Video enhances publications

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Nicola Davies looks at the benefits and challenges of including video in scholarly resources and explores the future of this approach

There is a trend towards the inclusion of video in journal articles, databases and other scholarly resources.

One company that is embracing this trend is SAGE; early next year, the company will launch its first set of video collections. ‘The collections comprise educational videos for lecturers, academics, researchers and postgraduate students,’ said Kiren Shoman, executive director, editorial, SAGE. ‘Producing video content is a whole new method of engagement with the academic audience,’ she explained.

This is certainly the experience that the Institute of Physics Publishing (IOP) reports. In 2011 the publisher began publishing video abstracts for some of its journal articles; a trend it says has been received positively by researchers.

IOP author Germain Rousseaux of the Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis, France, said: ‘Research is a human journey. To meet a researcher through an internet video is to be part of this adventure. Video abstracts humanise this journey.’

Guillame Wright, publisher of Environmental Research Letters at IOP, added: ‘In making the video abstracts, our authors have an opportunity to explore and explain their work to a much broader audience. It helps them go beyond the formal structure of the journal article and helps bring their work to life, in essence to tell the story of their article. This is a critical service for many, especially researchers being asked to write impact stories of their research to justify their next grant. For others, it helps them engage with the public outreach requirements of many funders.’ He added that videos appeal to a broader audience as they help make complex science accessible to non-researchers such as policy-makers, the media and the wider public.

Video can also help to bring out human connections in other ways. Primary-source publisher Alexander Street Press has built its business around video. It provides historical video collections that, for example, enable researchers to see broadcasts from different sides during a war. For example, a documentary about the nuclear bombs detonated in Japan in 1945 includes archival footage of pivotal individuals and their opinions and fears concerning nuclear weapons, including Einstein, Oppenheimer, Truman, Stalin and Reagan.

Another way that video is being used in scholarship is to help engage with a wider audience and help with learning and professional development. This is something that IET is doing with its broadband television service, which will provide downloadable videos by practising engineers, technologists and key industry speakers streamed on-demand. These programmes will include events, lectures, training videos, interviews, news, and presentations that can be synced with the speaker’s slideshows.

Enhancing understanding

In addition, The Journal of Engineering from the IET has a video discussion on bridging the gap between academia and industry with leaders in both fields. Helen Dyball, executive editor for Letters at IET, said: ‘In journal articles, the inclusion of a video can greatly enhance the reader’s understanding of the research.’

For example, a short video demonstration of the operation of an experiment or piece of apparatus gives an instant visual that otherwise often needs a significant amount of text to be described in the same level of detail.

She also noted that journals might place restrictions on the length of text that can be included in a paper, or charge authors extra for additional pages. For this reason, the inclusion of a video is an attractive way to ensure that the detail is communicated to the reader. It can allow the author to present a more convincing case as readers can see the piece of research in action. ‘The reader can also benefit as a video can significantly cut down the amount of time that they need to spend reading the paper; an attractive prospect for the busy researcher who is required to keep up to date with the increasing volume of literature,’ said Dyball.

Shoman, of SAGE, agreed on the benefits: ‘The quality of the journal article still stands for itself, but the increasing production of digital, video content alongside this supports both the impact of and accessibility of content – speaking to different researchers’ learning styles; for instance, some people learn better visually and as such video has a great impact,’ she noted. ‘The continued onset of digital learning is about adapting to these changing learning styles and ensuring that we are at the forefront of supporting the needs of the researchers, learning more about the challenges and opportunities of learning styles and how they wish to engage with the material.’

Her colleague, Martha Sedgwick, added: ‘From focus groups, we have found that video increases the likelihood of people staying within the subject or feeling that they are getting more from the subject. So the opportunity is certainly there to ensure that our authors’ work is more accessible and used by the research community.’

While the SAGE video collections and journal articles are separate from each other, the company is integrating video and other resources into some collections. ‘We have some journals that have associated vodcasts (video on demand broadcasting), and our SAGE Research Methods and Encyclopaedias have videos alongside the text content for online delivery,’ explained Sedgwick.


There are many opportunities but also a number of challenges, whichever way publishers choose to use video. One of these is file size. ‘On our side of things, there are challenges around handling the large files, particularly for authors to get the files to us. We had to put a new procedure in place because the videos are accepted outside of the usual peer-review system,’ said IOP’s Wright.

Mark Reynard, business manager at (the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s broadband television service) agreed: ‘A video or online corporate/institutional TV channel creates a number of unique issues over standard document hosted solutions as each individual video can be thousands of times larger than a PDF document or text-based object. This creates large issues surrounding storage.’

Related to this is the challenge of bandwidth. Technology company Semantico is involved with video projects for some of its clients. Clare Wratten, the company’s PR and marketing manager, said: ‘Serving video content is naturally more bandwidth-intensive than HTML pages and therefore we advise the use of a CDN (content delivery network) service.’

