Assessing The Past, Predicting The Future #edcmooc

Flying MachinesThis is the final week of the E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC, so it is a time to look back and to look forward. What have I learned over the past five weeks, not only about the topic, but about the nature of the MOOC itself, and are MOOCs the way forward for education, or simply the latest fad? First, the reflection. I have really enjoyed engaging with the course materials and with the other course participants, through the discussion forums, Twitter conversations, Google Hangouts and other channels, but then I have become used to this way of learning over the past five or six years, so I was reasonably comfortable with it from the start. It could also be said that since I am no longer looking for full-time employment I have no more need for paper qualifications, and therefore my approach to the course, and to learning in general, has changed.

However, it would be easy to infer from all of the above that because of the very nature of the MOOC – free entry, high dropout rate, no formal qualification – that it is more ‘casual’ than traditional college or university courses. Not a bit of it. The course is highly-structured, deadlines are quite rigid, materials are well chosen and challenging, and tutor support is of the highest order. The standard of teaching is of a very high quality, at least on this MOOC, but unlike that in many conventional settings, it is highly focused and responsive to the needs of individual learners; feedback is more or less instant. There are no group lectures, but an introductory video to each block of study sets out clearly the themes and expectations for the week ahead. Whether these things are true of all MOOCs I have no idea, but for two very different takes on online learning I would recommend that you read this article, All Hail MOOCs. Just Don’t Ask If They actually Work, from Time magazine September 2013, and this post from the Learning with ‘e’s blog, The persistence of distance(learning) by Steve Wheeler.

“But what about assessment?”, I hear you ask, because while the internet has opened up the possibility of learning in all sorts of new ways, assessment still dominates much of our thinking and much of our conversation when it comes to education. Bear in mind that the course is only five weeks long, with a recommended study time of 5-7 hours per week, but since you asked, to ‘complete the course’ we have to submit a ‘digital artefact’ and evaluate the work of at least three other participants in the course, using agreed criteria – real peer assessment in action! The following notes are from the course guidance on the final assignment.

What do you mean by digital artefact?
We mean something that is designed to be experienced on and through the medbotium of the web. It will have the following characteristics:

  • it will contain a mixture of two or more of: text, image, sound, video, links.
  • it will be easy to access and view online.
  • it will be stable enough to be assessed for at least two weeks.

Try to have fun with this and use it as a chance to think broadly and creatively: anything goes in terms of the form of this assignment. As long as you keep the assessment criteria in mind you can be as experimental as you wish.

(Have FUN with this assessment? Doesn’t sound like an exam to me.)

Why do you want me to make a digital artefact?
Text is the dominant mode of expressing academic knowledge, but digital environments are multimodal by nature – they contain a mixture of text, images, sound, hyperlinks and so on. To express ourselves well on the web, we need to be able to communicate in ways that are ‘born digital’ – that work with, not against, the possibilities of the medium. This can be challenging when what we want to communicate is complex, especially for those who are used to more traditional forms of academic writing. Nevertheless, there are fantastic possibilities in digital environments for rethinking what it means to make an academic argument, to express understanding of complex concepts, and to interpret and evaluate digital work. In EDCMOOC, we have an opportunity to explore and experiment in a supportive and relatively low-stakes context. That’s why we want you to make an assignment that makes the most of the web – a digital artefact.

What topic should I choose?
There is a lot of flexibility in this assignment. You can choose to focus on the theme of ‘utopias and dystopias’, or on the theme of ‘being human’. You should use your artefact to express a question, an idea, a problem, a hope, a worry or a provocation that the course has raised for you. Consider how you can express something of your own context as an educator, student and/or technologist. What has the impact of this course been on your understanding of e- learning?

Actually, I am proposing to submit this series of blogposts as my digital artefact, but just for a bit of fun, I thought I would also try creating a short video clip which reflects a couple of the themes of the past month or so. The clip was created in iMovie, using the Trailer feature which allows you to choose which genre of film you are going to release (and makes things easier for beginners like me). It is also a very useful tool in the classroom if you are introducing young people to filmmaking, Thanks to a fortuitous tweet from one of my PLN, Kenny Pieper, I found these great templates for Planning a Better iMovie Trailer, which means you can spend some time working out what text to include – a good exercise in précis, since the more words you include the harder it is to read – and select your images in an appropriate sequence.

commonsThe images I used are from the Creative Commons, except the first three, which appear courtesy of my friends at Dreaming Methods and Inanimate Alice. The little running man was filmed on my phone at a street crossing in Girona, simply because it made me smile. I cropped it in iMovie itself using the cropping tool before inserting into the clip. The reason for creating the trailer was to encourage me to learn something about iMovie, which I had never used, and to express one or two of the course themes in a short timeframe.

