CinemaOwls take flight!

This November the YouTube channel “CinemaOwls” was officially hatched. This channel was created for Kelowna Secondary School’s film and media production classes. Before taking flight, though, there were many details to consider and address. My school administration approved the concept, but with the understanding that a letter and permission form would be discussed with students and given to parents. With the help of my students I created the following letter and form which was sent home. (Parent Letter – YouTube)

The next step was for my students to finish their projects (see The Big Picture post for details about the project). Students were challenged and sometimes frustrated by the web tools, but I assured them that’s part of the process. Our goal was to test drive these tools precisely so we could document the process about what worked or (equally important) what didn’t work. As projects finished we learned together how to move them from point A to B – it wasn’t a matter of only linking or embedding the films because the ultimate goal was to put them on our channel. So we had to figure out how to upload the films to YouTube.

It turns out that saving the films in a YouTube friendly format can be tricky. We were working with material from both Mac and PC platforms with every different format extension imaginable. Together we problem solved how to do this and many students commented on how much they learned along the way. I echoed their sentiments because I was (and still am) learning along with them. This project was a departure from the usual films we make because we had to rely heavily (in some cases entirely) on the web for the resources and support we’ve needed.

The web tool project allowed our school a gradual introduction to using a YouTube channel. The majority of the posted material did not involve students appearing on camera, and with this reduced risk it somehow seemed easier to see the potential of such a channel. This also allowed students more comfort with experimentation –  particularly since the film is really a test of the web tool. In retrospect, I’m glad we did this because is serves as a great foundation on which to build, and we now have more experience with the whole process as we move into upcoming film projects that are more typical of my film production classes.

I must thank my group of Grade 12 filmmakers (Justin, Sheldon, Jessie, Michelle, Anthony, J-Lee, and Sean) who helped get this channel up and running. We look forward to receiving feedback about our films on CinemaOwls. I will also encourage my students to constructively comment on other work they see, and to appreciate the connections they make.  I know all my students look forward to sharing more films in the future (watch for our Film Noir projects in the New Year!).


The Evolution of a Library

cc licensed flickr photo shared by ConanTheLibrarian

My grandmother was a school librarian who nurtured my love for books. Not so long ago I can remember going to the local public library and looking things up in the card catalogue. It felt good to shuffle through those Dewey Decimal cards, and even better to go to the stacks and rummage through the books searching for treasure. Sometimes I had something in mind, but, more often than not, I loved the unexpected discoveries – those books that for whatever reason I just had to read. I loved both the sound and feel of the book jackets as I placed the finds in my backpack to carry home.

While I still fondly remember my childhood Saturday morning walks past the Chinook bowling alley and into the library, I have learned enough from reading those wonderous books to remain open to new possibilities, to appreciate discoveries, and to remember the value of sharing information.

I still enjoy visiting the library, but find the experience has changed. It has expanded far beyond the scope of books or research materials, and has gone digital. I am lucky enough to teach at a large high school with two exceptional librarians who help guide me and our students through this ever-changing 21st century journey. One of them, Al Smith, was kind enough to take a moment and allow me to interview him about the changing role of the library. Below are the questions I asked Al – if you have a moment pour a cup of tea and listen…

TechTalksPodcast – The Evolution of a Library (run time: about 8 minutes)

In keeping with the ‘media test kitchen’ theme of this blog I edited the audio for this podcast in GarageBand. The opening and closing music stings were created using Magic GarageBand.

1. How long have you been a librarian? What would you say are the most significant changes to happen in the library over that time?

2. What are your favourite “tech tools” to use in the library?

3. How do you use custom search engines?

4. What challenges do you face implementing technology within a public school?

5. Do you use social media, and if so why?

6. Do you have any tech advice you can pass on to the listener – perhaps a favourite tech tip (or tips)?

Presenting Social Media

The following slideshow is one element of a class I created for education undergrad students at the University of British Columbia (Okanagan). I was asked to introduce students to the concepts of connectivism and social media. Mike Minions teaches this course  – Education 407 – check out the course wiki.

This is my first attempt using slideshare and embedding it into WordPress – I’m hoping my links have held up.

