Conclusion: The Future

Conclusion: The Future
The Vidtionary project is very much in its infancy. Until now, I have created video definitions for approximately sixty words. I anticipated creating more by this point, but many questions and challenges I did not initially imagine have made the pace of production slower than expected. While spending much time working out the mechanics of the website and learning various new software, seemingly simple questions regarding details of a video’s structure or format have been the source of considerable deliberation. I have wondered where, when, and how the word might appear in the video, experimenting with different techniques, while trying to get a feel for what stucture works best. For the most part, I have judged the videos with my own eye, according to my past teaching or learning experiences, and also projecting myself into the viewing position of the audience. On a few occasions, in informal settings, I have received feedback from viewers, mostly friends, classmates, or my supervisors. But the Vidtionary videos have yet to be utilized in a real-life classroom, yet to be shown to a class as part of a teacher’s lesson plan, and yet to be used by a student in a self-study session. Certainly, actual use of Vidtionary and the feedback that emerges from this will lead to further changes and refinements. At some point, it would seem greatly beneficial to formally collect both quantitative and qualitative data from teachers and students alike, to get a better sense of how Vidtionary could be best utilized and refined according to its possible uses.
Before attempting to introduce Vidtionary to a greater audience, I feel a number of aspects need to be more closely examined. These aspects include the structure of the videos themselves, the role of audio in the videos, my own social location and how it affects the authoring of the videos, how the project will proceed in a sustainable way, a mission statement to make the site’s goals clearer to educators and students, a consideration of how the words selected for videos are prioritized, how the project might be opened up to collaborators or a community, and finally how the videos and website might be practically used in an educational context.
Looking back on the first sixty videos I have done, I can recognize many inconsistencies in format. For instance, certain videos feature the word in a legible, audible way in the image and the soundtrack, while other videos do not include the word at all or introduce it in an effected manner. Certain videos feature example usage, while others do not. In certain videos the word appears early in the video, while in other videos the word appears last. These inconsistencies can be partly attributed to the fact that my ideas for what would be an ideal format have evolved since 2007 when the project began. In the earlier “Project Design” sub-section, I described the evolution of the structure of the videos. I will now have to decide if I should eliminate the videos that do not fit the prescribed structure. At the same time, I need to make the format of the video definitions clearer to the site’s audience or contributors. If Vidtionary is to function as a tool, its audience will naturally need to understand the functions of the tool and consistently have their expectations met. At the same time, I need to balance consistency with an effort to make each video unique and memorable. While I feel I need to make the format of the videos more consistent, I need to remain open to and solicit feedback that might lead to further shifts in the structure or format of the videos.
The role of sound is also an aspect of the videos that I have not sufficiently considered. Each of the videos I have made includes a soundtrack. It would undoubtedly be worthwhile to conduct a separate literature review specifically related to the use of sound in videos. In certain videos, the musical soundtrack might seem rather arbitrary. Whether watching television or films, our viewing experience is rarely silent, but the music of television or films arguably manipulates the feelings and perception of the audience. On the one hand, adding music to the videos might make the viewing experience more fun or engaging, but on the other, using music with no clear connection to the word might confuse the intent of the video or create a distraction. I wonder if the use of sound should be limited to environmental sound picked up by the video camera or directly related sound effects, while eliminating a musical element unless the word specifically relates to a musical concept. At the same time, my intuition suggests that the music serves to make the video, and, in turn, the word featured, stick in the mind of the viewer after the video has stopped playing. When television or movies are silent, the viewer’s attention more often drifts away from what is happening on screen. While the semiotic potentials of audio need further study, an investigation into musical literacy would also be productive. If I were to gather feedback from both teachers and students using Vidtionary in the future, I would definitely inquire into the role of sound. It might even be fruitful to create two different sets of videos, each with different approaches to the use of audio and music, and then see which one produces better retention of the words.
