My third contribution to the digital mentor text series centers on the idea of creating a short, live action film. As I mentioned in my post last week, and Franki reiterated, so many times in video production we give students the camera and simply hope that something good comes from it. As (digital) writers, we need to help them become much more intentional about their storytelling.
There are times when we ask our students to imitate published authors, and to do so quite intentionally. We recognize this not as an act of plagiarism, but as a way for them to study and learn technique. It is interesting to think about the different teachable moments that could come from this conversation about the idea itself — and whether it is “unique” as an intellectual property — as well as about the media employed in the film, thus raising questions about copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons. In academia, it is so ironic that we are all about enforcing the idea that students come up with original writing and that they don’t steal the words of someone else, yet we cram five-paragraph essays and scripted research papers down their throats. If we invite them to imitate a digital mentor text, we need to help them learn how to do it appropriately, and do it well.
I think that this film, as an imitation of another Cannes Festival short, can tell help us generate a number of important questions about when, how, and why we may want to use imitation. Obviously, there are so many examples of what we could want our students to do ranging from movie trailers to PSAs, yet the idea of creating a short film, especially one that imitates an existing film, could be useful for a variety of reasons.
What are the decisions that the digital writers will have to make about the characters, setting, dialogue, framing, pacing, and other related elements of the film itself? How might you adapt this to your own context?
What is the main message from the original film and how is that message conveyed? Are there elements in the original film that could be replaced? What must stay the same?
In what ways can you construct a complete narrative to fit within a certain timeframe, both in terms of the time you have to film it as well as the total length you want for the film? (This reminds me, in some way, of creating a six word story).
What are the rhetorical techniques at play in this film? Why did the filmmaker(s) construct it in the manner that he/she/they did? What can you, as a digital writer, learn from that construction?
So, those are some thoughts on this short film, one that was created in the image of another short film. If the film itself doesn’t raise some questions for you, then I at least hope that this idea of imitation — when, how, and why to use imitation — certainly does.
This will be a busy weekend of writing as I prep for our series on mentor texts in the digital writing workshop.
I would like to say that I can write most of these posts as the week progresses, but my past history as a blogger (being somewhat irregular in my posting patterns) as well as the start of the new semester next week tells me that I need to get some things organized this weekend. Also, I want to respond to what Bill, Katie, Kevin, Tony and Franki post over the next few days as well, so I am getting as much of my writing done as possible this weekend.
To that end, I have decided to focus my attention on digital mentor texts that are professionally produced videos, readily available on YouTube. I’ve chosen to do this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that when I talk with teachers about digital writing it seems that the most difficult week for them to make — moving from traditional, textual form of writing into more multimodal pieces — is this shift to composing video. I think that most teachers can see the value in creating a piece of writing and having a student read it aloud to be recorded as a podcast, and that all teachers recognize the need for our students to become public speakers and to be able to prepare a slide deck for an oral presentation. I also think that many of them see value in using particular tools such as screencasting or Prezi, although the projects that get created sometimes did not go through an entire “writing process” in the way that we would expect the traditional essay, book review, or research paper to go through.
Yet, creating videos, good videos — whether they are live-action, a series of images either digital or hand-drawn, a demonstration via screencast, or animation — takes time, energy, and effort that goes above and beyond simply asking students to “make a video” without much direction or support. Many teachers asked me whether or not video production really falls under the purview of English class, rather hoping to delegate it to no luck of course in film production or simply ignoring it altogether. It is one thing to put a flip video camera into a child’s hands and asked them to create something where is this something entirely different to frame that video production process through the lens of writing or, more broadly, composing.
For instance, while I appreciate what Alan Sitomer did with his “digital book report” contest last year, I feel that the production value of the short films could have been much higher had students thought more carefully about the craft of composing video. For instance, the middle school winners who produced the video report on Holes were on target with their general script for the video and the major events they wanted to include from the book. Yet, the video itself moves forward in a very haphazard way, and it is clear that the students are only using the props and locations easily available to them rather than doing any kind of set design or other planning. I mention these aspects not to criticize the students for what they did, because obviously Alan and the other judges for this contest from the video entertaining and useful. Still, I think that there could be other examples of how students might compose the digital book report that would show more complexity of thought, as well as artistic expression. It’s the difference between handing them a flip camera and giving them an hour to pull something together as compared to spending time talking about the craft of digital writing.
