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Video: a fairy godmother in adult education?


Grant Barclay,

Video may support participation in a discourse community not only as a presentation tool or a means to disseminate final products for review or assessment, but as a facilitating technology, an 'early step' towards other engagement. This paper reports a simple use of video to capture early contributions to a subject which is described in a text by a number of members of a faith community. Conversations responding to self-selected open questions were video recorded and collected clips distributed as a resource to help prepare for group discussion. A range of potentially useful and problematic features of using video to support participation was found, suggesting that video may play a range of roles toward increasing participation among learners by developing identities of participation, offering rehearsal opportunities, supporting peripheral participation, and offering vicarious learning opportunities of observing talk within a subject domain in a familiar manner.


Elements of the ‘Cinderella’ story (also known as Cendrillon, Aschenputtel or Cenicienta) may be seen as metaphors for uses of video to support learning. Attending the ball, in the tale, results from much preparation and is a location for demonstrating certain skills. Video is a means of transmitting the end result of much preparation both by academic staff producing bespoke video material and students producing final reports for assessment.

Cinderella’s household role fulfilling necessary domestic chores in the story is essential though perhaps little noticed. Video-recording lectures to permit access by students at convenient times or places may similarly fulfil a helpful service, whose production may be un-noticed through familiarity.

The principal metaphor considered in this paper is the process initiated by fairy godmother by which Cinderella can attend the ball. Participation is the focus, for Cinderella’s lack of necessary resources preludes this until the fairy godmother makes it possible for her to take part. What role may video play in supporting participating in learning activities with others, particularly ones in which they might otherwise be hesitant to become involved?

An additional issue is that Cinderella’s participation was still limited and ended at midnight, albeit with one fragile artefact remaining, a glass slipper fitting only Cinderella’s foot. Is video a similarly fragile resource with limited use, or does it have a wider fit? The issues of participation and fit are explored in this paper after the diverse nature of video is described.

The diversity of video

Video is a diverse medium within and beyond educational purposes:

‘[T]he term 'video' cannot possibly condense the narrative, documentary and descriptive range of moving images and sound. Video is specifically produced to support education but it is produced for many other reasons as well and we have only just begun to explore the educational possibilities of the medium.’ (Shephard, 2003, p.296)

Video is already widely used as a means of expressing and communicating considered views on a subject formed after considerable reflection, one example being the recording of lectures:

‘As a result, the production of video lectures is becoming more and more important, as video is one of the most powerful media to present information and students find video materials very compelling.’ (Furini, 2009, p.77, emphasis added)

Another example is where learners present their views which include video format, perhaps in producing reports for assessment (Farren, 2008, p.61). These are examples of video used as a presentation or transmission tool, though video is not limited to these. Considered presentations may be distinguished from informal, ephemeral conversations captured on video, for example through video- conferencing facilitiesor consumer web-based applications:

‘The rapid expansion of public video sites such as YouTube ( or MetaCafe ( have lead to a renaissance of homeproduced video as a popular creative medium for entertainment and even education.’ (Bijnens, Vanbuel, Verstegen & Young, 2006, p.6)

A greater range of possible educational uses for video are becoming apparent. Watching video of whatever type may be considered more passive than conversing with someone physically present, most obviously because there is no possibility of direct interchange. How, then, may video encourage participation?

Video to encourage participation

Video may be used not merely as a presentation tool but as a communication resource by learners who, in considering a subject or issue, share early thoughts rather than final views in a video-recorded conversation which is made available to other learners. This conversation may be supported by providing initial information and views in a printed text together with video clips of other learners’ early thoughts. How would text and clips like this influence forming and articulating one’s early view and support reflection on the subject?

Vicarious learning theory (Mayes, Dineen, McKendree & Lee, 2002) argues that watching others attempting to learn, or overhearing learners’ dialogue through which concepts are articulated and shared, may support observers’ learning.

Observational spiritual learning suggests that individuals develop perspectives on faith by looking to others’ examples (Oman and Thoresen, 2003a, 2003b). Bandura (2003, p.171) supports the contention that spiritual modelling is influential in faith development.