One of these was what seemed to be the view of many technological determinists, that increasing technological advances will inevitably lead to a dystopian future, and the other was the fascinating idea that our use of metaphor tends to shape as well as reflect our view of the world. The green man on the ‘information highway’ is a very simple metaphor for the feeling that many people have when trying to navigate the world wide web – that they are in a very busy and potentially dangerous place – and he may also represent those ‘eco-warriors’ amongst us who are concerned that advances in technology are not made at the expense of the sustainability of the planet. I hope you find it interesting and amusing, and please feel free to evaluate it using the agreed criteria below.

Assessment criteria

These are the elements peer markers will be asked to consider as they engage with your artefact. You should make sure you know how your work will be judged by reading these criteria carefully before you begin.

  1. The artefact addresses one or more themes clearly relevant to the course
  2. The artefact demonstrates an understanding of one or more key concept from the course
  3. The artefact has something to say about education
  4. The choice of media is appropriate for the message
  5. The artefact stimulates a reaction in you, as its audience, e.g. emotion, thinking, action

So what of the future of MOOCs themselves? What I liked about taking part in the MOOC was the collaborative aspect of the learning – the sharing of ideas, the conversations around the key topics, and to some extent the random nature of some of the interactions. We were advised from the start that it would be impossible to contribute to every forum, to respond to every text, and to keep track of everything which was going on. This is an aspect of MOOCs which I imagine many people will find difficult. Similarly, if everything is conducted online, you could argue that the ‘human element’ is lost, and that there is no substitute for meeting people face-to-face, but one of the advantages of MOOCs is that they bring together (virtually) people from all over the world. The fact that the MOOC is free is important, allowing access to people regardless of their means, but what I find particularly appealing is this key message – when the focus of education is on the taking part, everyone’s a winner.

Visual Literacy – No Longer a Luxury

We are fast approaching that time of year when we gather together to celebrate the birth of the moving image. More television – and especially films on television – will be watched in the next three weeks than at any other time of the year. Living, as we do, in a predominantly visual age, surrounded by moving image texts, one would think it almost perverse for schools to ignore the extent to which these texts shape and influence our daily lives. Yet teachers still often find it difficult to justify using film as a medium in the classroom when they should be concentrating on raising ‘traditional’ literacy standards, and this despite the fact that various studies have recognised that working with moving image texts can improve those very skills. Digital Beginnings, an extensive study carried out by Jackie Marsh and colleagues at Sheffield University in 2005 concluded that in England “the introduction of popular culture, media and/or new technologies into the communications, language and literacy curriculum has a positive effect on the motivation and engagement of children in learning”, that “practitioners report that it has a positive impact on children’s progress in speaking and listening….”, that “parents feel that media education should be included in the school curriculum” and  that “this should be so from when children are very young.” In 2006, an independent evaluation of Scottish Screen‘s MIE (Moving Image Education) project in Brechin, conducted by the University of Glasgow, reported that ‘all teachers were aware of a significant impact of MIE on pupils’ listening and talking skills….by the second round of interviews, teachers reported significant developments in writing skills.’

Cartoon by deleuran at www.toonpool.com

Cartoon by deleuran at http://www.toonpool.com

Most young people have watched countless hours of film and television before they enter pre-school education, and already they have set about building, in their heads, a rich audio-visual library. Unfortunately, it is most often a library – to extend the metaphor –  in which the texts are simply piled up in a disorderly heap in the middle of the floor. Rarely do they have any understanding that what they are watching and listening to is a sophisticated text which has been painstakingly constructed and edited, and not simply the result of pointing a camera at real-life and real-time events.

In order to illustrate this point, in the course of preparing this post I contacted the Dutch filmmaker Michael Dudok De Wit, creator of the hauntingly beautiful animation Father and Daughter, which won the Academy Award for Best Short Film in 2000, and asked him how long it took to make (the film itself is eight and a half minutes long and not a single frame is wasted.) This was his response:-

“It’s exactly as you say, animated films like these belie their complexity. It was a challenge to make the final result look simple and whole, but this challenge was enjoyable and very motivating. I worked on the film about four years on and off; I interrupted the production to teach and to do some commercial work. Altogether it took me about two years to make the film (writing, direction, most of the animation and all the backgrounds). I had one animator helping me for roughly four months and one assistant animator for two-three months. Two technical experts did the scanning, colouring, camera movements and compositing (combining all the different layers) for about three-four months altogether. The music composer and sound person each worked for about week, and finally, the film had two producers (for international funding reasons) who altogether devoted several weeks of their time each. One could say that if one person would have done everything alone, the film would have taken three years to make.”

