Last week, this article flashed up on twitter: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/02/22/duke-proposes-mandatory-short-video-pitch-accompany-dissertations
Its well worth a read - a Professor in the States is putting forward the idea that all PhD candidates, alongside submitting their dissertations (in the UK normally 60-80,000 words but in the US can be much longer), should have to submit a very short (30, 60, 90 seconds) video laying out what their thesis is about.
The idea is to help students explain their own research quickly and succinctly. To me, it sounds like a great idea. Being able to explain what you are working on, your ideas, your arguments, neatly and clearly is a skill we all need in whatever work we do. In a world like academia where we spend long periods of time working on big projects, its perhaps even more important. But it's not just about helping people to explain what they are working on to others. As any one who has had to do this will know, having to explain something to someone else (especially in a concise form) means you have to understand it completely yourself. The very act of working out how to summarise a big project, I have always found, enables you to understand it better than you did before. Making PhD students think about these summaries throughout the course of their PhD, I would argue, could actually help them in their research and in producing a better final product.
On a lighter note, it would also help with the continuing problem when people ask academics what they are working on, and 10 minutes later as their eyes glaze over, rather wish they hadn't..... 'Would you like the 30, 60 or 90 second version' might now be the reply!