Interviews in South Australia

In August 2013, I spent some time with the Department for Education and Child Development in South Australia. While I was there, I was interviewed about a number of issues related to technology and social media in Education. One of the resulting videos is found below (“Using Twitter Effectively in Education”), and there are 12 others found in this playlist.

And, for other interviews from the Department by other groups and individuals, check out their Youtube channel.

10 Ideas for Classroom Video Projects

“… ten years ago, not one student in a hundred, nay, one in a thousand, could have produced videos like this. It’s a whole new skill, a vital and important skill, and one utterly necessary not simply from the perspective of creating but also of comprehending video communication today.” (Stephen Downes)

If you follow my Twitter-stream, you know that I spend a lot of time viewing, collecting & sharing videos. In this post, I share ideas on certain types of videos that I’ve gathered and how educators might use related methods or styles to engage students in constructing and deconstructing media while becoming critical consumers and producers of digital media.

1) Conversation with Future Me/You:

“A Conversation with My 12 Year Old Self: 20th Anniversary Edition” is a recently popular video by Jeremiah McDonald. In the video, McDonald has created an interview with himself through the use of 2 decade old footage that he created as a 12 year old. The video had me kicking myself for not having the forethought to have produced something like this, but I suppose there’s always interviewing my 60 year old self at some point.

While presenting with my brother George (he’s likely blogged about this somewhere) in Australia this past Summer, I remember him discussing how this activity would be an excellent beginning/end of year exercise that students of all ages could enjoy and learn from. I agree. If done well, this type of activity could provide a student with not only a rich assessment of learning/growth throughout the year, but provide individuals with a precious artefact to be collected, shared, and cherished.

Another angle for this activity could be to create a video or a dialogue with a literary, historical or popular media character. This Vader/Skywalker version of McDonald’s video may give you some ideas.

2) Genre Shifting Movie Trailers:

One of my favourite types of video projects are the genre-shifted movie trailers where creators take movie clips and retell the plot of the story in a different genre than the original. Popular examples include The Shining as a romantic comedy, Mary Poppins as a dark horror film, Home Alone as a horror/thriller, Superbad as a thriller, Ferris Bueller’s Day off as an indie “coming of age” film and Mrs. Doubtfire as a horror film.

Genre-shifting video projects are valuable in a number of ways. As video creation projects, they would not require a high-level of technical ability. In fact, I would argue that students with basic video editing capabilities could create videos like these from a purely technical perspective. However, if done well, such projects could challenge students to think deeply about the grammar of storytelling while considering essential elements of creating video (e.g., music, timing, edits/cuts, effects, pauses/silence, etc.) for various genres . As well, students would have to acquire a keen eye for the curation involved in finding & gathering elements that would support a chosen genre. But, even without offering students a hands-on component, these videos would be great for discussing questions around how film directors/producers make us feel a certain way through the thoughtful use of various edits & visual/auditory/stylistic elements.

3) Storytelling Lip-Syncs:

I’ve recently discovered BoredShortsTV, a Youtube channel where kids write & record audio stories and adults reenact the stories while lip-syncing the original audio. My favourite video so far is this “Salesman” clip, but see also “Principal’s Office”, “Dance Class” and “Basketball Class”.

I would love to see schools take on a video project such as this where elementary school students were responsible for writing, narrating and recording audio stories and then had middle school or high school students act out and lip-sync the video in creative ways. This could provide an onramp for greater collaboration amongst teachers, across grade levels, and also provide a project that would be humorous and fun for the entire school community to view.

4) Plot Synopsis in 60 Seconds:

There are a number fun plot synopses videos available on Youtube (and other video sharing services) that do well to provide summaries of Hollywood movies or novels in 60 seconds. Notable examples include “Forrest Gump in One Minute, One Take”, “60 Second Fight Club”, “Jaws in 60 Seconds”, “Kill Bill 1 & 2 in One Minute, One Take” and “Lord of the Rings in 60 Seconds”. There is also the excellent 60 Second Recaps site that is a great resource for students and educators needing comprehensive and enjoyable plot summaries.

