Students as (Virtual) Digital Storytellers

iMacI am very proud to say that we are headed in a positive direction with our high school technology courses. We have finally gotten in all of the equipment and software to start a Final Cut Studio training program. Our students will be able to walk out the doors of our school certified in the same software that television and movie studios use to create the content we see on the small and big screen.

For me, the greatest impact this program is going to have is that our kids are going to become awesome storytellers. And why not? It is a key component to being 21st Century literate. They are going to have such a huge jump on so many other students. This program hits every area Daniel Pink talks about. It actually spurred us to take this thing to then ext level even though we are not firmly grounded in the ground level. We are going virtual with this baby. Here’s my thinking behind this.

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In A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future by Daniel Pink, we are introduced to the six senses. These six senses compliment the left-brain skills students already contain. These six senses are the “high-concept, high-touch senses” that will “help develop the whole new mind this era demands” (Pink, 65). Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning. These six senses will change the way our society develops in the modern era. These six senses separate the innovators from the automators. What students gain from these six senses cannot be replicated through machinery alone. A human must be in the driver’s seat at all times or else the idea goes nowhere. What is being created through these six senses is new life, new ideas…innovations. What students need to do to set themselves apart in today’s society is to not just think, but think differently.
final_cutThis digital video editing virtual project is the opportunity our students need to engage all of these senses. Digital storytelling in its most advanced form will take place. Students will be creating, communicating, collaborating, and connecting through stories. They will become masters of design through the creation of not just the storyline but the presentation as well. Story is one of the most influential, productive senses these students will build. Marketing themselves and their products in a compelling, engaging manner depends on story. Ken Burns and his movies on military conflicts are perfect examples. Are they timelined presentations of war events? Or are they narratives retelling life stories and drawing in new learners into what has otherwise been stale, dry bits of facts students have refused to engage with?

The ability to participate in this project requires students pull together content, skills, collaborative abilities, and the creative portion of their brains to produce products of a high level that shares the story of the video. Symphony, as Pink puts it. “Combining disparate pieces into an arresting new whole” (66). What other classroom experiences and projects can offer this type of learning opportunity?

Empathy. Knowing your fellow man (or woman) inside out. How can you tell a story without knowing your audience? How can you market yourself to potential employers? How can you market your product? Empathy. You cannot build it with worksheets. You build it with practice. You build it with experiences.

Our students will use their training to play and build meaning. The freedom they will have in creating their video products will allow them to “run with scissors.” They will have opportunities to succeed at a level with no ceiling. With this freedom will come failures. With failures will come new learning. Our collaborative learning environment affords all of the learners to build off each other.

Our project will change the way instruction is done in the K-12 vocational environment. Students will be able to learn from specialists without having to travel and/or pay outrageous training fees. They will earn specialized certificates that allow them to enter the workforce ahead of their fellow peers. By the time they complete the program, they will have amassed electronic portfolios of digital media to rival the paid professionals. Their learning will be available to them around the clock to fit individual schedules instead of bell schedules. Student progress is not held up by the rest of the class. If a student’s abilities allow him or her to move at a quicker pace, then so be it. There is no ceiling to the quantity, quality, or capacity of their learning.

California State University professor and published author Betty Edwards says it best:

“Seeing is the problem. And the secret to seeing – really seeing – was quieting the bossy know-it-all left brain so the mellower right brain could do its magic.”

This becomes extremely pertinent in this project by nature. The basics of the video editing software will be stretched out among small chunks for easy digesting. This will allow the knowledge side of the brain to strengthen and relax while requiring the creative side of the brain to ramp up to create final, edited video products showcasing the learned skills. Not just once, but repeatedly students will dip into the unchartered area of abstract creation. They will learn to collaborate, negotiate, design, and implement in a virtual environment using cutting edge tools not found in high school settings. They will function at the highest levels of Bloom’s to create polished products for publication in multiple formats and environments (contests, public viewing, persuasive opportunities, digital storytelling, self-expression, etc.). In essence, students successfully completing the training will be 21st Century college, film school, and workforce ready. Working across invisible borders will not phase them. Instead, the virtual environment places a premium on clear, concise communication. Again, these skills will add to their value throughout their education and workforce careers.

Our immediate goals include designing and developing a creative, interactive curriculum to be presented through our virtual high school software, Moodle. Utilizing the few experienced educators implementing Final Cut Studio software as project consultants will allow our project leaders to build-in support ahead of time for both students and staff in possible problem areas. The project consultants’ will offer insight and wisdom for timing of curriculum implementation as well as collaborative needs for student teams working together in a physical space. This advice will then be considered as it pertains to the weaknesses of a virtual presentation. Our goal is to have tools in place to overcome identified weaknesses with a project leadership team ready to tackle new issues as they arise.

The curriculum and its presentation has to overcome obstacles such as equipment, software, and content support. Students must have access to after-hours instructional support and timely equipment repairs as needed. Our close work with vendors and planning with back-up equipment will be crucial in filling these needs as will educators outfitted with communicative tools such as email, cell phone, video conferencing via Moodle, and instant messaging software (Twitter, AIM, iChat, etc.).

Our grant-term goals are focussed around the belief that all students deserve access to cutting-edge curriculum and vocational offerings in a 24/7 environment. With proper curriculum design and exemplary equipment needs met, participating students will earn certification through the difficult Apple Pro Series program allowing them to move right into the media industry either as employees or as entrepreneurs. With the placement of each machine, school districts can easily and effectively offer this training to three students per class period.

Our long term goal is to identify ways that we can successfully use technology tools such as content management systems, digital content capturing equipment, advanced software, and networked machines to bring high end curriculum content to students in rural areas (including ours) offering them valid, pertinent certifications that can easily be extended upon but offer immediate lucrative employment opportunities in the conceptual age we now live in. Engaging the creative skills while strengthening the knowledge skills will help us accomplish this while at the same time providing evidence of the value of this program to participating schools to allow continuation. Considering that the vast majority of the cost of this project comes in the start-up of it, long term funding for teacher stipends curriculum updates, and equipment upgrades should be accessible with evidence that the program is moving in a positive direction for students.

Honestly, I think we are building an idea here that is capable of giving students in other districts opportunities that they can create careers off of. But even if they choose to not enter the media industry, the experience they gain from building all of the necessary skills to be successful in the course will aid them in whatever avenue they choose to pursue after high school. More power to them.

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