TCEA: The Value of Collaboration

This place is exhausting.  Up early and out late for an entire week.  Sitting in classes and conferences and meetings trying to find something that we can take back to our students that will a) benefit them and b) allow us to do our jobs better, faster, and more efficiently.  When one considers the cost in lodging, meals, payment to subs, and travel time, it is vital that the benefit be quantifiable in order to justify the expense.  As educators and employees of the government we are called up (or at least we should feel an obligation) to be good stewards of the people’s money.  While that may be a novel idea to some governmental entities, it has been a part of the ethics of being a teacher since teaching became a public profession.

The best I can offer on the subject is my own experience.  I have been an attendee of the TCEA conference for 5 years and a presenter for all but one of those years.  I volunteer to facilitate classes when I am not presenting and try to be an active participant.  I know that my district spends a fairly large amount of money to send me to Austin yearly and I know that I miss a weeks worth of instructional time (although I am proficient enough in educational video to alleviate that for the most part) but does the benefit really outweigh the cost?  I am going to say yes.

The time I spend here, whether in class or not is also time spent finding ways to improve my craft.  I spend the majority of the business day either looking for tools to do my job better or reflecting on the things that I have learned and organizing them into a useable journal.  I meet other people who are trying to accomplish the same thing and I share ideas with them.  I take from them things I can use and ways of thinking I have never considered and they take from me the same things.  We return to our respective workplaces and, hopefully, implement those ideas in ways that will help our students to be more successful.

Finally, there is an energy here that can help recharge batteries that are beginning to fade about this time each year.  February is a rather tough time for teachers.  The year is drawing to a close.  The end of year pressure is starting to be felt and Spring Break is still a long way off.  It is good to have a moment to recharge.  Yes…I would say…all in all, conferences like that are worthwhile and are money well spent, at least from my perspective.

 

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TCEA Day 2 Success!

liveJust came back from a great time at TCEA presenting Arduino to some of the best teachers in the state.  We covered the basics of circuit design and building withe a bread-board.  We learned the fundamentals of making an Arduino sketch and the basic syntax for coding.  The people who shared my class were the absolute best.  They got it.  They could see how using this type of technology in a classroom might inspire a student to pursue a career and find a satisfying path in life.  What else matters?

In the end, I think that is my calling.  I’m not sure I will ever be a great teacher that turns out to be incredibly brilliant at whatever it is that I am teaching.  On the other hand, I hope that some day a student will come to me and say, “Ya know Mr. White, it was what I got to do in your class and the toys we played with that inspired me to become a famous engineer and rocket scientist.  Here’s $1,000,000 to express my appreciation.”  Well, maybe that last part might be stretching it but still….

Meanwhile I will keep doing my best to get toys for my students.  Right now my primary focus is going to be video related.  If you think it would be a good idea to present live streaming techniques for classrooms then do me a favor and comment below.  Say,”Mr. White…or if you are out of High School, call me Regan, I would like to see information about how to produce and edit video and live stream footage to YouTube.”  Actually I am going to continue presenting information like that anyhow but it is nice to know that some people actually want it.

TCEA 2018 Thoughts and Reflections

DVSuBSaVQAA42jSHere we are again in the capital of live education technology, the Texas Computer Educator’s Association state conference.  I am presenting for most of the day Tuesday on the magic of Arduino and the Internet of Things.  Today I have volunteered to facilitate a presentation on Adobe Spark.

Thought 1: Helpful tip to people who can’t seem to get the classes they want…Volunteer to facilitate the class.  You get a guaranteed seat and you get to do something useful for an hour.  Sadly you also get a mustard colored T-shirt that no one could possibly wear without being thrown in an ambulance and rushed off to a hospital for a liver transplant.  Still, T-shirt not withstanding, if you want one of the high demand Adobe or Microsoft classes, the best way is to to sign up to volunteer.  Be aware, however, that other people are aware of this technique and so you still have to get there early.

Thought 2:  Find out where the bus parks to pick up passengers before the first day that you need to be there.  I saw this last year and so was prepared this year.  The buses, especially at the Embassy Suites Central, tend to park on the back side of the building.  You will not know they are there until you hear them leave.  They don’t stop for desperately running teachers.  This is particularly important if you are presenting or facilitating or have a class you really want to attend.  Get to the Convention Center on the first bur or you will not make it.  The second bus is always late.

