Extreme Searching: Multi-Modal Media Research

Leah Shafer and Lisa Patti, Media and Society Program, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

This assignment sequence introduces students to effective research methods through a series of engaging, interactive, and collaborative tasks that lead to the development of a multi-modal research dossier and a media project.

I. Introduction

This assignment sequence was developed for a 100-level introduction to media studies course, taught primarily to first- and second-year students at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a small liberal arts college. The project is meant to introduce students to effective research methods by providing them with a series of engaging interactive and collaborative tasks that will assist in the development of a multi-modal research dossier. The research dossier then becomes the basis for an interactive and collaborative final project. The idea for the project grew out of a mutually held frustration with students’ lack of connection to the research process: we both had the sense that even after instructional sessions in the library, students were still doing research by plugging a general search term into a search engine and handing in bibliographies of the first twenty items to appear. We wanted to create an assignment that would push the students beyond Google. In our experience, we have found that student research benefits from collaborative input and a sense of personal investment in the process, so this sequence was designed to combine interactive group activities with frequent opportunities for reflection and feedback.

Above all, the assignment sequence is meant to provide an engaging endorsement of collaborative labor and the strategic use of technology and media resources. As a team of educators, we have had the opportunity to co-teach on several occasions, and we expect this assignment sequence to communicate our enthusiasm for the benefits and rewards of collaborative work across all stages of the project. This semester, the project serves as the foundational assignment in three of the four sections of Introduction to Media and Society, the core course for the Media and Society major. The faculty teaching this course use the same textbooks and adhere to a set of common curricular goals, but each faculty member develops a unique syllabus, curating a different set of topics, textual examples, and assignments within a shared curricular framework. This assignment capitalizes on the large number of students taking the course by providing shared exhibition and work spaces, so that students from different sections can reflect upon and respond to the work of their peers, even (and especially) those working on different iterations of the same issues, questions, and topics. Further, the helpful insight and experience of the Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ research librarians and the staff of the Digital Learning Center was central to the development of the assignment’s technological and conceptual parameters. We are lucky to have the support and assistance of these teams, both in the planning stages and as leaders of workshops, drafters of technology guidelines, bloggers of best practices, and responders to student queries, both in person and via email. As reflects our spirit of generative collaboration across modes and models, the library and digital support teams include senior staff members and junior staff members, as well as both post- and under-graduate fellows working in technology support positions.

The assignment, as we present it here, consists of the construction of a research dossier, which will support a final project that investigates a current topic in the media. In two course sections, taught by Lisa Patti, the students are investigating the evolution of instant streaming, and their final projects will take the form of a blog or a video accompanied by a social media portfolio. In a third section, taught by Leah Shafer, students are investigating current trends in film, television, and new media, and their final projects take the form of an enhanced podcast. At the end of the semester, students from all four sections of the course (including the section that is not doing the research dossier, but is doing an enhanced podcast) will gather for an evening of screenings, demonstrations, and shared assessments of their final projects.

The research dossier project fosters skill building in a number of areas: concept mapping, search strategies, citation standards, evaluative assessment and annotation of texts, software learning, and presentation skills. The first step of the assignment is dividing the students into groups and assigning them a research topic. The groups then participate in a library resources training session that introduces them to search strategies for text, image, and video resources and software that will help them to map their ideas and store the results of their searches. At the end of this session, students are expected to have found a set of initial sources and developed a preliminary research question. The next stage of the assignment involves the reflection upon and development of the research question. In this stage, students submit an annotated bibliography and a revised research question with reflective commentary, and they upload a video of their group discussing and assessing their research process to a YouTube channel that has been created for the course. The final stage of the research dossier project is the research screencast, in which students record and reflect upon their research process by recording their online search process with a voice-over commentary.

The assignment sequence as it was presented to the students is outlined below, followed by a series of appendices including documents and resources relevant to the project.

II. Assignment Sequence: “Extreme Searching”

Introduction to Media and Society (Fall 2011)

Research dossier

Students will work in groups of three to produce a final project. Final projects will take one of several forms—including enhanced podcasts, videos, and blogs—and will address a research topic from a list of contemporary media phenomena—including instant streaming, the dark web, crowdsourcing, and branded entertainment. During the second half of the semester, your group will focus on the production and presentation of your project. During the first half of the semester, your group will focus on developing a portfolio of research in preparation for your project. During special sessions with digital learning consultants and reference librarians both in the library and in our classroom, you will learn a set of skills to enable you to take full advantage of the many online resources available to you during your research process. During these sessions, you will learn how to navigate article databases (e.g., ProQuest Direct), image databases (e.g., Flickr), concept mapping sites (e.g., Popplet), and social bookmarking sites (e.g., Diigo.) The skills you develop during the early stages of the research process will position you to locate information about your topic from a variety of sources in a variety of formats, including scholarly articles, trade publications, interviews, electronic press kits, popular magazine and newspaper articles, images, videos, websites, and advertisements. You will learn not only how to locate information but also how to organize and share information in preparation for your project.

