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Digital video in focus

Commissioned by Becta, the British Film Institute has delivered its verdict on a project that put DV into schools. But are its priorities the same as those of teachers, asks Jack Kenny

One of the brightest things to come out of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) in recent times was its digital video (DV) pilot. Fifty schools from across the UK took part in the scheme, which ran from October 2001 until March 2002. The schools were a representative sample from primary, secondary, special and specialist sectors and each received an Apple iMac with iMovie 2 software and a Canon DV camera. A day's training was provided and an e-mail forum let teachers share experiences.

The main finding of the Evaluation Report of the Becta Digital Video Pilot Project, commissioned from the British Film Institute, was that DV had the potential "to enhance learning across the curriculum by increasing pupil engagement with the curriculum; promoting and developing a range of learning styles; (and) motivating and engaging a wider range of pupils than traditional teaching methods". DV also stimulates and supports skills such as problem-solving, negotiation, thinking, reasoning and risk-taking, finds the report.

It criticises the level of resources - just one iMac and one camera - and recommends that the ratio of editing stations to pupils should be minimum of one to four "if all pupils are to gain reasonable access to the technology and the decision-making process and hence to learning". The lack of peripherals was also highlighted. "The fact that teachers on the pilot were given one iMac and DV camera, but not microphones, tripods or lights meant that often the work produced was poorly lit andor had poor quality sound. Where teachers want to use DV in the curriculum, they should be given access to sound and lighting equipment."

Two observations in the report are particularly interesting. One teacher in a school that was streamed said there was no measurable difference in the quality of the DV work produced by low or high-stream pupils. There is enough material in that comment alone for an additional report. And one primary teacher noted how DV was "documenting the maturation of her pupils as they were 'watching themselves growing up on camera'". This is a fascinating insight, but unfortunately its implications are not developed further.

The report looks at the work in schools from the perspective of the British Film Institute and gives the impression that it is written by people who already know rather than people who, like schools, are still finding out. The authors repeatedly talk about "film" and teachers are told that video should be edited. Not always. Video is like writing - sometimes you just jot and take notes. If a teacher is using video in drama for students to observe and reflect on their work, editing might not be appropriate and recording a simple science experiment could be onerous with extensive editing. The impression should not be given that editing is mandatory. This highlights a debate not even touched upon - process versus product. Is the product (the final video) the priority or is it the learning process that created it? Most teachers would favour the latter.

DV in education will be constrained if it is tied at birth to film studies. In addition to being a tool for creativity and presentation it is an investigative, reflective and analytical facility too. Hopefully, next year we will begin to see more work across the whole spectrum and a better critique to go with it.

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