Thus, in focusing on digital video (and on professionally produced digital videos in particular), I want to invite teachers and students to think about how the video was made as well as their emotional and intellectual response to it, yet to also think about how writing — from brainstorming initial ideas, to creating a script and storyboard, to imagining the types of processes that one must go through to compose a visual text — plays a major part of the process of creating such a video. I also want to think about some tech tools that we use, like screen casting, and how we might be able to repurpose those tools as a way for reflection and assessment. I will also try to connect the video for each post that I write to some of the larger goals that we have for teaching writing, such as stating a clear thesis, adding appropriate details and examples, and making connections to other texts. Finally, of course, the production of video automatically brings up a number of concerns about copyright and fair use, as well as Creative Commons licensing. since this is a component of our work as English teachers that will only continue to become more and more a part of what we do each day, I think that digital video offers us good opportunities to discuss these issues.
So, those are some thoughts from a Friday morning as I prepare to find some digital mentor texts to write about this weekend. I already received one great lead for my editor at Heinemann, and I have a few other ideas to follow up on. I look forward to the conversation that will unfold over the next week.
Over the past few weeks, I have been fortunate enough to teach in MSU’s MA in Ed Tech program here in Rouen, France. With the inspiration of Leigh Graves Wolf and Punya Mishra, one of the major foci of the program is on creativity. As I think about how to be more creative in teaching my own pre-service methods courses and leading professional development, this summer has been very helpful for me, allowing me enough flexibility to explore new ideas while also teaching about broad themes in education, as well as educational technology. To that end, we have been inviting the teachers to do “quickfire” types of activities each day, and I wanted to share some of my thinking on some of the creative works that I have developed in the past few weeks alongside my colleagues — and how they can be connected to digital writing — beginning with one that Punya led yesterday.
Yesterday, Punya led us in a conversation about “tensions” in education, and we had to represent our tension through a multiplicity photo. Using my iPhone (solo, so I had to actually record this as a video and take screen shots from the footage), Pixlr, this tutorial, and help from colleagues in class, I was able to produce and submit the photo above. Don’t ask me which tension I was trying to represent exactly, as I am not really sure myself; my composing process got too focsued on the the outcome and the tech, and I really forgot what it was I was supposed to “say.”
What I do know is that it took me a great deal of thinking to do this quickfire because A) I did it alone and we were supposed to have a partner to take the photos, B) I got a late start, and C) even though Punya said we could repurpose a tool like PPT to blend photos together, I knew that I wanted to do something with an image-editing tool (once Photoshop wouldn’t work for me, I switched to Pixlr).
More importantly, I was learning with my students. I normally talk about the fact that I am only one step ahead, and helping them figure things out. But, because I am one step ahead, I look like a tech genius. In this case, I was walking right next to my colleagues, or even a step behind. I had to raise my hand when Punya asked us who wanted a tutorial and, after figuring it out, immediately had to explain the concepts of the layering, erasing, and blending to another colleague, leading her through the process.
This put me in the role of the learner, and only a slightly more knowledgable other. It was good to feel uncomfortable with a technology and process. This reminds me that when I am talking about digital writing tools, no matter how common they are to me, they can still seem completely strange someone who has never used them. Moreover, describing what we did as a composing process is critical, because it helps me frame the task in terms of purpose and audience.
Inspired by the idea of an Ignite-style presentation, in particular this one by Chris Lehmann, Greg and I wanted students to summarize the major problems and possible solutions related to technology integration in education. We also wanted our students to be concise and collaborate. We wanted them to develop an “Authentic Use Policy” for themselves and their colleagues. Knowing that Present.me would be the final tool that we used to share our work and record the five-minute presentation, we knew we needed to have slides in a PPT compatible format. Also, people needed to collaborate. Fast.
So, we went with Google Docs. And, while it didn’t allow us all the flexibility in terms of design, it did work as a collaborative composing space. I recorded the entire 30 minutes or so of the slidedeck coming together using Camtasia, and here is a quick clip of the few minutes that I was working on my slides. Watching what I am doing (playing with fonts, finding a CC licensed image, organizing slides) and what is going on in the background with other partners’ sets of slides shows us a quick glimpse into the collaborative composing process. We had talked about slide design and looked at some resources from Robin Williams’ Non-Designers Design principles, and that helped some of us guide our work.
This collaborative, quick process is one that many of the teachers said could be adapted to their classroom. Moreover, the slides contain information that could be adapted for future PD that they might lead. While it was fast, it captured a semester’s worth of learning, and brought all our voices into the process, both in terms of design and implementation.
