Thursday, October 25, 2012

iMovie Basics

As I mentioned in a recent post, I have been working with some 6th-graders to create election videos for a Project-Based Learning unit that was designed by one of our CODE teachers. I've been thrilled to see the level of engagement in these classes. I will write a blog later that shares some of my impressions of this learning, but as I go, I'm sharing some of the resources that I've been creating for the kids. This post is simply to share the basic how-to screencasts I created to help my video editing team kids as they begin construction their commercials.

Here are the videos:

While these were made with the kiddos in mind, I hope that they have value for you as well.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Lessons from WDW 5: Setting

This is part five in a series in which I explore the question: What elements of the Disney culture could be applied to educational design.

As usual, I'm taking my inspiration for this post from a post that I read at The Disney Institute Blog titled "The Magic of Setting." The gist of that post was the question, "what does your setting say about your business?" Or to translate into my educational focus, "what does your school or classroom setting say about the learning you will do there?"

I like this question because it's easy to tell when you are in an educational setting that has been purposefully designed versus one that has come into being through institutional inertia. To me, a thoughtfully designed setting speaks volumes about how engaged the leaders in that building or classroom are in the experience they hope to create for their students. I like a classroom design that leaves no question about what the focus of the work is, who is doing the work, how the work will be done, and what values are celebrated culturally. 

 Every element of the setting matters and can send a message to a student, employee or visitor that will affect that person's level of engagement in the space. When someone walks into your classroom or school for the first time, they are looking for ways in which they feel they belong. They are looking to see if they are valued and represented. They are looking to see if they will be interested, surprised, inspired and challenged. They are looking for evidence that they will be allowed to be themselves. In many cases, they are looking for a way in which you will prove their expectations wrong. 

What does the furniture in your room say about your class? What does the organization of the room say about the work you will be doing? How often does this change? What is on the walls, on the shelves, in the closets? How clean is the room? What value messages are on the walls, what is their tone, and where are they located? What is the color palette? What are the images? Is there music? If so, what is the tone, and who does it speak to? Where is the focus of the room? If there are tools, supplies or equipment, how accessible are they? Are there clear messages that direct visitors and participants on how to engage? If so, who wrote them? What is the tone? Whose interests are reflected in the decor? All of these questions (and so many more) can lead an observer to draw conclusions about your learning space and their place in it.

I should mention that the same is true for virtual learning spaces. 

One of the comments on the Disney Institute post raised the point that it is entirely possible for someone to have an incredibly well-designed setting and still offer a less-than-satisfactory experience (think of the theme restaurant with bland fare vs. the hole-in-the-wall dive with amazing food). To this I reply that I agree that setting is no substitute for a quality experience, but evidence of thoughtful planning can set the tone for your first interactions. This is important when you are trying to create a positive experience from scratch. The setting gets them there, and the experience keeps them coming back. How many people will not take the risk to buy-in from the beginning if they don't feel comfortable with the space?

Ultimately, the choices we make when we design our spaces have the power to support the experiences we hope our students have. If we create an inviting space that reinforces our values, we are more likely to be successful in creating those experiences because we are more likely to get our students to contribute to the experience, rather than detract from it. If we say we value collaboration, creativity or scholarship, we should be designing spaces that support those values. Then we should be designing learning experiences that incorporate those values. If we do both of those things, we will encourage those values in our students. If, however, we only do one or the other, the dissonance we create between setting and experience can undercut our ability to fully engage our students in the learning.

So I ask you, what does your classroom or school say about the learning you want people to do there? 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

12 Tips for Creating Classroom Videos

I'm working with a class of 6th grade students on shooting campaign commercials. For many, this will be their first attempt at making videos, so I've been cobbling together some advice as they go about the work. Ahead of shooting, they've already been storyboarding their video so that they will know exactly what they want to shoot. Our next step is to actually shoot the raw footage that will be edited into their final product. We're meeting today to talk about that process and to preview the editing process. This is the advice I'm going to start with:

Advice for the "Shot"

1. Remember the Rule of Thirds

Photographers and videographers refer to the "rule of thirds" to describe the points in an image that are the most vital and where one should place the action or subject of the shot. Imagine the grid to the right superimposed over an image. The red intersections of the lines are the points at which the important parts of the image should reside. You can see this in action when you look at professional photos in a magazine or when you watch television or movies.

