Meaningful Digital Video for Every Classroom

Technology has made a difference. As a teacher, trainer, and media festival director for more than 20 years, I have long been aware of the educational potential for videos and videomaking for any school project. But in practice, videomaking in the classroom takes dedication, inspiration, and plenty of extra time, not to mention the additional management and equipment responsibilities it tacks on to your day-to-day duties. It is flat-out hard work. Despite those difficulties, teachers have always made great videos. Perhaps this is due to a combination of the tremendous appeal of video, the deep satisfaction of seeing stellar projects on the television set, and the knowledge that work can be archived in media collections. Plus, of course, the great educational benefits to students.

But for most teachers, these benefits have not been enough to offset the extra management and hardware burdens. With a state-funded technology mandate, fellow educators and I set out to change that. Now, after three years of trying, I think we've finally learned the keys to making meaningful digital videomaking a part of every teacher's classroom.

The Technology-Ready Classroom

The minimum classroom requirements for digital video production are a single computer and access to an Internet connection. According to the last federal survey, the majority of classrooms have that. Note that a camcorder is not required! Digital video in the average classroom begins with digital images, not a camcorder. That means CD-ROMs, a scanner, or the Internet. Not having to deal with a camera, lighting, audio, or a student crew increases the comfort level for many teachers. What replaces the camcorder in the classroom is a folder of curriculum-based images, sounds, and narratives. They sit together in a kit like a jigsaw puzzle, ready to be assembled by students. As with any videomaking, the process of creating the project is as valuable as the final project itself.

The Basic Idea: Scaffolding Up

Building videos means assembling video, audio, and story elements including writing. With digital video, all of these elements can be prefabricated for final student assembly. The notion of scaffolding is the idea the teacher supplies elements for use during the early stages of a project. Ultimately the teacher wants students to learn to create those elements for themselves. This scaffolding can be curriculum-specific and scaled according to levels. The range from scaffolded beginner projects to fully original projects described in our chart extends from Level 1 to Level 15.

An Example

A Level 1 history project on Colonial America might begin with a folder on the computer desktop with digital visuals and digital audio. The visuals would consist of JPEG images of the Founding Fathers, colonial homes, maps, famous documents, and renderings of battle scenes, and so on. The audio files consist of sound effects (such as musket fire, wagons creaking, pens scratching on paper, and crowd noise), period music (marches, military and patriotic songs), and narration written at grade level. The narrative should be straightforward, for example, “There were 13 colonies. The Atlantic Ocean separated England from its colonies in America. King George ruled in England. American leaders included Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry,†and recorded by the teacher or a student or downloaded from a Web source.

Building the Project

Using iMovie (Mac) or MovieMaker (Windows XP) both free or Pinnacle Studio 8 or Ulead VideoStudio 7, students build the video from the elements supplied. They construct their project the obvious way: importing the narrative and pasting the images where they belong. No matter what order they import project elements, the students will be learning. They will not require as much management as they assemble their project. They can export the project to a file or to videotape, or they can simply show it to the teacher or their classmates. The process is as important as the project. When the construction kit is simple and complete, assembling an impressive looking digital video is much easier than in the days of in-camera editing. The margin for error is also smaller when all the necessary parts are already there. No matter how simple the assembly, students will learning the basic editing skills they will need as they move to more sophisticated and original projects.

From the Scaffolding to the Top Floor

Once the students are comfortable with the assembly process, they’re ready to move up to the next level of complexity. The chart makes suggestions for progressive levels. Students could jump levels or start wherever assigned by the teacher. Left to their own designs, some students will jump too high (or start too low).

The chart suggests a very comfortable level of scaffolding. One new element is introduced at each level. Note that camcorders are not introduced until Level 9. Each level should have its own folder. In a perfect world, there would be a folder, or an assembly kit, for each grade level and every subject area you would like your students to do digital video projects on.

The beauty of the scaffolding system is that students can work at a single computer station in a classroom without inordinate supervision. The students engaged by video projects will return to the kits again and again. These kits can enhance the depth and complexity of a gifted program or engage students who are not served by other kinds of learning. In a sense, digital videomaking kits could become a standalone resource like a textbook. Teachers can use the resource without extraordinary planning or management.

Where Are the Kits?

In a perfect world, districts would support teachers creating kits tailored perfectly to their students. (Previous columns in this magazine have identified great primary resource sites for the visual and auditory elements necessary for great kits.) In the real world, where cash-strapped districts rarely fund such endeavors, teachers still have alternatives. Some materials ideal for digital video kits are available commercially. The Colonial American history example above could be taken in large measure from a Teacher Created Materials multimedia collection titled, Colonial America (found at or (800) 858-7339), one in a series of collections. In fact, one of the beauties of digital video projects is that they can repurpose multimedia collections that have fallen into disuse with the rise of the text and template-based PowerPoint programs. The advantage of buying resources for a single classroom is that teachers have access to commercial-quality intellectual property.

Copyright-friendly materials are also posted on the Web as raw material. Teachers can find already assembled kits at Posted at this site are kits assembled by teachers as part of a state-funded technology project. That site has been serving classroom teachers for three years. The kits, designed by levels, are currently being field-tested and will be ready by March, 2004.

Try building a kit! Or have students assemble component parts as a project. Either way, the collection of materials will open the door to user-friendly, powerful digital video projects, and serve your classroom and students very well.

Hall Davidson ( is executive director of educational services and telecommunications at KOCE-TV in California. He has received numerous awards, including an Emmy for Best Instructional Series.

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