Communities of practice understands learning as:



who we are by changing our ability to participate, to

belong, to negotiate meaning. And this ability is configured socially with respect to practices, communities, and economies of meaning where it

shapes our identities.’

(Wenger, 1998, p.226)

Learning may be understood to change learners both cognitively in terms of reflections on a subject and socially in relation to others. Subject knowledge and skills, both necessary for participation may be developed along with increasing understanding of the practices in which one engages in participating, together with awareness of one’s developing ability and right to engage in community activities. This view suggests experience and participation are components of learning, not independent but interacting upon each other.

The investigation

Fifteen church-goers volunteered to consider an issue and were supplied with a previously published text and fifteen open questions designed to support them describing their views about the text and issues it raised, as well as video-clips of other people offering their views. A church congregation is a setting in which participants expect to learn (Barclay, 2006) and in which a range of media is currently used including books, audio CDs, websites, magazines and lecture-type presentations.

Christian faith encourages individual theological reflection (Astley, 2002a) and the sharing of views (Astley, 2002b), though the personal nature of the subject may inhibit such discussion in a Scottish Presbyterian culture. Reflection on the text and wider issue was encouraged as participants responded to one or more of the open questions in a video-recorded conversation with the researcher. Edited video-clip contributions produced with Pinnacle Studio (Avid Technology, 2004) were incorporated into the resources available to subsequent contributors in a process indicated in Figure 1.

Discourse was encouraged in a later face-to-face group discussion, for which a resource containing the text and all video-clips was distributed in advance. Informants later described in research conversations and a short written questionnaire how the the resources and their contributions influenced their later participation in a discussion group. Phenomenographic analysis of transcripts permitted a range of experiences of interactions among the four elements of reading the text, articulating a view, watching video-clips and discussing in a group to be classified. All written responses from questionnaires are shown in Figure 2 and were obtained after

Observational spiritual learning suggests that individuals develop perspectives on faith by looking to others’ examples (Oman

Figure 1 Production process for resource

Observational spiritual learning suggests that individuals develop perspectives on faith by looking to others’ examples (Oman

Figure 2 Relations among elements in resource

informants had reflected on their experiences in research conversations. They are presented as a summary of experiencing the four activities mentioned above.

Reading the text was reported as helpful in providing something to base one’s thought on as well as providing the author’s perspective and providing information. The presence of a text meant the issue had to be addressed which some found challenging. One informant felt the text, extending in this case to 1,200 words, was too long to concentrate on.

Watching video-clips of others was reported as helpful because of the new perspectives which were made available, broadening possible ways of considering the subject and challenging existing views: others’ varied views supported individual cognitive reflection. Watching peers’ articulations was intriguing, demonstrated that a potentially daunting activity was achievable and illustrated the ‘ordinariness’ of contributions, encouraging articulation of views perceived too mundane to be valuable:

The ability to stop or view videos again gave space to consider the subject, a feature it shared with the text which could be re-read. However, seeing familiar faces on- screen supported a sense of presence (Knudsen, 2004, p.6) or companionship reported as cognitively supportive, something not provided by the text. The sole criticism of video was that watching oneself was initially unusual and unpleasant.

Articulating a view in video-recorded conversation was reported as helpful in encouraging contributors to realise they had a valid contribution to make and helping form that contribution which needed to be understood by contributors before its articulation. Most church-goers’ discussions are in discourse and using video permitted these to be captured in a familiar medium. Seeking written answers would have been a more unusual request. Although appearing in a video-clip appeared daunting, some described the experience as helpful, even easier than in a group setting, and that having one’s views listened to was positive. The sole negative comment related to perceptions about appearance on video.

Participating in a discussion encouraged confidence to view oneself as an active member of the community as well as supporting reflection on the issue through hearing other people’s views. One noted benefit of the discussion was being able to develop early contributions in video-clips. Social aspects of group discussions were also valued and the sole negative comment was of perceiving being judged for contributions made.


