Using Videos to Support Learning with CVI

Videos (and photographs) can provide a very useful way to enhance many areas of learning where there are difficulties due to CVI. In this guide we will explain how, and why.

One of the biggest difficulties many with CVI have, is to understand what is going on around them in 'real-time'.

There are many reasons for this including:

  • The detail is too small to be seen
  • Things may be somewhere you can't see so well, or even at all, for example low down of to one side.
  • Things can move too fast to be seen clearly
  • Background sound can limit how much is seen
  • Focussing on one thing can mean that important sights and sounds (like those of traffic) are not heard
  • Too much clutter, noise or movement can limit what is seen, heard and understood

It's a long list, and in Levels 5, 6, 7 and 8 of our Lessons many more examples are described.

The Real-Time challenges extend to:

  • People - who can't be recognised
  • Facial expressions and gestures - that can't be seen
  • Lessons in school - that are only partly (if at all) accessible
  • Play with other children - which can be limited

Which means...

  • Faces may not be learnt, so people are not recognised, leading to embarrassment or offense.
  • Facial expressions may not be understood, making it difficult to understand the feelings of others
  • Learning can be difficult, leading to learning delays
  • The unwritten rules of play, games and friendship may be difficult to learn.

So, the challenges of real-time experiences can limit pretty much anything and everything, whether it is learning, friendships, or confidence. And it does, we know that. This of course limits what can be learned.

One approach to help is to take real-time, and either photograph or video it, to look at again later, in your own time. This is approach not new. In Universities filming or recording lectures, to review later is used for many reasons, including accessibility support for students.

It's never been easier!

The great news is that recording things (photograph / video) has never been easier, with most people having a mobile phone with a camera.

Once you have filmed something, you can either review it on your phone or camera, or upload it onto a computer. There are many free websites you can sign up to, to create a free account to do this. Two popular providers are YouTube and Vimeo, but there are others. An internet search using 'Where can I upload videos for free?' will show you more options.

With YouTube, you can change the speed of your film, to watch it more slowly. Click here for detailed instructions on how to do this.

Different computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones have different settings, so we are not going to go through all of them, but it is likely you can change the screen size of your video, to watch it on a smaller or larger screen, as needed.

Why? (Brain stuff)

Let's say you are on a day trip to the beautiful English city of Salisbury and are having a guided tour around their medieval cathedral. As you move around, there are other people, talking, there is a guide giving a lot of information, there is a lot of surrounding intricate detail to process. Your brain has to map it all, and re-map it from one moment to the next. It's like a computer screen refreshing itself many times a second. For some with CVI their brain can quickly become tired, which makes learning about Salisbury Cathedral almost impossible.

What you could do, is plan a bit. Before the visit find a free video to watch, as there are free videos covering just about everything now, like the one below maybe:

Video Link:

In your own time, maybe first just listen to it. If there is something you are interested in, or need to understand well, maybe for a school project, then watch it in a quiet room, using the best screen size for you.

Recognising a Tired Brain

It may be that your brain becomes tired doing this. How do you know when your brain is tired? One way is to pause and prompt yourself regularly, and think about what was being explained a few moments earlier....

If you can't remember, then the chances are you won't remember.

  • Can't remember = Short Term Memory, so...
  • Won't remember = Long Term Memory

For this approach to be effective, you need to create memories (explained in more detail in Lesson 2g Memory). If your brain is overloaded or tired, forming memories is much more difficult and can be quite stressful. Take a break. You might only need a few seconds, maybe a few minutes. Think of the computer refreshing the screen many times a second, getting overloaded and freezing - it's a bit like that. By taking a break, which might be just sitting back with your eyes closed and taking some deep breadths, you are letting the computer catch up. Try also having some water or a warm drink, or a healthy snack, as you may be a little dehydrated or need a bit of an energy boost. Both of these will affect learning.

Back to learning about Salisbury Cathedral. If you have listened to the film and watched it, when you go for your tour, you will already have created visual memories from the video, and from the narration, some knowledge of the history. So the real-time challenges have been reduced, because not everything is going to be new.

Not everything is possible to review in advance, like a school class. We think where CVI makes learning more difficult, it is completely reasonable to request that classes be recorded, to review in the child's own time. It is possible that a child may only have missed bits of a class, when maybe they were temporarily distracted or confused. This is not the child's fault. The recordings can then help them fill the gaps. Obviously we feel classes should be as accessible as possible too (see Cluttered Classrooms Paper) but we know this is not the case in many places. Institutional change is often slow, so we want to suggest strategies that can help people with difficulties due to CVI now.

Gordon Dutton gives a practical example from his personal experience of the effectiveness of this approach in his Blog 29 Using video of sound recordings to assist learning.

People are tricky

Recognising faces and facial expressions is particularly complicated, using up a lot of brain processing power. The video below from Gordon Dutton (from Lesson 8b Impaired Facial Recognition explains why processing faces is so much more than 'the sum of their parts'.

It is why many with CVI struggle with recognising faces and facial expressions.

Gordon Dutton explaining why the human face demands so much on the brain to process.Video Link:

The social consequences of these difficulties can be enormous, but...

its...awkward...and can be tricky...because... process a face that is difficult to process, means you have to really look at it, for as long as you need, which might take ages, and some people don't feel comfortable being intently stared at. Also, people move, sometimes all you get is a moment - so how are you expected to learn?

Maybe try applying the same approach. Use a photograph or video of people you know, and review this material in your own time.

We have made some short films to show you:

Let us imagine the young man in this film is a friend.Video Link:

Let us imagine the young man in this photo is a friend. Pause the film to look at his face, the different parts and put them all together, then play it again for a few seconds and pause it again and take another look. Next, look at his facial expressions (they are deliberately a bit exaggerated in these films) - what do you think they mean?

What does this expression mean?What does this expression mean?

If you are not sure, ask someone else - most expressions are subtle and open to different interpretations, this is difficult for many people!

Then...think about real life, which is noisy - here's the same film with background noise added:

Video with added background noise.Video Link:

How different is that for you? Think of your brain refreshing like the computer. The noise gives it the equivalent of another massive computer programme to run at the same time.

Learn About Your Own Brain

With the videos you make, you can start to learn about your own brain. Under what conditions does it work well? Like the computer easily refreshing. And what puts too many demands on it, like when it is too noisy meaning you may miss things, or find learning (forming those important memories) more difficult, leading to misunderstanding and confusion.

Here is your friend again, but with a cluttered background:

Is your friend as easy to recognise with a cluttered background?Video Link:

How easy is he to recognise now, compared to having the clear background?

Let's add some background noise...

Video with added background noise.Video Link:

Now we are getting closer to real life experiences, which are often cluttered and noisy. We have not added movement, which is like another enormous programme for your brain to handle and refresh several times a second.

So videos and photos can help you:

  • Build memories in advance, to prepare for things (as with Salisbury Cathedral example), which will make learning easier and experiences more enjoyable.
  • Help review experiences, like reviewing a class, to fill in missing 'gaps', or correct understanding where there may have been confusion
  • Help build up picture images of what people you know look like
  • Learn about your own performance (see Gordon Dutton's Blog 29)
  • Help learn about different facial expressions (please also see Lesson 8c Impaired Facial Expression Recognition, this is such an important area to understand).
  • Learn about your own brain, and what conditions create difficulties, and when to take a break.

Getting to understand how your own brain works for you, is one of the most empowering and effective tools you can have.


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At CVI Scotland we are devoted to helping people understand cerebral visual impairments, and together working towards developing the understanding of this complex condition.