It’s hard to make academic work look interesting on the Internet. And the job market in 2017 requires new skillsets.

Train college students to make “explainer” videos.

Updated Oct. 23rd at 11:29pm by Jason Pontius

I really enjoyed this “explainer” video from Vox, produced by Estelle Caswell, about the secret rhythm behind a Radiohead song. It’s part of their new series on music called “Earworm”:


It’s based on research by Warren Lain, who made his own video on the topic several months earlier:


Do you notice a difference?

Nothing against Warren— it was his idea in the first place, after all— but the Vox video is a LOT more compelling and entertaining. That’s largely because it’s made by a company that is specializing in videos like this— succinct, well illustrated, highly watchable little movies on topics of popular interest.  

It occurred to me watching this that the skills it took to make this video are very relevant to modern academic work. There’s a problem we encounter frequently in our web design projects: Academic research might be genuinely interesting— especially to a prospective student with an interest in the subject matter— but it tends to be pretty dreary-looking. With certain exceptionsresearch isn’t photogenic.

The beauty of the “explainer” video, when done right, is that it can provide a fast-paced, engaging treatment of academic topics that might not seem to lend themselves to visual treatments. Here’s a video about Vincent van Gogh’s travels. Here’s another one about invisible oil patterns on bowling lanes, and another about the difficulty of translating the Harry Potter books. (These are all from Vox, in part because Vox is leading the way on “explainer” content, and in part because it saves time.) These are all topics that could have been relatively dry, but the treatment in these videos makes the subject matter more digestible and interesting.

Explainer videos are definitely a thing; companies are popping up all over the place (well, mostly overseas, it would seem) to help companies make them. At their best, they require a pretty wide variety of skills: audio and video editing, a strong sense of pacing, the ability to create and sustain a compelling narrative. With that in mind we see a potential win-win situation here.

If schools offered more training in both the practical and intangible skillsets needed to produce videos like these, they’d be preparing their students for some of the most cutting-edge media jobs of 2017 and beyond— and the work they’d create along the way could help the schools themselves make the work of academic research more tangible and engaging, to help serve their own marketing needs.

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