Video projects: Lip service only

n my traditional cavalier/reckless fashion, I designed a project where students would create videos as the final product. I have two video cameras1 (a Flip and my point & shoot that shoots video), MovieMaker, three microphones, and a lack of experience with the moving picture medium.

Students got into groups, randomly selected a family of elements, and got busy researching & planning. Other than the typical issues that pop up when freshmen work together in groups2 things were going swimmingly. I suggested using PowerPoint as an image editor or stop motion picture creator, but other than that I really didn't push them in any direction for how they should produce the video. I was pleasantly surprised at the creative mix of puppet shows, live video, claymation, and other ideas that they came up with on their own. Despite the lack of equipment there were very few times when a group had to sit around waiting for a camera.

The trouble starts

Students began to download their video files and attempt to work with the files in MovieMaker. That's when things got dicey. Just a few of the problems we ran into:

  • Student accounts often were not able to download files from external devices. Sometimes it would work for them, sometimes it wouldn't. Weird.
  • Despite the claims on the official MovieMaker website, the program as installed on students computers could only import .WMV files. My video cameras saved files as .AVIs.
  • I sent students to Zamzar to convert the video files. Zamzar isn't always fast. Even better, students aren't allowed to download any files from online to school computers. When the conversions were finished I had to do all the downloading & distributing of files. I mourn the large amounts of class time that were lost due to all this file jockeying.
  • On a couple random days, the students weren't allowed to save any files into their network drives. Needless to say, that caused some frustration.
  • Beyond the problem above, twice during the project the school district's network drive was too full for anybody to save anything to it.

The irony

As a faculty, we've frequently heard from our administration (from assistant principal up to the SuperNintendo himself) that we need to embrace and encourage "21st Century Skills" with our students. As part of the NEASC accreditation process we're involved in the term "21st Century Skills" also comes up in every other indicator, standard, and student learning expectation.

The end

I probably won't try another video project this year. I'm pretty skeptical about trying it next year. The sad/frustrating/scary part of it all is that the issues with this project were caused by the lack of support from the administration and institution for a creative project that embraced "21st Century Skills." The problem didn't arise from poor project design3, a lack of student ability/skill, or a lack of resources. The problem arose solely as the result of an overly restrictive network and a lack of vision from those who control those restrictions.

The solution?

  • Trust students with the network.
  • Trust teachers with the network.
  • Think about what these "21st Century Skills" that are harped upon actually mean for how students and teachers will need to use the network. Adjust network restrictions accordingly.

Despite all the issues some pretty great videos came out of it. Check out a quick selection below:

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Creative-Commons image via P.C. Is2dent's Flickr stream

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  1. I did encourage any students with cameras that took video to bring them in. A few did.     (back)
  2. i.e. "Johnny stole my [noun]!" "I didn't take your [noun], you're crazy!" "MR. W!!!"  [you get this too, right?]      (back)
  3. Truthfully, it's very hard for me to judge the effectiveness of the project because the end result has been so overshadowed by all the technical issues.     (back)