Criteria for K-12 Video Technology
This may not be the right forum, but I hope you creative types might help. I work in a large School District television studio where we produce educational and informative programs for a general audience on the local cable outlet and within the district via the web and DVDs.
"Where are we now and where are we going?" This was the question posed to me by our Technology Director. "What is the criteria for video in the classroom that you would put into place in a perfect world; if you had unlimited resources?" " he asked.
My head reeled: if the District had infinite resources, all students would be equipped with HD cameras, dollys and booms, a lighting package that would fill a half-ton grip van, microphones and audio mixers to capture every heart beat and explosion, and a stable of Mac Intel Dual-core machines fitted with FCP, After Effects, Combustion and every other app to compete with Lucas and Spielberg. The deliverable would meet Discovery Channel High Def specifications as well as Blu-Ray DVD and iPhone. Telling the story would be made foremost and all the training and instruction would be provided to every child so as not to be left behind.
On the other hand, are we still in the transparency and slide projector world of Xeroxes and duplication fluid (ah, the aroma)? How do we get from here to there? And what steps are there in between to make this happen? This may be a bit of a rant, but maybe someone in the Cow pasture has some thoughts on what and how transformation of your father's A/V technology into the Brave New World of YouTube and Digital movies might look like.
Thanks in advance.
Wow...that is a huge question.
I think you need to identify a number of things:
1. What grade levels is this facility serving?
2. What is the rest of the curricula for each grade teaching as far as communication and how can it/would it/would you like it to...tie together?
3. How many children in each grade level will need to use the equipment and how much work will each grade require?
4. What sort of communication curriculum awaits them in higher grades? What skills would prepare them best for this?
5. What sort of cycling yearly budget would you envision having over the next 3-7 years, taking trends over the last 5 years and your school districts trending data going forward?
6. What sort of one-time funding (grants, donations, etc.) might you have available and when?
7. Available physical space? How much lab? How much classroom?
8. identify any existing infrastructure that could be utilized going forward...
I've done some of this kind of work before and while I'm sure you'll have some good input from the editors and post production guys here...i could also talk with you offline about some of this as the process is sort of specific to school systems...
Creative Cow Host,
I got my first taste of video production in junior high in the 70's using reel to reel black and white EIAJ porta packs and insert-editing machine-to-machine without a controller, using a grease pencil to mark the tape, a stopwatch to help back-time the pre-rolls, fast hands and a big pot of coffee. And I loved it. Got some more hands-on with super-8 stop-motion in an art class, and live-switched B&W multicam in high school.
The Hitachi cameras used a long rod that went thru the camera body to control the zoom, with a knob on the end to roll focus and we thought this was light years ahead of older tech like lens turrets. Some bonehead kid would hang his carbon-mic headset on the extended zoom rod and put a bend in it and then the zoom was useless for live shots for the rest of the year. Soon as I graduated, the school closed down the TV studio because they couldn't keep up with the "high" technology and expense for so small a class size.
I loved every bit of it, particularly when I made school reports and dramatic inperpretations of short stories for class credit. It did give me a running start at what eventually became my career. But for the great majority of my classmates, I think it was just a diversion to avoid shop class, chorus, or Spanish classes. The majority of students that took the course never followed up on it, I think aprtly becasue the stress was always on the mechanics and getting experience for a future tech job they didn't want, and not on storytelling. I think the stress on a vocational aspect in K-12 is misguided for most. Save that for college when people get a little better idea of who they are and what they want to do. An arts-related orientation would be better IMO.
Nowadays of course the technology is radically different. But two things that I see remain constant all this time:
Learning by doing, about how to interpret media, to analyze the message.
And how to make your own message, how to structure a story and tell it with maximum effect.
The technology is the part that often attracts the most attention and effort and funding and yet, to my way of thinking, that's really the smallest, most misused, most disposable part of teaching TV or more broadly, media, in the K-12 range.
You really can't effectively teach enough in a K-12 tech class in an hour, three days a week, to be the equivalent of a vocational school and get these kids summer jobs at an editing or production house. Not while meeting all the other mandates of modern NCLB education.
TV stations are so heavily automated and getting more so every day, that there is going to be quite an oversupply of available people for the jobs that are left for some time. I have an obsolete school book from the early 90's meant for high school student guidance counselors that points out the kind of jobs there are in production. The book is a bit outdated and concentrates on the local TV station jobs that don't necessarily require college. Many of the jobs listed there no longer exist.