Here is an example:

2. Think About Light

This is an easy mistake to make, but also an easy problem to avoid. Where the light sources are coming from will affect the quality of the shot. The most important thing for young people to avoid is backlighting a shot. A backlit shot is one in which the primary light in the shot is behind the subject of the shot. This creates a situation in which the subject is in shadow and cannot be seen clearly. The way to avoid this is to make sure that you have more light on the subject from behind the camera, and to avoid shooting directly toward a powerful light source like a window, the sun, or a bank of bright lights. To be fair, back lighting can be used to create positive effects as well. Here is a photo I took this year:

3. Think About the Background

It's easy to get so focused on the subject of the picture or video, that you forget about what is going on in the background. This is important to consider. In a video, if there is action in the background, it can distract the audience from what is happening in the foreground. Also, a better shot can often be created by just taking the time to think about what the "whole picture" includes. Are there items in the shot that could be avoided or removed? Is there a better background nearby that could enhance the shot. Think about what appears (or doesn't appear) in the background of a political ad.

Or think about the photo creepers that appear in the background of your vacation photos. It's better to think ahead to create a great shot, than to try to fix the distraction in editing later.

I have a great photo of my daughter playing in the ocean, but in the background behind her is another person whom I don't know and whom I wish wasn't there. I can Photoshop that person out, but it would have been better to have been conscious of the other person from the beginning.

4. Hold Still!

Nothing ruins a photo or makes a video look amateurish faster than unnecessary camera movement. The best thing to do when you want to have a really professional result is to use something like a tripod or monopod to stabilize the camera. Even when taking "on the fly" shots, you want to find a way to stabilize your shot, either by using a stationary object to lean against or by using your body to hold the camera as still as possible. When it is necessary to move the camera to follow some action, move as fluidly as possible, so that you can avoid the Blair Witch effect which can make some viewers nauseous.

5. Get the Shot You Want

There is a reason you see directors calling "cut" and then having the clicker slam down for a "Take 2." The first shot wasn't what the director wanted. By shooting until you get a perfect take, you end up with the product you want. Someone once told me that the difference between an amateur photographer and a professional photographer is about 300 photos. I believe it. And now that digital photo and video capture is as cheap and easy as it is, you can afford to take the time to get it right. I recommend that you start with an idea of what you want, take the time to get everything set up correctly, and then shoot the clip over again until you have what you imagined in the first place or something even better.

6. Be Kind to the Editors

If you are shooting video that will need to be edited together, build in some room for editing with each clip. Begin recording, then say something cool like "And Action..." Then, have everyone take a long pause before starting (imagine counting down from 3). Then film the clip. If it is a keeper, wait for another long pause before speaking, so that the camera person has time to stop recording. by putting a buffer at each end of the recording, you give video editors the room they need to make sure nothing is interfering with the content they want to use.

7. Consider B Roll

Have you ever seen one of those videos that begins with someone speaking on camera, but as they are speaking, the image changes from them to other images or video that illustrate their words? Those images and videos are called B Roll. Cutting to B Roll is effective for a couple of reasons. First of all, B Roll brings the person's words to life which helps the speaker to convey a message. Also, talking heads don't have the ability to hold an audience's attention for very long. By utilizing B Roll, the editor helps the audience stay engaged with what the speaker is saying. It's worth studying commercials to see how often the imagery changes. Typically, visual image changes will outnumber changes in audio content.

Here are a couple of ads that make good use of B Roll:

Advice for the Audio

8. Test the Audio Before Shooting

One of the fastest ways to spoil an otherwise great video is to burden it with bad audio. If the microphone doesn't pick up the subject's voice, if the sound is too loud or too fuzzy, or if the audio includes feedback, then your audience will quickly tune out. The best way to avoid these problems is to test your audio before you record. When using a microphone, the videographer can listen to the audio through headphones. If you are using built-in audio, do a test recording and listen to the results. In addition, if you notice audio conditions changing while recording, stop (when possible) and fix the problem before moving on.

