Monthly Archives: March 2012

Course 3 Project



Unit Plan & Rubric

My group made an assignment based on the idea of moving from persuasive writing to persuasive multimedia / audiovisual presentations. Our original discussion centered on moviemaking techniques, but the example project is a slideshow due to time constraints. The main idea is the same – a project that attempts to take the main ideas of the traditional “persuasive writing” project into another media format. Persuasive slides need to use text, color, images and other elements to make an impression on the viewer, and teachers and students probably both need to keep in mind that persuasive techniques for multimedia presentations, movies, etc. can be taught as explicitly as writing techniques – and might even be more important skills for the future.


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I think a lot of the projects we do in MS Humanities involve remixing, reworking and parodying existing materials. Students are really good at quickly copying things and putting their own spin on it – in a good way. To use a relatively low-tech example, here’s a G6 student’s imitation National Geographic article for our Invent A Long-Lost Civilization project. Notice the conscious change of the title so as not to infringe on National Geographic’s copyright, and the pride and care which was put into the fake ads at the start and end of the “magazine”:

This sort of thing comes very naturally to students. It’s fun to put your own twist on something that you’ve seen before. It’s easy to turn these things (songs, images, videos) to your own purposes. It’s how we express ourselves creatively and how we show we’re learning to take on creative leaps of our own. One of the most interesting content bleed-throughs I’ve seen happened last year in G7 Humanities, when we spent a few between-units days on digital citizenship and fair use, then tackled the Renaissance. As the unit went on it became clear that the Renaissance’s lessons about artistic creativity, apprenticeship, and the concept of the lone genius had gotten all mixed up with ideas about remixes and fair use in several students’ minds. I liked this. So, for example, in the words of a 7th grader, in her essay on whether it’s possible for one genius to change the world:

“…I gave you some examples of the geniuses and showed some evidence that one person can’t change the world. I have another reason, which is that everything is a remix. We watched this video about everything is a remix. For example Michelangelo is mostly known as the man that made the statue of David. A lot of people made the same statue before. Although Michelangelo’s statue was the most famous. I think he couldn’t make this statue without the people that made the same statue before.”

I agree!

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One infographic I’ve used in class recently is this 3-D plotting of millions of player deaths in a particular videogame. Can a video be an infographic? If so, I think this is one. I used it to try to make a point about maps. How versatile they can be – how useful knowing how to represent different kinds of information and to read different kinds of maps in geography can be, not just for understanding the physical world, but for understanding all kinds of systems and constructs, even virtual ones.

Maps and related geographical tools aren’t just about reproducing the locations of mountains and rivers in the real world – they can display any variable(s) the mapmakers want, in any kind of space, and are ways we can make sense of just about anything, even if it’s something as strange as determining where the deadliest areas of a particular video game are.

I also just like this video because there’s something so weird and poignant about it (helped by the music) – these tiny points of light are places where people died, but they weren’t people, they were just characters in a video game – and what does that mean? Is it possible for statistical information from a video game to evoke a genuine emotional response? What’s the point of all this deadly, simulated shared activity we’ve embarked on, anyway? Is it just to have fun or are we contributing to something larger? Can we start to bring out those deeper implications using things like this video? etc.

While we’re on the subject (artful presentations of mind-bogglingly high multiplayer video-game statistics), I also like this infographic on the first two weeks of Red Dead Redemption:

What I like about this one (setting aside the moral issues involved in all the crime players seem to have quickly racked up playing this cowboy game) is the way it uses statistics and thought-provoking real-world analogies to indirectly boast of a game’s popularity. I’d rather see something like this than a more traditional advertisement. I wonder how many of the “jobs that don’t even exit yet” that we’re supposedly preparing our students for will involve detailed statistical analysis of imaginary worlds?

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Digital Storytelling Natives?

I’m currently playing a couple of Japanese video games that are more “visual novel” than game. The gameplay is mostly reading text while pictures of the characters move around a bit to sound effects and music (that’s the English version of Phoenix Wright 2 above). It’s got me thinking about digital storytelling and its uses in the classroom – both for instructional materials (as a language learner I’m able to understand what’s happening in these games to some extent, while if I were reading just Japanese text I’d be hopeless), and, perhaps more interestingly, as a component of student projects. While there’s always room for improvement, I think I do already incorporate digital storytelling into my projects in several ways. We’ve done VoiceThreads, recorded narration for slideshows, put together Prezis, and done various assignments which involved movie-making.

One personal observation I’m constantly making during these projects is that a) the students are almost all way faster and more at home than I am at putting multimedia things together and editing them, and b) the best student projects use techniques that I didn’t teach them and often that I didn’t know. In other words, I’m assigning and assessing projects which are completed using tools which the students know better than I do. It’s a bit scary, but I’m not worried about losing authority or anything (after all, I’m the one specifying the content their creations should contain). But my students know how to make movies, and edit them, and add music, and a whole cornucopia of skills that I possess only rudimentarily.

