Archive for May, 2008

27th May
written by Tom Banaszewski

Let me get my ranting out of the way first. I hate Windows. And I hate MovieMaker. I’m getting my Made on a Mac tattoo re-inked this weekend. When it comes to creating multimedia projects on a PC, there are many options, but which ones are any good? I’ve yet to complete a project with a group of students on the PC that wasn’t plagued by freakish glitches with file path names, program freezes, or just general computers behaving badly. In my test run of the program, I had few problems recording my voice over in Audacity, importing my audio and images, syncing everything, adding a title, and exporting the finished movie. But I’ve done this before. The key difference is that I did this all in one 90 minute long sitting. MovieMaker does something that makes it nearly impossible for students to work on a project over a few class periods. When students opened their projects on their second day, they were met with big red X’s in place of their images and audio that they had spend an hour syncing the day before. Most times you can just double-click on the images and reconnect the path. It’s misleading when you tell students to import their images and audio because that’s not what MovieMaker does. It saves the target source. Why? In iMovie, when you import files becomes part of the project file. You don’t have to worry about the file after that. Not with MovieMaker. If you move your images or audio files, you might as well start over. I had switched to MovieMaker from Photostory because it was easier to adjust the length of time an image stays on the screen. Photostory also has that odd path name glitch. Very frustrating because it makes no sense and it’s nearly impossible to explain to students. The tech savvy ones figure it out and can work around it, but for the rest of the class they become intensely frustrated and squander valuable editing time dealing with these PC pitfalls.

I just wrapped up a digital storytelling project where students converted an essay they wrote about a country in Africa. Instead of the usual Powerpoint (the only reliable multimedia tool for the PC) to share their work, the teacher wanted to try something new. I created a template to help students see how they could convert their thesis statements to focus questions of a story. The focus question set up a story that would follow one of the following story models: Cause-Effect, Compare-Contrast, Analyze-Persuade, Describe-Conclude. Bernajean Porter puts these types of digital stories in the Beyond Words category. Different from the personal narrative, but still meant to move the audience in some way. That part, writing and creating multimedia projects that do more than just regurtitate facts is the real challenge for students.

I knew this would be challenging for most of the students, but it’s an important skill for them to acquire. The sample story I created helped many see what we wanted. Overall, I’m very pleased the with the final projects. I get a sense that they learned much more than just facts about the countries they researched. This project brings my total of student-produced digital stories to around 500. With each project, I learn many new lessons. Aside from my profound dislike of MovieMaker, I’ll take much away from this round of digital stories.

Lesson #1 Using a wiki to provide feedback to students during the script writing process is an easy, valuable tool to include. Although only a few students used the wiki, it was really helpful to
them in improving the quality of their scripts. The discussion forum on Wikispaces was simple and effective.

Lesson #2 Students have no idea how to find images for ideas, concepts, emotions, etc. It was fun to peak
over their shoulders as they were punching into Google Images phrases such as “political corruption in Nigeria” or “economic strife.” Students need lots of practice in activities like assigning captions to
pictures or finding images for sections of a script. These are the types of short visual and media literacy activities that are essential to developing strong digital storytelling skills.

Lesson #3: No matter how many times you show students how to use the basic components of a program only your top 10% will remember it when it comes time for them to apply what you’ve shown them (and that 10% probably is tech savvy enough to figure things out on their own). Students still need written instructions on the step-by-step approach to the basic steps like editing and importing images and audio. I probably could have created a short movie that walks them thru the steps, but I’m lazy these days. Next time.

Lesson #4: When editing, students need a mouse and a set of headphones. Looking around the classroom, watching the students all listening to their stories with headphones was a great snap-shot of really engaging project-based learning.

Lesson 5: You always need more time than you planned for. We had 80 minute classes, but it was a tight schedule. They only had two days of work on the computer. Students who tried to download MovieMaker at home only found frustration when the red X’s appeared because of the lack of portability of the program.

Lesson 6: Students need to be taught how to name files with descriptors that help identify it. Many students opened MovieMaker, started working then saved their project as “Movie” or “soc studies prj.”

I’m fairly certain that for most students this was the first time they’ve been asked to “tell a story” that moved the audience. Many came close. A few really nailed it. Some still don’t know the difference between a story and a report. This takes practice. I think teachers often are reluctant to take on a project like this because the end results can be less than stellar. But this is when teachers need to be reminded that we often ask students to apply many skills repeatedly. Despite being assigned dozens of Powerpoint presentations in their school career, only a third of most classes have students creating engaging and effective presentations. I still remain convinced that a digital storytelling project forces students to develop, practice, and apply the wide range of visual and media literacy skills that will produce truly digitally literate students.