Thursday, February 27, 2014

Experts use two-minute “vlogs” to connect with the public about their research


By Elizabeth Raymer

Portrait of Vidoyen creator Arshia TabriziAcademics and other experts in their field who are looking to engage with the public and educate through video clips now have a platform. It’s called Vidoyen (from “video” and the French word for dean, doyen), and it was launched last winter by Toronto technology lawyer and alumnus Arshia Tabrizi, JD 1998.

“People have described the platform as TED talks meets Twitter,” says Tabrizi. “The idea is to increase public profile for academics … but also to engage with the public. It’s a video blogging platform, but built for integration with social media.”  

A visit to the site during the Sochi Winter Olympics featured videos answering questions such as “What methods do Olympic athletes use to deal with pressure?” And academics are still weighing in on embattled Toronto mayor Rob Ford, including which Shakespearean character he most resembles (with one arguing convincingly in favour of Falstaff).

Close to 100 experts have now signed up to use the platform, Tabrizi says, primarily in Canada, and in the United States, academics such as Roger Keil, an urban studies professor at York University.

Keil started using Vidoyen last May. He has so far posted three videos, including two on Rob Ford which garnered more than  1,300 hits each.

"It’s like a pop song almost, where you have to have some kind of hook” to get attention, he says. Those hooks have paid off for Keil: his videos were the third most viewed on Vidoyen last year.

“I think it’s a good way of communicating, and I’d like to get better at using this format. I think academics should learn shorter formats,” Keil says, adding that he will continue to use Vidoyen for greater accessibility by the public.

It was Tabrizi’s companion interests in technology and public engagement that led him to develop Vidoyen. He graduated from U of T’s first computer engineering class, and after law school became the first articling student at Lang Michener to get hired back to the firm’s IT group. When opportunity beckoned shortly after in Silicon Valley, however, he joined Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Palo Alto, California before returning to Toronto to launch his own practice, Tabrizi Law Office PC, in 2001.

He has since lectured at the Rotman School of Management and Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, as well as the MaRS centre, on technology and start-ups.

While it is still in the testing phase, Vidoyen is free of charge to those who qualify to use it, Tabrizi says. In future, Vidoyen might take advertising, or charge fees.

And in January a handful of Canadian professors began testing Vidoyen as an educational technology platform. Students can go to a Vidoyen page and look at all the videos related to a course.

“It’s a way for professors to save time, and a way for students to anonymously post questions, and engage with other students,” says Tabrizi.

“We’re in early stages still, but we’re always looking for others who want to pilot with us.”