Thought 3:  Even if you have never tweeted or posted on anything before, get going with Social Media before you get here.  Everyone wants to know your twitter handle or Facebook log in.  Most of them will enter you in drawings to get that information.  Drawings are good.  They give you a change to get things like Amazon gift cards and iPads.  Also, everyone knows that teachers are just one step away from educational consultants who make $10.000 per appearance on the Professional Development circuit. Write a book and get a significant twitter following and you can definitely find supplemental stream of income to enjoy.

Thought 4:  Buy yourself a couple of those rechargeable batteries for phones/devices and charge them.  There are thousands of people here and only a few hundred electrical sockets.  You will definitely need one before you find it.  If you are a person who needs to check into Social Media or Email (or…imagine that…Canvas to see how your students are doing in your absence) then your battery will definitely not last long enough.  Those small portable batteries will fit into a backpack or purse and keep you going when others have been tethered to the wall trying desperately to get a few bars of charge built up before their next class.

Editing for Pace in Video

videoGreetings.  Once again your humble narrator takes a moment out of his busy schedule to offer a bit a technical advice for those interested in using video to present educational material in a flipped classroom or virtual learning environment.

Today’s suggestion concerns editing video clips to control pace and rhythm.  I am sharing material garnered from the “Video for Educator” curriculum presented by the Adobe Education Exchange.   There is a great deal of very valuable training and technical advice available here and all of it that I have found is free.  Of course, the Creative Cloud Suite of development tools is NOT free but with the advent of the subscription method of purchase, it is affordable, PARTICULARLY for educators and students as Adobe offers a very attractive academic discount.

Setting and maintaining pace in any video production is important but no where more so than in the creation of educational materials.  Often, the material is a bit dryer and more pedantic than content geared for entertainment.  Also, the audience is known for having a short attention span and a very discerning taste in video quality.  For these reasons, a producer of educational material must take care to produce footage that moves along at a good clip (clip…get it.)  To that end, here are my suggestions for controlling pace and preventing your material from dragging down the production.

Point 1 – Cut on the Action:  Often the inexperienced editor will cut from one scene to another while the screen is either empty or still.  This is a mistake.  Below is a clip that I submitted last week for a man opening a door and leaving a house.  Notice how the cut scenes from the man to the lock close-ups are cut during the action.  There is not lag and the scene moves quickly.

It is interesting to note that I could have also editing this clip, using the same footage, and made it appear VERY slow by editing the lock turns so that the turns were completed and maybe repeating the lock opening footage a few times in order to make the subject appear to be fumbling with the lock.  I could also start each of the lock scenes from and empty screen in order to slack off the pace.  Tricks like this may not seem so useful or important until you start creating video content only to have students ignore it because it drags along and is boring.

Point 2 – Have a sense of rhythm in your clips.  Notice that the cut scenes in my clip are all of a similar length and are interspaced fairly evenly.  This provides a feeling of rhythym to the clip.  The length of the spaces between cut scenes and the length of the cut scenes themselves can control how fast or slow the clip feels.  Mix the rhythm with a variety of shot distances, starting with a more long range establishing shot and working toward a more close-up focus and you will find the controlling the rhythm and pace of your material is easy.  You will also find that there is a direct relationship with steady and lively pace and student engagement.  Try this and see.  If you have questions, please feel free to comment below.

Basic Rules for Video Composition

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As promised I will present, over the next few weeks, a series of articles on effective video techniques specifically geared toward the production of educational media.  These can be “talking head” videos for delivering information or “hands on” videos for demonstrating skills and techniques.  Either way,  the following tips can be used to make your material more polished and professional.

In our first excursion into video training we will look at shot composition.  Setting up and framing the shot means more than just pointing the camera at whatever you want to show your students.  Using good shooting technique can make the difference between something interesting and engaging and something boring that no one wants to see.  Remember, if the students don’t watch the video, they are not learning.