In order to document the development of your project throughout the course of the research process, your group will submit a research dossier for your final project. The research dossier will include four components: a revised research question, an annotated bibliography, a video reflection, and a research screencast. Each element of the dossier is described below.

A. Revised research question:

Each group must submit a revised research question. The question that guides your research project will change as you uncover new information at different stages of the research process. This assignment offers you an opportunity to introduce a revised research question that reflects the development of your analysis as your research progresses. The revised research question should be presented in the following format on a single page:

  1. Introduce and label your revised research question.
  2. Note and label your original research question.
  3. List and label at least two other previous formulations for your research question (i.e., versions of your research question that you chose not to pursue).
  4. Write one short paragraph (approximately 150 words) explaining why you chose the current version of your research question.

B. Annotated bibliography:

Your research dossier will include an annotated bibliography. An annotated bibliography is a list of sources that includes a summary and an evaluation of each key source. Your bibliography should include twenty-five sources. Fifteen of those sources should include an annotation—a one-paragraph analysis (approximately 100 words) that provides a summary, assessment, and reflection based on your initial review of the source. Your bibliography should also include a list of three annotated sources that you have opted not to use as sources for your final project. These sources should be included on a separate page and labeled as rejected sources. Your annotations for these sources (approximately 100 words) should discuss the reasons you found these sources to be unsuitable for your project. So each student in your group will be responsible for preparing annotations for five included sources and one rejected source. Please refer to the set of guidelines for preparing annotated bibliographies posted on Blackboard.

C. Video reflection:

The video reflection offers your group an opportunity to record a casual reflective commentary on the initial work you do for this project. In the short (3–5 minute) reflection, you will use a webcam to record a conversation among your group members that engages and evaluates the discoveries you’ve made in the preliminary stages of the annotated bibliography and research question creation process. You will want to comment on the material you have found, the strategies you have used, the discoveries you have made (about both process and product), and the direction you expect your project to take from this point forward.

Before you record your reflection, you should practice your conversation, time your practiced conversation, and revise your reflection if necessary in order to meet the recommended length. While your video reflection will be an informal conversation about the discoveries you have made up to this point in your research process, your reflection should not be improvisational. Before you begin to prepare for the recording and posting of your reflection, your group should plan your reflection, drafting either a working script for your conversation or an outline for your conversation. Each member of your group should participate in the video reflection.

On Blackboard you will find a set of instructions prepared in collaboration with the Digital Learning Center staff for publishing your video reflections on YouTube. If you have any technical questions, please post them to the project blog so that the answers from the digital learning consultants will be available for everyone in the class to consult.

D. Research screencast:

The screencast will be a scripted recording that leads the viewer through your research process by literally following the path of your online research process. After having completed the revision of the research question, the annotated bibliography, and the video reflection, you will choose salient examples from your search process, and use screencasting technology to record a narrated re-enactment of your research path. This screencast is meant to demonstrate the pathways your group has followed, to serve as an example of research methods, to illustrate the development of your intellectual investment in your research subject, and to allow your voices and thoughts to be heard in a provocative and media-rich format.

III. Analysis

After reviewing the submissions, we have decided that we will make several adjustments to the assignment in its next iteration. First, we will include the research screencast as part of the research dossier assignment, but we will postpone the submission of the video reflection, inviting students to record the video reflection after they complete the final project and to use the video reflection as an opportunity to reflect on the entire process of researching and producing their projects. This semester, by timing the submission of both the video reflection and the research screencast at an early stage in the process, we inadvertently encouraged redundancies between the two projects, with many students providing similar commentaries in both assignments. By decoupling these assignments, we can both eliminate those redundancies and offer opportunities for students to provide a metacritical analysis of their research at two different stages of the process—the research stage and the postproduction stage. Second, we will share the strongest examples of each component of the assignment from this semester with students in future semesters, producing a curated version of the current YouTube channel to share with future students. These samples will demonstrate the importance of storyboarding and scripting during the preproduction process and the value of shaping a coherent and compelling research narrative. The featured samples will include a video reflection submitted by Olivia Lowenberg, Courteney Reed, and Ka Nok Tsin (http://youtu.be/HaOCJZCti6A); a research screencast submitted by Nancy Amestoy, Eric Hamburg, and Jessica Lynn (http://youtu.be/e56-k11_gYY); enhanced podcasts submitted by Trevor Bailey, Can Guneri, and Tim Maher (http://youtu.be/mKg1Uq_H9I8) and Rachel Fippinger, Caroline Lui, and Kelly Olney (http://youtu.be/mKg1Uq_H9I8); a video submitted by Spencer Dunn, Peter Waxman, and Everest Wein (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9T78psnCG4); and a blog submitted by Connor Eustace, Jake McHenry, and Peter Zonino (http://group6googletv.wordpress.com/). We encourage readers to follow these links to view examples of the work that students in our classes produced at each stage of the research process.

