rocking a Whackberry. But academia seems to be feverishly adopting the technology over the last few years.

The National Council of Teachers of English argues for literacies that are “multiple, dynamic, and malleable,” literacies that involve “proficiency with the tools of technology” and that include “build[ing] relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally.” Vlogging can meet those goals much in the same way that blogging can, but vlogging extends the idea of a text to include a more visual and engaged method of expression; while some ideas are difficult to express through written text, vlogging offers an effective medium to talk out those ideas as well as an enticing medium through which vloggers can appeal to a broader audience. In “’Am I Making Sense Here?’: What Blogging Reveals About Undergraduate Student Understanding,” Trena Paulus, et. al., look at how blogging was used after students completed a nutrition course to reflect on and analyze what was learned. The authors note through their research, they were able to identify “more about what topics were salient to the participants, how new knowledge impacted their daily lives, and what remains to be learned” (14). Also noted is how this research “can help educators create more authentic, meaningful, and powerful learning environments—meeting students at their points of need” (14). Blogging seems to have served a meaningful purpose for the students included in the research, and vlogging could easily extend that purpose as well as reshape the learning environment to prompt students to bring a technology they are comfortable with in their social lives into their academic work.

Barbara Guzzetti, et. al., suggest in DIY Media in the Classroom: New Literacies Across Content Areas that thanks in part to the evolution of portable video technology students are accustomed to using for personal expression, the community built via vlogs could be easily transferred to the classroom (48).  They argue a “global community of teens” is at play via vlogging, and such classroom activities as digital storytelling could easily be achieved (48). Dr. Chareen Snelson notes that as part of her graduate-level class on educational technology she not only teaches techniques of filming and editing vlogs but she also uses them for reflective purposes. Her students record their thoughts via webcam about the use of YouTube in education at the beginning of the semester, and near the end they use “a reflection assignment which often include[s] revisiting that vlog to see if perceptions have changed over time.” Carl Gombrich of University College London notes an interesting perspective of how teachers may view the meaning of vlogging to the academy, a perspective that could easily shape the pedagogical stance and use of vlogging within the classroom. He states:

I mean certainly if you think of the great scientists of the last 150 years—say Einstein and Mendel—they were not careerists, right? They were just interested in the thought and what they saw as truth and intellectual progress and so on. And so that ties in with the idea of just getting the thoughts out there on camera, perhaps in a way that might have been slightly rushed even or ill-considered 20 years ago, but the idea that you’re sharing knowledge and important information can lead to new knowledge and new information and I think that’s what will motivate many academics perhaps over and above writing a beautifully crafted academic piece of work.

For students who are new to vlogging, this quote is significant. Teachers must be able to demonstrate the place of vlogs in a classroom setting to students who may not relate to the idea of visual expression as valuable academic work. The premise of creating new knowledge via visual expression may be foreign to the students as well; their idea of expression in the composition classroom may be limited to the composing process for the written text where they, generally speaking, value the finished product over the process. Beginning written drafts can lead to new knowledge and that process is just as valuable as the final draft. Collaboration emphasized in the composing process is an essential element of producing and sharing new knowledge. Vlogs can easily be shown to mirror those steps and that production of knowledge; it is only the means of production that change, and once students understand that, they can use vlogs to express themselves freely.

Integrating vlogging into the classroom, specifically the composition classroom, can provide students with a new way of considering how they learn. Vlogging prompts students to express themselves in a medium they may only be accustomed to using outside of the classroom, and it challenges their comfort zones as well as their understanding of how knowledge is produced. Much like expressivism, a school of thought that “places the writer in the center, articulates its theory, and develops its pedagogical system by assigning highest value to the writer and her imaginative, psychological, social, and spiritual development,” vlogs provide a digital means for self-awareness and reflection that Gombrich would refer to as the students’ interest in pursuing their truths and intellectual progresses.

Here are a few ideas on how to approach that integration:
1.  Use vlogs as community building tools: When students begin the class, have them film vlogs as a way of introducing themselves to their peers. This may be most effective for an online classroom where it can be difficult to build community due to lack of face-to-face interaction. Here, students can become familiar with the technology involved with filming vlogs and learn about each other, and the teacher can set the stage for a wide variety of expected literacies (e.g. using academic platforms such as Blackboard and other tools)  for the semester.

2. Use vlogs as collaborative tools: While students are drafting a major project, have them work in groups on a peer review workshop and film their responses. Here, students can discuss their suggestions for revision in an informal manner, yet still be prompted to provide meaningful feedback. This assignment can help students learn the value of collaboration, teach them how to talk about writing issues with their peers, and allow them to both build community and to contribute to the larger discussion of writing via an engaged tool. These vlogs can be uploaded to a class YouTube channel and viewed by assigned peer groups or grouped by writing issue and viewed by students who need feedback on that issue.

3. Use vlogs as reflective tools after major projects: After students submit their final draft of a major project, have them film vlogs and discuss their writing processes and what they learned. Here, students can think about the environment they need in order to write, how they prepared for each draft, and what they took away from the process and the products. This reflection can help students to realize their needs as writers and to set goals they would like to achieve with each project. These vlogs can be uploaded to a class YouTube channel and viewed as a class activity to prompt discussion over learning outcomes, informal means of expression, and the writing process, among other things.

As our literate environments continue to evolve, the standards according to which students will be expected to express themselves, to participate and collaborate in these environments, and to demonstrate critical thinking skills will continue to rise as well. Vlogging is an ideal medium for producing knowledge and sharing digital stories, two concepts that have been popular with blogging and podcasting. It seems the most compelling reason to integrate vlogging in the classroom can be summed up by Dr. Michael Welsh, cultural and digital ethnographer at Kansas State University, who solicited student vlogs for his Visions of Students Today project. His goal with that project was “to hear from probably the most important voice in the question of where to go next with education, and that voice, of course, is the students themselves.” In any classroom, specifically the composition classroom, isn’t the promotion of students’ voices a central focus?