By Greg Downey (Macquarie University)
One of the dangers of new video and audio recording technology for anthropologists is that we may assume technology will do the work for us. Recording always postpones making hard decisions: what to cut, what to pay attention to, what to choose as a key point.
For me, the co-creation workshop carries this risk, too. During the workshop, I spent a lot of time videotaping, interviewing and making sure we had an archive. This preservation was absolutely essential. There were simply too many ideas happening too fast, too many people making great suggestions, and we had to have some way (or ways) to try to capture that flow. Using video and audio recording creates a kind of memory – a very large memory.
During the workshop, we used multiple audio recorders (not all of which worked flawlessly) and multiple cameras. We also had an interview ‘nook’ set up in an adjacent room in which we were able to ask individual participants or pairs of participants direct questions.
Just because some insight or great idea was recorded, however, does not mean that it will circulate or be available after the workshop. Someone still has to review, edit and find an effective way to present what we have on video or in the audio recordings. If anything, we’re faced with more choices than we would if we did not record: we have more material, more of an overload, more decisions about what to leave out.
People who work in media typically say that ‘post-production’ is a challenge across all media: the recording stage – the first stage – is just the beginning. We’re finding that to be the case with the co-creation workshop. The metaphor that comes to my mind is one of those big boa constrictor snakes. When they swallow a huge meal, they wind up with a weird distended lump in their bodies, and they can barely move. They sort of have to sit there and try to digest what they’ve taken in: yes, a lovely image of the post-production process, but it does feel like a lot to digest.
From my initial reviewing, the interview footage is some of the most effective: the audio is really clear, the video is framed well so that you really feel like you’re getting an individual person’s point of view, and the participants were generous with their observations and insights. The workshops produced a lot of our activities, but those interviews have a lot of gems to share with students who are preparing to head overseas, many years of wisdom accumulated in preparing students and working with communities in our hosts.
One thing that I realise already, however, is that the ‘meal’ of information and advice will be easy for our students to ‘digest’ if we give them smaller ‘snack-sized’ bits, rather than large, sit-down dinners. That is, looking at the video and seeing what we have, I’m increasingly convinced that we need more, shorter segments, clearly titled, labelled and framed in the Classroom of Many Cultures materials, so that instructors and students alike can find the very short bit that they actually need. As I look at the material, I realise that it works better as dozens of short clips, not a small number of feature-length films.
I hope that this strategy will make the material as useful as possible, and allow us to re-package short segments in a range of ways. Maybe a clip gets used in a topical discussion of the issue it raises in a pre-departure seminar. The same clip might be used by a student going to the host country as they review all of the advice from that country. And an instructor might look at that video to think about assessment tasks or reflection questions to ask a group while they sojourn abroad.
The other thing that I’ve learned about my role as one of the leaders in video and audio editing for the project is that I missed out a bit on the face-to-face connection that partners formed during the workshop. A lot of the time while everyone was working as a group, I was off in the corner interview nook, grilling one or a pair of our participants for a half-hour or more. So I felt a bit more distant from some of the activities.
However, now, as I sit with the video and headphones on, watching the interviews and listening to them – sometimes over and over again through the sections I like – I actually feel like I know our partners better and better. They may be far away now that they’ve returned to their home country, but I’m still looking them in the eyes, listening to what they told us, and appreciating even more now how insightful they were. Now, I’m not worrying about whether the light is right or the microphone is picking up the sound, so I’m listening more deeply than I was able to.
So the strange this is that, now that they’re gone, I feel closer to our partners than ever. It can make choosing what to cut out of the interviews harder, but it also makes the task of putting them together and sharing them through out website, and eventually with the public, even more urgent for me.
Overall, doing this work through video-making twists the relationship that I have to the workshop: when it was happening, I could only look some of the time through the camera, so my view was the shrunken image on the video screen. But now, my relationship with what people said and shared is continuing, deepening, and growing, even though we’re oceans apart. It’s a strange experience on some level, but I think it’s proving really good for the purposes of making the curriculum.