Rule #1:  The Rule of Thirds:  Many people, when faced with the prospect of filming something or someone, simply point the camera at whatever it is they are filming, whether it be person, place, or thing, and try to center the object in the view finder.  This is, to use a professional videography term…BORING!  Watch your favorite movie and see how many times the field of view has the actor centered exactly in the middle of the screen for an extended take.  Instead, professional videographers or camera operators will apply what is commonly called the Rule of Thirds.  Imagine the viewfinder of your camera is divided up like a tic-tac-toe board.  Many video cameras come with a setting in the menu that will overlay this type of thing on your viewfinder to help you in framing but if yours does not…practice imagination.  It might look like the picture below…

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The yellow lines, of course, will not appear on the video but they do help you in framing your shot.  Notice the face of the actor.  The camera operator has placed the intersection of two of the lines on her face rather than centering her in the middle square.  This makes for a pleasing and interesting shot.  The camera operator has also ensured that the woman’s eye-line is in the upper third of the shot rather than the middle.  This, coupled with the distance used in filming makes sure that the woman fills the screen without being cut at the waist.  Avoid cutting off people at, or immediately below the waist.  The bottom of the shot should rest just a bit above the hip bones.  Also, for a medium shot such as this, it is important to leave a bit of space above the top of the head.  Finally, if the woman were facing the opposite way (to her right) then the appropriate place to center her face would be the intersection of lines on the opposite side of the screen.  We don’t want our subject too close to the edge of the screen.  Leave some nose room.

These are just a few of the things one can do to make their video content more interesting.  It might seem unnecessary and, in fact, most people could not tell what was wrong with a badly composed shot.  However, almost anyone can recognize a badly framed scene, even if they don’t know why.  It looks awkward when these rules are violated.

I hope this tidbit of technique was useful to you.  Please feel free to comment and follow.  Also, if you are interested in learning more about the art and science of videography or Educational Video Production, head over the the Adobe Education Exchange.  You can register for a free account and have access to tons of professional development material to make your educational content the best it can be.

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Video Production for Education

videoOne of the fastest growing aspects of classroom technology is the use of video to present information to students.  As “flipped” classrooms and personalized instruction fill our educational horizon, one of the easiest ways to provide for the changing needs of our students is to present the information in a recorded format that can be viewed multiple times if necessary from any location.  This takes education out of the classroom and allows the students the opportunity to spend more time exposed to the material.

I am currently participating in an online professional development course called “Video for Educators” presented by Adobe Education Exchange.  I highly recommend this class to anyone who has an interest in video production for education.  The material is well designed and presented in an easily assimilated format.  The curriculum is useful and relevant, and the assignments are long enough to be effective and short enough to be completed in a professional’s busy schedule.  You will need access to the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite of applications and believe me…it is worth it.  The educator’s discount makes this incredible selection of real-world professional tools available at a reasonable cost (especially reasonable when you consider what buying each of them as stand-alone applications would cost).

In the near future I will be presenting posts on various techniques and tools for creating compelling video in your classroom.  If you are interested in a specific topic, leave a comment below and I will try to work it into the flow.

We Need Your Help!

kidsvideoOk gentle readers, I am going to take a momentary break from reviewing educational technology and ask for your indulgence for a moment (or at least for one entry). As you may know, I teach various types of technology in a very small rural public High School in Texas.  Our technology budget is limited but I would still like to expose our students to every tool that I can.  Many of these kids are looking forward to a career in fast-food or retail (think Allsup’s or 7-ll) and that is the extent of their opportunity or ambition.  My goal is to help my students find alternatives to these types of low opportunity jobs. One of the dreams I have is to be able to offer an audio/video engineering class in hopes that one of these students will become inspired and continue on to find a rewarding job in a satisfying career field.  I need your help.  I am trying to gather the necessary equipment to outfit a small but useful video studio for my students.  I am using every tool, approach, or venue that I can find to get word to the Internet at large about how deserving these kids are and how much good a few dollars can do.  One of the things I have done is to establish a crowd-funding project on http://www.donorschoose.org in the hopes of expanding my purchasing power in order to buy the equipment my students need.  This is where you come in.  I find that most people on the Internet are sympathetic to education (and kids for that matter).  They are also interested in promoting technology and media creation.  If this is you and you have a few dollars of disposable income (I mean a few…even $10 would be greatly appreciated) then please consider clicking on this link and donating to a very worthy cause. If you have never donated to anything like this before then today, being #GivingTuesday would be a great day to start.  If you can’t donate then please consider sharing, reblogging, re-Tweeting, re-Facebooking, re-SnapChatting, or repeating my plea on whatever social media you can access.  If you don’t care for social media consider sharing this link with a friend or neighbor who does.  If you have no friends or neighbors, consider sharing with a total stranger (in a well-lit public place of course) and ask them to promote the idea.  C’mon…there is so much on the Internet that is not good or not useful.  Here is your chance to do a small thing to swing the balance the other way.   Please Please Please consider helping my students with this project.  Now…back to our regularly scheduled education blog.