Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jack of All Trades...Master of Some?

Some things are going on in my brain since my recent trip to Arkansas. A LOT of things are. After ten years of teaching I feel like I've only hit my stride in the past three, but I'm struggling to wrap my head around the organization needed to offer the specialized, yet diverse and open media arts course that I would like to have.

In terms of what I'm struggling in my multimedia class, a couple broad statements might help set the stage for the point of this post:

1. I believe that students who see their teacher passionate about something are more likely to buy in.

2. I believe that students are more engaged in their own learning when they have input into the direction of their learning to specialize in areas of interest.

Statement 1: Teacher Passion
I might also call this being the 'Nerdy Teacher'. I remember those teachers that where so passionate about their subject that they lived and breathed what they taught. Hopefully my students can see this about me. It's important for students to see teachers as humans and having passions and interests. Passion for the job and subject comes in many forms, but if that isn't shared with students, there can be a disconnect. My issue is that there are so many things I'm interested in doing in the classroom that I find it difficult to focus my own teaching.

Statement 2: Student Input
Giving students the power to have a say in what they are going to learn: a 'new' concept in education! Within multimedia I have the fortune to be able to offer students the chance to design their own projects to achieve outcomes in the modules. The problem for me right now is working with students to be able to recognize and communicate their learning based on the outcomes. One direction where I see my course going is to an individualized learning model where students pick and choose their path through the course, developing an 'un-course' that is 100% customized. It's what I do when I want to learn something so why not let them try?

The biggest problem with creating a student customized course is the institution of school itself. First, I think students are pre-programmed and trained in school to be passive learners. They know how to play "the game of school." Students have become experts at dissecting really quickly what is most important in each assignment from what a teacher tells them. I see it around me all the time. Students are working on posters in the library for a parti
cular class. They spend hours of time making the posters look great because they are still getting marks for use of colour and neatness!! ARRRGGHHH! Very frustrating. In this case students know what's really important to the teacher is not the content, the concept, or big idea, but rather the flashy shiny stuff. I remember when Powerpoint was thought of by many as such a great educational tool. While it can be, too often teachers who didn't know how to use it as a tool, were enamoured by the glitz and awarded greater marks because of it.

So Where Does This Leave Me?
I recently commented in an email to Dean Senn (who is blogging now and that's just awsome) that this kind of thinking actually keeps my up at night. In the next few weeks I need to wrap my brain around how I'm actually going to pull off giving all students the power to decide of the projects they want to complete. Some might be doing animation, some might be doing TV, some video, and some won't know what they want to do. Perhaps this is why I feel like a Jack of all trades, and a master of some. (My own Jack is on the left)The reality of facilitating true student choice may be too much to handle for me right now, but I'm going to see this one through. The greatest detractor to a 100% customized course based on students needs is that it takes a ton of work. This is going to test my own organizational skills in this uncharted territory. I think I have an idea of how to combine the idea of student choice with my other desire to have students who work to develop skill sets they can draw from when they leave high school. All the while I feel like that to offer this diversified choice in class, my own skills are diminishing in value. Perhaps I'm going to need to get used to being the facilitator who fosters student interest rather than an expert in one field of editing or animation, or photography. More on that to come....

Any thoughts? Comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated on this one folks!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Presenting At Institute Day


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Letting Students Own Their Learning

Today was a busy day. So much going on at once and Jim has it down to a science, or art, whichever you'd prefer. I'd say its a little of both. Yesterday I was on camera and got to do a pan to key, and today I was in the control room. Jim took a few pics of the crew working for me to share with y'all (Arkansas is rubbing off on me!) He took the pics with his iPhone 4. The more he uses this device the more I want one, but that's for another post.

Students start class at 8:40 with a production meeting. The director, in this case it's a girl named Lashayla goes over who is doing what. It's her job to keep everyone in line, and she does a great job. You need to be friendly and approachable as a director, but know when to boss people into line. If students in positions are absent the rest must step up and get to work! Missing today was a camera operator so the sports anchor said he would do it. All sports and weather are recorded within 20 minutes of the opening production meeting. This is to ensure that all segments including story packages can be loaded into a timeline in Final Cut Pro prior to the actual broadcast. Weather and spots are both done in front of a green (chroma) screen to add graphics. The weather girl creates graphics for the background in Keynote and simply uses a wireless clicker to go from one graphic to the next with a quick cross dissolve. Today's weather was special because she included the weather from my home town, Cold Lake, Alberta for the North Little Rock High students to see.