Projects like this could help students gain skills needed to become more effective communicators with digital technologies, skills that are essential in our attention-scarce reality, while providing entry points into a wider comprehension of literature & popular media.

5) Stop Motion:

I’ve been enamoured with stop motion films since I first saw Norman McLaren’s anti-war classic ‘Neighbours’ when I was a boy. In the last several years, I’ve seen countless examples of conventional stop motion videos such as “Tony vs. Paul”, “Western Spaghetti”, “Rwandan Grand Prix”, ““Sorry I’m Late”“, ““Human Skateboard”” and “PEN Story”. I’ve also noticed a number of stop motion music videos such as “Wildlife Control”, “Dream Music 2″, “Against the Grain” and the incredible “Her Morning Elegance”.

What I like about these videos is that there is so much variation and creativity among these pieces. There is no simple recipe or formula and from a technical standpoint, the method for creating stop motion effects is done in a number of unique ways. And, if you consider a video like “Amateur” by Lasse Gjertsen, you will realize that stop motion is more than just choppy video. Rather, it’s a method of construction that allows artists to create things that could not be formed similarly through other methods. Gjertsen states at the end of his video, “I can neither play the drums nor play the piano”, yet through his video editing mastery, he is transformed into a talented musician.

6) Course Trailers:

Back in 2007, I used a course trailer to provide information and to get potential students interested in the open online course I was introducing. It was a fun experiment and I’ve since had many people interested in taking on the idea. I just noticed this Vimeo Channel from Harvard where there are a number of good examples.

The conciseness of the course trailer has similar advantages to what was expressed above about the plot synopses. However, I also think that educators taking on projects like this not only learn a lot from creating the project (e.g., technical skills, core focus), but also, it can provide a message to students that you are willing to push your own learning and have some fun while doing it.

7) Summaries of Learning:

For the past several years, I’ve been asking my students to create a “Summary of Learning” that captures and describes growth and key learnings throughout our course. Students have utilized a number of different formats of video to take on this task (e.g., stop motion, vlogging, podcasts), but the most popular format has been screencasting. Popular screencasting tools used include Screenr, Screencast-o-matic, and Camtasia (and a bunch more here). Dozens of examples of these summaries of learning can be found here but to get a sense of the different types, I’ll point you specifically to Leslie’s (stop motion), Lauren’s (video on identity), Kevin’s (traditional video cast) and Matt’s (stop motion + Photoshop).

This assignment has been very popular with mystudents and I’ve been quite pleased with the results. Our students need the opportunity to reflect on their learning, and providing them with alternatives to written summaries helps to improve their communication abilities while providing potentially rich artefacts of and for learning.

8) Kutiman-Style Mashups:

Kutiman’s 2009 Thru-You project was a great inspiration to me and many others. In the project, Kutiman curated samples of music from various amateur musicians on Youtube to create original musical pieces. Time Magazine named the project one of the best 50 inventions for 2009 as it was an unique way to both curate and combine samples. Recently, Gotye, inspired by Kutiman’s project, released a mashup encompassing samples from dozens of covers from his own song, “Somebody I Used to Know”.

There are two major things I like about these projects. First, I see this as moving beyond the ‘digital essay’, to achieve what we’ve always wanted to do in classrooms, to take and build upon the work of others and while doing so, to create something uniquely original and new. And second, this type of project allows student to play within the boundaries of fair use/dealing, not to only better understand copyright, but to execute our rights in current/emerging copyright legislation. If we do not act upon our rights, we are sure to lose them.

9) Video Re-creations:

My brother George introduced me to Ton Do-Nguyen, the sixteen year old who recently created the Snuggie version of a Beyonce music video. If you watch the side-by-side comparison, it is easy to see the incredible skill and attention to detail of this young man. And to know that he learned this on his own without any formal instruction makes this even more amazing.

I don’t have many examples of this type of thing, not that I don’t think there are any, but that I just haven’t been looking until now. But I am going to go out on a limb here and say that the process of discovering, recreating and reverse-engineering complex editing processes like seen in this video must lead to deep learning, and thus I do believe this is a worthwhile type of project to pursue.

