In Search of the Ultimate Computer Technology Integrated Project
by Rick Davidson
How two seasoned teachers created one of the most exciting and effective teaching units of their careers.
I have spent the past 13 years involved with computer technology education. When I started, the challenge was to interest the students and teachers into coming into the computer lab at all. I came to my alma mater, Kennett High School in Conway, New Hampshire with two charges. Number one was to get the lab up and running. Number two was to facilitate the proper use of the lab. This was to have been a one year job as I was still active as a professional photographer and video maker. Even then I saw the handwriting on the wall. Imaging as I knew it was about to change. I didn’t know how long it would take but it was clear that digital photography was the wave of the future. After three years at Kennett, I took a new position as a computer teacher at Kingswood Regional Middle School in Wolfeboro, NH. While I was in a position to create my own curriculum, I found that incorporating photography and video making was not met with a lot of enthusiasm. Over the past ten years, my curriculum has evolved to include units on just about every aspect of computing including digital photography and video making. Unlike those early days in Conway when kids used to complain about spending time in the computer lab, now you can’t keep them out. Two years ago my job description changed. I became a computer technology integrator. I felt that I had accomplished a lot during the first year in my new capacity. Somehow, in spite of all the innovations and the fact that the computers in the building were being effectively used on a regular basis, I still hadn’t found an activity that I felt would be the paradigm of computer technology integration.
I often hear from adults, that kids know so much about computers. My experience says otherwise. While most kids are good at text messaging, using IM, and playing games, the vast majority of my incoming middle school students do not type well, do not know how to research, and can not discern between valid and invalid information on the Internet. Most have problems saving their work correctly. They have not had much experience working in teams nor do they understand the implications of publishing their work for an audience rather than for an individual teacher. Many seem to like the idea of using a video or a still camera but don’t want to be bothered with learning how to use the tools capably. I wanted to find a project that would require the students and the teachers to raise the bar. I wanted something that would require a combination of many of those skills that the students should be honing while at the middle school. I wanted something that the result of which, they would be proud to present to the public and something that would require a deeper awareness of local and world issues.. The activity should be self-directed enough that the teachers would serve as guides not as purveyors of information.
Enter Arthur Viens, team leader and social studies teacher for Team Vista at Kingswood Regional Middle School. Vista has always had a reputation for innovation but both Arthur and I had often discussed the fact that neither one of us had found that illusive ideal of computer technology integration. We agreed that video should probably be a part of it. We recognized that the subject matter would have to be something that the students would buy into and be interested in. We also wanted them to come away with an understanding of their chosen topic within the context of its importance on the world stage..
Serendipitously, we both received a flier for the C-Span Student Cam Competition. This appeared to be exactly what we were looking for. Was Arthur willing to go out on a limb and alter his curriculum in order to try something that looked like hard work but also appeared to be so promising? He was. Unfortunately, it became apparent that we would not be able do justice to this kind of unit in time to meet the contest deadline. We figured we could borrow the idea, create the curriculum and be ready to have our students participate in the C-Span contest next time around. We would have our own film festival this coming spring and show the final versions of the student videos there. We would also put them on the school website. The C-Span challenge was to create a video that each group of students felt was the most pressing issue that President Obama should address after taking office. Since we had started with this theme, we decided to stick with it.
First, we showed Arthur’s four classes the winners from past C-Span student entries. We discussed what video making techniques worked or didn’t work. We looked at the use of music to enhance the message. We showed the film “Stand By Me Playing For Change” as an example of this. We talked about the depth of research involved to create a compelling and coherent film. The students committed to subjects ranging from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to abortion, gun control, animal abuse, and the war on drugs. We told the students that they would need to understand their subject thoroughly in order to persuade the president that their point of view was worth his attention. Once again we viewed more C-Span student entries keeping in mind that certain techniques were more effective than others. We also stressed the importance of works cited appearing at the end of their respective videos. Any pictures used in the videos would need proper permission or Creative Commons attribution. Flickr is very good source for images and the photographers are very easy to contact. No one had a problem granting permission to the students. Students could use C-Span Student Cam footage as well as video segments on United Streaming. We also encouraged the students to create their own footage. Music was either created in GarageBand or culled from free music sites that fit fair use guidelines. The final videos were edited in Windows Movie Maker. Sound tracks were also created in Audacity or Windows Movie Maker. Note Taking and script writing was done in Open Office. Conversion issues were pretty much solved by using the free program, Any Video Converter. As we progressed, it became obvious that YouTube also had a wealth of potentially useful programming.. The students were allowed to use YouTube on the condition that they could receive permission to use footage and/or music. Some students even contacted major recording artists to seek permission to use clips for their work. Some students did receive the go ahead. Using YouTube also presented us with some teaching moments. Not all YouTube content is following fair use guidelines. In such cases, the students had to learn to differentiate between what they could and could not use. They needed to also find out who actually held the rights to the material and proceed from there. Using YouTube actually provided the opportunity to discuss in depth the implications of fair use. Had we spoon fed the students with only pre-approved sources, these opportunities would not have presented themselves.
