Although my work at DoIT:Engage offers me plenty of opportunities to explore the uses of technology in the classroom, I’ve recently been assisting a colleague to incorporate a number of technologies and new media forms into her class in an unofficial status, and have come to recognize some potential pitfalls, as well as some unforeseen benefits, which I hadn’t dealt with previously.
But first, a bit of background (and yes, the names have been omitted to protect the innocent): My friend is a teaching assistant for a spanish composition class here at UW-Madison. There are over a dozen sections of this course, of which she teaches two, and the entire course is overseen & structured by a coordinator. Each TA has a large degree of automomy in developing course plans and determining how to run their sections, with the coordinator responsible for maintaining parity across the course and providing the overall structure. Both my friend and the coordinator are intrigued by the teaching and learning possibilities offered by new forms of technology. Yet neither of them are, in my experience, highly tech-savvy.
In the past, my friend has integrated a number of technologies into the course with varying degrees of assistance and success, some of which I will be covering in a later blog post. However, today I feel the need, as a videographer and instructor (not to mention unabashed geek), to discuss the course wide implementation of a video project framed as an 5 minute application video to a study abroad program.
First, the tech side. At the most basic level this is a simple assignment technology wise, requiring a relatively new computer, a camera, and video editing software (all of which are readily available to students). The final project is to be judged on content, not production quality, so students could simply sit in front of a camera and read their script. But simply reading a script to a camera does not qualify as innovation, as there is no pedagogical benefit of that over having them stand in front of the class and give a speech (truthfully I think having them give a speech would actually be more beneficial). Rather, if you are going to have them produce a video they should learn the basics of how to actually use the form to enhance their message.
And this is where the first major issue arises. In this particular course, the coordinator, as well as most of the TAs, provided no support for the technology or multimedia aspect of the project. The TAs themselves did not receive any training, and only one opportunity (a publicly available “Intro to iMovie” course with room for 30 people offered by DoIT) was made available to the roughly 300 students. While both iMovie and Windows Movie Maker have been developed to be as user friendly as possible, not providing students training or instruction in how to succeed at a given task is unforgivable, particularly when there is a simple solution.
In this case, my friend and I sat down and worked through the project over the course of an afternoon. She developed the script (more on the specifics of the assignment in a later post) and I walked her through both what a storyboard is and how to use one to organize the various media (video, images, music, onscreen text, etc.) for a project. We then filmed her reading the script, imported the video, and walked through the basics of iMovie using her storyboard and materials to complete a rough video. The following day, we conducted two training sessions (one for each section) wherein the students used the same storyboard and materials to construct the beginning of her video. Total time investment: 7 hours. Payoff: Unknown (projects are not due for a few weeks), although the immediate, informal feedback from the students has been highly positive and their stated comfort level with the project has increased.
Looking at the bigger picture, the process above is one which could, and should, be expanded and modified to give both the TAs and the students a better feel for the project and a better chance at gaining something through the experience. Given more time to prepare, I would have implemented the following training outline:
- Develop a written step-by-step training script covering the basics of iMovie and video production, including storyboard development, basic camera operation, quality and use of still images, use of music and sound, and copyright limitations and guidelines.
- Develop a set of unified materials for use in the training process, including a storyboard, videos, audio, stills and text.
- Conduct a training session for the TAs following the script developed above, allowing them to learn the program in the same way their students will, and familiarizing them with the teaching script/plan.
- Require each TA to complete a video similar to those being constructed by the students and make the final products, as well as the components of each, available to all sections.
- Hold training sessions for each section with the TA as the instructor and a technology specialist on-hand for assistance if needed, establishing the TA as qualified to conduct, assist with, and evaluate the project.
Five simple steps. That’s all that would have been required to take this section of the project from ineffective and unsound to effective and pedagogically sound. But the underlying problems would still be there, and that’s where the next post will pick up.