Should we be teaching Video literacy, including video communication skills?

English teaching colleagues,

I recently read an article in the Huffington Post on video literacy. . This part of the article got me thinking:

"Video is a language. It is a way that we communicate ideas with one another. And, rather remarkably, it often transcends language and cultural barriers in a way that books and writing don't. So the notion of video literacy is appealing for many reasons. But being video literate is more than just picking up a camera, pointing it a something and pushing the record button. As with the world of print, there is a world of sophistication (and rules) to telling stories in video. These are not hard to learn, but as with any language, it takes a bit of work and then a bit of practice. It used to be that owning a video camera was a bit of an anomaly. If you did own one, it was that thing that you pulled out of the closet for birthdays and trips. No more. Now, every smart phone (and there are more than 2 billion of them in the world) is a video camera. It is a pencil and paper, with a world-wide audience. But you have to learn how to 'write' with it, if you want to get your ideas across."

Should we be teaching video literacy as a set of adult communication skills? This might mean not only the critical skills needed to interpret videos, media literacy, but also the technical and planning skills to communicate well using video. The National Education Technology Plan (being revised in 2015) includes: "Communication and collaboration. Students should be able to work collaboratively, both in person and at a distance, and to communicate ideas effectively to multiple audiences using new media."

If we should be teaching the language of video communication skills in adult English language learning, how should we teach these skills?

David J. Rosen



Thanks for your invitation to post about what we've been reading or thinking about regarding technology and teaching. I'm new to this group, and I'm also a newcomer to using technology in the classroom.


My research and practice are focused on teaching ESL to adult immigrants, often in community centers devoid of technology. Many learners come from oral, rather than print-rich, cultures, and are preliterate, or have limited literacy in English, and little or no formal education. But many students use iPhones! This means that they are developing numeracy, and often using oral transmission, in an informal learning environment, as they teach each other apps and other features of the phones.


Because I believe in culturally responsive teaching, I focus on learners’ needs, interests, and knowledge in order to facilitate language acquisition. So one of the first things I like to do is show learners Google Translate and load that app, explore the camera, mike and writing features, and play with different languages. For instance, I might have a Korean student who supervises Spanish speakers in a nail salon, so before they communicate in English, they can use their native languages to “talk” to each other. I know this is very basic, but it really excites learners who haven’t been exposed to this feature.


But I’d really like to bring attention to a young teacher who presented at the recent TESOL conference in Toronto. Jamey Sadownick uses digital storytelling in his ESL classrooms with international students and he demonstrated how to make a free, five-minute video that can be posted and shared online in a few minutes. I envision this as an excellent tool for learners to make ethnographies or personal narratives, working in groups or individually. In culturally responsive teaching it is vital for students to use their own experiences as the context for learning, and to develop interconnectedness with each other and with teachers, and it seems to me that digital storytelling is a new way to do this. Here’s a link:


I think there are other advantages to digital storytelling, too. The visual and auditory components appeal to students with different learning styles and may keep them more engaged in the project; the skills learned in digital storytelling can transfer to other environments; and the class has an incredible, shared resource for developing lessons based on the learners’ experiences.


Producing compilations of student work in theme-based booklets has always been an important activity in project-based learning, but taking that idea and making it digital seems like a natural progression for teachers and learners in the 21st century.



I am glad to see you here, Nan, and I look forward to meeting you in person at the COABE 2015 conference. (Note to others: if you would like to join several of us for lunch in Denver on Wednesday April 22nd, please email me at for the details. )

Susan Gaer, among others, has been doing a lot with cell phones for several years in her ESL classes at Santa Ana College in Southern California. (Hey Susan, can you join this thread and point us to your resources and perhaps describe them here?) Perhaps others here would like to tell us what you are doing with smartphones, feature phones (plain cell phones that may have SMS text messaging and a digital camera) and mlearning. (Mlearning is mobile learning using a portable digital device such as a cellphone, tablet or e-reader for learning in the classroom or outside.)

Those digital stories you pointed us to, Nan, are quite amazing both as stories and as examples of students' technology sophistication. These students could teach us a thing or two about video literacy!

You have also raised the topic of 21st century skills, Nan, and you have given a great example -- students making videos to tell their stories.

Here's another -- students making videos to explain how to do things, for example, how to use a new app. I wonder if anyone here is already working with students who are doing that and, if so, if you could point us to some of the students' "how-to" videos, or "how-to" articles.

I am reminded of a conference I went to several years ago that had a presentation by the founder of "WikiHow" He was asked who were the most prolific writers of their how-to articles. He said that an older woman from Oakland California, who probably had never gone to college, perhaps didn't graduate high school, and whose writing needed a lot of editing (which others on WikiHow, he said, were happy to do), has so much how-to knowledge and experience to share and had written the most number of articles. As I heard this, I was thinking it could describe a lot of adult learners, and that writing articles for WikiHow might be a great project for some adult basic education classes. What a great way to improve writing skills! Anyone done that?

David J. Rosen

Technology and Learning CoP Moderator

Nan, David, and all, These are some really exciting ideas! I am personally passionate about digital storytelling, Nan, especially in an adult ESL class for all levels of learners. Digital storytelling has been the most rewarding project I've ever engaged learners in. Learners at all levels can create a story, even those with no or limited formal education. There are so many reasons why this is beautiful. One is that learners get to practice recording their own audio or video narration as often as they want to until they are ready to share it with others.

I would love to engage learners in creating "how to" videos, too! Let's hear from teachers who are doing this and from those who would like to do so.

I was fortunate to attend one of Susan Gaer's sessions at TESOL in Toronto. She demonstrated and--of course!-- involved us in using a bunch of exciting apps. (Susan, we'd love to hear from you in our community!)

Looking forward to hearing more details from our members about integrating technology in "smart" ways!

Cheers, Susan

Moderator, AELL CoP

Hi David,

I appreciate your comments and would like to agree with you that learners have a lot to contribute from their funds of knowledge (Luis Moll), and that using technology to do that would be a great way to scaffold learning. Using their familiar language and content but unfamiliar technology is an excellent approach to learning new tasks. Adult immigrants are typically eager to share their knowledge and I can imagine how-to videos as a new medium for the usual paper booklets produced in groups.