Punya has been exploring stop motion with his own children for a number of years, and I have also been inspired by the work of Kevin Hodgson, and I wanted to find a genuine opportunity to try it out with my own. After watching a series of videos that our MAET students created in response to a prompt about creativity, my own children were quite inspired. Lexi, Beau, and I took my iPhone, and some bowling pins that they had been playing with outside, and began to craft a story. Using a lawn chair to steady my camera, we shot dozens of pictures while, at the same time, trying to think about a good story to tell along the way.
They quickly figured out that the one yellow pin should be excluded in some way, and had to figure out how to animate that. They worked together to hold the yellow pin off screen, having her “peek” back in as the bowling ball moved forward to knock down the other pins. At first, we ended the picture taking with the yellow pin standing in the middle, triumphant. But, they were not happy with that ending, as they didn’t feel like the story was really “over.” So, we brainstormed other options. One of them remembered that grandma had just thrown away a red twist tie, and we fashioned that into a smile to put on the yellow pin. After importing those shots, choosing a song, putting in the sound effect, and testing it out on an audience of siblings, we knew that we had created a good story.
While my kids did not “write” in the traditional sense, spending time putting words on paper (or screen), we were clearly engaged in a storytelling process. Also, the fact that they had to think about the story in such small, frame-by-frame increments led them to carefully consider what each pin would be doing. Finally, even though Lexi’s feet were accidentally included in one key shot (that we didn’t want to shoot again because we couldn’t get all the pins back in the exact place), they were able to creatively solve that dilemma by putting a note in the credits.
This has been a fun summer, both in terms of teaching and trying out new digital writing approaches with my kids.
As the holidays begin, another conference season comes to a close.
For the past week, Sara and I have been in Philadelphia at the National Writing Project‘s “Digital Is…” pre-conference, the NWP Annual Meeting, and the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention. As it is each year, we enjoy spending time with colleagues and find opportunities to learn about their work. Moreover, we pause to think about our own work including what we have accomplished in the past year and what we are looking forward to in the next.
To that end, I began writing this reflection in the lobby of the Sheraton in Philly, continued it at the airport and on the plane, and now post it as I spend Thanksgiving with my parents. Here is my day-by-day account of NWP/NCTE 2009.
Arriving in Philly on Tuesday afternoon, we had some time to enjoy a quick walk and prepare for the “Digital Is…” reception. Sponsored through NWP’s work with the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative, the entire “Digital Is…” conference was designed as an opportunity to convene teachers, teacher educators, and other stakeholders in conversations about what we know about teaching and learning with digital media. The opening reception was fun, followed by dinner with colleagues from Science Leadership Academy. A great way to begin our week, for sure.
“Digital Is…“convened in the Sheraton, with two slideshows from Danielle DeVoss. The first ran as a background show during breakfast, the second was her keynote. There is no way to capture the energy that she shared during this session, except to say that she really framed the day with her eight key themes about “digital is…” that I outlined in a previous post. So, even though the experience is not nearly the same, here are the slideshows:
For the afternoon, I was again fortunate to present with Dawn about our work with podcasting, as featured in Teaching the New Writing. By doing a protocol analysis discussion of the work, we were really able to dig deeply and think about what was there. One of the more stunning realizations that we had in the conversation was about the ways in which the composing process changes when writers begin with the goal of creating a spoken and, in some sense, permanent text. I think that the line from the notes that captures it best is that the process of recording the podcast “reinforces writing as a capacity that changes across genres and audiences and mediums.” It will be interesting to see where Dawn goes next with this work.
The second round of discussion was interesting, too, as we mixed up groups and have conversations across the elements of student work. Rather than try to capture all the complexities of that conversation in writing, I will share two items. The first is a list of “final words” that I asked participants in our session to state in relation to their thoughts about composing in digital environments at the end of this hour-long conversation. The second is a concept map that I tried to draw while we were talking. Neither alone captures all that happened in our session, but perhaps will give you some insights into what happened.
I had the opportunity to then help close the day, asking participants to create “invitations” that could be used to ask other stakeholders to join in the conversation about digital writing with youth. One of the most consistent themes from throughout the day was the fact that most of the digital writing opportunities that students have are taking place outside of school. This is a travesty. If we can create these types of engaging opportunities outside of school, then surely we can consider how to do better at creating these types of learning spaces inside of schools. This is something to chew on in the weeks and months to come as I figure out where to go next with my own work and the direction of our writing project.