9. Consider Your Audio Backdrop

Just as you should consider the visual background of a shot, you need to consider the audio background as well. When shooting in public, there are many audio variables. If you are filming next to a street, you can encounter traffic noise, for example. Good videographers work hard to anticipate and manage variables that might distract from the subject. Being conscious of these issues will make your video more professional. Also be aware that when your setting changes, the quality of the audio will change as well. This can be distracting particularly if there are a lot of changes or if those changes are dramatic. Some of this can be fixed in editing, but it is better to avoid the problem in the first place.

10. Enhance the Mood

The mood of your video can definitely be enhanced with the right music and sound effects. When editing video, you can drop in royalty-free music to help the audience know what to feel while watching. The tone of voice of your subject matters as well. Think about the effect someone's voice has on an audience when they are excited, happy or angry.

Overall Advice 

11. Keep It Simple

As with cosmetics and PowerPoint slides, less is more. Even basic video editing tools today allow for a wide array of transitions, effects, and media options. But, just because you can use 40 different video transitions in a single 3-minute film, doesn't mean you should. I encourage you to say what you have to say as simply as possible. Save the fancy tricks for when they are really needed.

12. Be Reflective
Learning to create good videos takes practice. Each time you set out to make a video, you will learn something new because you will have a new message, purpose and audience. You can speed up the learning process by taking the time to collect feedback and think about how you would improve the work next time. Also, watch TV and movies with a critical eye for learning. How do professionals do what you want to do?

What is Your Advice?

I'd love to know what advice you would give these amazing kids as they embark on their first videos. Please feel free to comment and add to this list. Thanks!

To see a related post on iMovie Basics go here.

photo credit: unleashingmephotography via photopin cc

photo credit: jgarber via photopin cc

photo credit: borman818 via photopin cc

photo credit: Yuxuan.fishy.Wang via photopin cc

photo credit: rcosgrove via photopin cc

photo credit: Rakka via photopin cc

photo credit: clocker via photopin cc

photo credit: doctorlizardo via photopin cc

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Lessons from WDW 4: Care

This is part four in a series in which I explore the question: What elements of the Disney culture could be applied to educational design.

As I've described in earlier posts, Disney puts a lot of effort into making sure its visitors feel noticed and important. Cast members work hard to make every interaction a positive one. Nurturing this type of customer service doesn't happen through stick and carrot incentives alone. Cast members have to care about the mission as much as executives. They need to feel that they are contributing to a culture that is bigger than themselves, but that they are responsible to.

According to "A Culture of Care," Disney does this by treating their employees with the same VIP attention that they apply to their customers. (See also "Treat Your Employees as Customers") I've never been a Disney employee, so I can't speak to the truth of this, but it is hard to imagine that the passion with which Disney cast members execute their work could be encouraged through mere carrot and stick methods of motivation. I can say that every cast member I've ever asked has told me that they love their work.

That shared sense of purpose (as captured in the quote above), and the cultural expectation that at Walt Disney World (The Happiest Place on Earth) people will be treated with kindness and care does make a difference, but I am positive that it is not easily accomplished, developed overnight, or guaranteed to last.

A cultural quality like caring is something that has to be developed through purposeful attention to living up to that quality at every level and every opportunity. It means taking the time to practice that quality through action, and venerate that quality through word. It means constantly assessing every part of the organization to see that examples of the quality are celebrated and that negative examples are prevented. Without that focused commitment, then an organization will lose that quality over time.

Building a culture starts at the top. If leadership doesn't clearly value a quality (like caring) through action and example, then the people they rely on to enact that quality will not make that quality a part of their work. By treating employees with care, Disney reinforces and models the culture of care that they want to see extended to their guests. The guests, in turn, come to embrace the same culture via immersion. In my experience, it really is hard to be unhappy at Disney World.

