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.

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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.

A Review of the new Ghost is the Shell Movie

GhostInTheShellAs my loyal readers will know, I have had occasion to use this space to review movies. There was a great deal of discussion recently concerning the,  then, up-coming live adaptation of the classic manga, Ghost in the Shell, written and drawn by Masamune Shirow.  While the manga presents itself as lighthearted and moderately comedic, the anime, produced in 1995, is a gripping and dramatic adaptation of the story.  It is this anime that most fans point to as the definitive telling of the tale.  Much of the buzz around the ‘net consisted of concerned fans hoping that Hollywood might treat the original source material with respect and allow the compelling and fascinating story to play out on the big screen as the author intended it.  If you were one of those fans with concerns along those lines, then rest assured that your fears were well founded and fully realized within the first 45 seconds of the film.  The Ghost in the Shell live adaptation suffers from the very thing that makes up it’s subject matter:  it completely lacks any soul at all.

By way of plot review, the original story involves a young woman, Motoko Kusanagi, whose mind has been implanted into a cybernetic or cyborg body.  While every part of her is mechanical, her mind, soul, and spirit remain human.  She, according to various sources across the Internet, was injured in a plane crash and then, as her body failed, was placed into the cybernetic shell.  She volunteered for government service as a way to pay for the maintenance and upkeep on her cyborg body, again, according to the original anime but she also seems to be motivated by the needs of society.  It seems that sacrificing self to benefit the collective is a theme that appears quite regularly in Japanese literature.  At any rate, she is employed by Section 9, a division of the Government Intelligence Community tasked with protecting the public from various threats.  As well as possessing formidable physical and tactical skills, the Major, as she is called, is expert in all things technical and digital.  She is a master hacker/programmer, and as such, often gets called in when cases involve technological details.

The story occurs at some time in the near future when mankind has perfected the ability to combine electronics, mechanics, and the human body.  Nearly everyone in the story is enhanced to some degree, with the notable exception of the recently recruited former policeman Togusa.  The team is assigned to track down and capture a ghost hacker, someone who can hack into a human mind via the network connections in the cybernetic bodies, and control the actions and thoughts of those so compromised.  In order to prevent spoiling a fantastic story for those who have not had the pleasure, I will say no more about the plot, except that it is engaging and speaks eloquently to the question of what defines a person.  Sadly, the current live-action offering did not ever even wave at this question, much less speak to it.

As many fans feared, the screen-writers and directors of the live-action film pulled bits and pieces of plot from various points along the narrative of the original anime and mashed them together into a non-challenging, politically correct, and quite frankly boring mess of a story that was distinctly western in flavor.  All of the motivations from the original work that were specifically Asian in nature were completely skipped over, or so under-emphasized as to be invisible.  In fact, the Major’s name was not used until the last 10 minutes of the film.  She was given a western name and no reference to her being Asian was ever made, barring the creation of a contrived mother who never appeared in the original story, and was, once again, a specifically western idea.

The original anime is considered to be, among other things, an action/adventure story.  The plot is fast moving and barrels from once action scene to the next with the speed of a packet traveling through the net.  The live-action film lacked a great deal of its name-sake, action.  Aside from a few set-pieces taken from the original film and stitched together in no particular order, the movie consisted of a great deal of dialog.  I felt stifled in exposition.  Video is a VISUAL medium.  Don’t tell the story, SHOW IT.

Don’t get me wrong, I have adored Scarlett Johansson since I saw her in The Island  with Ewan MacGregor.  She is the only person I can see as the Avenger’s Black Widow and she is, in general, a very talented actor.  However, the Major is, according to the original anime and especially the original manga, supposed to have the appearance of a much younger woman, and later, a young girl, as her cybernetic body is damaged and must be replaced.  I think the casting director might have taken that into consideration when filling the role of the major.  Also, in my opinion, the character of Batau was poorly handled.  He is shown in the beginning with normal eyes and does not acquire his signature enhancements until much later in the film.  This is not in keeping with the original material.

All in all I felt disappointment as I walked out of the theater.  I had high hopes for this movie and those hopes were dashed on the jagged rocks of Hollywood’s desperate need to make sure that everything produced by a major studio fits the long establish, and boring, mold.  Sadly they lived down to my expectations.

Useful Skills in Canvas

Canvas_vertical_colorDuring this edition of Technology in Education I will demonstrate the easiest method (that I know of anyhow) to integrate video into Canvas pages.  This technique will work with YouTube, Microsoft SharePoint, or any other video hosting service that allows embedding via the iframe tag.  Once again we will be using the HTML editor.First we need to select the video we wish to embed into the page we are editing.  On YouTube, videos that are available for embedding, as most are, will have a link to create the embed code for you.  You will merely need to copy this code and paste it into the html already in your page.  If we wish to include this video from OnRamps, for example, we first need to find it on YouTube…chrome_2017-03-10_17-22-58

Once we have located our video we need to find the “Share” link located directly under the title…

chrome_2017-03-10_17-26-10As you can see, the “Share” link is marked with a curved arrow and the word “Share”.

 

 

 

 

Clicking that link will reveal the sharing options we can make use of. The option we want to select is “Embed”.

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Selecting “Embed” will generate a snippet of html code containing our “iframe” that will allow us to embed the video into our page and have it play as though it were part of the page we are creating.  We need to copy the highlighted code and then paste it into the page we are editing using the HTML Editor.

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Once the code is pasted into our page’s html we can click the “Save” button and view the results of our work…

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Your students will be able to watch this video, assuming they have access to YouTube, without the distraction of the “Up Next” list along the right border of the page.  .

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They can access only the material that you want them to view.  Be aware that if the video is hosted on a secure server like Microsoft SharePoint, your students may have to provide a username and password to access the content.  If you look carefully at the code pasted in the example above you will notice that it says whitesboro.sharepoint.com rather than youtube.com as the source of the video.  This is because I am forced to download all videos originating from YouTube and re-host them on our SharePoint video server because students at my school do not have unlimited access to the YouTube site.  It does not matter what source you use, as long as their material is available via an “iframe”

If the material in this post has been of any help, please leave a like a comment, if nothing else, to let me know you are out there 🙂

 

Lights, Camera, Action…

One piece of software that can be a great benefit to students and educators alike is a free inclusion from Microsoft Windows.  The lowly Movie moviemakerMaker application. is a great addition to your educational arsenal.  Often denigrated by professional video creators, the Microsoft Movie Maker application is probably not a tool for the professional videographer.  It’s simple interface and shallow learning curve, however, make it ideal for students who have no video editing experience.  It allows the neophyte editor to have very acceptable results without spending the time necessary to learn something like Premiere Pro or Sony Vegas.

Movie maker allows students to create a video timeline and then create smooth transitions from scene to scene.  Titles are easy to add and it is possible to add primitive special effects via templates.  Video can be captured through a web cam and audio may be added and edited.  While this is not a perfect solution for a seasoned video editor, middle school and high school students alike will enjoy creating and presenting their work to an audience of their peers.

Schools that use Windows OS will have Movie Maker available and it does not require any specialized hardware.  Most schools have at least one video camera that is compatible through a USB interface or SD card.  Given these resources, students can have a ball learning to present information and ideas through the video medium.