The NWP Annual Meeting kicked off with morning and afternoon workshops. In the morning, I attended one on developing site leadership and, in the afternoon, on integrating new literacies into the site’s work that featured Paige Cole, Joe Conroy, Shasta Looper, and Sara Beauchamp-Hicks. Along with Sara’s overview of how she integrated her own growth as a tech leader into her site’s work and securing mini-grants and creating professional development experiences, I was particularly interested in watching Paige and Joe talk about the work that they initially developed at Tech Matters 2007 and to see how they have grown work at their sites. Literally, I had goose bumps watching Paige’s video reflection. Taken with ideas from the morning about how to support and encourage site leaders, the two sessions reminded me of the power of the NWP network, and how small doses of encouragement from a mentor can turn into incredible work.
More NWP today, with Billy Collins bringing down the house at the general session. Truly, truly wonderful. Also wonderful was the introduction of the Chippewa River Writing Project as one of the new sites in the NWP network! Later in the afternoon, I was able to attend a session on community partnerships, including a presentation from Joel Arquillos from the amazing 826 organization (which, if you haven’t heard about, watch Dave Eggers’ TED Talk and then visit the 826 website). Also, I got to hear about the Eastern Michigan Writing Project‘s Family Literacy workshops from their program director, Kim Pavlock. So many powerful ideas here from both Joel and Kim, but the biggest one being that we need to make learning to write purposeful for students and the process of doing so clear to their parents. What incredible programs to model from. To close the day, I got to hear from two of my mentors — Patti Stock and Peter Kittle — about the power of taking an inquiry stance towards teaching demonstrations in the summer institute. I am very much looking forward to returning to CRWP and talking over all this information with my leadership team, most of whom were there with me and will have ideas of their own to share, too.
An early morning brought both Sara and me to the NCTE booth, leading Tech-to-Go sessions for those beginning their day at NCTE. I talked about wikis, while Sara presented on Google Forms and then, later in the day, on iPod Touch applications. This led us to my presentation with Bud Hunt, “Reports from Cyberspace,” This was truly an amazing session, as we tried to incorporate a backchannel discussion through Twitter, delicious, and Chatterous. Also, in trying to use newer tools for presentations, I created a Prezi and Bud made a Voice Thread. The conversations that occured in the session, both face-to-face and online, were amazing, and we are thinking about repeating the session again next year. One recurring question was about access, and both Bud and I contended that it is reasonable to expect kids to do digital writing now, because there is access available in many more places and most of the tools are web-based. We also touched on issues of filtering, curriculum, assessment, and how to begin digital writing workshops.
Later that night, Sara and I were able to join the Heinemann reception and found out that my book sold out in the convention hall! Thanks to everyone who picked up a copy there, as well as to everyone else who then ordered one online. I am looking forward to where my next writing opportunity may take me…
We awoke Sunday morning for a wonderful session on erasing copyright confusion, and I was then able to interview Renee Hobbs for an aricle on fair use for CCCC-IP. We also were able to meet with the CEE Web Site Editors, and came up with a plan for developing some basic content for the site. Our afternoon found us on adventures in Philly with my friend Carl Young, and we enjoyed a visit to the National Constitution Center. In thinking about how and why we ask students to compose digital writing, our visit to this center was particularly appropriate, as we were greeted with remixed versions of “People” magazine covers, featuring such historical figures as Abraham Lincoln and Betsy Ross, as well as a highly-interactive multimedia experince in the museum.
While we had planned to go to SLA, and appreciated the invite to be there, we ended up spending most of our day at at the Franklin Institute. Perhaps we will have to do EduCon instead. So, even though we missed SLA, we greatly enjoyed the Body Worlds exhibition, and felt that was a good use of our final hours in Philly.
Also, we realized that we missed the NCTE Centennial Preview, but John Golden provided the link for me, so you can enjoy it online!
As with all NWP/NCTE trips, this one game me so many good ideas and connections with colleagues. Next on my agenda are to begin planning next summer’s CRWP SI and, ideally, an advanced institute related to digital writing and copyright. Also, I am working on writing the article for the Cs Intellectual Property Caucus, CCCC-IP. Still thinking about so much, and hoping to get back to Philly with my entire family for more of the historical aspects of the town that we missed.
And, so goes another NWP Annual Meeting and NCTE Convention. Thanks for sticking with me through this whole pose.
The guidelines that have been created since the implementation of the 1970s copyright law were brought about from negotiations by the media industry; the guidelines that were created are not set down as the law