Digital Storytelling in 90 Seconds

I have been working on a variety of digital storytelling rubrics focused on specific types of journalistic reports lately, cooperating with students to reflect what they see as valuable or important in feature writing versus opinion writing versus news reporting, and so forth. My next project is video, breaking down what works in video in these various types of reports and adding investigative reports to the mix. It’s a work in progress.

But, I have also created a very, very brief digital story of my own this week: a “Virtual Classroom Tour” that may be found below. This project is part of the presentation on podcasting in my Digital Journalism course that I will make at the Microsoft “Partners in Learning” Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, in a few weeks. The time limit of 90 seconds was set by the good folks at Microsoft, and, as I so often say to students, I learned from having my communication forced inside an imposed structure. I wouldn’t only want to tell a story this way, but it’s a good opportunity to boil the podcasting project down to its essentials. Therein lies the strength of an imposed structure, similar to the AP exam’s time limit or a prescribed “elevator pitch” layout like a Pecha Kucha.


So, please check out this very brief digital story produced in Camtasia Studio and offer any and all feedback. I took the video of students with the iPad 2, which lacks a good microphone. I tried to compensate for that, but it only worked to mediocre effect. I also had to convert the video from the iPad to use it in Camtasia, which created very small final products. Part of my thinks the little “window into the student” effect of the almost embedded interview video is interesting, while another part recognizes it’s kind of crap. Still, it helped me conceptualize the curriculum a bit to push it out in 90 seconds. I can see the value of asking for super-brief videos asking for illustrations of key concepts as a method of formative assessment a as result of this experience.

The iPad 2 for Learning: A Student Experiments

Recently, a student in my Digital Journalism class decided to do a feature article on the experience of closing his school-supplied Lenovo tablet laptop for the week and only using an iPad. His article is spectacular student writing in our nascent culture of journalism at ZIS, and I found the scope of his successes and challenges enlightening in one particular respect: We are not asking students to use their computers in new ways. Students like this are creative with their computers like I was creative with a darkroom and a typewriter in 1989, and the creativity is still great. Students also use their computers as textbooks, as notebooks, as Trapper Keepers, as easels, as paper, as media studios (this bit gets me excited), as telephones, as shopping malls, as billboards, as video game consoles, as televisions and movie theaters, as the conference social (think networking), and as printing presses. But, none of this is new, really. Almost everything our students do digitally has an analog in the real world. If this young journalist had to program, had to build new opportunities for other computer users, he would have had many more problems with only an iPad for the week.

Only. I realize, as one who taught in a very resource deprived American public school, how ridiculous that sounds. I know every teacher and student on Earth would take an iPad if offered, but they’d use it to keep doing the same things they are already doing. While he concludes forcefully that it would be a “huge mistake” to replace the laptop with an iPad, which I agree with, if the infrastructure at school supported Mac, much of what happens on a daily basis would still be possible for students. I don’t know exactly how to change that – maybe offer programming, as a start, and give lots of time and freedom for students to choose such courses – but I recognize that it is a problem. At any rate, if you’ve read this far, be sure to read the piece linked above.

Instructional Videos in an English Classroom

It’s all the rage, and I’m a sucker for fashion, so I’ve been making some instructional videos. I’ve made a few “flipped classroom” style videos that are basically short lectures, introducing a new concept, for example. However, that seems like a waste for my classroom, best for absent students or for those who wish to brush up on a concept down the line. However, what makes the most sense to me is to record myself writing a model essay or planning a response to a prompt in such a way that basic skills, covered repeatedly throughout the year, can be reinforced. Additionally, I’m a big believer in modeling and in exposing my thinking as I do, making explicit the internal conversation and experience as I write or do something.  Often, I find myself believing that experts at something must just act or react in perfect confidence, without doubt, exuding the awesome. But, in reality, I think we all question ourselves or maybe even just revise as we go, refining for a better product. By making that conversation explicit, kids learn.