Appendix A: Final Project Guidelines and Topics

1. Digital broadcast project (Leah Shafer)

The digital broadcast project is one of the foundational assignments of MDSC 100. You will create a dynamic portrait of a contemporary media object in a three-minute enhanced podcast. You will present your research via carefully curated images and a critical voiceover. Your project should address your object, describe its circulation in the media, and analyze the way that these elements engage current issues in media studies. The project has several components, in addition to the research screencast project, that will allow you to link your research to your production. First, you will attend a library research session that will facilitate the acquisition of text and images related to your subject area. Next, you will attend a software training lab, where you will learn the software and, using images and text from your research, create a preliminary fifteen-second digital story as a blueprint for your longer project. You will be responsible for filling out a response form for every digital story produced by your classmates. Examples of previous enhanced podcasts will be made available, and we will have access to the projects created by students in other sections of MDSC 100. The topics for the digital broadcast projects will be: Netflix, YouTube, the dark web, QR codes, Anonymous (hackers), memes, crowdsourcing, Rhett and Link: Commercial Kings, branded entertainment, and Hulu.

2. Social media portfolio project (Lisa Patti)

Each group’s project will investigate the evolution of instant streaming from a different vantage point and guided by a different research question. You will analyze contemporary media industries in an effort to understand how industries and individual corporations both shape and respond to our media consumption habits. The projects will involve multiple research routes, examining scholarly articles, trade publications, interviews, electronic press kits, popular magazine and newspaper articles, websites, and advertisements, among other sources. Our goal as a class will be to build a dynamic portrait of the evolving state of instant streaming. Over the course of the semester, each group will share their research (with me, with each other, with the other groups, and with others who may develop an interest in our projects) via social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook groups, etc.). At the end of the semester, each group will produce a blog or a video.

Appendix B: Research Guidelines and Resources

Online research resources

Blackboard MDSC 100 Shared Site: http://courses.hws.edu

Tip: Consult the MDSC shared site regularly throughout the semester for resources and recommendations posted by the library support team.

Popplet: www.popplet.com

-Uses: concept mapping to facilitate brainstorming for research topics, research questions, and search terms with your group members.

-Tip #1: Consider multiple ways to frame or approach your topic during your brainstorming sessions, drafting several related topics and research questions as starting points for your research.

-Tip #2: Draft multiple versions of each key search term (listing synonyms for each term) so that you can maximize your search results.

Diigo: www.diigo.com

-Uses: social bookmarking and saving and sharing online research (including websites and images).

-Tip #1: Register for an individual Diigo account and link your account to the accounts of the other students in your final project group (with one student designated as the group’s administrator).

-Tip #2: Use the comments features to tag and highlight your sources and share notes, questions, and suggestions with the other students in your group.

Newsmap: http://newsmap.jp/

-Uses: visually models trending news topics according to global regions.

Media and Society Subject Guide: http://library.hws.edu/subject_guide.asp?suid=29

-Tip #1: Use the MDSC Subject Guide on the HWS Library website to access the databases for article searches and image searches listed below and to explore the other databases available there.

-Tip #2: Our subscription resources go through an authentication process on the library web page so they may be accessed directly from the HWS network and HWS wireless. The library web page also has an authentication setup for access from guest wireless and off-campus access for people with HWS network credentials. The URLs for the subscription resources listed below (AP Images, ProQuest, EBSCO, LexisNexis) will work for students on the campus network (plugged in with an Ethernet cord or on HWS wireless), but not for those on guest wireless or off campus. Accessing resources through the library web site is the best way to ensure access to our subscription resources.

Image searches

Google Images: http://www.google.com/advanced_image_search?hl=en

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/

AP Images: http://apimages.ap.org/fronts/Default.aspx?sh=14

-Tip #1: Use search filters to narrow your results. In particular, limit your searches to images that are available for use through a Creative Commons license.

