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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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July242006

City Voices, City Visions

Last week I had the opportunity to attend an education technology institute at WNED public television in Buffalo, New York. The purpose of my trip was to deliver a conference keynote, but I feel I got the better end out of that deal, because it allowed me to discover a wonderful initiative called City Voices, City Visions.

CVCV, as it’s also known, is a partnership between the university of Buffalo and the Buffalo Public Schools. The project gives students the opportunity to use digital video as a way of improving their skills, while capturing personal stories about life in inner-city Buffalo. Professional development is a particular focus for CVCV, given that most educators have little or noe experience in student-generated video projects. Each summer, they train a group of educators for the upcoming school year, getting them comfortable with video while teaching them to integrate the medium into their academic discipline. The CVCV website describes how educators interact during their workshops:

Throughout each session, teachers are pushed to identify the particular curriculum concept they are addressing. They are encouraged to work together and critically analyze each others’ efforts. Since the environment is very supportive, the participants actively engage with each other, modeling for their own classroom practices. Sessions are designed to introduce new technology, focus on content, and provide ample hands-on work with personalized assistance and just-in-time support (there are 3-5 instructors and a technical support person in each session).

Some of their videos are even available online so that other teachers can see samples of the skills they’ve gained. So far, more than 75 teaches have received training through the initiative.

But the power of CVCV comes to light when you see the video projects developed by students. They’ve produced videos in various subject areas, including language arts, social studies, ESL and the sciences, as well as interdisciplinary projects. When a group of students tackle a subject, they have to map out the production of the video just as a documentary producer would, producing outlines, story boards, scripts and shot lists, all of which reinforce literacy and critical thinking skills. After shooting the necessary video, they edit it with iMovie, which comes standard on all Macintosh computers.

The results are both rich and diverse. In one project, Immigrants into the Promised Land, students examine the history of US immigration - something close to home for students who are immigrants themselves. Freak the Mighty is a dramatization of a chapter from the book, “The Outsiders.” And in Harlem Renaissance Poetry, students analyze the work of leading Harlem poets, performing readings over a montage of images from the community.

But the video that really resonated with me was In the World Today. Produced by students of high school English teacher Joel Malley, the video features a series of students staring into the camera, noting a variety of injustices taking place around the world today. From animal cruelty to child molestation to environmental destruction, the video pulls no punches. In fact, some of the shots are quite difficult to watch, with students showcasing stark photojournalism to make their point. As they map out the many ills of the world, they acknowledge that these ills are theirs as well - ones that must be solved by a new generation of young leaders.

Though the production quality of the video isn’t very sophisticated, the message is powerful. When the video was played at the Buffalo conference last week, the audience was stunned into silence. The only sound you could hear for several minutes was teachers crying, emotionally shaken by the experience. In all my years of watching student-produced videos I’ve never seen that happen. Meanwhile, the video also raises an interesting issue around copyright, as it employs a song by the British band Coldplay. While I’m sure Chris Martin, the lead singer of the band, would have no objection to the students using his song to map out social injustice, his record label’s lawyers may be less amenable to the idea. It’s one of the challenges of bringing youth media to the online world. Previously, a student video that employed commercial music was no problem, since the only ones who would ever see the video would be teachers, students and maybe their families. Now, though, that same video can be seen by thousands of people in dozens of countries - so many people that the owners of the music might consider it an unapproved broadcast of their work.

Chances are that this small gaffe won’t ever amount ot anything, but if it did, it would certainly prove to be a teachable moment. With more young people producing their own media than ever, it’s important that schools spend the time to teach the basics of copyright, as well as identifying sources of media that encourage re-use. For example, Magnatune Records allows noncommercial media producers to use their entire catalogue of music. Every song of every album they’ve published is available online in digital format. I’ve incorporated their songs into many of my own videos, including pieces on the Monterey Aquarium, Iceland’s Golden Circle, even Berber villages in southern Tunisia. It’s a rich catalogue of music styles from around the world, and students would be hard-pressed to find copyright-friendly music there that didn’t suit their project.

So please take a few minutes and check out some of the CVCV videos, including In the World Today. I’d love to hear from other educators who are utilizing video in the classroom, because it’s something I plan to write about more often. Meanwhile, I promise I’ll soon address copyright as well. Stay tuned…. -andy

Filed under : Video, Youth Media

Responses

The stories students can tell when given the multimedia tools necessary are truly amazing. I have my students present a very brief (one minute) video modelled after Speaker’s Corner where they get to say their piece about anything they wish (within reason). It is always one of my favourite assignments because I love hearing what is really on their minds.

If you haven’t seen the Ididamovie site, it is worth checking out. The 2006 winning videos are available for viewing but you have to wait patiently for them to load. There are three categories; Tell me something, Make me laugh, and Cultural or Environmental Issues. The main site can be found at: http://www.aste.org/index.cfm/1,51,125,html

They’ve been in existence for a while now, but I love seeing what kids can do.

The most frustrating part for me is when kids have the video cameras from home, but making the hardware work at school so they can download their clips doesn’t happen very easily, and there are messages like, “you don’t have the Codex you need” blah blah blah. Hopefully as more and more schools use video, these problems will be relegated to the past.
Janice Robertson

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