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The making of Voice & Influence

Mar 23 2013

Filming online education videos typically involves placing a camera at the back of a noisy lecture hall and taping a professor giving a fifty-minute lecture. The resulting product offers little intimacy between the online viewer and the professor.

When developing a new online leadership series, Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research took a different view through the camera. The new video series, Voice & Influence, brings intimacy and engagement to a mass online audience with an aim to inspire viewers to take concrete and meaningful actions in their lives.

The Clayman Institute commissioned filmmaker Ashley Tindall, a recent graduate of Stanford’s Documentary Film and Video Program, to re-energize online education. Tindall’s work in Stanford's master’s program analyzed “political issues through the lens of a personal story, usually through that of an individual or family”—an approach that dovetailed nicely with her work with the Institute.

To redesign the online education experience, Tindall used the camera as a tool to elevate the presenter from a moving figure to an expert speaking directly with the audience. According to Tindall, “if you want people to walk away with a really deep understanding of issues at hand, you need high production values.”

In each video, the presenter is filmed in an intimate setting, Tindall explains. She uses a secondary camera for close ups to provide what she calls a “privileged perspective that you’d never get in the classroom.”

This new perspective strikes a delicate balance between hard-hitting research and an intimacy with the professors. “It was important to us to reflect the academic rigor of Stanford,” says Tindall, “but also make the material relatable and to let it shine through why the professors are so passionate about their work.”

Rewriting the online script

The Clayman Institute team surveyed academic literature, existing programs, and examples in social media to write a new protocol for the online material. Marianne Cooper, a sociologist with the Clayman Institute, played an instrumental role in translating lectures into a new online medium. The team worked closely with each professor to craft a storyboard for their material. “It is a challenge to take an hour long lecture filled with research and academic theories and turn it into a twenty minute talk that is engaging and accessible, yet still deeply educational,” she recalls. “This translation process is not just about shortening lectures. It’s about distilling the main points and key pieces of information that someone needs to understand in order for them to walk away from watching a video with a higher level of insight into the topic.”

To prevent professors from speaking to an echo chamber, each video includes a small audience. “The idea was to give the professors someone to talk to,” says sociologist Sara Jordan-Bloch, a Research Assistant at the Clayman Institute. These audience members had little prior knowledge of the research.

“Another benefit to having an audience was understanding how people absorbed the material,” Jordan-Bloch explains. “When we’d take breaks in filming, for example, audience members would turn to one another and talk about the material. If something wasn’t clear, we’d ask the professors to explain it again, maybe in a different way.”

Voice & Influence’s material extends beyond the lecture. The team engaged three or four community members in each video to offer relevant personal insights and experiences as a complement to the presentation.

“The impetus behind this was to make professors’ material true-to-life, personal, and accessible,” says Jordan-Bloch. "We bridge research and practice by including women telling their own stories and, in doing so, we deepen the viewer's understanding of the material."

Sparking discussions

Combining lecture, interviews, and experience from community members, the videos aim to catalyze viewers into action. Clocking in at about twenty-five minutes, each module seeks to inspire audiences to engage in discussions to deepen their understanding of the material, learn from their peers, and ultimately, use the curriculum to make changes in their lives.

The video is a first step. “This material grabs your attention. It’s meant to engage you on multiple levels, to engage your senses more,” says Tindall, passionately. “It’s all supposed to be short, sweet, and punchy, like a TED talk in your living room.... It’s all about this moment of engaging the viewer.”

And, one view at a time, move us steps closer to gender equality.


A gender lens
exposes gaps in knowledge,
identifies root causes of barriers,
and proposes workable solutions.