-Tip #2: Bookmark images located on Flickr using your Diigo account.

Article searches

ProQuest Direct: http://search.proquest.com/index?accountid=27680

Academic Search Premiere: http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/search/basic?sid=fd6b7e3b-b631-430d-8057-827a65fcbec

Lexis-Nexis: http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/lnacademic/

-Tip #1: Limit your results by using the “advanced search” function and searching within a domain (e.g., .org, .edu, .gov, etc.).

-Tip #2: Access The New York Times and other periodicals via the HWS library web site in order to take advantage of the HWS subscriptions to the full text of many online publications. You can search for specific periodical titles at: http://hw5yf8xq9d.search.serialssolutions.com/

-Tip #3: To find the full text of your article, look for the “Find Full Text” link in the database. This will tell you whether we have the full text in another database, in a print journal in the library, or if you’ll need to order it through Interlibrary Loan.

-Tip #4: Use the library’s Interlibrary Loan service to access articles, books, and multimedia materials that aren’t available at the HWS library.

Reference searches

Credo Reference: http://www.credoreference.com/

-Uses: provides access to online dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference materials.

-Tip: Consult Credo to gather general information about a topic before beginning a more targeted search for information using other databases.

Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/

-Uses: Support and licensing information for authors and other creators who want to share their work for use and/or reuse by others. The Creative Commons assists people in maintaining copyright control over their intellectual work while allowing certain uses, particularly for research, education, and culture.

-Tip: Review the Creative Commons site to learn more about using the content you find online in your projects and sharing the content you produce in your projects.

Appendix C: Video Reflection Guidelines

Preliminary instructions1

In order to get started, find a quiet space at a machine with wired internet access (wireless is NOT recommended for this kind of activity). You will need uninterrupted time for this video capture; you cannot stop and start! Plan ahead! Mac laptop owners should all be in good shape for this activity, but many PC laptops include built-in cameras too, and you can try them out. The Digital Learning Center is also a good spot if you don’t have access to a personal machine; this space is located on the first floor of the library, open M-F 8:30-5 and Tuesday evenings until 8pm. Last but not least, be sure you do a test run first! Follow the directions below and record for thirty seconds. Then preview the file to ensure that the volume levels are OK and that your body movement is not distracting. Note: you will definitely need to talk fairly loudly and clearly with this setup, probably a bit stronger and louder than your average conversational voice.

Step-by-step instructions

1. Open Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer.

2. Go to http://www.youtube.com.

3. If you don’t yet have a Youtube account, click on Create Account in the upper right corner.

4. If you read carefully, there is a link for those who already have a Gmail account; if you do not already have a Gmail account, complete the box on the page and register for an account.

5. Once you’ve activated your account, click on Sign In to login to your Youtube account. Note: for Google account holders, you will need to type the full email address as your login, (e.g., firstnamelastname@gmail.com).

6. The page should now reflect that you are logged in, as indicated by the presence of your username in the upper right-hand corner.

7. To begin recording, click on the Upload button located in the top center of the page.

8. A new Video File Upload screen will appear that offers two options: Upload Video or Record from Webcam; select Record from Webcam in order to use the built-in camera on the computer.

9. The screen will change again to Record Video from Webcam, and an Adobe Flash Player Settings alert will appear. Please select the box next to Allow access to your camera and microphone when you are ready to go.

10. Click on the Ready to Record button in the center and recording will start immediately!

11. That said, as a safety measure, pause for at least three seconds before beginning your conversation, in order to allow for any possible delays (and do the same thing at the close of your conversation).

12. Click on the red square at the bottom of the recording window to stop recording.

13. You will then be prompted to Preview, Publish, or Re-Record.

14. Publish.

15. A publishing screen will appear prompting you to detail the terms of your video. Please give the video a Title and a Tag following this pattern: MDSC100.0?-keyword. (All Tags will be selected in class. Each group must have a unique Tag. Your Tag will be the same as your Title.) Make sure that it is Public.

16. Click on Save Changes.

17. Navigate to My Videos and Playlists and you should see your video listed. (Hint: sometimes these can be tricky to find. Click on arrows located next to your username located in the upper right corner under My Account>Videos.

18. The Edit Video button below the video image that you’ve captured offers some basic editing options.

19. Once you are satisfied with your project, open the video and copy the web address/URL from the top of the browser (e.g., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUn6HlzHntQ) and send it via email to your faculty member and jalllen@hws.edu (DLC Intern). This last step is important so that they can link it to the MDSC 100 YouTube channel.

