River Connections: Sharing Science through Film

Gabrielle David, Boston College
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Students are given the opportunity to learn a process-based approach to river research, by developing research questions about river form and function in Maine. Students filmed themselves while collecting and analyzing their data. The final product is a 6-minute video, created in Final Cut Pro X, that contained a description of their project,their hypotheses, analysis/results, and conclusions.

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This activity was the final project for an undergraduate course in fluvial geomorphology. This was an optional upper-level course for undergraduates in earth sciences.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students developed an understanding of fluvial geomorphology during both lecture and labs in the first half of the semester. At least two lab periods are needed to help students gain a background in field techniques.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is a culminating project that is integrated with the lab and other activities throughout the semester. Class time is needed to discuss and develop ideas on how to share their research using a video format, rather than writing a paper.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

1) The term project is an opportunity for students to design a small-scale, process-based research project of their own choosing.
2) Students learn how to collect and analyze fluvial geomorphology data in local rivers.
3) Students will connect reach-scale fluvial processes with watershed-scale processes.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

4) Develop a testable hypothesis and appropriate field methods by writing a short (2 - 3 page) research proposal.

Other skills goals for this activity

5) Learn how to create a film in Final Cut Pro
6) Develop video presentation skills by presenting their research and results in a 6 minute video
7) Improve communication and collaboration skills by learning how to engage the general public with their science through film

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity gives students the opportunity to learn a process-based approach to river research, by developing research questions about river form and function. Students will also learn to present their research results in the form of a video. As film becomes increasing popular, scientists are learning methods of engaging the general public through this medium rather than writing an article. Learning to present results as a video will improve students communication skills and help them be able to convey what they are doing as scientists to the general public.

Student Handout (Acrobat (PDF) 98kB Jun19 14)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students needed more time to develop their videos. This project was conducted during the spring semester in Maine. This created problems, because field data could not be collected until April. Students would benefit from earlier instruction on how to create a video and some earlier introduction to field methods. Also, it is essential that a storyboard be turned in prior to the final video being developed. It would also be helpful to have a draft of the video turned in before the final due date. I found that academically successful students, who are used to writing papers, had a harder time with presenting their results using this new format. This activity labor intensive, because students have to collect their data, learn how to analyze their data, and how to create a video. It was also essential to have someone from IT do a training session on how to use the video software. I chose Final Cut Pro for this class, but there is a lot of other software available for making videos. I think it would have been helpful to do a training session earlier in the semester and have a video component added to one of the earlier labs.


The final grade was based on the student's proposal and final video. The video was assessed based on how well students communicated with their intended audience. Both content (purpose of project, hypothesis, analysis, results, and conclusion) and quality of presentation were assessed.

References and Resources