Teaching in today’s world is more than the three R’s… or computer use, for that fact. Video is now used for school newscasts, to interest kids about history or inspire budding video producers.
So your school has decided to incorporate a video program into its curriculum, and you have been nominated as the new “video person. Calm down! Don’t fret. Help is on the way. In this article, we will take a look at what goes into setting up a program, how you can create videos that can be used by the entire school district to motivate students and the various pitfalls and concerns of working with video in the educational setting.
Getting Your Gear Together
To set up a video program in your school, all you need is time, enthusiasm, a little bit of equipment, the pages of Videomaker and an idea of the program your administration has in mind.
You will have to provide the time and enthusiasm yourself. Video production is a wonderfully creative endeavor, but it does take a bit of time to train yourself and then your students to the point where your programs are viewable without a dose of Dramamine prior to screenings. Don’t expect wonderful things the first week, but, with today’s students so immersed in the video culture, you will be surprised by the quality of video your students can achieve in a short amount of time. Your enthusiasm and hands-on guidance will go a long way to make your program successful.
The equipment part of the equation is becoming easier every day. All you need to create a viable program are some computers, Mini DV cameras on tripods, FireWire cables and some microphones and mic cables with mini connectors. New computers will have simple editing programs already installed. iMovie (Macs) or Windows Movie Maker (Windows) can create very nice productions. You will need a lot of internal memory (more than 30GB) and at least 1GB of RAM. You will also have to make sure that the computers have DVD burners and DVD creation programs, like iDVD on the Mac (already installed) or Roxio MyDVD 9 for Windows (available at around $50).
There are many Mini DV cameras on the market. Look for a camera that has manual controls, an external audio connection, mic input and minimal special effects. The special effects are just the manufacturer’s way to wow the general public and will only create problems for you in the classroom. Special effects should be saved for the editing process, and removing all the bells and whistles makes the cameras cheaper!
How much equipment you will need depends on what you are doing. If you are producing magazine-style programs and stand-alone productions, you will need a camera kit and editor for every 3 to 5 students. For multi-camera “broadcast programs, you will need a studio with lights, a set of some kind, a video switcher, monitors for every camera, a preview and program monitor, video decks for recording and playback and a character generator for credits. Studio production is a cost-intensive proposition, and you must think it out carefully, with some external guidance. It is better to start with the simple, student-produced programs before venturing into the world of multi-camera production.
Videomaker is a wonderful source for camera and other equipment purchase guides and instructive articles on how to do just about anything with a camera, microphone or editor. There is a virtual classroom between its pages, and its articles are in use around the world at all levels, from elementary school programs to universities.
Setting Up a Video Program
As for the type of program you may create, each of the various options has its advantages and disadvantages. If your administration envisions a mini-broadcast station, explain that you would need a studio of some sort and access to a distribution system to get your programming to district classrooms, cafeterias and cable outlets. You may be able to work out a deal with your local cable provider to install a connection in your studios that will enable you to “broadcast to the local cable station when you have programming available. You may also be able to get a channel dedicated to the district, but 24 hours a day is a lot of programming, and you will need something to fill that time and the equipment to get it programmed. This could run into quite a few dollars. Most districts have some kind of billboard system playing when they are not providing original programming. Your cable provider may be able to help you set up such a system, but, as with any kind of programming, it takes a great deal of time to set up and maintain. You would have to have students assigned to keep the billboard system up-to-date and student producers, talent and crews to create the “live or “live to tape programming you would place throughout the program schedule. This can be a monumental task if you just have a few students in your program. However, if you find yourself bursting at the seams with students, every one of them could have a job in your cable station.
A smaller program might consist of a group of students who produce long-form programs that highlight various aspects of school life, sports or the arts. They may even create small narrative shorts. Students can learn a lot about video production by creating magazine-style programs that include a little bit of everything. By working out a deal with your cable provider, you can have your student productions highlighted at different times on the cable access channel. In most cases, all you have to do is provide the cable provider with a DVD of your students’ work, and they put it into their schedule. This type of programming emphasizes video production and editing without the problems of “live production. However, it does limit the student’s exposure to the pressures of keeping schedules and working without the safety net provided by the editor.