One thing that impressed me is that Jim lets the students do their jobs. He's running around putting out little fires and giving 1:1 help to those who need it, but he stays out of the broadcast.
Students are given that chance to really own the news, and they do it well. After doing the news for a few weeks already these students really know their stuff. Jobs in the news room include the director, technical director, graphics creator, copy writer (scripting), sound controller, camera operators, anchors, and reporters of many kinds. ALL anchors must shoot, edit and submit news packages for the broadcast They are not simply talking heads. Anchors are rotated often so several people get the practice at that position.

This is the ultimate learning environment with REAL pressure. At the last minute the birthday graphic wasn't exporting so they couldn't do the birthdays and the segment had to be scrapped. The final script was already printed, so the director had to tell the teleprompter operator, the anchors and technical director to scratch it. They realized that a graphic for beside the anchor in a pan to key was on the wrong side so the anchors had to remember to get out of the way of the panning camera on their partner.

After all segments are pre-recorded and dropped into a timeline in Final Cut Pro the anchors go to work. They use the teleprompters to read the scripts, and introduce the packages. The audio went dead on one of the anchor's mics so they had to work to find a solution fast. All of this was going on at a furious pace while students from another school came by to observe the newscast. The sports reporter was then told that the audio was blown out on his package and he needed to rerecord it. He quickly popped into another room, got the levels he needed and dropped the revised package onto the server in Quicktime format to be picked up and put into the master timeline in Final Cut. The Daily News was ready to begin!

I sat beside the sound board and had a student whisper to me, "It's cold in Canada, eh?" and smiled. With only 15 minutes to go in the period the students where cutting it close because the news is usually around 7-10 minutes.

The real world pressure of getting the broadcast done on time really made them perform. Ths pressure is in an environment where students work hard and are supported by each other to do a great job. Jim has high expectations and therefore the students have high expectations. It was pleasure to see the behind the scenes of the operation at the Daily News at NLRHS! I'm going to take back so many great ideas to Cold Lake High School, I can't wait to share them with my students and let them work out how we can do the news so they can truly own their authentic learning.

Getting down to work at North Little Rock High

Monday at North Little Rock High School was awesome. Each class was full of action, especially Jim's block 1 TV production class. These students have the TV news down to a fine art. One student wasn't around so I got to operate a camera again. Students introduced a pan to key in this newscast for the first time. This involved me panning the camera to the left of the anchor while the Technical Director (a student of course) put up text and graphics that accompanied the announcement the anchor was talking about. I'll admit I was nervous, but pulled it off in the end.

In preparation for the newscast students were finishing editing segments, writing the script for the teleprompters, creating graphics, pre-recording the sports and weather segments, setting up the camera positions, adding the intro and ending credits. Each student is given a job to do for the news which are all supervised by the student director. This semester she is doing great work. It's a delicate thing to be a director to keep the others motivated while keeping them on task. Sometimes you need to be bossy and not be a friend. It's a cool environment to be in. After the show is recorded a copy is made for the entire student body to watch after the reading period. In the end the result was great, and my pan to key motion was just fine.

After school Jim took me over to a media company called Clear Channel. His friend Tom Wood gave us a behind the scenes look at their 5 radio stations in the building. Tom has been in the business as long as I've been alive.

We were appreciative of the insights that he gave us about how modern radio stations are staying current with listeners and what they are doing to be competitive against internet and satellite radio. Clear Channel is with the pack in terms of technology and even has it's own iPhone app for me to listen to back in Canada. Tom let us sit in as he pre-recorded a 15 minute segment about a charity whiffle ball tournament that will be played later on in the week. This visit really peaked my interest and gave me tons of ideas about starting a radio station via the internet at Cold Lake High School.

Monday, October 18, 2010

School Spirit Arkansas Style

Arriving in Arkansas this past Friday I was a bit nervous. I've been looking forward to this trip down to see my American friend and now co-collaborator/conspirator Jim Billings at North Little Rock High School for a long time. Amidst all of the heated debate of public vs. private/charter schools and the so-called crisis in education, what I found on day
confirms so much of what we already know about public education. Public education is sometimes about the standardized tests, reading scores and accountability but at North Little Rock and so many schools there is so much more than that. I challenge any reformer to try to put a test score on what I've seen so far.

