Friday, September 23, 2016

Multi-Purposing Media to Serve Different Use Cases and Different Usability

The same video (actually, any media - what I'm describing could be done just as well with audio or cartoons) can be used in a variety of ways to suit different needs.

Note that I'm using the phrase multi-purposing, as distinct from repurposing, because this is not a situation where we took media from an old project and recycled it. The multiple uses I'm discussing here were planned, if not from the very start, certainly from an early point in the process of course development.

I recently completed a long-term project using archival and purpose-shot video to illustrate ongoing public health policy issues. The end product was, on the surface, a web-based page-turner course, and it continues to be referred to a a course, simply for convenience. It doesn't look like anything else as much as it looks like a standard online course.

Except that it isn't really a course. It has several intended use cases - and none using quizzes or other traditional assessments.

Here's what it is:

  • It's a supplement to a traditional classroom course on policy and ethics
  • It's a self-guided informational piece for anyone interested in those topics
  • It's pre-reading (and viewing) to stimulate a flipped-classroom discussion environment
We started with archival recordings of a congressional hearing around the issues the course addresses (yes, we'll continue to call it that). It struck us early on that including current perspectives would be valuable and, as we had access to the majority of the witnesses from the original hearing, it would be feasible to do follow-up interviews. We did a round of interviews that tied the historical materiel into present-day viewpoints on the same issues. Each set of video clips was followed by un-scored questions, intended to prompt both reflection on the part of the individual student and to stimulate discussion in a classroom environment.

Conventional wisdom on using video effectively in online courseware is that it's best to present it in short segments. Only about five minutes at a time, tops. We've all suffered through endless lectures that were presented under the guise of a webinar. We determined that we would present a single idea at a time, with short statements from one or just a few speakers, supported as appropriate with related content.

But, when you interview experts, you will come away with far more than a few minutes on each topic.. And that was the case here. When we completed the "Perspectives" lesson we found we had hours of relevant, good, material that just would not fit into the course.

What to do with this valuable material?

We decided that we would use the interviews to produce a short documentary. The film would support the course and raise the profile of the issues. The course would support the film, in that participants in the course would be likely to go to it for more in-depth information from the expert interviews, 

Each product can function as a standalone, and each can be used to supplement other educational activities. 

A short film can go places that a course never would. To see if the film was a successful effort on its own, we submitted it to several documentary-focused film festivals - and received an award. IN the academic/policy world, it's been accepted as a conference presentation.

The course, apart from the film, has been reviewed by university instructors and public health policy people. Also getting high marks for being engaging and useful. 

What does this have to do with the "usability" focus of this blog?

Every form of media has different usability. A video can "work" in a situation or a context where a course wouldn't . Similarly for a book (or a podcast, or a song, or a game). In this case, we started from the same raw content, and developed two distinctly different, successful products.

If you've ever read Marshall McLuhan, you can see how this way of looking at different presentation modalities is in line with what he said about pre-web media forms.

We wanted our content to reach casual users as well as formal ones. We needed to serve professional workers in policy and public health, as well as university professors and their students.

Watching a short documentary is an easy investment of time for someone who can't take a course over many hours or days. The course-that-is-not-a-course (with or without the short doc) is easily used by an instructor as a supplement to a formal curriculum. It's like an assigned reading. Either or both is accessible for someone who is interested in the subject, but can't commit to signing up for  a class.

Another way to look at it is: we already had the noodles, so we used them as an entree on Monday and as a side dish on Tuesday.

If you can think ahead to where, and how, and to whom, you want your content to be delivered, considering more than one modality (using the same content) may be the key to reaching a broader audience.

Links to the materials discussed will follow - the products were not opened for wide release as of this writing.