Continuing to support video assignments during the pandemic

The Creative Media Service was created to support the increasing prevalence of media assignments across The University of Sheffield. The service provides advice, training, equipment loans and facilities to enable all students to be able to create media.

During the academic year of 2018/19 we delivered training sessions to over 1300 students, most of which were for video based assignments. The modules we work with are from a range of academic departments – from Sociology to Animal Plant Sciences, and students typically have no media experience. For the last academic year of 2019/20 we were on target to have been our most successful year with training planned for over 1500 students, working on over 25 modules and delivering over 100 workshops.

We work across all faculties at the university and work directly with module leaders and teachers to deliver appropriate teaching sessions for their students. A typical example of a module we support is with colleagues in Sociology where students would typically have to write a 5000 word essay but now they have the opportunity to be creative, learn new skills and presentation skills in creating a 5 minute video explaining the topic they have chosen to talk about. The 80+ students within this module have 3 workshops with the team. First we look at how they can take their idea and develop it into a video (the pre-production stage), they then have a video production session which looks at how they can record and capture the materials they need for the video and a final session of how to edit all of the material together into their final video. Along the way they are also supported by the team offering drop ins and we also upload and share with the students online material to give them help along the way.

All of the students’ media assignments are submitted through Blackboard using our Kaltura Digital Media Hub which the university uses. This allows easy access for staff and grading of assignments. There are no sharing issues, permissions, lost USBs, no struggle to get a DVD burnt.

As well as the training and support provided students also get access to over 350 pieces of equipment they can borrow for free. These include standard point and shoot camcorders all the way through to more professional video cameras and DSLR cameras which the more confident students use. We also have a range of microphones and audio recording equipment available. Students are able to learn how to use this equipment during one of our sessions or have access to training videos and documents to help get them started. We also have a range of editing suites, recording & editing booths, a podcast studio and our TV Studio. Students using our studios receive training during their first session on how the equipment works but for the most part are left to operate them without technical support.

As we enter the new academic year many of our workshops are done face to face and our practical elements simply cannot work with the restrictions we have on face to face contact. We are lucky enough that we still have lots of modules to support but we have had to make changes. Firstly modules are looking at a broader range of media creation, rather than just setting a video assignment they are looking at how students can create different mediums such as podcasts. This new way of working has meant that we have had to spend a lot of time creating more content for online learning. We’ve done this by breaking down our sessions and making short videos which can be uploaded onto Blackboard blending these videos with live online taught sessions and some face to face teaching. Some of our modules just needed the support of our online videos meaning we have really tried to work hard on the quality of these and the content covered. One of our workshops we usually do face to face is Image Manipulation with Adobe Photoshop, however we find that demonstrating software to students while online is a really tricky challenge. To overcome this we have created a series of videos and a booklet that the students can work through in their own time. The aim of this is to give them an understanding of how the software works and the tools available to them. They are short snappy videos with a talking head that cover a couple of different tools demonstrating how they work allowing the students to follow along at their own pace and then complete the task that is set either with their own photographs or with ones we’ve provided for them.

We’re also working really hard to be able to support students who are struggling with technical support. We are offering students drop in sessions which are running specifically for their module but they also have the opportunity to have 1:1 support if they are stuck with some piece of equipment or software with this being done through Google Meet. We continue to run our equipment service but have had to change how this operates so that it keeps students and our staff safe when loaning equipment. Unfortunately our studios and recording booths remain closed until we are able to put appropriate safety measures in place.


Jonny Hooton

Creative Media Service Manager, IT Services | The Diamond, The University of Sheffield, UK