One further benefit of doing formalized testing of Vidtionary with students and teachers would be the chance for me to actually get a sense of how others see and interpret the videos. There are many aspects at play in the interpretative process. Viewers will have varying degrees of visual literacy, respond differently to certain types of edits or pacing of videos, prefer different modes of learning (thinking in terms of Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences), and finally be impacted by their own unique social location. As sole creator of the videos, the videos created thus far will undoubtedly bear evidence of my own degree of visual literacy, preferred rhythm of editing, way of seeing and hearing, and socio-cultural perspective that owes itself to factors such as my race, gender, class, education, and geography. As creator, it would arguably be impossible for me to approach the creation of the videos without introducing subjectivity. Thus, I think it would be constructive to hear back from the audience and check how the videos have communicated or been received. While it is impossible for me to eliminate my own biases, it would be good to understand how they might enter in, and consider ways that they might be kept in check. The visually literate person asks how, where, why, when, and by whom a video is made. As a tool of visual literacy, the accompanying documentation of Vidtionary videos should provide the answers to these questions to the viewer.
While the videos I have done thus far all introduce English words, it would be interesting to explore the concept of Vidtionary with other languages. At the same time, as a language that spans the globe and is used in many different cultures, English is very much a language that takes on different nuances according to the places it is spoken. I think it could be very interesting to see Vidtionary become part of a dialogue about language and culture. This dialogue might lead myself and others to realize that many words depend upon culturally specific notions. An example would be a word such as ‘season,’ which contains a concept that shifts depending on one’s cultural and geographical background. In terms of other languages, we might find that a word in one language does not have a precise equivalent in another language. For instance, in Japanese, a green traffic signal is referred to as being blue.
Looking into the future, I do not conceive of Vidtionary remaining a solo project, but the logistics and details of opening the project up to the contributions of others have yet to be determined. Working alone, there is a very real limit to how many videos I might be able to make. Thus, with the simple goal of increasing the number of entries in the video dictionary, opening up Vidtionary to other creators seems like a logical future step. Besides simply increasing the amount of videos, bringing on additional creators would have the added benefit of introducing other perspectives and ways of seeing besides my own. Before inviting others to contribute to Vidtionary, however, there are various concerns that should be addressed. First of all, a style and content guide should be made available for potential creators which outlines the criteria and expectations of a Vidtionary video. Second, technical problems need to be solved, such as how and where the videos might be uploaded. Along with this, I need to determine a screening or moderation process by which unsuitable videos might be screened before appearing on the website. Third, an organizational model, which addresses economic and other concerns, needs to be in place. If others are to create videos for Vidtionary, it would need to be clear whether their contributions are being profited from and how they might be distributed thereafter. Whether it grows into a for-profit or non-profit enterprise, Vidtionary will have to adopt an organizational model that allows it to grow and sustain itself. As Vidtionary evolves from an individual project into an organization involving other people, I imagine numerous other issues will arise.
Even with the help of others, the idea of creating a video dictionary of the English language remains a mammoth task. It would be worthwhile to think about how the lexicon it presents could be broken down into smaller increments. Thus far, the choice of words I have created videos for has been quite unsystematic. Most of the words are unrelated to one another. It would be worth considering which words, or types of words, best lend themselves to presentation in a video format. Certain words would not lend themselves to being clearly elucidated by visual means, while other words might simply be expressed in a still image. Vidtionary seems best suited for words that reflect states of physical change or transformation over time, such as verbs expressing physical motion. By focusing on certain types of words, the task might become more manageable. Vidtionary might become a mini-dictionary for a certain type of word, and as such become something rather more than the tip of an iceberg. In terms of teacher’s lesson planning, a more systematic approach to the selection of Vidtionary words could also be beneficial. When Vidtionary can assemble small collections of related words, teachers might be able to integrate it into a lesson plan. Similarly, in elementary school curriculum, there is often prescribed vocabulary for certain grade levels. Were Vidtionary able to include videos for many of the most basic, primary-level words, it would certainly become more practical for classroom-use. As I stated in the literature review, I have not yet delved far into the field of linguistics – doing so would make me more aware of lexical networks. The Vidtionary project would likely benefit by following certain lexical networks, in turn adopting a more systematic approach better lending itself to lesson plans.
