You are here

Ben Goldstein - A history of video in ELT

Average: 4.2 (16 votes)

Sometimes looking back can help us look forward. My talk - The History of Video in ELT, given at the Image conference – came about as a way to trace the changing role of video in the language classroom.

“Follow Me”, the BBC video crash course from the late 70s, is a revealing way to see how video was used in the beginning. The series commonly showed functional language contexts with heavily scripted and rather unnatural dialogue. The purpose of the video was language focus. Learners would watch the sketches and use them as a model for their own output. In fact, the video was exploited no differently to audio.

With the arrival of the Communicative Approach in the 1980s and 90s, the concept of “Active Viewing” came in. Here, more emphasis was placed on the interface. Teachers began to use the remote control to insert subtitles, freeze frame images and remove sound, etc. – all to give leaners a more interactive role. However, listening comprehension was still the most common task type. OUP’s “Grapevine” was typical of the published video material made at that time. The series consisted of comic sketches using the same actors in different contexts, with heavily graded language and the exploitation based on skills practice – primarily listening and speaking.

Video was still very much viewed as an added extra, something you did on a Friday afternoon to alleviate the coursebook and its grammar syllabus. For this reason, most videos at that time were a form of light entertainment. Rarely would you explore anything of a more serious nature with video. This coincided with the fun element of many CLT coursebooks with the emphasis on games, songs and enjoying yourself with the language. In terms of exploitation, the before-, while- and after-you-watch paradigm was established and has survived to the present day.

The need for authentic material became important at the end of the 80s and start of the 90s. Magazine/video packages like “Speak Up” appeared on the scene as a way to make authentic material (in this case Hollywood movies) teachable and accessible to the learner. Importantly, material such as this could be used for both self-study and classroom use.

A number of questions arose at that time: 1) adaption of authentic material – how much should this be done? 2) use of subtitles and transcripts – how advisable is it to use them, 3) length of videos– what’s the ideal time sequence when presenting a video in class?

As a result, coursebooks began to integrate video for the first time, often incorporating shorter vox-pop sequences or documentary-style or news-based clips. Teachers could show with or without subtitles depending on their aims. Publishers forged deals with media groups (such as National Geographic) in an attempt to introduce authentic material seamlessly into the class content.

In the present day, the use of video for language focus or skills practice is now being challenged as is the conventional task order of Before /While / After You Watch. Video is now commonly seen as a Stimulus – as a springboard to other tasks, such as discussion or project work. Likewise, video materials are being exploited increasingly for their visual qualities with learners not having to worry about comprehension issues. This means that the same video sequence can be used for different levels. Instead of grading the input, you grade the task.

The fourth and final use of video that the talk explores, is Video as Resource and the changing status of digital video. Current estimates suggest that 90% of internet traffic will be video-based by 20171. What are the implications for classroom shapes? Video classes already supplement F2F classrooms in Blended Learning programs. In the Flipped Classroom scenario, input is provided on video and watched by learners online, allowing for more a more F2F classroom interaction and changing the roles of the teacher / learner relationship in the process.

The movement then is clearly from Video Exploitation with the teacher guiding the class to Video Creation with the learner taking on a more active role. This movement echoes the blurring that exists in the digital age between author and audience. It is also symptomatic of the evolving nature of literacies, with a movement from from Convention to Critique to (Re-) Design 2.

Rather than our learners following a model or merely critiquing that model, they can now design their own and thus contribute their own meanings. In the case of video, new genres and hybrids are being created as a result of these changes – remixes, mash-ups, etc. This is the future of video materials in the classroom - the learners providing the input themselves - designing, scripting, recording and transmitting it in any way they see fit. As Stephen Apkon puts it: “There is no better way to critically appraise the message of others than to speak one own’s message”. 3

  2. Gunther Kress quoted in “Digital Literacies”; Hockly et al, Pearson 2013, (37)
  3. Stephen Apkon, from “The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens”

Ben Goldstein has taught English for over twenty years and currently works on The New School’s MATESOL program (New York). He is lead author of the adult coursebook series New Framework and The Big Picture (Richmond). He has also published Working with Images and English Unlimited Advanced (Cambridge). His interests in ELT include images, intercultural issues, World Englishes and identity.