With best wishes,

Michael

Since it is unlikely that children are going to be taught to ‘read’ moving image texts at home any time soon, it seems to me that teachers responsible for the development of literacy therefore have a responsibility, not only to use moving image texts in their classrooms, but to teach film literacy as part of the mainstream curriculum. In order to do this, teachers themselves need to be familiar with some basic concepts relating to films and filmmaking, including a vocabulary which allows them to discuss – and possibly create – moving image texts with their students.

If you are thinking of introducing moving image texts into the classroom the key to success, as with printed texts, is to begin with short films. A full-length feature film is a hugely complex piece of work and can be quite daunting to a teacher and students hoping to engage in critical analysis, while at the same time there are many advantages to using short films in the classroom. Shorts can be played in their entirety within one lesson while longer films lose their impact by being viewed over a number of lessons or by being screened only in extract form; the short running time of the films makes it possible for repeated viewings, allowing teachers and pupils to become quickly familiar with the texts and to explore them in more detail. Short films, like short stories, are not governed by the same conventions as longer films, and often provoke stronger responses from their audience. Finally, film and print, while different in many ways, are also very closely allied, so that the study of film can be used as a vehicle to improve the traditional literacies of reading, writing, talking and listening, and, importantly, film is an inclusive medium, often accessible to pupils who are more visual learners and who otherwise may feel that they have little to contribute. But don’t just take my word for it. Here is the celebrated film director Martin Scorsese talking about the importance of visual literacy.

See also my Ten Tools for Reading Film

See previous post for the best sites to find short films for free

Find some amazing resources at The Literacy Shed

Further Reading: Download a copy of Moving Image Education in Scotland here.

Aussie Adventures 3: Postcard From Sydney

To round off my Australian trip I spent a few days in Sydney – or to be precise, in Richmond, about 50 miles to the north-west of Sydney. Of course, I visited the iconic city and took all the usual tourist pics, which I have used to create this Animoto video. If you have yet to discover Animoto, or even if you have been using it for some time, you may be surprised to learn that educators can apply for a free Animoto Plus account – for which private individuals like myself have to pay $30 a year. This allows you and your students to create stunning presentations – combining images, video clips, music and text – or to produce  videos which bring your lessons to life and show off your students’ work to the wider world. What on earth are you waiting for?!

Curriculum for Excellence – Widening Horizons

When the main objective of a school system is to prepare young people to pass exams, and when the achievement of that objective supercedes all else, including critical thinking and an enterprising attitude, then it is time to think again. Which is precisely what many schools are now doing, with the support of the Scottish Government, in developing the values, purposes and principles of Curriculum for Excellence. In a series of illustrative video clips produced in association with schools across Scotland, these values, purposes and principles are given flesh and bones, as young people explain for the benefit of parents and others the advantages of a ‘project-based’ curriculum, where they have the opportunity to work together in finding solutions to real-life issues. Here, the young students from Biggar High School are learning about International Trade. Many other fine examples of enterprising learning can be found on the Scottish Government website.

Amble GPX

A mean-looking Amble GPX Project Team

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of returning to the beautiful Northumberland coast to check up on the progress of the young people of Amble and their highly ambitious GPX project.The aim of the project is to create an online community-based game, using GPS technology and geocaching techniques: a very sophisticated treasure-hunt to you and me! The game will be designed to encourage local people and visitors to discover a bit more about the history of this area of outstanding natural beauty. Although played via the web, players will actually follow a trail through Amble and the surrounding countryside as well as exploring the vibrant coastline, finding answers to the clues they are given through cryptic photos, video clips and puzzles accessed from their computer. Answers are then typed in or photo-evidence uploaded via computer or mobile phone, making the game not only active but highly interactive as well.

Facing a barrage of questions from The Literacy Adviser

For the past twelve months the young people have been expanding their own knowledge of the local area, while at the same time developing their interviewing techniques and coming to grips with new technologies such as digital photography, video editing and sound recording: A number of experts, both amateur and professional, have been enlisted to guide and advise the group.  The project has reached an exciting stage, with plans in place to release a pilot version very soon, and discussions are already taking place about future mini-games and mobile apps. The official launch of the full version is scheduled for July 2011.

A flyer designed to promote Amble GPX

Just under a year ago I was contacted by the project’s manager Anna Williams, and asked if I would interview the youngsters and monitor the effect of the project on their literacy skills, a requirement of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation who are funding the project. At that point I spoke to them about what they hoped to gain from their involvement in the project and some of them were less certain than others. Watching them make a group presentation on the project this week, and listening to the way in which they handled a barrage of questions, it was clear that any of the earlier doubts or uncertainties had all but vanished. I’m looking forward to my next visit already!

