New Tools for Creative Interpretation: An Investigative Study using Digital Video and Computer Animation

Assessment, E-Learning


Completed June 2006

 Brief Description

This project investigated the potential use of digital video and computer animation in teaching literary analysis skills. Students were trained in both, asked to make short films (in groups and by themselves) and then surveyed to see how they found the experience and whether their approach to textual criticism had been altered.

Results indicated that this was a successful project, and that students welcomed the chance to try out these new media, work in groups, and to approach texts from a different angle (primarily concentrating on imagery). However, although this would be easy for other departments to replicate (especially the digital video course) this would need to be done in the context of sufficient support, and institutional recognition of the academic credibility of such an option.


film_litTeachers of English literature have often looked to new forms of activities to enhance the ways students can engage with a text, and critically interpret it. Although the standard approaches of close reading, contextual analyses, followed by presentation of argument usually in the form of an essay are tried and tested, and will undoubtedly form the mainstay of teaching literature for the foreseeable future, the new technologies are beginning to offer us other opportunities.

For five years now the University of Oxford has been running its ‘Filming Literature’ Competitions sponsored by ProQuest. In this competition students have been asked to select an out of copyright text from the online database Literature Online (LION) and then create a 1-10 minute digital video of the text (or inspired by the text).

Project design

The project brought together a cohort of students drawn from the 3rd- year option held at the English Faculty, entitled ‘Literature on Screen’ . They were asked to do two things:

  1. create (as a team) a 10-minute digital video based on a chosen piece of literature
  2. create a short animated film based on a piece of literature using Immersive Education’s MediaStage software.

A half-day digital video courses was offered to give basic training on camera work and iMovie on the Apple Mac. Students were then allowed to choose a text from ProQuest’s Literature Online services, and make a short film based on this with one week to shoot and edit their films. The results were:

  1. Jabberwocky – by Lewis Carroll
    D. Proctor, F. Hamilton, and H. Race
  2. Wine of the Fairies – Shelley
    J. Aylwin, and others
  3. Porphyria’s Lover – by Browning
    S. Williams, and others

Watch the films on the Subject Centre’s YouTube channel below:

Two weeks later students were trained in the software MediaStage by Immersive Education. Special handouts were created to facilitate this training (mediaStage – handout). Students were then given an afternoon, working by themselves, to create a film based on a previously chosen text. Students did not have access to audio facilities so the voices are restricted to computer generated ones.. As a result of both sessions nine animated films were completed:

  1. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde – the interview scene with Jack and Lady Bracknell
    C. Gardiner
  2. The Home and The World – by Rabindranath Tagore
    O. Spottiswoode
  3. Manfred – by Byron
    A. Johnson
  4. The Europeans – by Henry James
    C. Smith
  5. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (anon.)
    T. Viita
  6. A Dialogue between Soul and Body – by A. Marvell
    C. Adams
  7. Beowulf’s Funeral (anon.)
    J. Beney
  8. Dracula  – by Stoker
    M. Castle
  9. Taming of the Shrew – by Shakespeare
    J. Aylwin

Watch the animated films on the Subject Centre’s YouTube channel below:

All the films were then mounted on the Web. Participation in the project, however, was entirely voluntary and did not constitute part of any formal assessment process; but students were given book tokens as incentives to complete each of the stages.

In the final part of the project several students were interviewed and asked about:

  • the possibilities and limitations of each approach
  • how these new media altered their approach to the text
  • whether it enhanced their interpretation of the text or changed it fundamentally

Key findings

  • Digital video is now cheap and easy to make, and for relatively low cost facilities to do so can be made available in the classroom. Although it does require some up front investment and IT training/support this can be greatly alleviated if one has access to Macs and iMovie.
  • MediaStage is a powerful tool that allows students to get access to computer animation techniques. However it requires reasonably high specification machines and licences are not cheap. The learning curve for the software is also quite steep and thus step-by-step training and handbooks need to be used.
  • Given the right support structures the introduction of ‘film-making’ to an English option is not too problematic. Moreover it will allow the students to experience groupwork, but more importantly introduce them to a different approach to analyzing text – especially evident with image-heavy texts such as poetry.
  • If this is to be introduced it must be in the context of official recognition of the acceptance of such a teaching/assessment method.

Report & Website

Project Leader

Dr Stuart Lee
English Faculty / Oxford University Learning Technologies Group
University of Oxford