Here’s a student project from last semester on the subject of Child Mortality, one of the UN Millennium Development Goals. I’m not sure it’s the most effective storytelling per se (it’s more impressionistic than narrative, and it’s quite frankly a bit too dark in tone for me), but I just want to add it here as an example of the techniques that they have at their fingertips while I’m all thumbs. It starts with a (disturbing) cinematic section that uses about ten different types of fade-out, vocal effects, music cues, slow motion, time-lapse, and then moves to an (equally disturbing) slideshow at the end.

To be honest I’m not sure how they did any of it. But I think the great thing is that if I had to, I could ask them. And when they need to, they ask each other. And somehow we all acquire and share effective techniques of digital storytelling, not through practice or theoretical instruction but by actually making and sharing movies, slideshows, stories, etc. Which is really fun. (Note: I do know they meant to cite the source of their music (Inception), but I don’t think that made it into the video)

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Presentation Then (and now)

After a bit of thought I’m finding that the topic of using new visual techniques in my presentations is a tough idea for me to wrap my head around. So as usual I’ll just start writing and see what happens.

I’m constantly displaying and discussing images and videos in class (see previous post), but I don’t assemble “presentations” very much any more, in the sense of something that I’ve put together in advance to be looked at as a self-contained viewing experience. What I’ve been assembling this past year or two, as a teacher, tends more to be a text list of bookmarks or links to visual experiences elsewhere. And more often than not, when I lecture in class now I tend to work my way down that list of bookmarks or call up examples on the fly by searching for accompanying visual material.

Maybe that’s a technique in itself? Real-time assembly of a series of appropriate images for a lecture? Teaching as a sort of multimedia performance art? When I do Google searches for images in class it adds the constant element of danger that something distracting will pop up (thank goodness for the “freeze” button on the projector remote) but at the same time it does (I hope) authentically model the search and selection skills I want students to use. Grabbing images from online rather than showing a “fossilized” presentation also allows me to incorporate answers to student questions and choose images or videos that I know will connect to that particular class at that time.

In fact lately if something exists as a fossilized presentation or list of bullet points already – the daily morning announcements for example – I can barely bring myself to stick to the “script” because of the superfluity of standing in front of an audience pointing at points. To continue with the example of the morning announcements – almost every day I find myself making the experience more interesting for myself by treating it the text as a jumping-off point for connections and extensions. Hopefully this frankly selfish conduct is also occasionally edifying for the students.

I’ll pick an odd word like “foyer” (which we see almost every morning) and explain its origin, or I’ll try to notice places where the announcements accidentally rhyme or alliterate and make an absurd little song out of those lines. A couple days ago there was an announcement about the weather, and a minute later when the bell rang we were watching Native American rain dances on YouTube while I was asking students how supplications for good crop-growing weather might fit with the religious investigations they’re working on in our Ancient Civilizations unit in Humanities class. I don’t only do this with presentations that others have created – when I revisit anything I’ve created in the past I can’t bear to teach it the same way more than once. There are always new connections to make and new extensions to explore, because each class is different and has a different set of shared experiences, ability levels, interests, etc.

I have the most fun teaching this way, and while I think there are times when it risks confusing students by switching rapidly between sites and sources rather than sticking to pointing with a stick at bullet points, I do always try to display and refer back to a “skeleton” agenda or daily lesson outline for these flights of fancy.

So I think that’s my favorite way to “present” visual content and material given the tools I am lucky enough to have in my classroom (projector, laptop, reliable internet access). I genuinely think it’s a good visual presentation style for teaching because it’s not static, it’s infinitely flexible and adaptable, it’s modern (in the sense of using the latest online tools but also in that it results in a sort of collage / remix environment rather than monolithically imposing the teacher’s visual aesthetic like PowerPoints can), and it authentically models the process of inquiry and research on the teacher’s part rather than regurgitation. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, it’s really fun.

PS: Back to the original topic – if I did have to compose a traditional slideshow “presentation” for some reason, for example if I were forced to do a Pecha Kucha presentation or something, I would try to aim for an uncluttered, text-light Presentation Zen style, which is something I have some experience with because Kim is an expert. If a presentation is going to be static, at the very least it should have great pictures and consist of more than a series of bullet points and clip art.

PPS: Yes, I have noticed that this post contains not a single hyperlink or visual image, in complete contradiction with everything we’re supposed to be doing here. I’ll try to add some later. Maybe… it was a philosophical choice to be minimalist, and you should treat it as a small oasis in the web’s bombarding ocean of visual information? No? OK, I’ll add some pictures later, I promise.

PPPS: I notice that “oasis in an ocean” in the previous paragraph is probably the stupidest mixed metaphor that I could have possibly written. Instead of editing it I’ll leave it as a monument to my preferred presentation style. If I were looking at this together with a class, it could be a “teachable moment”. What is a mixed metaphor? Why is this a good example of one? etc. I like to call them “teachable moments” instead of “times your teacher is an idiot”. Has a nicer ring to it.

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