Dealing with the issues of what constitutes good research was perhaps the most important pedagogical outcome of this undertaking. We used the www. martinlutherking.org and Institute for Historical Review to acquaint students with examples of website that might not be what they appear to be. I am convinced that most of the students now understand that they need to carefully read any information they find on the web. As obvious as it may sound, this alone is a major accomplishment on the middle school level. My next initiative will be to encourage all of our teams to include instruction based on what Arthur and I have learned from the evolution of this project. As it turned out, the actual video editing, was the easiest part. By the time they started to use Movie Maker, they had planned their video in Inspiration and Open Office, accumulated their information, video clips, music, and works cited. The students did indeed work very independently. Arthur and I were kept very busy with questions and we were able to take on the role of guides. The questions were surprisingly good and the creativity and depth of the research were both impressive.
Most of the videos were very well done. Some followed our rubric more than others. The students can compare their video to the guidelines in the rubric to see where they succeeded and where they fell short. Evaluations did not stop there. Each class viewed their classmate’s work and, using the rubric, the students became film critics. Arthur and I also shared our thoughts in order to stimulate discussion. Some of the videos were of course better than others. What impressed us the most was that almost all the students were very engaged in the project. Most endeavored to truly increase their understanding of their chosen topic. Most used their creativity to give life to a multi-media presentation they could be proud of. The ability to design well-produced media may well be one of the most important skills that students can develop for future employment. In a recent article in the on line edition of “The Journal”, the results of a nationwide poll of registered voters was reported. Two out of three of the participants felt that students need to learn “computer and technology skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills, and teamwork and collaboration”. All of these were utilized in this assignment along with, reading, writing, organization, higher level thinking, and creativity. In fact, all of the thinking skills from Blooms Revised Taxonomy ranging from remembering, to understanding, to applying, to analyzing, to evaluating, to creating were used in the project. Aren’t these all abilities we should all be helping our students to cultivate?
Finally, we showed “Invisible Children” a very moving film on children soldiers in Northern Uganda. This was made by three amateur video-makers who were in their early twenties. Going to Africa and documenting the atrociousness that they witnessed was life changing for all three young men. The video progresses from an obvious niavite among the film makers into a highly moving series of interviews with the victims of daily violence in the Sudanese refugee camps. Our students were impressed both by the message of the video and by the fact that the boys, not all that much older than themselves, were able to create such an important piece of work. Judging from the student’s reflections, this film was life changing for many of them. They understood the power of visual media and they understood the need for involvement in global issues. Early on in the film, one of the video makers points out that,“media defines our lives and it shapes how we view life.” We will be doing a our students a great disservice if we do not provide them with the skills to understand and use technological media in an ethical, creative and meaningful way.
While watching the videos, I did pick up on two short comings. In some cases the students used acquired clips that should have been edited down. Perhaps next time we may need to consider putting a length limit on how long a clip should be. I also noticed that while the students were required to follow the MLA guidelines in creating a written works cited document, this information did not always appear as completely as it should have in the final credits in the video. There were occasional conflicts in the groups but in every case a solution was found and agreed upon.
Our final take. This project was worth the five weeks, off and on, that we devoted to it. The bar was raised and the students did themselves proud. It was hard work but this is what teaching and learning are all about. All of us, the students included, more than once lost track of time. That was because everyone was so engaged. We provided the tools and the time. The students took over from there. The ability to decipher and evaluate the vast amount of information on the Internet is crucial for success in the 21st Century. Last but not least, they now know how to save.
Equally important, video making, in this case, provided a hands-on, real world opportunity for the students to continue their mastery of social studies, language arts, and computer GLEs. Many of the skills stressed in those areas of study are needed in order to successfully complete a multimedia project such as this one. No less important is the mastery of visual literacy skills. As the film makers pointed out in “Invisible Children”, visual media is where we get much if not most of our information in the modern world. It also influences the way we think. In order to become informed citizens in the twenty first century students will need to know how to interpret and use visual media. The implementation of a combination of skills necessary to reach a desired goal or to create a desired product is as effective in increasing student abilities as teaching to the test. Probably more. It is certainly more real world and much more interesting. In the future, we will take advantage of ever-evolving on line opportunities for communication with other students around the world and as well as experts in many different fields.
“I would like to close with a quote from Dr. Tim Tyson at Mabry Middle School in Marietta, Georgia.
“Potentially, student work can be measured mainly on the value of the contribution it makes on the global stage. This has never before been possible: middle grades student performing on a global stage that can actually matter beyond the immediate classroom. If we truly value empowering young adolescents to live in a culture of personal best, we must find ways of using technology to allow student use of schoolwork to make the world a better place.”
(http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2539741) “Stand By Me For Change”
http://www.invisiblechildren.com/home.php “Invisible Children”