Cloud-hosted services, such as Amazon CloudFront or Brightcove, she said, ensure that users have an optimum streaming experience and flexible storage. She added that providing high editorial quality for a low production cost is another challenge.

Managing quality requires new processes for video, according to Wright of IOP: ‘We had to come up with new processes to manage the editorial challenges around areas such as quality control and permissions. Permissions were tricky because you have to ensure that you have all the right permissions if the researcher has introduced new images and artwork beyond the original article.’

Such issues become more pronounced when the video content may have been produced initially for somebody else.

Adam Gardner, Europe general manager of Alexander Street Press, said one of the challenges for that company is licensing content. ‘Audio/visual IPs normally charge fees/expect royalties per second of content used. That is not appropriate for the academic market,’ he explained.

There are also issues with old materials. ‘We license a lot of old materials,’ said Gardner, who explained that degradation of celluloid film is one potential problem.

Involvement of third parties can be tricky too, as Reynard of IET noted. ‘The viewer needs to feel that they are watching the video from the site they are on while the video is streamed, smoothly and stutter free, from a third party,’ he observed.

Transcription, metadata and discovery

With any electronic resources for researchers, discovery is a paramount consideration for usefulness to researchers. The first step towards this is transcription.

Semantico’s Wratten noted: ‘Video content also offers the exciting prospect of being able to search across the transcript, greatly improving their discoverability.’

Martha Sedgwick, executive director of product innovation at SAGE, said: ‘Every video that we produce will have a corresponding transcript, which will include a large amount of metadata associated with that video, enhancing its searchability. The videos will also be supported by abstracts on our online platforms.’ All of this helps optimise searching for the videos, both on open free web and within the platform using a full text search within the transcript.

Gardner described a similar approach at Alexander Street Press: ‘We transcribe every word spoken, regardless of idiom, dialect or slang. We do this manually, using people rather than machines. This is a huge task but it is vital for the searchability of content.’

After videos have been transcribed, metadata can be added, which enables indexing and searching. However, Gardner noted that ‘accurate, sophisticated (semantic) indexing is very difficult and costly’.

He added that, when searching for videos on the internet, there is no integration with other materials (inbound/outbound linking) or systems (discovery layers, LMS/VLE, MARC records) and searchers are unlikely to find high-quality material.

He said: ‘You can’t search precisely, you can’t be sure the content you find is legal or that it will be there tomorrow, and you can’t search within the content item.’

Gardner said Alexander Street Press pre-selects the best content in specific disciplines, clears copyright, integrates with the searchers’ systems and ensures there’s a permanent link to the content.

Sedgwick said that SAGE will be using text-mining tools and semantic enrichment to create relationships between content. She explains: ‘The end goal is that our videos will sit alongside the book and reference material, and will be linked to and from our book and journal content so that all of our resources will be connected and inter-searchable.’

‘The searching facility on any video site is only as good as the metadata and enriched data attached to each entity,’ noted Reynard. He said that from the very outset of creating, IET has added large amounts of essential metadata for every video produced: ‘This leaves us in a fantastic position of being able to give very specific search results to keywords while also recommending other interesting media and documents that relate to the results.’

Reynard also noted that publishers of video content need to consider how they will gather usage data. He explained that any usage data and statistics such as page views are recorded from the website, while viewing statistics of videos associated with that page are recorded at the video server level through the player. ‘A good TV website will bring all these things together offering a variety of useful stats to administrators,’ he said.

He added that metadata stored in databases needs to be intrinsically attached to a video record while utilised by the website, which can create difficulties in how video platforms are created.

Wider experiences

The increased use of video is not, of course, a solely scholarly activity. Like many trends, it mirrors activities in the wider internet. Mainstream newspaper and television sites are often great examples of embedding video within their text content to enrich the material and provide a different way of engaging with news.

‘Studies are showing increasing usage of video in the classroom, with reports such as 92 per cent of faculty saying they use video in teaching,’ observed Shoman of SAGE. ‘We are engaging with a new generation of students who have grown up in the digital world. Many students go to YouTube first rather than Google – we have to adapt to the environment and the preferences of the students within this. Being successful is about adapting to changing student engagement and learning.’

However, Shoman also noted: ‘Content stays at the centre. Part of this is ensuring that this high-quality content is valuing the author and what the author has to say, while ensuring it meets market and reader needs.’

The use of video in academic publications is still in its infancy, but there are some exciting initiatives on the horizon. Statistics from McGraw-Hill (graphs 1 and 2) regarding video usage on its Access Engineering Library platform show a growing trend through a year-on-year increase in monthly video views.

IOP’s Wright noted: ‘We are also seeing an emerging trend that papers with videos may have a citation advantage. We are tracking this with interest,’ although he added that it is still early days.

While there are still challenges facing the incorporation of video into publications, they are by no means insurmountable and video looks set to be an important component of academic publications. As Daniel Smith, head of academic publishing at IET, predicted, ‘Overall, video is an integral part of the future.’

Nicola Davies is a UK-based freelance journalist and former academic researcher