Going Pro

Schools embrace video production and videoconferencing.

Text may be here to stay, but that isn't stopping K-12 schools from broadening their curriculum offerings to include audio, video, and other multimodal styles of communication.

A combination of savvy digital natives, affordable software, and online tutoring has created a perfect opportunity to integrate professional level video and videoconferencing into curricula.

Students in Broward County, Florida were recently treated to an informal concert by a world-renowned Japanese Shakuhachi musician from his studio outside of Tokyo by way of their videoconferencing set-up. Eighth grade students at Eastview Middle School in White Plains, New York, studying AIDS and preventive awareness, interviewed HIV-positive peers in South Africa. At Gordon Parks Academy, a pre-K-6 school in East Orange, New Jersey, students in television production classes get professional training in everything from how a television works to editing, preproduction, and on-location shooting.

Smile, You're on TV

Other schools are following suit. Misty Gentle, a teacher at Ocoee Middle School in Ocoee, Florida, brings her own professional television production experience and skills to teaching both beginning- and advanced-level television production classes to 7th and 8th grade students.

Beginning Class

Gentle's 7th graders start out learning about different TV and tape formats, the video camera, digital-video editing, audio "sweetening," graphics, and script writing. Using these skills, students are required to create short films, with a provided script to shoot and edit. They also use a green screen and learn a little about special effects. They write a commercial in proper screen format and are also challenged to integrate advertising and marketing skills into that unit. In addition, each student develops a news story and a public service announcement which they write, shoot, and edit.

Advanced Class

8th grade classes operate on a professional level, with a daily live news broadcast (the morning announcements) and a half-hour show about their school. The show, "OMS Unplugged," is then broadcast each month from the local government TV channel.

At the end of the semester, each student creates a DVD with his or her projects on it, complete with a main menu and customized pictures and fonts. Ocoee Middle School is a state demonstration site for technology, and features cutting-edge technology not only in their television production class but throughout the school. However, that shouldn't deter teachers who want to start a program like Gentle's in their schools, she says.

TV Tips

Gentle advises educators interested in integrating TV production into their curricula to start with small classes. She suggests having one or two consumer-grade mini digital video cameras with FireWire and a few computers with extra memory capacity or external hard drives for video storage and digital editing software. "You could grow from there," she says.

Gentle's television production classes use Dell PCs with Windows XP (80 GB hard drives and FireWire), as well as Adobe Premiere for digital editing and Adobe Photoshop to create graphics. Her students shoot on mini digital-video cameras but also use professional Panasonic cameras and consumer cameras from Canon and Sony.

"I have also found that the Internet is a great resource for lesson plans," she said. "I have gotten many ideas from the educators who share their programs, lesson plans, activities, and experience on the Web. Networking with other TV production teachers is 100 percent rewarding. As different as each program may be, we can all learn from each other and we all seem to be more than happy to share."

To view more information about Gentle's classes and access links to her television production page and numerous additional resources, visit www.oms.ocps.net/THD/gentlem. Also see the sidebar "Getting Started" for more tips about implementing television production instruction in the classroom.

Onboard With Videoconferencing

Other educators are finding videoconferencing the answer to flexible learning. With videoconferencing, teachers can take their students on virtual field trips almost anywhere in the world. Companies like Polycom and SBC have jumped on the interactive bandwagon by offering free archived databases that allow educators to hook up their students with doctors at the Center of Science Industry in Columbus, educators at the Museum of Television and Radio in Los Angeles, NASA scientists at the Johnson Space Center, employees of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, and even local members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. (Students can also connect to fans at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. These databases allow teachers to search for programs based on their curriculum needs and connect with other classrooms, museums, and higher educational institutions worldwide. The possibilities seem nearly endless, with Polycom's database alone featuring more than 1,500 content providers.

Archived Content

When searching these databases (see "Video and Videoconferencing Toolbox" below ), start with your basic needs. For instance, to reinforce a unit on music theory, you might tap into Cleveland Institute of Music's music theory course. Or if you're studying the Constitution, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration offers a helpful program. Each program has a description and lists the group providing the service — whether it's a zoo, museum, or independent production company. Most videoconferencing programs featured on searchable databases use ISDN or IP connection services.

Getting Up to Speed

If you're new to the videoconferencing game, SBC's database offers a glossary of terms and provides links to other sites with basic definitions to help you get started.

Often, the content provider limits the class size to a certain number of students to maximize interactivity. Other considerations include grade levels and different learning approaches. For example, the Buffalo Zoo's "The Rainforest Experience," for K-7 students, is a straightforward interactive program in which students study the rainforest and its inhabitants and "discover the importance of the rainforest and the consequences of its destruction by covering the layers, sights, sounds, smells, and animals." Students analyze how humans and their environments interact.

Another program, McLure Productions' "The Rainforest," for K-5 students, covers similar ground as the Buffalo Zoo but uses music as its main teaching tool. Songs and stories are interspersed throughout the show and musicians use student volunteers as part of the interactivity portion.

It's not just science and nature that are at the forefront of videoconferencing learning. Content providers offer programs in business, math, and history, among others; some of the programs are free. Others charge a fee, with price ranges varying from about $50 to $500. Sometimes, the fee covers materials needed for preparation before the program.

Teachers can evaluate programs once they're over and share thoughts and comments with other educators.

Partnering with Schools

The trend toward partnerships between videoconferencing companies and school districts bodes well for educators. Polycom, for example, has teamed with Berrin County Intermediate School District in Michigan to create a customized database of videoconferencing projects that correlate to the state's curriculum guidelines. Stay tuned for information on more school-business partnerships in future articles in Digital Media in the Classroom.

Jared Stearns is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.

Getting Started

Jennifer Hand, who helped set up the television production courses at Ocoee Middle School, has plenty of advice for teachers.

  • "Have a support system in place. I was fortunate to have the full backing of our principal, Dr. Kate Clark. We had a great technology support department who, although their background was not in television production, understood the needs of an environment that relied on technology that was always operational."
  • "Get trained! Although it's not a prerequisite to have a background in television production, it is important to fully understand the hardware and software used in the curriculum. And always ask for help if you need it."
  • "Kids today are very tech- and media-savvy. Be prepared to either answer their questions or have resources to find the answers."
  • "Research the equipment and software used in your district." Hand says the district may have previously tested products and could be a good source of information before you buy. Ocoee's district television production department had already tested models of cameras, and it was able to give Hand a recommendation.
  • "It's not necessary to invest in dedicated editing systems. By ordering licenses for Adobe Premiere (a nonlinear editing program) and Adobe Photoshop for each computer, we effectively added 22 editing and graphic stations to our classroom, when we previously had only two. By utilizing the 22 computers in the room, we were able to keep all students working. Students could write scripts in Microsoft Word, create production schedules in Microsoft Excel, create graphics in Photoshop, and edit in Premiere. This also creates a room that can be used for another subject if needed because the computers are multipurpose."
  • "The final intended outcome of your curriculum will affect the decision about what equipment to purchase for your classroom. For projects in the classroom, consumer grade cameras are sufficient. However, we produced a monthly television show for the local Ocoee channel called 'OMS Unplugged,' which required a commercial grade camera for better picture and sound quality."