General guidelines

-Your video reflection should be 3–5 minutes long. Please follow this guideline. Before you record your reflection, you should practice your conversation, time your practiced conversation, and revise your reflection if necessary in order to meet the recommended length.

-While your video reflection will be an informal conversation about the discoveries you have made up to this point in your research process, your reflection should not be improvisational. Before you begin to prepare for the recording and posting of your reflection, your group should plan your reflection, drafting either a working script for your conversation or an outline for your conversation.

-Each member of your group should participate in the video reflection.

-Please do not wait until the last minute to record and submit your video reflection. All videos must be posted by the deadline listed on the syllabus.


-If you would like to contact Jen Allen, the Digital Learning Center intern, or Charlotte Lysohir, the Media and Society Tech Fellow, please post your questions on the MDSC 100 blog included on the MDSC 100 shared site on Blackboard.

Appendix D: Research Screencast Guidelines

Screencasting tips2


1. Storyboard your content—outline the sites that you intend to highlight and draft bullet points for your narration (there will be a fine line of highlights, compelling & cogent elements of your process vs play-by-play action!); in your storyboarding, plan for approximately two-minute chunks to capture and upload, (i.e., look for natural breaks).

2. Hard wire into network (NOT wireless)

3. Recommended tool: http://screencast-o-matic.com/screen_recorder—tested on both PC and Mac

4. Quickstart video (one minute) http://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cXhbbqb9C

5. Do a test run with a few images and narration to gauge audio quality and screen framing. A 1024×768 setting is recommended for framing (full screen can be too busy and distracting). Note: remember, you can shift the frame with your mouse to shift the focus of content.

6. Screencast not working? You may need to update your Java software: http://www.java.com/en/download/index.jsp.

7. Per your storyboarding, load up multiple tabs in your browser if the path to the URL is irrelevant so that you don’t spend unnecessary screen time bumping around for sites.

8. Pause: if you do need to bump around as you record, take advantage of the PAUSE button!!! The process is pretty seamless for stopping and starting.

9. Done: click DONE when finished and prompts for saving and exporting will appear—please do both

10. Save to Video File: select Quicktime MP4 option for your own archival purposes as a “Plan B” and then…

11. YouTube export (be sure to use mdsc100 tag!) for sharing back to the class. Note: uploading may be SLOW, perhaps VERY SLOW. Be patient and don’t multitask while it uploads! The process could take up to five minutes per two-minute upload.

Appendix E: Acknowledgements

The development and execution of this assignment sequence was made possible by a team of reference and technology specialists at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. We would like to thank Juliet Boisselle (Digital Learning Consultant), Sara Greenleaf (Associate Director and Technical Services Librarian, Media and Society Liaison), Emily Hart (Reference and Instruction Librarian), Jen Allen (Digital Learning Center Intern), and Charlotte Lysohir (Tech Fellow) for their contributions to this project at every stage of its development. We would also like to thank Les Friedman (Chair, Media and Society Program) for his support of this project.

We have featured above the work of several students from the sections of Introduction to Media and Society that participated in this research project. We would like to thank Nancy Amestoy, Trevor Bailey, Spencer Dunn, Connor Eustace, Rachel Fippinger, Can Guneri, Eric Hamburg, Olivia Lowenberg, Caroline Lui, Jessica Lynn, Tim Maher, Jake McHenry, Kelly Olney, Courteney Reed, Ka Nok Tsin, Peter Waxman, Everest Wein, and Peter Zonino for allowing us to feature their work in this article.



About the Author

Leah Shafer is an Assistant Professor in the Media and Society Program at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She received her PhD from the Department of Theatre, Film & Dance at Cornell University. Her scholarly work addresses the advertising and marketing practices of the American entertainment industry. She is currently producing an interactive documentary about the Declaration of Sentiments.

Lisa Patti is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Media and Society Program at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She serves as Chair of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Teaching Committee. She received her PhD in Comparative Literature with a concentration in Film and Video from Cornell University. Her current research focuses on the contemporary translation and distribution of international media in the US.




  1. This paragraph and the Step-by-step instructions below were prepared by Juliet Boisselle, Digital Learning Consultant.
  2. These tips were prepared by Juliet Boisselle, Digital Learning Consultant.

'Extreme Searching: Multi-Modal Media Research' has 2 comments

  1. April 3, 2013 @ 4:32 pm Frozen Pea Fund

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    • April 5, 2013 @ 4:17 pm Sarah Ruth Jacobs

      Thanks, we have our own server. I have no recommendations for hosting, sorry.

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