If you would like more information about the Amble GPX project please contact Anna Williams at the Amble Development Trust (editor@theambler.co.uk)

The Magic of Moving Image

I’m still buzzing after spending the weekend in the company of some very creative, interesting and really decent folk at Scottish Screen’s headquarters in West George Street, Glasgow. The occasion was a two-day training session for new lead practitioners, expertly hosted by Scott and Adam, as the organisation continues to build a nationwide team of facilitators who are able to support schools, teachers, trainers, or anyone with an interest in developing Moving Image Education. The case for MIE is easily made, as it is the medium with which all young people are most familiar, even before they enter nursery school, and which continues to engage us throughout our lives -when did you last hear anyone say they don’t ever watch film or indeed like it? – and the publication this week of the new Literacy and English framework in the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence redefines “text” in a way which recognises that the primary texts in most people’s lives are visual rather than printed text;-

“Pupils bring to school a wide range of ways in which they make sense of the world and interact with others. They are surrounded by a text-rich environment where many of the texts they encounter will be multimodal. Multimodal texts are texts that combine print, sound, graphics, moving images and gesture.  Picture books, websites, graphic novels, posters, books, video games, and film can all be classified as texts that require interaction from the reader for the message to be communicated.”

All the more reason that we need to teach young people to watch critically, which can be achieved by supporting them to make their own films and by using film in the classroom to help them develop a basic film literacy, where they have some understanding of how a film is constructed and the choices the filmaker has made.The role of the lead practitioner is to support the teacher or trainer as they introduce the language of film and build the critical capacity of the young people while engaged in making their own film, or as they develop their literacy skills by engaging on a deeper level with moving image texts.This is a key point for me, that MIE is not only about learning about film, but it is an effective means of developing the “traditional” literacy skills of listening, talking, reading and writing, particularly with young people who might otherwise never engage with printed texts. In future posts I would like to explore in more detail some of the best techniques for developing film literacy but for now here are a few tips to keep in mind if you decide to take the plunge with your students:-

 

Making Your Own Film

Making your own film has become an option for almost everyone nowadays, since most mobile phones have a video button, and it is perfectly possible to make a decent film using only still photographs and Moviemaker or iMovie. There are many examples of films on YouTube which are made on the most basic equipment but which attract thousands or even hundreds of thousands of hits. If you have a restricted budget. Flip cameras are a good option, producing fairly good quality images for under £100. These are easy to use as they plug in directly to your PC via a USB connection.

When setting out with young people to make a film it is worth remembering the following hints, as suggested by screenwriter, producer and Scotland on Screen Project Manager David Griffith;

 

Before

 

  • Go with what they want to make, even if it does not work out in the end
  • Don’t impose your ideas, however wonderful they might be
  • Keep it simple and do it well. The simplest ideas often make the best films
  • Always write up (eg on a flipchart) what is discussed. Then you can refer back when necessary
  • Develop a list of key points in the narrative in chronological order. These can later be teased out further
  • Ask them to think of other stories they have seen
  • Remind them that there needs to be an “opposition” or conflict (what gets in the way?)
  • If film has characters, how can you engage the audience? What is there to like about them?
  • Develop basic storyboard/shooting script and take it with you when you shoot
  • You don’t need to be able to draw to produce a storyboard

During

  • Begin filming scenes even before you have decided the ending
  • Don’t move the camera unless there’s a good reason. Put it on a tripod if possible
  • Don’t use zoom unless there’s a good reason
  • Don’t pan (move camera horizontally) unless you want to reveal something
  • If you use dialogue, don’t learn lines but say, “I want you to say something like………”

After

  • Edit scenes as you go and repeat process
  • Finally, remember that every film has a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order!

An excellent screenwriting guide and other useful information can be found on the First Light website. Further resources can be found at www.ScottishScreen.com,  www.movingimageeducation.org and www.bfi.org.uk

 

 

Before long your students could be making films like this one, which was produced by the young people of Islay, supported by the Strangeboat Film Company, and was nominated for a “Best Documentary” in the First Light Movies awards 2008.

 

 And its Goodbye to Care from First Light Movies on Vimeo.

Photo Animoto

I can hardly contain my excitement this week, having discovered the amazing delights of animoto, an online service where you can upload your digital photographs, choose a soundtrack from animoto’s bank of music or from your own collection and have the whole thing converted into a cool video. To test it out I set off on Thursday morning armed with my simple and cheap digital camera, and spent an hour taking pictures around the centre of Glasgow. Tinseltown in the Rain  by The Blue Nile was an easy choice of soundtrack given the weather, and after downloading the photos to my laptop I was watching my first video production within a couple of hours. I hope you’ll agree that it looks very professional, and the really exciting thing about it is its huge potential for use in the classroom as a tool for developing literacy as there is no technical expertise required! If you prefer to watch it on YouTube please do so by following the link.