Monday, June 22, 2009

Should we have students make these?

I'm teaching an honors class in the fall and some of the students are taking it for Composition II credit, meaning they have to do additional writing projects and those projects are supposed to require instructor critique and student revision.

I have a couple of more traditional ideas for this, but I'm wondering if one of these projects shouldn't be to make a movie like the one below. For viewing this properly captions need to be enabled. That should be the default.

The idea from the (student) creator's point of view is first, to use text in a Spartan way to communicate only the very important points and leave other derivative points unsaid. Next, is to use images as a way to illustrate the points and try to connect with the reader/viewer in a way that is meaningful to them. When I made the demo, I found the image selection process a challenge. Particularly for science or engineering students who probably aren't asked to do this sort of thing otherwise, I wonder if the exercise of selecting an appropriate and compelling image to match the idea is a good one, and whether the students will start to think of their job in writing a little differently as a consequence. The third idea, in the music choice, is to have a recurrent theme through the entire piece. The song is something the audience should readily identify with and therefore it should be used to create a context for the story.

One other point where the exercise may prove of value is in noting the length of the movie, two minutes and ten seconds, and compare that with the time it takes to produce it. It took me about one and a half days, all told, and I spread that out over a few days so I could let things simmer for a while. Students need to learn that an effective short message is a lot of work. Further, some of their ideas might have to be discarded in the process, but that is ok because it improves the overall quality.

If I were to do this, I'd also have the students submit the "raw ingredients" that went into making the movie: the audio file, a document with the sources for the images, a text file for the captions with timings, and perhaps the PowerPoint that stores the images and that is used to make the screen capture.

One reason for wanting to ask for all of this is that turning the writing into a production number can be compelling if any technical blocks that are encountered can be readily addressed. The instructor (or some other helper) probably needs to provide help for the students with the technical blocks in which case pretty quick feedback is needed for that.

Another reason is that students will soon be very conscious of the "appearance" of what they make. For example, do the captions match the slides they are supposed to be about? When the appearance can clearly be improved, do the students feel impelled to do that? I don't know whether it would occur to the students immediately once they've asked this, but for me I'd then ask if the writing can be improved as well. Can it be said better? That the text is short means editing is not laborious.

One other compelling bit about this approach is that the captions can be translated into many other languages, so the potential audience for the video is quite large. (It is a separate matter whether the connections that the images and music are supposed to provide cut across cultures.) To choose a different language for the captions, mouse over the upward pointing arrow at the far right of the playbar. Then with CC on, mouse over the leftward pointing arrow and select Translate. The starting language should be English, if that's the language the captions were initially authored in. The resulting language can then be selected.

I'm quite upbeat about this last bit of functionality, perfect for the global world in which we live.

Students probably need to learn a bit about Copyright and Fair Use as preparation for making these type of movies and they need to understand that citing sources is a protection from charges of plagiarism, but that is unrelated to matters of copyright. I wonder how many instructors teach their students about that.

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