I think the focus should be less on seeking jobs that may or may not be there by the time the kids are ready for the workforce, and more on an arts oriented curriculum of self-expression and interpretation/analysis skills, because those are of universal utility to any student for a better, smarter life. These kids are going to tell their stories on YouTube more often than network air. We should be showing them how to tell the story, and not locking into any particular technology that's only going to get obsoleted before they graduate anyway. We need to show them how to see what's being shown them with a critical eye, to be able to separate commercial and political agendas from the message.
When my daughter was in fourth grade last year, shecame home from technology class all eager to show her "A" graded Powerpoint project on Albert Einstein. Of course she was nine, so you'd expect it was full of every possible unmotivated wipe, DVE move, flying bullet point, and sound effect the program could provide. I'm used to that, I have full grown adult clients that sometimes do the same thing:-)
But I watch her A-graded report on Einstein, with the bad MIDI music and flying bullet points. Never once does it mention he was a physicist. No mention of the theory of relativity, E=MC squared, the atomic bomb. It was about as deep a bio as one on her pet parakeet. If I was her teacher, I would have probably given it a "D".
Okay, she was only nine, and I'm asking too much maybe. But what's galling me is, the way "technology" like powerpoint and by extension, video production is being taught is all wrong.
So what would I consider "right"?
Teaching about how editing shapes a story, the choice of shots to convey or change meaning. How to structure a beginning, middle, and end. Before anybody touches a computer or camera, I'd teach them the bare fundamentals of scripting. I'd have them order and re-order things on a strip of index cards. I'd have them storyboard, any way they could, either with pencils and paper or using windows paint or something more sophisticated. I'd play different commercials, news pieces and short films for them, with he sound on and off, slow mo at times, and teach them to dissect the choices of shots, effects, sound, to see how the story is being told and to see what's behind that. We'd practice journalistic news shooting and recording oral history, learning how to ask good interview questions and how to tell the 5 W's effectively.
I'd give them very simple assignments like shooting a children's story like the three little pigs, first, straight interptetation in traditional style, then to re-write it or try and tell it from a different perspective or use it as allegory. As a music video. As a noir. As a fake documentary. We'd get a little taste of these differnet forms and genres, with some hands-on. We'd build a visual vocabulary.
The hardware would be kept simple: SD DV camcorders with external mic inputs, and simple computers with extra storage for each kid provided on external firewire drives. Enough cameras that there would be spares to account for breakage or for use in multicam projects near the end of the term. At any one time half the kids would be shooting, the other half editing or writing or other production steps. I'd put a premium on the proper use of tripods, lights, mics. On shot composition and framing. On learning to direct talent and a crew, which is a universal life skill anyway. I WOULD pop for a greenscreen stage and software, because it is a time, travel, and money saver that allows the kids to have any sets or locations they want, right in the classroom studio. If they can justify the useage in their script. It's also just plain fun, which you gotta have too:-)
We'd have DVD burners and duplicators so the kids have a take-home product and cheap backup archive. We'd have the best of the class shoot and edit some school assembly or similar event. every kid would have to rotate thru every job some time during the term, from grips to director.
Kids that were inspired by that course could then aim for more detailed work in upper grades/ high school/college. Or just pursue things outside of school as they wished, or thru an after-school AV production club.
Oh, and I'd ban power point:-)
[Mark Suszko] "The majority of students that took the course never followed up on it, I think aprtly becasue the stress was always on the mechanics and getting experience for a future tech job they didn't want, and not on storytelling. I think the stress on a vocational aspect in K-12 is misguided for most."
I agree with this. Too many schools are really hung up on a particular microcosm of technology instead of backing away and assessing what they actually want the student to take away from the class at each grade level. A mission-based program will be far more future-proof than one based on some particular thread of technology (FCP or HD or whatever...).
This sort of points back to my initial response on this...
Creative Cow Host,
Thanks for the great replies...you guys are awesome. Tim, I will go over each of your points carefully...a great place to begin, and I am sure that they will lead to even more questions. Thanks for the direction.
Mark, I have fond memories of those push/zoom rods from AFRTS/AFKN studio in Seoul Korea in 1970.
I think you both have hit upon the concept of not necessarily the "how" but the "why & what" of the production/story. It seems that our IT folks are so focused on the hardware/software that they lose sight of the story telling. The Arts/Communications folks should have more input into what their "perfect" lab/studio will look like. Yes, we need the tools, but more importantly we need the skills to tell the story in the best manner possible.