As an experienced teacher of English and student of other foreign languages, I can think of various ways that Vidtionary might be used in the classroom. While some of these ways are self-evident to me, I should not take it for granted that other teachers will easily arrive at the same ideas. Accordingly, a teacher’s component of the Vidtionary website should be developed, which outlines various practical ideas for how the videos might be implemented in a classroom. Example lessons might include storyboarding, in which students plan their own Vidtionary video, thinking of what scenes they would include to represent a certain word. In another activity, I would show a class a selection of eight to ten videos, and then conduct a quiz-show exercise, asking questions about certain videos to see if students could recall what they saw and associate details from the video with the word. Additionally, as indicated in the previous section, I intend to create wordless versions of each word featured. Teachers might use these wordless versions to stimulate conversation about what word might best be matched with the presented video. While the above examples apply to the language-learning classroom, I intend also to illustrate how Vidtionary might be used in lessons focused on visual literacy. For instance, I would like to create tutorial sections, which show how to create Vidtionary videos through the use of various software and editing techniques. Having students make their own Vidtionary-style video, whether or not they actually submit it to the Vidtionary site, would be a great way for students to apply what they are learning in a visual literacy lesson. Vidtionary could be a good bridge to connect the more academic-minded concepts of fields such as visual culture and visual studies with the more practical-minded lessons of educators concerned with visual literacy. In addition to my own lesson ideas, I would like to create a forum for teachers to share ideas. I am sure that given the chance teachers will find exciting ways to integrate Vidtionary beyond what I have envisioned.
Outside of the classroom, I need to consider how Vidtionary might be best used in self-study situations. In the hopes of keeping Vidtionary accessible to students, I have been careful to keep the site undistracted in its appearance, and minimize verbiage aimed at a native speaker. I hope that the site’s appearance will lend itself for a language learner to easily browse by alphabet or category to find videos to view. I might find, however, that this passive, unguided way of viewing does not keep students coming back to the site for multiple visits. It would be ideal if mechanisms could be added to the site, so that after watching a video a student might take a quiz, which then provides immediate feedback. Going a step further, a database could be implemented by which a student might track their own progress and viewing history over time. For instance, students might be quizzed more frequently on words for which they have a lower success rate in identifying. Continuing to think along interactive lines, video games or mobile applications might be developed which are built upon or inspired by the Vidtionary project. A variety of ideas come to mind, but many need technical expertise in web programming which far exceeds my current abilities – in the future, I hope I will be able to work with web programming specialists.
It would be intriguing to see if an online community could form around Vidtionary. There could be forums where teachers discuss lesson plans, students write written responses to videos they have seen, and creators discuss tools and techniques for producing videos. The creator of a video presents to the viewer not only the visualization of a word, but also a way of seeing the world. Through sharing our own ways of seeing, and reflecting on other’s ways of seeing, there is the potential for Vidtionary to lead to new ways of seeing. I hope that through the Vidtionary video definitions, even someone already familiar with the word, might pause and consider the world behind the word more deeply. For instance, I like to think that a person who watches the 30-second video ‘seagull’ might think twice the next time a seagull passes by them. If they have seen that video, I would hope they see the seagull, and consider the word ‘seagull,’ and consider what font might suit the bird, and what color the font should be. I colored the font for ‘seagull’ white, with a speckling of gray, a touch of blue for the sky, and a touch of yellow for the beak. It is an interpretative process, and others are invited to make their own interpretations.
It is easy to extrapolate a multitude of future possibilities for Vidtionary, and I am eager to see and guide the project towards the realization of its full potential. In the meantime, I intend to keep refining the project, creating new videos, and seeking out relevant literature and theory, while keeping in mind many of the considerations and goals mentioned in this conclusion. Eventually, I am confident that the site will make available a substantial bank of video definitions and be a useful tool for English language learners, while becoming part of the dialogue surrounding the emerging notions of visual literacy and visual studies.