For this project I decided to (retroactively) apply the UbD planning process to a recent project from Grade 8, in order to help me reflect on how its design might be improved if we use it next year. The project was part of a unit on Globalization, and involved students making a fictional news documentary about a factory being opened by a transnational company in a less economically developed country.
Reflections on adapting the project to look at it from a UbD planning perspective: I don’t think much had to be changed in terms of the project’s overall goals and approach to make it fit the UbD schema, really. This project did already contain what I think are pretty good inducements for students to consider roles and audience and to be empathetic and show perspective, for example. One aspect that could be made a bit more authentic in the future is audience – we showed the final products to each other and shared them a bit between different class sections, but didn’t officially display anything to a wider audience. In any case, while I’m pretty happy with the project’s basic ideas, I do have some more specific reflections on how the project played out, which I’d like to briefly delineate.
There was a real bottleneck at the stage where the groups assembled their video segments. Everyone finished shooting their interviews, then, for one technical or human-error reason or another, we all had to wait nearly a week for most groups’ iMovie expert to combine and upload their finished documentary. We had to move onto other activities in the meantime because of this. Next time I think I would have each student be responsible for shooting, editing and uploading their own section of the documentary. We could then simply just watch them all in sequence, or combine them at end if possible. But having the whole group waiting several days for one person to finish video editing was a bit inelegant.
Students’ research needs to be more guided in some areas. I think certain of the student roles for this project led naturally to easier research, and I’d like to try to make that aspect more balanced somehow in the future. We were able to find and share dozens of real-world interviews, news stories, documentaries, etc. on the subject of factory labor, particularly in China and India. It’s also pretty easy to find material on what some CEOs have to say when challenged about factory conditions. However, one of the roles in particular – that of a citizen from a more-developed country who has opinions about foreign factories – seemed harder for students to get a handle on. We had to do some pretty heavy-duty searching for articles and videos about people’s thoughts on outsourcing, brain drain etc. Having more of a resource bank or case studies ready for the students to get into this role in particular might help in the future.
Encourage more creative filmmaking. The assignment was really about interviews, not realistic simulation of a news documentary, but I would have liked to see more groups come up with things such as blue-screen work, establishing shots of factories, views of the factory floor, scenes of the CEO driving his or her limo around, etc. I think next time it would be good to go more carefully over some real-world examples of news show tropes, documentary filmmaking cliches, etc., and more explicitly list and explain these and other common techniques so that students are challenged to include them in their projects.
Students’ self-developed interview questions could have been better. Similarly, I’d like to go more explicitly into pre-investigating what makes a good interview question and answer, and look at things like follow-up questions, avoiding leading questions, etc. The assignment gave each student two questions they definitely had to answer and left the formulation of the follow-up questions to them. Most students’ questions of their own were acceptable, but they still could have overall been a bit better in terms of eliciting the interviewees’ thoughts on controversial issues. Next time I’d like to provide more explicit prep, examples, and guidance in this area.
Find ways to get the reporter’s role to include more commentary and analysis. The assignment mentioned that the reporter in each group was supposed to give a concluding commentary after the interview sections, but many of the reporters didn’t really do this part successfully. I think part of the problem was that they saw the reporter’s role as objective, and didn’t want to “take sides”. To avoid this in the future we might need to more explicitly preview and analyze the investigative journalism or commentary genre, and look at specific segments where reporters give analytical conclusions and don’t simply report on events.
So in terms of reflecting on the technology used during this project, my main thoughts are that we need to avoid the single-editor iMovie bottleneck, and that students need to be more explicitly guided through considering video resources used for research. Also, I’d like to think of useful ways to share the students’ work with an audience outside of the school. Overall, I think the above ideas for improvement are not necessarily indications that the project itself is seriously flawed, but that my implementation of it could use some serious refinement. This list seems to me to be typical of the sorts of things that I find myself regretting or reconsidering after I do a project for the first time. Luckily, I’ve been able to teach the same classes for a couple years in a row now, so I feel I’m getting a lot of opportunities to make, and then actually enact, these sorts of reflections in a useful way. Which is very nice.