Video Micro-lectures Part 2: Performance and Identity

Dr. Rob Dean January 2017.

The next example is based on the ice-bucket challenge. Dr. Rob Dean (Principal Lecturer Drama) explains:

“I began the project by identifying the key outcomes of the micro-lecture in relation to the module it was being produced for. The module was called ‘Reading Performance’ and as the name suggests one of its key purposes was to introduce students to the various ways in which difference types of Performance can be ‘read’, as well as the ways in which reading can be used to inform Performance. The type of performance I chose to look at was the performance of identity, with a particular focus on web-based platforms such as Facebook.

My main reason for choosing this area was that it is a subject the target student audience would have direct experience of participating in. In addition, the ‘ice bucket challenge’ meme that had spread over Facebook that summer (2014) provided a theoretically interesting, visually engaging and comically entertaining frame around which the video could be structured.

The other key component of the project was the incorporation of an academic text which introduced the ideas and principles that the film demonstrated. For this I used Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Not only was this an accessible piece of writing it also highlighted two broader points about research in general: 1) Academic research does not have to be limited by subject specificity – this was a book on sociology that I used to interrogate ideas about performance. 2) It is often a useful exercise to take ideas from the past (this book was written in 1956) and apply them in contemporary contexts.”

The final film (as well as the 5 produced by the other tutors on the module) were screened in a seminar and then discussed by the group. The subject of the ‘ice bucket challenge’ film and the provocations within it led to an interesting and lively debate that was easy to facilitate. I was particularly stuck by students’ eagerness to discuss their own on-line performances and the lengths they go to when mediating the presentation of this identity.

Following this initial discussion, I passed around some handouts containing short citations from texts that picked up on pertinent points within the different films. These were referenced in accordance with the University’s Harvard style in order to reinforce what students were learning about in another module (Academic Skills). In six small groups the students were set the task of unpacking these citations in relation to the film they had be assigned. During this task they could also re-watch the film via Vimeo on their smart-phones, pads or laptops.

To summarise then: In each of the seminar sessions the students enjoyed the fact that the staff team engaged with the text and responded playfully. They appreciated that we were willing to take a risk, and they voiced this in the class. However, the presentations that we then experienced from the students were really quite formal and traditional, so in my mind the students were not prepared to be as brave when it came to their own presentations. This could be for a variety of reasons – lack of confidence or skill for example, but what was important was that the videos were a good access point and helped us to create a good rapport and learning environment. It is important to follow that up by encouraging the students to take more ‘risks’, and to enable them to develop their digital skills as well as their academic confidence.