From the traditional entertainment and informational uses of video to viral internet videos and security, video has become a staple in our lives. Cameras are compact, inexpensive and integrated into our cell phones and computers, making the moving image accessible to almost anyone at anytime.
Educators trying to teach lessons in English, American History, Health and Science have become increasingly aware of their students’ appetites for video. As a result, many educators are modifying their lessons to include video production. What they are finding is that moving images move minds. These video educators dream up projects of any imaginable size and make them come to life in the classroom. So, let’s take a closer look at what it takes to be a video educator.
Projects ranging from public service announcements to documentaries can engage otherwise tuned-out learners. The project you create can empower students with a sense of visible and even public accomplishments. In order to be successful, the project needs to have a clear and consistent vision. Knowing what you want to do and why you are doing it will fuel the process for both you and your students.
Identify the Outcome and the Assessment
Educators often speak of student learning in terms of student outcomes. In order to test whether or not their programs are meeting these student outcomes, educators will speak of assessment. Assessment activities include things like papers, quizzes, tests and projects. Video can be an assessment tool. Identifying the outcome and how you plan to assess student learning is a key component in creating a clear vision.
Let’s say you are teaching a high school health class. You have a section in your class on teen driving. You want students to be able to think critically about teen driving because, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), car accidents are the number-one killer of teenagers. Learning about safe driving could literally save their lives.
To get students engaged in the topic, you decide you are going to have them make public service announcements (PSAs) that can educate other teens as well. The public service announcement will assess what the students have learned about driver distractions and safe teen driving.
Create a Manageable Project
Video projects come in all shapes and sizes. A successful project is a manageable project, so, after you have determined what you want students to learn, it is really important to pick a manageable project. Manageable projects are those that fit within your time, your resources and your skill level.
For example, the health class teacher wanted to spend only two weeks on the entire unit. She had only one video camera and could use the computer lab for only two days. Additionally, she had never made a video before. It would have been completely unmanageable for her to create a project that required her students to make a feature fiction film.
Public Service Announcements are short, typically 30 seconds in length. These projects can usually be completed within a week to two weeks. They can be effectively created with a combination of still images, text and video. Additionally, the teacher knew of a web resource (www.listenup.org) that could help guide her and her students in PSA production. The combination made this a manageable project.
Let’s look at science class for another example. An elementary science teacher wanted students to learn about the different types of clouds with a more global perspective. He had a friend who taught a science class in another state. Together, they decided to do a cloud experiment to assess their students’ ability to identify certain types of clouds.
Both teachers had a classroom computer and a webcam. They decided to make VLOGS about the weather in their communities. Each day a student from each class would create an entry. They would identify the type of clouds in the sky and note other weather conditions, such as rain or sun. Then each class would look at the other class’s entry and compare.
Vlogs can be fairly simple and require very little training. Both teachers wanted the focus of the project to be the content, not the technology. They also wanted students to be able to comment on each other’s VLOGS without having the entire world see what they were doing.
After agreeing on the outcomes and assessing their resources, they decided on a month-long project, to give each student the chance to post. They created a channel on a video-sharing site that fit their needs. The clear vision of these two science teachers made them successful video educators.
Many of these projects can connect students with their community through screenings, interviews, neighborhood explorations and the presence of guest artists in the classroom. Soliciting and embracing community support is another key factor in being a video educator.
The health teacher wanted to share the PSAs with other teenage drivers, so she sought out the city’s local public access station and actually broadcast the messages on television. The station helped the students obtain the proper release forms. While the teacher was there, she discovered that the access station had a lot of equipment and trained personnel that she could rely on for future projects.
Guest Artists and Community Organizations
Public access stations, community organizations and artists are wonderful resources for the video educator. They can often provide equipment and additional project support, such as teaching the teacher or the class how to turn the camera on. For all you videographers out there, this is a good chance for you to donate your expertise and, in some cases, get a little extra cash for what you know!
For many video educators, funding and equipment are major obstacles. School equipment and personnel resources are often limited. Grants are a great way to get video projects funded. Local, state and national organizations and foundations seek innovative projects to fund. This money can help the video educators purchase equipment, invite guest artists in to work with their classes and fund community screenings of the project when it is finished.
Let’s look another project that has a big vision and lots of community support.
Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis is in its fifth year of creating interdisciplinary video documentaries with students in the school’s Open Program. The Open Program is a mixed-grade, interdisciplinary approach to student learning. The documentary pairs English and Social Studies classes. The project is a yearlong investigation with research, social studies, interviews and finally a documentary project that culminates in a public screening.
When the program first started, the school had one computer and one camera. Neither of the two instructors had experience in making a documentary of the scale they wanted this to be. The instructors realized their vision would not be manageable without some additional resources and support. They applied for a grant to get additional equipment and to invite in a guest artist who could guide their students through the technical aspects of creating a documentary.
Their grant was awarded, and they began to plan their project. They decided to work with the education department of a public access facility to get access to additional equipment like laptops, cameras, and microphones. They were also able to use the access station to find their guest artist.
Over the years, they have built up their equipment and learned a great deal about how to manage such a big project. Some of the student documentaries created have screened beyond the school in festivals like the Walker Art Center’s Girls in the Director’s Chair.
That kind of exposure is really empowering for the students and gives new students of the program something to work towards. It makes their learning more important, which is what being a video educator is really all about.
The best part about all of these projects is that they are easily reproducible anywhere. Most computers come equipped with basic editing applications and cameras are relatively inexpensive. As long as you set a clear vision and rely on community support, you too can be a video educator. For all you video producers out there who want to give back, video educators would love to hear from you!
Jenny L. Hanson is a media artist, professor and video educator.