Youtube is great for learning little things, likely those things that we already know something about. I’m a fly-fisherman, but when I’m doubting myself, I go check out a video on roll casting, for instance, and refresh my memory. I’ve learned knots, the disc golf jump putt, and how to behave during a Chinese tea ceremony which used to throw me off whenever I tried to buy tea in Chengdu. In all of these cases, I watched somebody do and narrate their actions in order to learn. I’m considering videos on using and citing source material, doing research, writing a poem, reading and annotating a text, and revising a piece of writing. These are actions, skills, active behaviors that may translate to video. So far, the feedback is positive, but I doubt how much students are really using these videos because the play counts are low. In fact, the only video that has taken off is my tutorial on making a podcast, which other teachers have used. Maybe if I include a cat falling off a TV or a clip from “Friday” my numbers will jump. Maybe if I do a better job of conceptualizing and producing the videos, they’ll be more popular with the kids. Yeah, I’m going with the latter.

OTM & dana boyd on Internet Age Restrictions, Privacy, & Implications for Schools

Ohhhh, so that’s where the 13-year old concept comes from! When teachers talk about Facebook – and we do, oh yes, we do – the age restriction is always in the background and often the subject of conversation. Cyberbullying in middle school? Solution! The age restriction on Facebook. Does it have the force of law? I always scoffed at the idea, but it actually does in the United States. On The Media‘s current podcast addresses the issue of the age restriction resulting from the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and parental perceptions and decisions around it. I found parental perceptions of the age restriction informative and the implications of privacy violations by the very free web services like Facebook or Gmail that kids are clamoring to use fascinating, particularly in terms of the implications for educators.

When educators speak about privacy concerns, they worry primarily about cyberstalking or cyberbullying – interactions between people, facilitated by technology, that go horribly wrong. However, COPPA isn’t built to protect children from other people, per se, so much as it is built to protect children and their personal information from institutions or corporations. That’s fascinating. This concept is a game changer – privacy is more about protecting children from becoming the products of free online services, sold to advertisers for targeted marketing and come-what-may, than about protecting children in public interactions online.

dana boyd points out, however, that parents have mixed views of the age requirements of Facebook: only 53% of parents reported knowing that Facebook had a minimum age, and 35% of those believed it to be a recommendation rather than a requirement. Only two parents from this group “referenced privacy. Amidst the open–ended responses, the notion of maturity or age appropriateness came up frequently. Some parents highlighted maturity with respect to content; others referenced maturity with respect to safety issues like bullying and strangers” (¶50). In short, most parents who know there is an age restriction view it more like a movie rating than a restriction. Privacy is a slippery concept that is obviously hard to define.

At my school, we are having discussions about the “Responsible Use Policy” and our school publishing policy as we move to more and more student publishing online – e-portfolios in the form of blogs, an online student newspaper, and multimedia publication via Youtube, Soundcloud, and so on. Our policies state that they are “informed by” COPPA, and our focus for protecting children’s privacy should focus on those under 13, generally students in the middle school. Of course, this is not to say that we should be careless with how we handle demographic or personal contact information for anyone, student or otherwise, in our institution. But, as dana boyd points out, a regular approach of law enforcement and others teaching kids about online safety is to suggest lying for safety. She states in this podcast that a large number of kids on Facebook identify their location as Afghanistan or Zimbabwe, because these come first and last in the alphabetical order of countries, respectively. The flip side of this message is that lying gets kids access, as boyd points out. Ironically, it is lying that subjects Facebook and free email providers to the vagaries of COPPA, because they are then automatically holding, mining, and marketing the personal information of children under 13. Students are opting into violations of their privacy through lying in ways that they believe will keep them safe from a threat that may not exist or is, in my opinion, quite overblown.

The implications for teachers are many. First, we should work with kids under 13 to identify the sources of actual threats to their privacy, that they are the products and not the customers of web services like social networks and free email. Second, we should craft an environment and a curriculum for students over 13 that focuses on personal responsibility, honest and ethical participatory citizenship in public communities, and conscious use of the Internet with its myriad tools and sporadic pitfalls. To that end, I have proffered an edited version of our online publishing policy that states the following:

Publishing via the Internet is encouraged at (our school). It is viewed as an effective way for students and faculty to publish their work and ideas to the broader world because it:

  • includes broad representation from all students/groups within (our) school community
  • reflects the academic and social values of the (school) Mission & Philosophy
  • encourages students to produce their best work for publishing through a process of revision and to accurately reflect their developing levels of skills
  • creates an opportunity for students to discover how to be positive, respectful, contributing members of an open community
  • serves as a springboard for peer review, reflection, and collaboration with a global community of learners
  • encourages the conscious development of a positive online presence or “digital footprint” for every child

The US Children‘s Online Privacy Protection Act, while not binding on the school, has informed (our school) guidelines with respect to Internet publishing and privacy. The US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act defines a child this way: “The term “child” means an individual under the age of 13.” As such, we recognize that (our school), in which all students are 13 or older, needs to provide a safe, guided approach to managing online presences or “digital footprints.” The following expectations apply for all members of (our school) community when preparing material for Internet publishing on (our school) Web Site or on external websites for school-related purposes, like blogging, posting media, or collaborating with others.

  • Students are solely responsible for what they choose to publish online.
  • Students publish material online with the understanding that their published content should adhere to academic and/or professional norms and appropriately reflect (our school’s) Mission & Philosophy.
  • No current, specific demographic or contact information will be published which will identify a student, faculty, or staff member (i.e. home address, telephone no., etc.).
  • Personal information regarding faculty or staff members will not be published without prior permission.
  • Online publishing is a public activity, and every effort is made at (our school) by teachers and administrators to teach and model appropriate public behavior in an academic context.
  • Students involved in specific academic activities which use Internet publishing as an integral part of their academic experience (i.e. student newspaper or literary magazine) should understand that their names and/or pictures may be published in relation to work undertaken as part of these activities.
Student Publishing Statement
Content published by students is not intended to be official (school) communication and does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the school. (Our school) is responsible only for official content published through official channels.
Can a change of policy result in any actual changes of procedure, values, or perception? I’m hopeful that a statement of values may be a first step in the right direction. I’d love any and all feedback on these policy ideas, as well.

The iPad 2 for Learning: Students’ Choose Laptops

These days, now that the shine has worn off, students involved in the action research project involving iPads more regularly come to school without them. This may sound minor, but considering the initial buzz around the iPad in the classroom and the school, it marks a shift. Indeed, when students are accessing information, consuming media, or producing media, their overwhelming choice is to use their tablet laptops, not the iPad. In fact, the savviest students use the iPad as a kind of sidecar, like an extra monitor for holding text that they can use while they make things on their laptop. This is anecdotal and it remains early days, but the sense I’m getting is that the iPad is not as good as a full-powered computer for what students do most.

The iPad 2 For Learning: Not So Great for Video

My students have just completed a unit of discovery based on creating video news reports. The idea in the course is that students are trying to use the iPad, but not past the point of frustration; in short, they are problem solving when the iPad gets in their way. Students found that it was difficult to get decent video with the iPad and that the audio was very poor. iMovie on the iPad was deemed by students to be useful for sprucing up a single video clip for quick upload to Facebook or YouTube, but not for anything else. Additionally, video was difficult to get off of the iPad. Email attachments have size limits and, for some reason that I am sure is related to copyright protections, they couldn’t put any video file longer than one minute into their Dropbox accounts.

When students had video off of their iPads, they opted not to use our Lenovo tablets’ native Windows Movie Maker, which really is awful in Windows 7, but opted instead to edit the video at home on Macs with the full version of iMovie. I found this really interesting, and wonder if Microsoft hasn’t punted a bit on their formerly useful Movie Maker software as a concession to the primacy of Macintosh in this arena. The Windows Live adaption is just weird and I can’t understand how this is better for users. Final video products, which I will share once I ask students for permission, show decent fluency with the medium, but also show clearly the limitations of the iPad for academic or amateur quality video products.

The verdict is clear. No students said they would edit video on the iPad. Only three said they would shoot video with their iPad again, and several said they would rather use their smartphones. The limitations of the iPad for quality media production appear obvious.