So, again I bring this back to education. Many of the very effective school leaders I've met echo the sentiment that real, cultural change takes focus, work and time. If you want your entire school to value something like scholarship or creativity or kindness or individuality, then you have to place that value (or set of values) on a pedestal and integrate that value into everything you do. That value should be the litmus test for the decisions you make every day. Moreover, that value should be part of your collective conversation so that everyone is generating and testing their own examples of that value in their own work. Make no mistake, the culture of a school is directly linked to the values of its leaders and their ability or inability to live those values over time.

This is partly because cultural values can be swamped in the details related to day to day management. It is easy to lose site of values like kindness or honesty when you have to constantly deal with questions of efficiency, compliance, test scores and cost. The needs of the system persistantly demand our attention at the cost of the needs of those around us. But what Disney illustrates is that the cultural landscape (though less measurable and less visible in the near-focus) is what ultimately contributes the most to the experiences of those who are in your care. Happy people contribute more to their own experiences and to the experiences of those around them. Everyone gains more when they feel they are responsible to and can take pride in their affiliations.

So I wonder, as a school leader, what do you value and why does it matter? Are those values evident in your work and visible to your colleagues? Do you consistently defend and celebrate those values? Do set clear expectations and strategies for how those values will guide the work of those who report to you? And do you have strategies for dealing with instances when others work in opposition to those values? What are you doing to build your culture, and what lessons have you learned in the process?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lessons from WDW 3: Guestology

This is part three in a series in which I explore the question: What elements of the Disney culture could be applied to educational design.

I read a blog post the other day from the Disney Institute that used a word I liked: Guestology.

Their definition for this fanciful word was "the study of the people for whom we provide service."

If you've ever booked a vacation with Disney, you know that they take this seriously. Sometimes it can feel like they are collecting more information about you than is necessary or comfortable. They go beyond simply asking if you have any special room requests. They want to know if you are celebrating anything during your visit, how old each member of your party is, if anyone has any dietary needs, and the list goes on.

When I first encountered this, I was a little cynical about it. They just want this information so that they can sell me the product, I mused. And to be clear, they do want to sell me the product. I got online the other day just to see what it might cost to go to WDW with my family in March. I wasn't looking to book; I was just doing the research. Two days later, I received an email from Disney that was seriously trying to sell the product, complete with pictures of the resort I had been looking at. So, yes, I know they are collecting all kinds of data, and I know that they will put that to use, trying to get me to book my next vacation. (Disney, if you're reading this, I really need there to be a free dining plan in the mix before I can commit).

Here's the thing, though. I don't mind.

When Disney collects that information (as well as all of the other information that they gather) they start to get a clearer picture of who I am in relationship to their experience. The more information I contribute, the more personalized my vacation becomes with them, and the more valuable it becomes to me. I don't want the base-model Disney experience. I want the Disney experience that is tailored to me and my family.

Disney folks are constantly collecting information to help them make the experience better for the individual guest. When I'm online researching, a chat window appears and invites me to ask questions. When I call to make dinner reservations, the booking agent asks questions to see if I've been there before, if I have particular needs, and if I am celebrating anything. Then he asks if I have any questions. When we meet a character, that character engages us in conversation and takes the time to make us feel recognized. Most importantly, all of these team members use the data they collect to make my visit better by making recommendations, sharing updated information, and giving me insider views on topics of interest.

So what does this have to do with education?

In education, we collect all kinds of data about kids. In the best situations we use that data to enhance their experiences in our schools and classrooms. Great teachers know that the best way to differentiate for kids and enhance their learning is to get to know the kids so well that you can tailor the learning to their interests, personalities, strengths and passions. Great administrators know that behavior improves when you know kids by name and can talk to them about their lives.

I wonder, though, how often we allow a kid to go unnoticed. How often do we let kids settle for the base-model of education because we aren't collecting enough of the right kinds of data, because we are focusing on the wrong kinds of data, or because we don't use the data we have to make sure that each child feels like the product we are selling was made just for them.

Data-collection can often seem cold and impersonal. It can make a person feel as though the system views them as a mere collection of numbers and factoids. I prefer Disney's approach to data. By focusing on Guestology, data-collection becomes a form of relationship-building. Maybe educators need a quirky word to point to so that we don't lose focus on what is important. Learnerology? Kidology? I'd love to know your ideas.