Getting off the plane Jim threw me into his world. In the short drive I got a whirlwind overview of my week and within a few minutes we were at his school. This is a beautiful building.
Built in 1929 it is something to behold. The floors are amazing, the architecture is astounding. A walk in the halls really makes you feel like you're a part of something great.

I met a few students who were giving their time Friday night help broadcast the football game. Being from Canada I'm not used to seeing football on this scale. From the stadium, the fans of all ages dressed in Charging Wildcats gear to the giant rosters of both teams, it was a treat to see. The student section was packed. Alumni from the North Little Rock High School Class of '65 had reserved seating that night.

Despite the hopes of several young ladies, only one was crowned Homecoming Queen that night right before kickoff. All of the students working the cameras (which I got to operate!) were pumped to see their home team defeat the local rival team.

All of them gave up their Friday night to work the broadcast which is sent out to thousands of people on cable and re-run twice more on Saturday.

Jim has done these games for years giving students real life experience doing authentic project work. It was a great first glimpse of the work that he does and the dedication his students have to his program. Test that! Go Charging Wildcats!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Student Learning through Video Screen Captures

I'm away this week and I am only teaching 1.5 days in the next 9. Students current projects to create a 30 second radio ad and print ad for a 'client' in the school were due today. They have two final projects to complete in this unit.

The problem with being away so much is that the project assigned is is to edit a 90 second demo for a local dentist who flies a stunt plane, and edit it using Final Cut. Final Cut isn't something that you just jump into with students while they have a sub, but that's exactly what I'm attempting to do. Here's what I've got in store for them.

Students will:
1. create their own music in Aviary's Myna
2. learn to import footage into Final Cut
3. create markers and put edits on the beat of the music
4. select appropriate clips from the mass of 8GB worth of footage
5. learn to edit a sequence of clips together
6. add ending credits to their project

What's fun about this is that I get to tell the story of how we got the footage. We literally duct taped the HD cameras to the tails of the planes! I also laid down behind the plane and took a shot of the takeoff while taking several rocks in the face at the same time! Here's what the night version of our edit looked like. My friend edited it for the pilot who submitted it to be approved as a demonstrator at an airshow. I provided some Final Cut assistance with workflow and technical assistance while editing.

With this and one other video of a daytime routine edited for the pilot, I presented them as exemplars for what I was looking for from the students.

The twist on this project was that I am going to be away for much of it. Students will need to do all of the learning on their own. I chose to create video screen captures of the steps using Jing. Many of you have heard of and used Jing. The SWF files it creates are very small, the embed codes are easily copied and the 5 minute time limit on the recordings make sure you are concise and to the point. One drawback is that I captured such a large area on my screen that it's sometimes difficult to see everything that I'm demonstrating on the embedded videos on the class wiki. This is why I just linked the videos. I recommend you get a Jing Pro account, which I do, but was unable to get it to register with my email so I had to use the free side. It is still an amazing video and image capture tool.
Doing all of this took a TON of work, but in the end the final result is a decent series of videos for students to follow which can be used again and again. To assist the sub while I'm away I have also shared the names of 5 or 6 kids who are 'pro' at what they do, with previous Final Cut experience. They have agreed to be assistants to anyone with problems over the next 9 days, and even when I am back.

In the end I'm looking at what portion of the learning can be self directed and then supported with student expertise within the class. No better chance that when I'm away for an extended period of time!

The entire project is covered in detail on the project wiki page. Feel free to check them out. Any comments about the approach and assessments would be appreciated.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Arkanada Revived?

With so much of our time spent isolated in our class the power of the PLN has never been so apparent in my life than the Arkanada Project. I've been lucky enough to collaborate with Jim Billings from North Little Rock High into this, our 3rd year. As part of the project we also worked with another great ADE, Eric Moccio from St. Catherines. The first year was great, last year as quiet (I take full blame for this) and now I'm excited to get things rolling again.

The main communication method for sharing projects, ideas, forum, etc was our ning. Now that Ning is costing us money it's not an option. (I need more than the basic level of Ning because of all the video content). I'm decided that Youtube is going to be the medium of choice for sharing which cuts out another level of signup and account creation for students.