Internet Privacy and Social Organizing

Having read the ZIS COETAIL offerings for this week and then Dr. Cornel West’s Twitter feed, the contrast between fears of sharing information online and the power of social movements organized through social media stands starkly apparent. Dr. West was arrested at the Occupy Wall Street protest with 19 others and is publicly sharing the information (@CornelWest) because this information has power. When compared to the advertising scare piece about the dangers of posting underwear pictures online, Dr. West’s use of technology speaks loudly about the potential of sharing. Others like @Newyorkist are reporting events and curating content from others in real time. Yes, people are noticing. No, they aren’t stalking the protestors or asking about their underwear. The Guardian has a section devoted to the Occupy Wall Street movement. John Stewart is taking on media coverage of the protests in a manner informed no doubt by information garnered from social media because he seems to actually know what is going on, which would be next to impossible for someone following only the mainstream news narrative. The fears explicit in the ad linked above are planted in reality – there is a loss of privacy in the digital age. However, we shouldn’t fear how powerless we are as a result; we should marvel at how powerful we may become as a result.

The second narrative has promise and power for students, as well. Howard Gardner perhaps overstates his case about the end of didactic roles for teachers, but his emphasis on teachers coaching ethics in digital contexts is spot on. Once students begin to understand the power of public discourse through social media, I think they’ll be turned on by the ethical power of action. I also follow Jeff Jarvis, author, new media columnist at The Guardian, and professor at City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism (@jeffjarvis) on Twitter, and am looking forward to reading his new book, Public Parts. Jarvis, as he wrote on his blog, argues

that in our current privacy mania we are not talking enough about the value of publicness. If we default to private, we risk losing the value of the connections the internet brings: meeting people, collaborating with them, gathering the wisdom of our crowd, and holding the powerful to public account. Yes, I believe we have a right and need to protect our privacy — to control our information and identities — but I also want the conversation and our decisions to include consideration of the value of sharing and linking. I also want to protect what’s public as a public good; that includes our internet.

Plenty of other thinkers, like Clay Shirky (and in video), were making this point before the Arab Spring made it for them. It’s not all bad.

Of course, students need to have the positive models that Gardner speaks about showing them that online spaces like Facebook and Tumblr are not private rooms, but public squares. We should model the best possible uses of these squares. This is a time of change – a photo taken of you might have me in the background, and that photo might wind up online, public, and out of my control. But I am reminded of a photo taken of me in profile and of a good friend who is smiling radiant and gorgeous on a sunny Sunday afternoon right into the camera of a stranger. Years later, she was stopped on the sidewalk in New York by another woman who was shocked, said “Oh my God! It’s you!” She took my friend’s address and mailed her the photo that she had taken (on film. Remember film?), a photo she had always enjoyed having tacked to a corkboard in her house. My friend mailed the photo to me in Kyrgyzstan.

Privacy is an illusion in analog, too, and the public nature of society is often as nice, or as powerful, as it is menacing.

I Flip the Classroom, Sort Of

I maintain deep and abiding distrust of the “flipped classroom” model, because I see it largely as just the same boring lectures with more time to drill, baby, drill in the standardized testing-focused classroom. However, I see the possibilities of refining and recording moments of direct instruction for students via video lectures. Since I am missing two days of my IB course this week due to an adventure day with grade 10 and an IB conference (oh, sweet irony), I decided to revisit the mini-lecture from today and record the rest of the instruction I would try to give individually or in small groups as kids worked over the next two classes via screencasting. The focus of the series is “Essay Skills,” focusing on dissecting a prompt, writing a thesis statement, and organizing an outline while revising a thesis statement.

I used Jing and put the videos together in Camtasia Studio, thanks to a free 30 day trial. I managed to complete all of the screencasting, but then found that I only had the audio for the first two pieces of three. I was aiming for around 15 minutes total in length for all three videos and that should be about right. I’ve really doubted how useful this model would be for kids in the reading and composition classroom and am interested to hear student feedback after my return. I’ve embedded the videos below and welcome any feedback.

 

 

The iPad 2 for Learning – Podcasting Project Reflection

My Digital Journalism class has finished their podcast news reports and the process was as interesting as the products. We began this project by listening to model podcasts, such as Radiolab’s amazing short “Four Track Mind.” Once students listened to some models, they edited our English department’s oral presentation rubric, resulting in this modified podcasting rubric, which I expect to modify further. Students sought to build upon earlier news reports in these podcasts, so the subject matter was not an obstacle.