10) Social Commentary & Critique:

9 year old blogger Martha Payne recently made headlines when her Scottish school district tried shutting down her NeverSeconds daily food blog, one that critiqued the quality of food at her school cafeteria. Ewan McIntosh outlines the series of events in his blog which eventually led to the school district backing down from the ban after increased media pressure and bad PR.

This type of social commentary and critique is greatly lacking in our schools. I would love to see more students take on social causes of interest, to speak their minds in support of change, and to learn how to do it with candour, respect and persuasion. We have the ability to look into a camera and record our words and to be heard locally or globally. Yet, is this happening in school? Let’s make sure it is – let’s be sure to educate this generation to take advantage of these new forms of empowerment. If we are not heard, if we do not engage in these participatory forms of media, I fear these freedoms will not be around for long.

Why Publish Student Work to the Web?

Here is yet another compelling reason why we should encourage posting student work to the Web. Enjoy this beautiful cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide from elementary students of the PS22 Chorus in New York City.

From the comments, “What does Stevie think of this?” (although I can’t confirm validity – confirmed here).

Just got word from Stevie Nicks tour manager that she was completely blown away by the PS22 Chorus rendition of her song “Landslide!” He said she asked him to replay 2 times afterwards, crying each time she watched! Talk about humbling!! And the kicker?? She invited the PS22 Chorus to sing the song at Madison Square Garden for the upcoming June 11th Fleetwood Mac show!! Holy cow!!!

It will be interesting to see if the RIAA feels the same way.

If you want to know more about this group and their story, I’d recommend reading “Glee Club” from The Brooklyn Rail. From that story …

It’s unusual, but it works. In a school where more than three quarters of the students are eligible for free lunch, the lyrics of the song have resonance, and the performance is haunting, emotive, and delivered with far more soul than one might expect from a bunch of fifth-graders.

Catch this while it is real. Don’t wait for the movie.

Animal Abusers Caught

About 17 hours ago, I came across a video on Youtube (referred via Reddit) of a teen in a face mask being videoed as he abused a cat. I immediately sent this tweet:

Twitter / Alec Couros: So how exactly does someon ...
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

A few of us discussed it on Twitter, reported it to Youtube, and within about 15 minutes, the video was taken down. We wondered at the time if the people involved would be caught. I am happy to report that this is the case, and this news report outlines what happened.

It is great to see that members of the Youtube community were able to act quickly and identify the perpetrators.

Is This Forever?

One of the videos I showed last night during my Media Literacy presentation was the recent “David After Dentist” video. The scene is of a seven year old boy who just left the Dentist’s office and was still feeling the effects of sedation. I’ve posted the video to Twitter, and while most people report it to be quite funny, others were more critical of this scene being posted to Youtube for all to see. The original video (posted below) was posted January 30, 2009, and has already been viewed over 7 million times.

Boing Boing, a highly influential group blog, posted the video on September 3. At that time, there had already been a few remixes. Since the Boing Boing mention, the number of remixes has exploded. Two of my favourite are found below:

Remix:

Chad (Vader) After Dentist

There are dozens more!

How does this relate to media literacy? During his state of sedation, the boy asks “is this forever?” While the dad reassures him that it isn’t, in the (digital) media sense, it is forever. Whether the boy likes it or not, he is now an Internet star. The scene will likely follow him into classrooms, into careers, into relationships; it will forever be part of his identity. Whether he accepts his fame as mostly positive (see Gary Brolsma) or especially negative (see Ghyslain Raza) is yet to be seen. What is certain is that the distribution of this video, a piece of David’s identity, is no longer in anyone’s full control.

Join the Youtube Symphony Orchestra

An exciting new Youtube music project has been announced. Tan Dun, the legendary classical composer, wrote a piece specifically for this project that asks you to download the available sheet music, practice your piece, and submit your completed piece to Youtube. I imagine this could be very motivating for young musicians, and for me, something like this would have likely kept me interested in music (rather than kicking myself years later). Take a look for yourself.

