May 042012
 

Well I am back. I have finally summoned enough energy to drag myself off the couch and over to my laptop in an effort to put together a bit of reflection on how last term’s iPad documentary project went. Despite what the title of this post might suggest, everyone is still alive and all in all, the entire project was a complete and unmitigated, fair to middling success. For those of you who prefer ed-speak, I feel all curricular objectives were met but the process by which we came to meet these objectives, is in need of some pedagogical realignment.

For anyone who is just joining us, the iDoc project was a little experiment where I had the kids create a 10 – 15 minute documentary on a teen health issue, using their iPads. At the end of the term, what I received from the kids was 6 documentaries on four different topics.

  • Eating Disorders
  • Gaming Addiction
  • Mental heath and the teen
  • Drug and Alcohol addiction
Since I let the kids choose their topic, I had some duplication but that was fine with me. What I was more concerned about was getting kids vested in a topic so they would have the interest to carry the project through to the end.

The way I set the project up was that all the documentaries were anchored by the research each group did prior to filming. This research was then supplemented with information I provided through direct instruction over the term and finally the students rounded out their information gathering by conducting interviews with students, teachers and “experts” on the topic they were documenting.

Because all the curricular content was still being covered during class time, the documentaries didn’t have to be the means by which the kids learned the content. This allowed the groups to concentrate on the production of the film rather than focusing on “learning” curriculum as they went along. This is not to say the kids were not learning anything but they were able to put their efforts into creating the documentary rather than learning the material.

Although I planned and delivered the curriculum over the course of the term as usual. When it came to producing the documentary, I purposely left the “how to” VERY unstructured. I provided the kids some basic criteria and showed a number of samples of what a documentary looks like but beyond that, it was left up to them. My reasoning for this was that I wanted a baseline. I wanted to see what the kids could create with only a topic, some research and a couple of iPads in hand.

The result was an interesting mix of inspired creativity and brilliance, connected by a fair bit of “WHAT THE ……. Was that?”

I laughed, I cried and frequently said to myself… “I gotta change that for next year!” but when all was said and done. the kids had learned something, I learned something and we all seemed to all have fun.

So what is next? Well from my pedagogical post-mortem, I now have a far better idea of how best to do this sort of thing in the future. I think most of the issues that could be encountered, were reveal and now the only place to go is onward and upward. For more info on how I will go about it… Read on!

The Unseemly Details 

Although most of the items listed below were discussed in class, they were not part of any sort of criteria students HAD to meet. The result is that some or all of these issues appeared in each of the documentaries. For the most part they were small niggly little things but they quickly added up to spoil at least a portion of each of the documentaries.

When using an iPad to film

  • Always film in landscape
  • Make sure your hand isn’t covering the mic
  • Make sure there isn’t much background noise while filming
  • Make sure you are filming just the torso of the person being interviewed
Text Slides
  • Use text slides to transition into new points you are trying to get across to viewers.
  • Text slides need to be timed so people can actually read what they say.
  • Don’t put too much information on a text slide.
Interviews
  • Maximum length of each video clip should be no more than 2 – 3 minutes
  • Break up your interview clips with a text slide or image supporting what you are discussing
Use of supplemental video
  • Supplemental video should not be the core of your documentary
  • Supplemental video clips should be 15 to 30 seconds maximum
  • GIVE CREDIT to the producers of your supplemental video.

Biggest blunder on my part

One thing I totally dropped the ball on with this project, is that I should of had the groups create a story board before they even started filming anything. Story boarding is a basic precept of film making and leaving it out of the process was a colossal blunder on my part. This would have made the production of the documentaries easier and the end product much more focused.

Solution to all our problems But I can’t manipulate it to do what I want.

While we were working on this project the new iMovie app came out with their fantastic trailer templates which have story board built right into them. When I saw these, I immediately thought this is precisely what we needed for this project. It would be GREAT if I could create a template with which the kids could create their first documentary with. Built right into the template is the story board, transitions, timing … all the things that the kids struggled with in this project, could be easily managed with a template. IF apple ever makes this possible, mini documentaries will be flowing out my classroom door on a weekly basis.

In the end

I am really quite pleased with the results. Although things weren’t perfect and I wasn’t really breaking any “new ground”, as creating videos as a demonstration of learning is not new. What this little project served to do, is prove that using video has become as accessible as creating a power point or a poster board.

What once was a major undertaking has become a daily classroom tool. There are still skills that we need to develop to use it effectively but it is now possible to make video a staple in the classroom.

Final word

It is undeniable that the iPad is a pretty nifty gadget and it will evolve as a teaching and learning tool as time goes by but we must keep reminding ourselves of this single truth. The iPad in and of itself does not necessarily make the process of learning any easier for student or teacher, it just makes it different. Once again, this project has proven to me that there is more to skool then a cool tool.

iDoc Sample

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