Teaching visual storytelling on water

A new article reflects on the experience of IHE Delft summer course “Visual methods for water communication”. Video making is a collective effort through which students can learn not only communication skills but also competences for collaboration and trans-disciplinarity.

The protagonists of the summer course third edition (2019)

After three years of running IHE Delft summer course “Visual methods for water communication” it was time to take stock on what students and teachers have learnt through this experience. Such reflection is presented in an article recently published on J-Reading – Journal of Research and Didactics in Geography. Since in the summer course we preach the gospel of storytelling, I have try to apply some of its tenets in writing the article itself. The article is structured like a movie review: introduced by a trailer, followed by a description of the plot (the course schedule), and the cast (students’ experiences and feedback). The articles continues with three highlights about the challenges that the protagonists had to go through before reaching the happy end: finding the most suitable case study and location to film, developing captivating stories, and editing good videos in a short time with the available equipment. These challenges are here illustrated with the video made in the last edition of the summer course.

Searching for the perfect set

Divided in crews of three or four, by the end of the course the students have to make a short video on a given topic and for a specific audience. Spending one day outside for shooting is the activity they enjoy the most. It is also a key moment for learning the basic dos and don’ts of video making. We therefore take particular care in choosing the location and the case study to film, every year trying to improve and add new elements. The challenge consists in finding the right balance between logistics and content. From the logistical point of view, the location should allow different students’ crews to work at a reasonable distance for the staff to follow and advise them, and for the students to share equipment or props. In terms of content and topics, the case study should inspire meaningful stories and videos, allowing to film people in action.

In the third edition of the course we found a good compromise between logistics and stories, by selecting a project along a Dutch river, the Waal, where a longitudinal dam was built within the framework of the RiverCare program. Curious to learn what a longitudinal dam is and how does it look like? Then watch these two videos featuring Eric Mosselman, a researcher in river engineering who contributed to the dam design, and Henk Eerden, the project manager.

Developing captivating stories

The last edition of the summer course has been inspired by journalist and writer Will Storr’s The Science of Storytelling. This is not the usual creative writing manual, as Storr uses psychology and neuroscience to explore why and how stories grab the attention of the human brain and remain the most powerful tool for communication. One of his key messages is that stories are first and foremost about people. So we asked each student crew to tell the story of the project from the perspective of a specific character: the project coordinator, the water expert, the fisherman, the scientist, and the tourist guide. We believe that this allowed to convey technical information about the river and its infrastructure in an accessible and captivating way. You can judge by yourself by watching these two other videos, featuring two recreational fishermen (Roland van Aalderen and Frank Bosman) and the researcher Frank Collas sharing their experience about the impact of the dam on the river. Overall, filming people in action is key to create captivating stories.

Editing

The final part of the course is dedicated to editing. This is the most laborious task, in which we often experienced a tension between the technology at our disposal and the pressure of delivering high quality video in a short time. As we are not professional filmmakers and we want to offer the opportunity to the students to replicate what they learnt in the course, we work with the equipment (camcorder, laptop and software) that is already available in house at IHE Delft. However, in some cases this combination of hardware and software proved to be problematic, especially when filming was done in high resolution. When the students tried something more elaborated than simple cuts, many computers got stuck or the operations became incredibly slow. As we have only one and a half day to edit the video before the final public screening, this causes a lot of stress, and – if they can – students resort to their personal laptops and software for a faster editing and to achieve better quality. In spite of these challenges, it is always amazing to see in the end how much the students can achieve in such a short time! The video below, featuring the tour guide Hans Heerdt, is a great example.

We should also mention that thanks to IHE Delft Global Partnership for Water and Development (DUPC2), in the last edition of the course we also had external participants (researchers and communication officers) from institutions in the Global South working with IHE Delft. Some of them had already experience in video making and they could share it in their group, resulting in better quality of the final product.

Happy end

The main lessons we learnt from three editions of IHE Delft summer course “Visual methods for water communication” is that video-making is a practical and fun experience to foster collaborative and trans-disciplinary skills, both in the students and in the staff!

If you want to learn more about it you can read the full article here:

Fantini, E., 2019. Just like a movie: teaching visual storytelling on water. J-Reading-Journal of Research and Didactics in Geography, 2.

Credits

Like in a movie’s closing titles, the article ends with a long list of acknowledgment to all the people who made the summer course a fun and successful experience: the filmmakers Roland Postma and Karen Schagen; the lecturers Maria Rusca, Joanne Craven, Paolo Paron, Juliette Cortes Arevalo, Anna Wiesselink, Abraham Abishek, Tatiana Acevedo Guerrero; Wim Glas, Jerome van Dam and Fedor Baart for their technical support; all the students who took part to the course, and the people who acted in their videos, in particular the RiverCare team.


Emanuele Fantini

Emanuele (@emanufanti) is senior lecturer and researcher at the Water Governance Chair group of IHE Delft. He works on water, politics and development in Ethiopia; media, science and water conflicts in the Nile basin; visual research methods. Emanuele hosts the podcasts "The sources of the Nile" https://nilewaterlab.org/podcast-the-sources-of-the-nile/ and Water Alternatives Podcast http://www.water-alternatives.org/index.php/wat

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