What to Shoot?
Video has become a very visible part of the school experience. The types of videos you can have your students create may include event productions, such as plays and concerts that are public domain and do not require production rights, concerts and, of course, sporting events. The students can produce informational videos, messages from the principal and virtual open houses that look at various academic departments. If you do create a “broadcast station, your students can produce daily newscasts, complete with sports reports and weather.
Video yearbooks have become a huge part of school life. Instead of having the students paying an outside vendor to produce their yearbook, have your class work on it throughout the year. This will create an opportunity to create a product that everyone will see and watch for years.
Finally, don’t forget the classroom. Video can be a very powerful learning tool. By joining forces between your video crew and the theatre, you might be able to create reenactments for history classes, introduce science students to historical figures and create math classes that do more than put the students to sleep! Your students’ imaginations are a great asset. Take advantage of them! Give the students a subject, and see if they can come up with creative ways to present the material. Have them create instructional mini-comedies showing how to balance a checkbook, figure out compound interest or calculate gas mileage of hybrids versus gas-guzzlers. Walk your students through a cemetery and have them create History-Channel-like mini-documentaries on the people they find amongst the grave markers. Along the way, the students will learn documentary techniques, as well as production planning, producing, directing, audio recording, shooting and editing techniques.
That Legal Stuff
There are a few things you have to be aware of when you are producing video for schools.
One of the biggest topics is the legal aspect of video production. Before you even turn on a camera, seek the full cooperation of your school’s parent-teacher association. In today’s post-Columbine world, you have to be doubly sure everyone knows what you are doing and that your students have permission to tape around the school. Make sure your school provides releases for you to use with all of the students who appear in your videos. For students under 18, parents must sign releases to give permission to videotape or record their sons or daughters. Most schools have a blanket release that the parents sign, if the project is a class or school program.
Another legal aspect is that of copyright. Unless you purchase an ASCAP/BMI broadcast license, any music you use must be public domain or royalty-free. There are many fine buy-out music libraries that offer production music of all types. Explain to your students the importance of copyright. This vigilance also includes events. It is illegal to videotape and broadcast a play, dance recital or concert, unless you have purchased the license to do so, and licenses can be expensive. If the play is in the public domain, like Shakespeare, have fun and do a three-camera shoot. However, you cannot record Annie! and play it on your local cable channel. Dance recitals that use popular music are off limits, unless you get permission to record every song in the program. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Check with an entertainment or copyright lawyer if you have questions about a specific program or practice.
What if you want to sell the programs your students make? As long as you have used copyright-free music and have releases for everyone in the video, you can sell them. However, you need to make sure the school has a mechanism to deal with duplication costs, distribution and taking in the money from the sales. Discuss this carefully with your administration. It could be a great way to make money to purchase equipment, but make sure you have crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s before starting down that path.
Your final concern is to instill in your students a sense of responsibility. You want to keep the staff and teachers on your side, so that they will work with you. Make sure that your video students are polite, professional and unobtrusive. Don’t interrupt classes, do ask permission to shoot in various locations and always let everyone know what you and your students are doing. Make the teachers and other staff part of the production team. You will be amazed at how people cooperate when they know what is happening and feel a part of the process.
Have Fun! You Are Going to Be the New Video Person!
The last bit of sage advice we have is… have fun! Students have a great deal of creative energy and can be quick learners when given the opportunity. Give them responsibilities and the chance to be creative. You will be very surprised at the quality and creativity of the pieces they produce for your video program.
Dr. Robert G. Nulph has worked 10 years as a producer/director for an educational institution, teaches video and film production at the college level and is an independent video/film director.
Side Bar: Video in the Classroom Ideas
- Videotaping science experiments not suitable for the classroom for safety reasons.
- Creating travelogues of class trips to Paris or other exotic locations.
- Interviewing visiting artists.
- Creating family histories as part of a history class.
- Videotaping the process of creating pottery or sculpture.
- Shooting short narratives using scripts from a creative writing class.
- Capturing local and state officials answering the unique questions only students ask.