I'm on my way down to Arkansas this coming Friday. Luckily I've been able to get the funding for my flight and sub costs to go and participate in some of the best PD that I will ever get. It's what amounts to job shadowing but with a twist: I'm going to be put to work in everything that Jim does. They've even sent out a press release about my arrival!

September 7, 2010
North Little Rock, Arkansas......Jared Nichol, a teacher and rugby coach from Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada is coming to visit North Little Rock High School to work with North Little Rock television students and Jim Billings, television instructor at North Little Rock High School. Jared wrote a grant to fund his trip so he could experience first-hand, a high school television program from the lower 48 states. Jared and Jim Billings, both Apple Distinguished Educators, have been corresponding for the past two years. During his research, Jared located the North Little Rock School District website and the North Little Rock television students. Mr. Billings has been working with Jared and his students via blogs and video exchanges.
Jared will be in North Little Rock from October 15-22, 2010 to experience students at North Little Rock television produce a football game, the daily news, and The Good News show. He is excited about engaging students in a joint Arkansas/Canada (Arkanada) project.

Here are a few things that I'm told I'll be participating in:
1. Broadcasting a high school football game to local cable
2. Supervising and experiencing Homecoming at a US High School
3. Commuting 1hr + to school each morning
4. Touring CBS affiliate TV stations
5. Taking part in the students' television news broadcasts
6. Taking a Final Cut Pro Exam
7. Faculty staff meeting
8. Teaching students how to talk with a Canadian accent! :)

I'm sure there's more in store as well! Every couple of days Jim has been emailing me to tell me of another opportunity he's arranged with me. I plan to blog daily while I'm there including video for my students back home.

Stepping back for a moment it's amazing that we've been able to connect. It's really all because of the willingness of both involved to use technology available to us to SHARE our ideas. Jim has been a great mentor to me and hopefully some of what I've been doing has rubbed off on him too!

See you Friday Arkansas!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Connecting to Experts in Multimedia

One goal this fall that I have is to connect to experts in the 'real world' with everything our multimedia class does. Recently we had an awesome experience with James Schutz from Transcend Coffee. In previous Language Arts classes I have invited a poet to talk to my students, but this was the first time I've done it with multimedia.

James in the Marketing Director over at Transcend. I am a big fan of the coffee, and after I had tweeted that our class was looking to connect with people about advertising and promotions, it was suggested to me that James was the one to contact. We skyped a week in advance about what our class was up to and set up a time for him to Skype into my 2 media arts classes. He generously shipped us up a couple pounds of Transcend coffee (yum!) so our class could drink the coffee as we Skyped! (Is Skype a verb now? I think so....)

James and the Transcend crew believe in the power of SoMe. They are active users of Twitter (@transcendcoffee), maintain an extensive blog and have great video blogs that James shoots and edits. They are passionate about their product.

Students asked questions in advance on a Google Form and came up with pretty good questions related to advertising and design. Some were not on task, but hey, this is a high school option class after all. This little tool help gather all questions quickly and students were safe to ask anything without feeling awkward.

With caffeine pumping through our veins, we enjoyed hearing from James' story, about how he came to be the marketing guru at Transcend, what his educational background is, and the projects he has initiated since he joined the team.

The highlight of the session was when James spoke about the importance of identity, brand identity and the idea of having a great logo. In his words perhaps the greatest challenge of a marketing group is to come up with an idea for, and design a logo. Case in point is his description of how the Fedex logo is a lesson in simplicity as well as the importance of negative space. Take a moment to watch the "a ha" moment my students had with him!

It was one of those great teaching moments to see the students make the connection between what they had learned in class with something that is actually used in the real world. It truly made my year so far.

Now that we have successfully invited an expert into the class via Skype, I am thinking about where this should go. Without a doubt, I want each project we do to have a connection to an expert that can help us with a greater understanding or 'real world' picture. Even the phrase 'real world' has a catch. It implies that what we are doing in my class isn't a part of the real world. Maybe we need to stop thinking of our classes as something so separate and isolated from the outside world. If I was trying to learn about advertising as a professional and I needed help in designing a logo, I would do just as our class did: find an expert who did and ask them to consult with me and assist.

That's a whole other can of worms for another post....

Perhaps my next challenge will be for students to make a connection to someone or some company to get expert opinion and support into our classroom. Any ideas as to how to approach this?

Thanks again to James Schutz from Transcend Coffee for his time and expertise. I look forward to working with him and sharing over a cappuccino soon!