Friday, February 27, 2009

New Look

Boring Blogger Templates
I was getting really tired of the default templates that Blogger offers so I went searching. In my limited training on computers in high school and university, I briefly danced with some html, but nothing that would allow me to do more than change the font size and bold some text. 

Web 2.0 To The Rescue
Web pages that would take hours and hours of work to code and beautiful sidebars with customized content embedded in them are now available at the click of my mouse. Anyways, the template is called Messy Desk which can be found at a cool Blogger template site. The iPhone and the rest of the pictures resemble very closely to what my desk looks like after a busy day in Mactopia.

How Much Do I Love Mac?
The picture says it all.  

Let me know what you think of the new look. It was nice to find something that suits my personality and style. More tech posts to come this weekend!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Arkanada Project

This past week I have been in Vancouver for a Final Cut Pro editing course and there have been many parallels between what I was doing in the lab at Emily Carr University, and the Arakanada Project

In a sentence the Arkanada Project is a "cross border international collaboration" focusing on utilizing web 2.0 tools to assist with learning about television and media arts. 

What is great about this project? Besides, all of the 2.0 technology used such as the ning, wiki, Skype, Youtube and on and on, the heart of it has to do with human connections. Some think that as soon as you add technology, you take out the human parts, but this has proved just the opposite. 

This is much the same with my FCP course this week. We spent 5 days learning about the interface, the viewer, canvas, timeline, and how to do multi-cam editing, sounds, transitions- ad infinitum. Christine Stewart did a wonderful job of delivering the course! The real learning took place as the 4 of us worked through the projects, and found applications of this knowledge in our own circumstances. One wanted to film whales, one wanted to know more for post editing at a professional level, another wanted to better understand the post production world to assist with his videography, and I wanted the whole picture with skills that I can pass on tomorrow to my students, as most teachers do.

Knowledge and application is one thing, but the part of the FCP course that will resonate and linger with me in the connections and REAL WORLD advice I go through discussions with my class counterparts. I learned how to effectively light a green screen for best results, a ton of cool things about movie and TV post production and industry perspectives that would cost thousands from consultants who have years of experience. Thanks Dave and Fred!

This is where the Arkanada Project is proving most valuable. The connections are real between the students in Cold Lake and North Little Rock. The accountability is high because the projects students are created are judged in the opinion of those who mean the most to them. We are very fortunate to work with students in NLRHS who have a lot of skill in the area of the video and television. The global impact will be further emphasized as we create content for instruction of project skills in podcast form on iTunes U and Youtube. Brining other schools into the project is also where I would like to see the project grow. More participation means more idea sharing, truly preparing our students to work in an interconnected global, media hungry world!  

Things to come next week include scheduled Skype calls, which will provide the human contact that looking at photos and sharing video projects on our ning just can't accomplish. I've signed up as part of the Skype In Schools wiki, which has given me excellent resources. If anyone has advice for facilitating first meetings through Skype, please drop me a line on Skype (coolpoolteacher), or comment on this post! I am a novice, casual user with Skype, and perspectives on effective use of Skype would be appreciated.

Until next time!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Film on the Fly

About a month ago I saw a tweet about a cell phone film fest sponsored by the Discovery Channel Education. Last summer I saw Hall Davidson speak at NECC about using cell phones and I was captivated by all of the possibilities of teaching and learning with these devices. His sentiments were much like that of Liz Kolb's: don't try and fight them, use them to your advantage!

Back to the film fest. After commenting to a colleague that I have felt like a hypocrite lately (as I assign video projects and teach about filmmaking). It seems I haven't had the time to make a movie with a new baby and family- blah, blah, bah... it's been a long time.

Insert Film of the Fly cellphone festival into my Saturday afternoon. Janet English did a marvelous job of getting the word out, starting up the ning, and although there were not as many movies made as I would have liked to have seen, it was still a great start. I think the blogs will be buzzing about this one and there will be more participation for her next event: Pi Day!

This event was simple, you get a text message (and an email as backup- great idea Janet!) and a prompt. This time it was:  Everything changed when the box mysteriously arrived at my doorstep. I was hooked instantly. With phone and tripod in hand I was off. 

11 hours later I had filmed, edited, added voiceovers, and exported to 3g format for viewing on cellphones. I wanted this to be readily uploaded to anyone's phone to watch as well. The finished product is called Nap Time Espionage. You can watch it below. 

Classroom Integration

I have done a similar unit with my multi-media class last October. It was called Cellywood. Students made two films, and each time I let them suggest themes which we voted on using our cell phones from One theme was international spies, and the other was about stopping bullying. Students could use their cellphones, digital cameras with video feature, or any of the readily available and cheap video recorders such as the Flip, and Zodak Zi6. It was a big hit! 

The "I want to try this next week" Scoop on Cell Phone Movies
Here's the real deal about using this technology. I experienced, and lived through some technical difficulties that the new-to-technology teacher who has never done something like this before, would find VERY frustrating. 

1. Bluetooth is great for transferring video from a cell phone, but only certain cell phones (like motorola) have an easy drag and drop folder structure in the phone. LG phones and Samsung phones were very challenging. I was using iMacs for all of this. Not all USB connections work with the phone and the computer either. Solution: get the student to try to connect their phone BEFORE they start shooting the project. A workaround for students who are stuck with footage they can't get off their camera is to email themselves the clips. In Canada, students who had Telus and Bell had the most success with this. In the end, I gave out my Motorola Razor phone to many groups, so start asking your staff and friends to donate old phones with video to your class. Make sure you only take them if they have a charger! 

2. Framing shots for the movie. Talk to the students about using a lot of close-ups instead of long-shots. A good mix of medium and close-ups is a good idea. Due to the poor resolution of the video, it will be difficult to see action from far away. Waist up, or about 6 ft away is about the max they should shoot from. 

3. The sound sucks on the phones, so suggest students do voiceovers in Garageband or other program after the fact, and take out the sound from the video altogether. If they NEED the sound, they should be very close to the phone. 

4. Movement is the enemy. I know this is contrary to the point of video, but the more the movement, the grainier the footage. The pixels need to be refreshed faster than the processor in the phone can handle and things don't settle down in the clips until the movement stops. Keeping the phone still in a rigged up tripod with tape is a great idea to help with this. 

5. Settings, settings, settings! Don't forget the settings. Most phones have settings that will allow you to take longer videos and adjust the quality. My Motorola Razor (Telus doesn't have the iPhone yet!) had a default capture time of 10 seconds, so I had to change it to allow longer clips to be recorded. 

Curricular Connections
Is this something that could be a meaningful, positive experience and still be meeting outcomes in the curriculum? You bet. Last semester in my Shakespeare unit with Taming of the Shrew, I had students use Kodak Zi6's to record their interpretation of a short scene from the play. The broad issue of my TOTS unit is to discover whether attitudes and stereotypes of women have changes from Shakespeare's day to now.  From selected scenes, students took the original language and put it into a modern setting of a school. It was part interpretation, part Reader's Theatre. They then had to post their video on the wiki along with a mind map created from which displayed their research from an original source text called The Good and the Baddle

Nap Time Espionage

One of the Bully Videos

So give it a try, keep it connected to the curriculum and remember to have fun! Let me know how things go, I'd love to see and share exemplars and rubrics with anyone out there.