“Get them Vlogging”

Improving Your Students’ Digital Storytelling Skills Through Vlogging

“Get them Vlogging”

Along with product reviews and educational videos, “vlogs” are one of the three most popular types of content on YouTube. For those that are unfamiliar with what “Vlogging” is, it’s simply just blogging with videos and you’ve probably already watched a vlog or two (or more) without even realizing. Vlogs can be as simple as someone talking about their day, or as complex as someone documenting an adventure around the world. Popularity aside, it’s accessibility for educators and simplicity for new creators is the reason why Vlogging has been one of my favourite methods for students to learn the skills needed for effective Digital Storytelling.

In the past 10 years, vlogs have become so commonplace that I would bet most educators would have a difficult time finding a student who doesn’t have a favourite vlogger; my personal favourite is Casey Neistat, one of the OGs of the “Daily Vlog” on YouTube. Casey’s “dailies” followed him over a number of years as he grew his business, traveled with family, and played with a variety of tech toys and filmmaking gear. His series of daily vlogs also helped him grow his channel from under a million subscribers to the 12+ million subscriber count he has now.

So why Casey? Well, if we were to analyse the technical aspects of Casey’s vlogs, as well as the skills needed to produce his content, what we’d find is that he’s mostly using a lot of simple effects in a creative way and not a lot of fancy filmmaking tricks. From his use of interesting camera angles, to his implementation of music, timelapses, drone footage and other technically simplistic aspects of his productions, almost all of what he employs while producing his vlogs is never actually that difficult to execute, but rather, great examples of creatively utilizing simple tools to engage his audience. This is why I appreciate his content so much and it’s often the reason why I use his vlogs as examples with my students.

When teaching my film students, I often relate each skill or filmmaking concept I teach them to a piece of a puzzle, with my end-goal being to “give” my students a multitude of puzzle pieces with which they can use to create. These skills may include an understanding of how to film with a green screen, how to light a subject, how to edit music, how to add sound effects, how to animate in stop-motion, etc. Ideally, my students will learn each of these concepts and develop a large repertoire of skills to use for their independent projects. However, one of the most important aspects of being able to effectively produce digital storytelling content is not necessarily how many skills you have, but rather, how much you have practiced your craft and improved with each creation. This is where a regular vlogging program with your students can help.

From my own experience, I’ve found students that vlog regularly with a structured program have shown improved communication skills, improved confidence, improved technical skills, an improved understanding of how to manage digital media files, as well as an improved understanding of the filmmaking and creative processes. However, making sure to create structure for your students while they are vlogging will be an important part of your students’ growth. What I typically recommend is a weekly vlogging program with a fixed deadline every week, as well as scaffolded requirements that can be broken into two main categories: “creative requirements” and “technical requirements.”

Your creative requirements can simply be a set topic list that your students vlog about each week. You can choose to allow your students the flexibility to decide their own weekly topic, however, I’ve found more success in assigning the topic for them – at least in the beginning – and allowing them to come up with their own ideas later. There are pros and cons to choosing the topics for your students, but one bonus of fixed topic requirements for all students would be their ability to work together and help keep eachother on track, especially if the topic of the week revolves around a school event or school trip of some sort.

In terms of technical requirements, this would be a list of specific things that students would need to do while filming or editing their vlog. These requirements could include using multiple camera angles, timelapses, background music, titles or credits, etc. Below is a list of requirements that I’ve used in the past and scaffolded over time, with my students’ first vlog having only the first requirement, then adding an additional requirement each week.

  1. Vlog length should be between _____ and ____ minutes (you choose a length that seems reasonable for you students)
  2. Include background music
  3. Add pictures/video clips to show what you are talking about
  4. Include titles or use on-screen text somehow
  5. Film in least 5 locations/camera angles (don’t film the whole vlog in one spot)
  6. Film at least 1 location somewhere outdoors
  7. Include a timelapse somehow
  8. Edit out pauses or mistakes while you speak
  9. Add at least one sound effect to your vlog (something that makes sense and matches with something that is happening on screen)
  10. Include a voice over with “B-Roll” footage while describing something in your vlog
  11. Create and include a branded intro (around 5-10 seconds in length) that can be reused at the beginning of each vlog.

Along with these requirements, a concept that will be important to help students develop their skills is to encourage them to think about the perspective of the audience and if their creations would be visually engaging to the viewer. A student sitting on a couch talking for 3 minutes straight is not visually engaging. Since video is a visual medium, it will be your job to find a way to encourage your students to add more visually engaging elements to their vlogs. A simple way students can achieve this is to SHOW what they are talking about, while they are talking about it.

Going back to my example of students vlogging about a school trip, if students were vlogging about a trip to a museum, they could film different sections of the museum and take lots of pictures, then while filming their vlogs, they could then use those pictures or clips to show what they’re talking about in their vlogs while discussing the trip after the fact. This will be where a little planning and forethought is important which will also help your students learn how to plan in advance of their videos, which is analogous to the first phase of filmmaking called Pre-Production.

Along with Pre-Production, vlogging regularly allows students to practice cycling through the rest of the 3 Phases of Filmmaking, (the Production and Post-Production phases, which are basically the filming and editing phases, respectively). Additionally, vlogging allows students to cycle through the creative process as well, which involves planning, executing their plan, then reflecting on their creation. Challenging students to reflect on each vlog and think about what they were really proud of and where they could have improved will be an important part of their growth.

Whether or not you choose to have your students create vlogs or some other kind of content, practice and repetition will be one of the most important elements of improving their technical skills, which is why I feel a structured vlogging program will help your students get there. My personal feeling is that all students are creative and have amazing ideas for storytelling, but not all students have the technical skills to turn their idea into a final creative product, and this is where you – the educator – comes in to help facilitate their learning in Digital Storytelling.

For additional inspiration and tutorials for digital storytelling, please feel free to check out my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/MrErdoganEDU

And if you have any questions or would like to reach out to me for inquiries, you can find me on twitter (@MrErdoganEDU) or email: MrErdoganEDU@gmail.com