Getting to grips with the grammar of video

video“If we learn how something works, we can control it”


Every language has its grammar and video is no exception. In this year’s Video EDUCA Masterclass, television producer and media expert Adam Salkeld will be exploring how we can all harness visual grammar to make our videos more effective.  


By Adam Salkeld


We will remember turbulent 2015 in a series of images and video clips. The power of visual communication has been shown again and again. People all over the world expressed their feelings about the events in Paris on November 13th  by creating and sharing images.  A single picture of a drowned child did more to engage the public and politicians in the refugee crisis than countless speeches or articles.  Videos from Syria and Iraq have become weapons in a digital war being played out in the social media.


Educators often feel uneasy about the raw power of visual media. We fear that it is an uncontrolled force. We worry that it feeds our emotional faculties more than our rational intellectual ones. The result is that we are tempted to play it safe.  Where learning videos might engage or inspire, we see too many that simply replicate the printed page on screen, missing all the potential value that video can add for learners. This does not need to be the case.


Knowledge conquers fear. If we learn how something works, we can control it. I am passionate about trying to demystify the production of high-quality video so that we can all make the most of it in the learning arena.


Video is a language, and just like any other, it has a grammar as its structural architecture.  When we learn any new language, the process of understanding its grammar is the key to unlocking potential and fluency.  In film and video, shots are the words; sequences the clauses and sentences; moves, cuts, and mixes the punctuation.  How we use these dictates how our narrative develops and the styles we choose to adopt.  We can use the building blocks of video grammar to express the past as well as the present. We can fine-tune our shots to manipulate pace and remove redundancy.  We can learn when putting two shots together seems clumsy or looks elegant. When we are comfortable about the rules, we can be bold enough to break them. Above all, only when we understand the grammar of video, can we exercise control.  It is there to help us express ourselves clearly to our audience of learners.


I had my grammar lessons 25 years ago at the BBC. That was a time when a broadcast-quality camera cost as much as a family house and an editing suite even more. Sharing your video meant broadcasting it on a TV channel, and the whole process took scores of highly qualified people. Technology has changed all of this. Digital video cameras and editing software are cheap, ubiquitous and easier to use than ever. Anyone learning about video production now has the chance to try, fail and try again at next to no cost. It is an amazing opportunity.


This year’s Video Educa Masterclass is going to concentrate on getting to grips with the basics of film and video grammar so that we can make the most of that opportunity in learning. As with mastering any language, fluency comes quickest when we are with native speakers, so in the Masterclass, we will watch and discuss clips to see how others have used and abused the grammar of film and video.  In one session we cannot cover a whole film-school curriculum, but we can try to strike a critical spark.  My greatest hope for the session is that participants will leave with a new curiosity about the films, TV and video they watch every day and an ambition to channel that interest into the learning videos they produce or commission.


You can hear more from Adam Salkeld in his Video EDUCA Masterclass taking place on Thursday December 3rd, 14:15 – 15:45, at OEB 2015. Other Video EDUCA sessions will include: New Media In and Beyond the Classroom, Creating Learning Nuggets on the Fly, Transforming Passive Viewers into Active Learners, and Performing on Camera.