Play your part in music history and join the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. You just need to upload two videos: your contribution to the Tan Dun piece and a general audition video. Good luck!

An Anthropological Introduction To Youtube

Do yourself a favour and take some time to watch Professor Michael Wesch’s brilliant presentation to the Library of Congress, June 23, 2008. The video is 55 minutes long, but is an excellent backgrounder to social media, user-generated content, and online communities through the lens of anthropology.

This will be required viewing for my students.

What Makes A Message Compelling?

There’s an interesting article at ars technica titled, “YouTube users prefer lousy science over the real deal“. The article briefly summarizes a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which reports the quality and veracity of information available from Internet-based sources. More specifically, the study focused on the information on immunization found on Youtube.

153 videos related to immunization were identified, categorized and analyzed. Researchers looked for a correlation between the type of message in the video (whether it supported immunization programs, was ambiguous, or was critical of immunization) and the rating and number of comments it received in Youtube. “Compared with positive videos, negative videos were more likely to receive a rating, they had a higher mean star rating and more views.” In other words, videos critical of the official immunization program were more popular and more highly rated.

While I’m more than just a bit skeptical of the conclusion, ars technica summarizes:

The big message in the data, however, appears to be that viewers don’t find the information being put out by public health authorities compelling at all. Even among the positive videos (which were poorly viewed and rated), public service announcements grabbed the smallest audience and the worst ratings; even among videos with a small audience, they stood out as being ignored.

So what makes a message compelling? If the message rejects traditional thinking, is it more likely to be compelling? Is this what make conspiracy theory videos so attractive? If this is true, what does this mean for teaching? Should we put more emphasis on bring alternative messages into our classroom in order to critique and analyze them? Are we already doing this? Sounds like a great opportunity for critical thinking and critical media literacy.

Threats Against User-Generated Content

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails recently posted his thoughts on his plan for a user-generated content site where fans would be encouraged to remix and mash-up NIN content. Due to a lawsuit by Universal Studios (NIN music copyright holder) against Youtube and MySpace, the plans for this site have been cancelled.

On Saturday morning I became aware of a legal hitch in our plans. My former record company and current owner of all these master files, Universal, is currently involved in a lawsuit with other media titans Google (YouTube) and News Corp (MySpace). Universal is contending that these sites do not have what is referred to as “safe harbor” under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and therefore are in copyright violation because users have uploaded music and video content that is owned by Universal. Universal feels that if they host our remix site, they will be opening themselves up to the accusation that they are sponsoring the same technical violation of copyright they are suing these companies for. Their premise is that if any fan decides to remix one of my masters with material Universal doesn’t own – a “mash-up”, a sample, whatever – and upload it to the site, there is no safe harbor under the DMCA (according to Universal) and they will be doing exactly what MySpace and YouTube are doing. This behavior may get hauled out in court and impact their lawsuit. Because of this they no longer will host our remix site, and are insisting that Nine Inch Nails host it. In exchange for this they will continue to let me upload my Universal masters and make them available to fans, BUT shift the liability of hosting them to me. Part of the arrangement is having user licenses that the fans sign (not unlike those on MySpace or You Tube) saying they will not use unauthorized materials. If they WERE to do such a thing, everybody sues everybody and the world abruptly ends.

Reznor then points to an article at Ars Technica describing a similar suit between Viacom and Youtube. This excerpt stresses how important these law suits are and the implications on user-generated content.

The DMCA’s Safe Harbor provisions aren’t just important to video sharing sites; they’re important to almost every sector of Internet-based business.
“Nearly every major Internet company depends on the very same legal foundation that YouTube is built on,” said von Lohmann. “A legal defeat for YouTube could result in fundamental changes to its business, potentially even making it commercially impossible to embrace user-generated content without first ‘clearing’ every video. In other words, a decisive victory for Viacom could potentially turn the Internet into TV, a place where nothing gets on the air until a cadre of lawyers signs off,” he said. “More importantly, a victory for Viacom could potentially have enormous implications for Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, MySpace, and many other Internet companies, because they all rely on the same DMCA Safe Harbors to protect many facets of their businesses, as well. The stakes are high all around.”