This past term I have been working with my grade 9 computer skills class on launching a TV station for the school. The idea is that there will be short, 10 minute broadcasts every fortnight. The programme segments that the groups are working on – most have finished – involved not only scripting and filming, but market research on programme content, analysis of the results using spreadsheets, a pitch to the class using PowerPoint, a blurb for the TV guide, creating a programme intro animation using Flash, and of course editing using Windows Movie Maker or iMovie.
I also got the groups to promote their segments using twitter, a tool which appears to be gaining traction in the high schools.
I had hoped to air the first broadcast at the end of the first term, but a missed class here and an unexpected guest speaker there meant we were about a week shy of our deadline, and I have had to re-schedule for the beginning of next term. I have yet to view all those segments which have been completed, but from what I observed in class, the greatest challenge for students was compatibility and format issues. The new video cameras we purchased for the school produces raw video clips in mpeg format, which cannot be read by Windows Movie Maker software, which has the advantage of coming free with Windows XP and is downloadable for Windows 7, but which is not very powerful. Many students shot footage on their phones, and these too were not compatible.
We got around this by using conversion software, notably FLV to Avi. Although this produced a somewhat fraught experience for many students, it is something which is an essential part of computing, and I was keen to make sure that the students were able to learn how to convert file formats when necessary. The other major heartache was provided by the somewhat flaky nature of Windows Movie Maker itself. It often crashes, and bombs out when saving without locating the file fragment causing the problem. You need to find the part of the footage causing the problem and clip off a split second at beginning or end of the clip to remove whatever is causing the problem saving. Once you are aware of the problem you compensate by testing each piece of footage that you bring in to edit. But for many students this was an arduous process.
On the positive side, however, most groups were fantastically creative in their approach, and relished the challenge of putting together a 3 minute segment. I was particularly impressed by the work done integrating Flash animations into the videos. I was not so convinced about the validity of the market research and analysis using spreadsheets, but it did provide an opportunity to get some hefty work in on conditional functions, absolute referencing and graphing. We also learned how to integrate graphs into PowerPoint presentations, and on the whole I was pleased by the pitches. They were technically accomplished, if a little lacking in real persuasive punch. In many ways it was one task too far, and most groups struggled to meet their deadlines. Nevertheless, these ancillary tasks provided the necessary ICT learning to justify spending a term making movies to parents and school administrators!
When Roedean TV launches early in May I will cover what transpires. I have to say I am somewhat apprehensive.