Students worked in a variety of processes. Some students recorded all their audio on the iPad in Garageband. Others downloaded free apps, recorded in those apps, and offloaded to laptops; still others recorded everything on their 1 to 1 laptops. In my opinion, the most fluent and engaging podcasts were those created entirely in the iPad. Students couldn’t upload their podcasts to their blogs via the Posterous iPhone app and the files were too big for Dropbox, so they emailed the files to themselves and uploaded them. Each student reflected briefly on the process and product once they were finished and all podcasts linked below include a reflection. All podcasts shared here are shared with student and parent permission.

The podcasts show incredible attention to the conventions of media, suggesting to me that “digital natives” may not come into the classroom equipped with media creation skills, but that they do bring with them a vast experience with media consumption and a finely tuned sense of how to sound cool in a medium. The structure of our course is discovery learning, so students struggled a bit at first, and then built a good deal of fluency in the podcast medium in only a week or so. This podcast features excellent aural variety, an engaging voice, good sound quality, and smooth editing. The subsequent reflection is here. This podcast mimics many aspects of the Radiolab model and even spins some conventions onto their head, messing around with a lighthearted sense of ironic awareness even in their first attempt. The second example is also a pair project, self-selected by the students. One student took the lead and allowed the other to stretch his legs a bit with the language and acting portion of the podcast, but also covering for some technological discomfort on his partner’s behalf. The reflection briefly alludes to this. For their current video project, all students will produce a single video, even if working in groups, in order to build skills in this introductory unit. The final podcast example is smooth and straightforward, lacking the depth and complexity of the other two, but featuring good use of details and facts, as well as a clear speaking voice and subtle use of radio-style conventions. The final reflection shows depth and specificity about the process employed.

The iPad works well for podcasting, but even as I made one myself as a teaser for a “Speed Geeking” professional development opportunity this week, I found that I liked playing with music on the iPad but preferred building the podcast in Audacity. In our current video introductory project, I see more laptop use. Students seem to be recording video on the iPad and transferring it to MovieMaker. We’ll see what they wind up doing in the end.

Affective Teaching & The Mustache

That's not a dead mouse.

Sometimes, the silliest things become big and define moments for students in ways we can’t possibly anticipate. Take, for instance, my mustache. After a month of rallying my colleagues to grow beards in order to raise money for prostate cancer research – and we raised roughly $700 in internet and cash donations – we had a beard auction for the student body, in which they could choose a teacher, make a bid, and determine how that teacher would shave for the last day of September. We had spirals, mutton chops, handlebars, a particularly epic swirl, and the letters X-C for the cross-country coach. I got the sweet, sweet mustache.

I approached the mustache with humor, shaved most of my hair to accentuate the Sargent Slaughter-esque nature of my visage, and went into the day with a new-found energy. Kids laughed. Kids tried not to laugh, and I fixed them with a steely gaze until they laughed. We had fun.At one point, I relieved a teacher who was giving a test for a few moments of bathroom reprieve, and I said “My mustache is watching you punks,” as they huddled over graphing calculators. A girl replied, “We’re watching your mustache.”

At the end of the day, as I prepared to leave for home, I ran down to the PE office for my clippers and saw the cross country team returning from practice. They actually crowded around, chatting and joking about the stache. I told them to drink it in, as it was the mustache’s last moments on Earth. A few kids went “awww.” I trimmed, shaved in the bike commuting locker room, and returned my clippers to the coach for the aforementioned X-C shaving. When the kids saw me, a roar of disappointment rose from them. They actually mourned the mustache. It was really amazing. And hilarious. What their collective groan at my shaving told me was that they appreciated the break from routine, the connection with their teachers in a silly way, and the leveling effect of a goofy act on the part of the teacher.

I am not an affective teacher, preferring to stick to the business at hand, having fun, but maintaining a certain distance that allows for a mutually respectful relationship with kids. This month of shared silliness has not necessarily brought students closer to me, but it has brought me closer to them, which may help me bridge gaps that would have existed or been perceived by certain kids. I think I’m a little more human today in their eyes, and I think that’s a mutual victory. I guess I’ve learned something that this guy knew all along, and I’m better for it.