Again thanks for the great responses fellas, I will try to wrap my middle-aged brain around them. I have a few weeks to work on this so any other thoughts, comments will be welcomed.
Maybe you should "pre-break" the zoom on all the cameras, force the kids to actually move the camera in and out:-)
The kind of conversations that the kids and teacher should have in class are along the lines of:
"That video sucked".
"I dunno, I just didn't like it".
"You can like it or not like it, that's up to you, but in here we have to back up a statement like that with some reasons. So... What was it about the video that you didn't like?"
"It was stupid."
"Well..... the logic of the story was not internally consistent. It's like they started making one idea, then went to something else halfway through. The guy sets up this premise but then never gets back to it. He wanted pretty obviously to finish with the one big visual joke at the end, but didn't lay down the setup for it to pay off. And the joke shot makes everything that he did up to that point irrelevant in the story. His continuity is all over the place. Sometimes he's holding the mic, other times not, and there's no reason. Actors changed the direction they face in the middle of the conversations without a connecting shot between them, so it looks like there is supposed to be time passing between the lines but it doesn't read like that when you watch it. There is no real second act, he's just killing some time there with the stock footage. The handheld footage is too shakey and framed bad. The song he used has that one line in the lyric that works for the walking-away shot, but I know that song, and the rest of that song is like the total opposite of what he's trying to say, so that whole part doesn't work for me."
"I see. Pretty good analysis for one quick viewing. You were paying attention when we talked about the line of action and when and when not to break that rule, or how to get away with breaking it.
Let's talk about how we could make this better, or at least, differently... Susan, do you have an idea about the narrative structure?"
I had the opportunity to design the video department for a college in NC and I can't see altering much because of age. It's a building block thing anyway and they'' all need to have a basic concept of levels, whats apps are used for what tasks and deadlines. I set up a two year program where they learn non-linear editing on various flavors or NLEs, comositing and 2 D animation in after effects land, 3D animation in 3Dsmax world, and their final is combining all of those into their reel. If students don't leave with a reel, they very well could be waisting their time. Having somthing to show for their efforts os both the only way theu will get a gig in the industry and the only way they will remain motivated to stay with it through the no so well-paying years. They need to be educated on these years too. Any kid that enters this field for money needs to leave now and make way for artists who do it because they have a passion for it. Let them know they wiont be paying bills with this stuff anytime soon. Ensure they understand the sacrifices their spouses will have to make because of the field they are choosing. Explain that they will be moving away from their home towns to persue this and that the ladder climb to financial security is at least a decade, if you'd even call it secure then.
You'll always see those who love it seperate themselves from those skating on an easy elective. Don't let it be easy. Your weeding process is as easy as a signal flow chart test. This aint fun for slackers. Believe me, I tried to be one.
Your budget will depict what gear you offer but the curriculum really should be just like a production... cover pre-production and budgeting, production, off-lining, then on-lining complete with sound design and visual effects. Check and double check those levels I mentioned. As NLE becomes the norm for preschoolers, legal levels and the teachings of them have gone by the waisteside. I have six-figure makin' "veteran" editors in my market who could not tell ya the ins and outs of a componant waveform monitor to save their lives (or the piece they are working on). This is like putting a dirt track driver in the Indy500 without covering cornering on pavement... just a matter of time till somethin bad happens.
Again I am hearing that it's not about the hardware, but what to do with what you have...the story telling component is the most important, and the ability to use and understand the tools is next. Since we will be working from Kindergarten through High School, and are governed by some mandated curriculum requirements as to how technology is to be used in the classroom, I believe the most emphasis should be put on the telling of the story, than how the story is best told. In the commercial world I have seen "talking heads" with crisp writing and minimal production value be much more effective than all the bells-and-whistles special effx spots in which no one can even name the product - "I don't know what they were selling, but it sure was pretty!"
Remembering that public education is to teach "reading, writing & arithmetic", technology allows the student to better communicate and express their ideas in this new world of "Zeroes and Ones." Equipment will be introduced along the way that will compliment the student's ability and interest. More technology and deeper instruction into production can be introduced as electives, not just advanced classes for Gifted and Talented at any level. Again, thanks for the input.
those details in the form of buttons will always be changing. To try to adapt one will be teaching obsolete material in real time. Hone that passion and they'll be downloadin all the latest greatest goodeies at home and bringing in things they made last night.