Learning behind the lens

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
David Baugh argues that analysis of the film medium is crucial for the practical discipline of digital video production

Increased interest in digital video in the classroom has manifested itself in the Becta DV pilot, new products, the Digital Video Creativity awards and Classroom 2000's DV pilot in Northern Ireland.

So what is it that interests people in this medium? Maybe it is the chance to break away from skill-based ICT to a medium that will allow pupils to express themselves in a way they can relate to. Others have seen DV as an ideal way of creating content for our shiny, new broadband networks - after all, if you have super-fast internet access you might as well use it to provide rich media that can help invigorate learning. Some have seen it as an antidote to teacher-centred, whole-class teaching technologies such as interactive whiteboards.

Perhaps another factor is that we are all familiar with the moving image as a medium, and if we are honest, we all watch more than we care to admit. Most of us have seen or had a bash at the holiday or christening video and feel that at last DV gives us an opportunity to create something that is more like a real film.

A recent report recorded that the average young person in the UK sees three and a half hours of television a day. We tend to assume that pupils who are exposed to the moving image to such a huge extent during their daily routine would be highly literate in their understanding of the medium. Closer inspection at classroom level reveals that pupils do not really understand what they are looking at. They haven't been taught how to read the medium and this is reflected in their own productions with digital video. There is a real need to introduce pupils (and adults) to the basics of film language before sending them out with a camera to film. This might seem obvious but it is a pattern repeated time and again with ICT.

We make too many assumptions about the experience and prior learning that pupils have. Perhaps in an ideal world we would allow pupils to make mistakes themselves and learn from them. However with digital video, I have found pupils to be highly critical of their own work and to have a desire to make it look as much like a real film as is possible. It is much simpler to treat moving-image literacy much as we would textual literacy and to allow pupils to read, deconstruct and analyse film before planning their own work.


Traditionally we have given pupils storyboards as the standard tool of film to plan their DV projects. Storyboards in the film world are used to provide detailed information about each shot and tend to be used by people who are more artistic than your average teacher or pupil. It has been interesting to see how storyboards are used by pupils in practice to plan their films. Usually pupils start by writing some sort of script as their first move as they are well versed in writing scripts for dramas or plays on paper. This script is then adapted with directions for movements and narrations much as a play script.

The following stages have been identified that lead to effective plans for DV projects:

* the idea that can be crystallised into a short proposal by pupils;

* the plan that turns into a script;

* the directions which are usually added to the script are annotations;

* the storyboard.

Digital photographs are an enormous aid to the process as they allow pupils to try different options out on a screen or viewfinder and this also makes sure they recce the scenes properly.


An issue that comes up again and again from teachers is the need for archive resources of film to supplement the film taken by pupils. It is obvious that there are huge implications for humanities subjects here as the ability to incorporate archive footage into pupils' projects is a powerful proposition. Although there are archive materials available, these are in the main undigitised and difficult to obtain. The main obstacle seems to be copyright and the need for the guardians of the material to be certain where it is going to end up. There is an understandable fear that once the material is on the net there will be no control whatsoever.


As much of this is new to schools outside media studies departments, there is a need to give teachers time and opportunity to develop the skills necessary. There are some great teaching resources available from organisations such as Film Education and more and more LEAs are offering their own digital video courses for their teachers.


So, we have created our digital videos - what on earth do we do with them? We can put them back on video tape to show on TV if we want and if the camera and software allow this. We could burn them to CD, video CD or DVD. We could put them on a website for all to see, but then we might spend more time developing web authoring skills than is desirable. However, it is becoming obvious that live presentation of films that young people have made themselves is by far the most satisfying for them, as it gives them the opportunity to explain the context of the film and how it was created. This might be with a traditional business presentation tool such as PowerPoint and its ilk or a multimedia authoring tool like HyperStudio. Much more exciting is the potential given by Live Channel, a streaming technology application for pupils to make their own live broadcasts over intranets, creating and streaming their own content - video, audio and rich media - to their peers and teachers.

This is like establishing their own school TV station, but which, unlike traditional TV stations, is not only extremely easy to set-up, operate and maintain, but also allows the synchronisation of rich media such as slides, photos, graphs, animations, and more with the live stream.


We have learned about the language of film and created and shared our project, but we are now faced with the question that faces all educators - what precisely did the kids learn?

If the film was curriculum specific, we could always test the subject matter covered, but how could we be sure that it was the film that aided the learning? If the pupils were working in a group, how can we be sure who did what and who learned what?

We have only scratched the surface with this technology and there are some interesting developments on the horizon. Discussions with broadband consortiums and broadcasters could lead to the provision of digital video and archive content for classrooms.JBecta hopes to pilot this use of technology in an extension to the existing DV pilot.

There is an increasing number of opportunities for teachers and trainers for using digital video in education.JAn example of this is the partnership of Film Education and Denbighshire LEA which is delivering nationwide curriculum training.JThe partnership has thought about the needs of teachers using digital video and has created software tools and resources to aid the delivery of digital video in the classroom.

This is a new area for ICT and one thing is certain - the next 12 months will see not only increased use of the technology in classrooms but a better understandingJof how digital video enhances learning and teaching.


Becta DV Creativity Awards www.becta.org.ukcreativityawards

Digital Video in Education www.dvineducation.org.uk

Film Education www.filmeducation.org

Live Channel www.channelstorm.com

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