Teaching Tips: (Re)Envisioning The Genre of the Video Essay: A Process

By: Corey Hamilton

We must reenvision the process through which we teach the genres in which we ask students to compose so that they have a strong sense of the possibilities—and so they do not (and we do not ask them to) transport the values of one genre or medium into another.

-Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes, On Multimodality: New Media in Composition Studies

In a recent class I was asked to “create a screencast of video blog on one or more of the assigned readings in lieu of the usual written response for class and host it online.” Furthermore, I was to “watch the videos composed by all other members of the class” and “vote” for what I found to be the “top three videos and [my] rationale for this evaluation.” During the next class the top three videos would be revealed and reviewed. Although creating the screencast/video blog was a rewarding and completely new experience, I found the results of the screencast/video blog data very interesting.

Twelve videos were submitted, and they created the following three Categories:

  1. Screencast with no video of the speaker/composer (Five were submitted).
  2. Screencast with video of the speaker/composer (Three were submitted).
  3. No screencast with only video of the speaker/composer (Four were submitted).

What makes this even more interesting are the results of the voting. The top three videos were all from Category 1: “Screencast with no video of the speaker/composer.” What’s more, there was a third place tie, and the fourth video also came from Category 1. Admittedly this is not a large sample, but I believe that this is telling: mainly because the majority of the class seemed to prefer the videos where the speaker/composer was not present on screen. Of course these are not definitive results, but they do provide an opportunity for further investigation not the potential genre features that may help us to avoid the mere transportation of the “values of one genre or medium into another” as cautioned by Alexander and Rhodes.

Rather than simply assigning my students to produce a screencast/video blog, I thought it might be more beneficial to have them perform an evaluative argument over a set of videos. This would provide two instructional opportunities: One, the entire class would be watching the same videos and thus provide “epistemological moments” during class discussion, and two, this would allow me to subversively teach them something else relating to the class (i.e. the videos could contain content relevant to, in this case, English 1020). In other words, students would be evaluating videos, prior to “diving in,” thus “reenvisioning” the genre of the video essay, as opposed to simply importing previously held values, and they would be watching videos on rhetorical analysis, library research, or tips on how to write a research paper. Granted, this would require extra effort on our part; we may have to produce some of these videos.

Here is my video essay/screencast assignment:



Composing in multimodalities is a skill with which students need experience. It is not simply transferring the skills of composing a traditional print text into a new medium. Rather than limiting the focus to writerly strategies, emphasis is placed on the recognition of “’typified rhetorical actions’ that respond to recurring situations and become instantiated in groups’ behaviors” (The Wayne Writer xiv). Ascertaining an understanding of composing in multiple modes both in and within the digital world will benefit students understanding and use of new avenues for composing. To successfully participate in online and computer generated forms of presenting ideas and arguments, students are given the opportunity to evaluate the genre and compose a video essay that both demonstrates what they have learned and that makes an argument for the “best practices” for the genre of the video essay / screencast presentation.

Assignment Prompt

You will create a video essay/screencast in which you make an argument for what you consider to be the most effective “typified rhetorical actions” of the video essay / screencast video genre. A pool of videos will be provided on the course blog site. You will select a set of videos from this pool as the subjects of your video essay or screencast. In your argument, you will specify what to you makes an effective, strong video essay. You will also attempt to categorize the video more specifically within a sub-genre. Video essays should be no longer than five minutes in length and thoroughly answer and argue for your answers to the following questions:

  1. Do all of the videos attempt to accomplish something similarly rhetorically?
  2. How do they differ as well as how are they similar?
  3. What rhetorical moves (“typified rhetorical actions”) do the composers all seem to make?
  4. Is there a balance between entertainment—i.e. amusement—and understanding of the composer’s argument—i.e. content?
  5. What is missing in the videos?
  6. What would you suggest or recommend to the composer of this type of video in the future?
  7. What is the sub-genre of the video you selected to analyze? (Here, you must argue for the purpose of the sub-genre and what rhetorical actions utilized by the speaker/composer support a specific sub-genre in comparison with rest of the videos.)

The assignment calls for students to place themselves into several subject positions ultimately arguing for their evaluation and producing a video that solves the problems they analyze in the videos. Rather than prescribe a set of genric features or leave them to produce a video without any instruction, like a traditional essay, I believe that this gives students a “strong sense of the possibilities” through which they determine what is effective and what is not. Perhaps this is not the “reenivisioning” that Alexander and Rhodes had in mind, but after all, it is a process.


Works Cited

Alexander, Jonathan and Jacqueline Rhodes. On Multimodality: New Media in Composition

Studies. Urbana: CCCC/NCTE, 2014. Print.

The Wayne Writer: Second Custom Edition for Wayne State University. Boston: Pearson, 2015.



Corey Hamilton is a Graduate Teaching Assistant and second-year Ph. D. student studying Rhetoric and Composition at Wayne State University. Corey has taught basic writing and intermediate writing classes at the University of Central Oklahoma and Wayne State University. His current scholarly interests include Cultural Rhetorics, Composition Pedagogies, Multimodal Composition, and Rhetorical Theory.

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