Lane (2007) notes that video frequently involves passive watching, an educational limitation. This investigation made use of video both to encourage articulations of early thoughts and to capture these for the benefit of the group. Achieved using modest available technology though requiring considerable time input by the resource

producer, video was found to be useful to support articulation and listening leading to cognitive, social and affective benefits. Initially considered a learning resource, video became an integral part of the instructional design. However, watching video was initially experienced as a peripheral activity, compared with the community’s core activity of discussing in group discussion. The facility to observe before contributing and then contribute through a conversation among two (in the video- recorded conversation) prior to speaking in a larger, ‘live’ group, may be seen as a form of peripheral participation focusing on greater participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p.29).

Cognitive reflection, that is working at greater thoughtfulness (Dewey, 1913, p.58), was encouraged through a demand for some articulation in the video-recorded conversation, removing the possibility of never articulating one’s views. It also meant that prior to the discussion all participants had rehearsed articulating their views whilst aware that these were amenable to alteration and development. This articulation was not merely an unrealistic rehearsal but was necessary to produce a video-clip to help others consider the subject. This requirement to speak about aspects of the text meant it had to be read and considered, described by one informant as a useful ‘gentle push’. Having been thus pushed, confidence to contribute in the face to face group appeared to be encouraged.

Anxiety associated with anticipating the conversation task was lessened through the possibility of editing the video, rendering poorer articulations invisible to others. Additionally, the initial articulation was in a small one-to-one conversation and not a performance to a group. Encouragement was further provided by watching peers’ similar activity in video-clips. Zozzou, Van Mele, Vodouhe and Wanvoeke (2009) found that training videos in which fellow women rice farmers demonstrated preparation techniques resulted in greater uptake of the technique than training workshops, suggesting that observing peers’ activities may encourage participation.

Using video encouraged social learning including an identity of participation among contributors. This supported some to perceive their right to belong to this community, or that that they had valuable contributions, or that offering them was a contribution supporting others to reflect on the issue.

An appropriate fit?

The text and video clips were produced using Pageplus (Serif, 2004) in a multimedia resource as a PDF file with hyperlinks to video files all of which were stored and distributed on CD-ROM. Nevertheless a number of enthusiastic participants had no access to computers nor necessary computer skills. This necessitated producing the material in a second form, namely printed sheets and a DVD-disc playable on a domestic DVD player. This proved adequate to enable participation by those without computer facilities.

No investigation was conducted to determine whether other possible contributors were discouraged by the thought of appearing in video, an initially daunting prospect nonetheless reported as useful once completed. No comparison was made between contributing initially on video or in a small group, though there were indications that the small-scale conversation, the ability to repeat the contribution on video and the open questions provided helpful initial support to articulate views which could then be developed in a ‘live’ small group setting.

Using a text with open questions appeared to provide a ‘shoehorn’ to ease people into into the task of articulating views in a video-recorded conversation. It also provided common information about the issue, presented an argument and offered ideas from which one could differ in a format which was accessible and familiar though which some nevertheless found demanding.


Educational video may be considered a ‘polished product presenting final views’ though in fact video enables a range of uses. Whilst used widely by those who are expert in a subject or have come to some knowledgeable position to present information, there is potential for it to be used productively earlier in the learning process as investigated here.

Informal ephemeral video now more widely used captures a different mode of articulation than written material, more commensurate with actual practice in this setting. It permits otherwise fleeting comments to be captured, stored and viewed more widely and was found to encourage greater participation both because it revealed others’ contributions as proximate achievable models and because the variety of views presented stimulated individual reflection.

Finally video-clips were persistent and available on demand, simultaneously similar to and different from Cinderella’s slipper. Informal video capturing early thoughts may be one tool to encourage broader participation, though resource implications for its use, similar to those faced by the prince’s in the tale, need to be considered carefully. Nevertheless the widespread adoption of informal video and its ever-broadening acceptance offers some potential for its fairy-godmother like role, for a number of reasons outlined here, in supporting participation in communal reflection on issues and hence providing opportunities for learning.


This paper was first presented at DIVERSE 2009 Conference, Aberystwyth University,



Grant Barclay, St Kentigern’s Parish Church, Kilmarnock, UK.

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