…questioning enables us to organize our thinking around what we don’t know. When I am creating a long-term assignment or project for my students, I am looking for the student teams to engage in the processes of planning and organizing through discussion. Because these are long-term projects, I also expect more thought to go into the outcome. Using information and communications technology (ICT), I am hoping that the creative process includes active listening and debate to produce the multimedia product.
Collaborative student engagement helps students “organize their thinking around what they don’t know.” In the typical classroom, students spend the bulk of their time in their personal world, possibly engaged in what the teacher is presenting. Thirty to forty students’ worlds are not on the same planet and yet we expect them to come down to Earth because what we as teachers are saying is so very important. Is there not more to developing young people than the content we force-feed? Are we holistically developing our charges to be 21st Century Skills-ready young people?
Bukit Panjang Government High School Competencies
When students are assembling their conceptualizations of “how things are” into a film (I call them podcasts), teachers are better able to understand “where students are coming from” or “what planet they are on.” If the students are collaborating, there is a greater likelihood that their shared planet is more Earth-like. Because they are engaged in presenting their shared point of view, it is more likely that the benefits will be longer lasting.
In the process of creating a podcast, students also learn the most important lesson: that multimedia can be manipulative. One can tell a story factually or not. When one contemplates the angles, the sounds, the storyline, one is sharing their thinking which can contribute to the viewer’s belief. The “willing suspension of disbelief” factor in the media today becomes something that a creator is less likely to be fooled by. Truth in the media – news or cinema – is an important aspect of learning for the developing critical mind.
The task of the teacher is to formulate a question around which a team of students can form their output and yet allow for creative differences. WeVideo, as an application, provides a venue for students to spend their time on the product rather than the fiddling-with-a-tool. Like a cauldron into which the ingredients are brewed, WeVideo provides an easy pot into which ideas can be dropped, stirred, and combined to a stew.
In creating my first assignment, I wanted to have an open-ended topic but with some class-shared focus. Students would have many opportunities to discuss their topic and how they would present it. My hope was that they would tell an engaging story, which provided some resolution in the process.
In narrative writing, which this activity was designed to enrich, students must think of their audience and use a storyline or plot to keep the reader engaged. The setting and point of view are also something that students need to take into account. Similarly, when plotting a multimedia product, WeVideo’s storyboard feature helps a student to develop sequence and scene awareness. Various camera angles and sound support can also help to make a story successful. Because students experience the effect of these elements in their multimedia product, they are more inclined to think of them when writing too.
This clever story deals with the mundane world of changing a light bulb but does so in an entertaining manner that shares some useful information regarding proper light bulb changing. These students tend to be the quiet ones in a class setting, yet their product received praise from administration, teachers and students for its creativity. It was their first podcast.
My projects were extracurricular and term-long (9 weeks each). I assigned them through an online Learning Management System. The dialog between teacher and student was entirely online, which left a written record of the revisioning process as an added benefit.
As this was a year-long ILT, I felt that the first three projects (terms) could be used as learning opportunities for the various skills required, but that the graded project in the fourth term would be done by each individual student to show that he or she had acquired the podcast creation skill set.
Each term’s product was to be no shorter than three and no longer than five minutes. Teams divided their responsibilities to storyboarding, technical, directors and so on. The product needed to have three streams of information: textual (could be subtitles or commentary), visual, and auditory. In later podcasts, these requirements became more sophisticated in that they needed to show other production elements such as video within video.
Student ideas required teacher approval and upon completion would be evaluated using two systems: (1) Google Analytics and (2) teacher and class votes. The better projects would first be seen by classmates; then, if the classmates so decided, the videos could be shared with the entire school through the school-wide television system.
Rubrics can be flexible depending on the teacher’s desired outcome, but I believe it is important to provide targets for producer-students because they need to know how their product will be evaluated. I divided those into three components:
- Technical – this was done analytically by Google Analytics eventually
- Aesthetic – teacher and class votes
- Effectiveness – teacher and class votes
As project submissions became available to me during the school year, I used the better ones as short warmups in class. This helped to motivate the procrastinators to complete their projects in order to receive the same kind of positive class feedback. While I was always overwhelmingly positive, I would also point to areas for improvement. This is a learning activity and a great opportunity for student, class, and teacher to bond as learners.
Here we have two students working on the same assignment with their group’s project. Jing Yi’s project is less complex than Darren’s. Each student’s graph shows the level to which they are using various aspects of the application. As their projects became more complex the lines become more dense and the colors indicating each of the components rise.
Teachers need to be able to send messages to students — collectively and individually. I have used various online tools, some of which were free and others imposed by the school ICT administrator. I will briefly mention an example of each. Both can be used effectively to assign and remind students without taking time in class. This also helps students to become more responsible for viewing email – emails become more significant, more business-like, as schoolwork performance is related to them, providing a more purposeful communication experience.
Two communication tools for teachers
WikiFoundry Wikis in Education (free) is a wikispace platform that allows students to use an indexed resource, communicate with friends in Facebook-like environment, to keep a public or private journal, and to personalize their space. I liked it because I could also reward students by giving them increasing powers as administrators. It is also good for peer collaboration and editing of work prior to handing it in. For WeVideo projects, it served as a place to assign topics and for students to chat/discuss/write to their teams about their work.
ASKnLearn™ (fee-based) is a comprehensive Learning Management System that is great for sending assignments, quizzing, forums, oral practice (similar to those old foreign language learning labs), and many others features. Each teacher announcement was also accompanied by an email sent to each student or an SMS sent to their ever-present cell phone. It is another attempt to bring some seriousness to their communication devices, normally only used for less meaningful chatting and “selfies.”
For finished projects or questions regarding their projects (or as it turned out most anything of importance to them), I created a specific email address in the MSN system so that I could use OneDrive as a storage place. It turned out that WeVideo provided ample storage in the cloud, so this was abandoned as storage but continued to be used for communication of a more personal nature. OneDrive was also where students sent their links of exported WeVideo projects. This tested their ability to export without allowing unfiltered YouTube posts. The Walled Garden concept is great for protecting everyone from undesirable invasion of student work and to allow school/teacher/administration supervision, and, ultimately, control over what happens to student work.
In a previous blog post, Visible Thinking was suggested as a highly desirable outcome of student production work using WeVideo or any video tool. Because WeVideo allows for shared production and is relatively easy to use, the thinking becomes visible without much distraction. This “thinking” is what we as teachers are mostly concerned with. Seeing the student’s “planet” and being able to help with a student’s interpretation of life is why thinking becoming visible is so powerful in developing a holistic approach to learning.
In the late 1980s, when Project Zero was looking into how schools would adapt to the Digital Age, the conversation centered around how desirable it would be to have the tools that WeVideo provides today. David Perkins and Howard Gardner of the Harvard Graduate School of Education were designing this way of thinking before the actual tools which allowed the invisible thoughts to become video came into existence.
I remember one assignment from Professor Perkins. In words, we had to produce a one-page, 12-font, single-spaced visualization of the “most memorable person or event in our lives.” He made it clear that the setting was as important to the “lesson” as the person. He wished for us to produce in words our visual memory. If I had had this video capacity then, I wouldn’t have had to labor so many long hours to create the memory of a meeting with a pre-fire person deep in Manu’s Amazon Rainforest who changed my life forever.