The Big Picture

cc licensed flickr photo shared by the1secondfilm

I recently approached the administration in my school district about creating a YouTube channel for my media and film production high school students. The purpose of the channel would be twofold – firstly, to showcase student work, and secondly (and more importantly), to allow my students to learn from each other. I’ve always had class sharing of all media or film projects, but they tended to be a “too short class viewing” followed by a quick critical discussion of the work (all within a 70 minute block). While this has worked, it didn’t allow for (easy) repeat viewings that are needed when checking out certain techniques or searching for deeper meaning. Students would now have both the opportunity and the time to see each others films and think about them beyond the walls of the classroom and the minutes of the typical school day.

The idea of a YouTube channel emerged because my students had been requesting it and it was clear to me their voices needed to be heard. It is something that has relevance to their world, but extends to an educational application. Some students even suggested they would be able to link their work to their resumes or post-secondary applications, while others wanted to be able to show their parents our work. Clearly we were heading in the right direction. The good news is the school district has supported this initiative.

When I approached the school district I provided some clear parameters for how we would use this high school channel. I would be in charge of uploading so care would be taken regarding security and privacy issues, and there would be clear quality control – it isn’t simply a matter of every project being posted. Students must use copyright free, or cleared material only (I’ll cross the mash-up and re-mix bridge when I get to it!). Students who appear on camera must have their parents sign a letter giving permission for this. We are still sorting out what to do with the credits, but we’ll start by only including students’ first names and last initials. I am hopeful this can be expanded to full names as we get a better sense of the cyber implications. If other issues arise we’ll keep all stakeholders informed and make decisions accordingly. It has been my experience when embracing new technologies that it works well to start slowly and then expand boundaries as understanding grows and the needs change.

One of the first projects we’re going to try on the channel is to experiment with one story told using a variety of web tools. This idea originates with Alan Levine (aka “cogdog”) who explored over 50 web tools to tell the story of his dog Dominoe. Not only will students learn the tools, but they will also figure out which ones worked better than others and why. The students have agreed on the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” because the story has a universal theme and can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. We are just getting underway on this project so stay tuned for updates.

And now for the big picture!

I have discovered by using social media and web tools myself, that, in turn, my students share their similar interests. Out of this emerges a valuable dialogue that centres on creating a digital identity. Most of my students had never really given much thought to their digital footprint before (other than avoiding posting inappropriate photos on Facebook or elsewhere), and have welcomed the chance to talk about it. This discussion has led them to realize that creating their digital identity and managing their reputation is something they have a lot of control over, and it is both valuable and increasingly necessary in the world. Indeed, they begin to see both the forest and the trees.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Timo Kirkkala

The Rules of the Game

cc licensed flickr photo shared by unloveablesteve

A traditional favourite game of mine was always “Mousetrap”. I’m fairly certain I never actually played it according to the instructions, but thoroughly enjoyed building it again and again – even improvising with homemade pieces when original pieces went missing. This week I’ve been challenged to think about games – specifically, electronic games (computer and video). I rarely play these types of games, but after experiencing an excellent presentation from Sylvia Martinez I realized I needed to give some serious thought to the importance of gaming.

So what makes a good game and do these attributes extend to electronic games – whether officially deemed educational or not?

Some attributes of good games:
– they are fresh and feel original, but can be played again and again.
– they involve learning and mastering a range of skills.
– they are able to adapt and include new levels or challenges.
– they are complex enough to be challenging.
– they are built considering uniformity and consistency.
– at the same time they allow for some interpretation of the rules (anyone that’s ever played Monopoly and argued about the “money in the middle” and “Free Parking” knows what I mean). Sometimes the ability to change the rules is part of the fun and an important part of the experiential learning.
– they might contain an element of surprise.
– they allow for tension to build.

When I considered my list, I realized it was universal (no matter what the age of the player, the type of game – board game or electronic, or the use – for education or strictly for fun) the attributes still seemed to apply. One question that emerged for me is “do computer games allow for flexibility and spontaneity”? I’m hoping the answer is, yes – assuming it’s a high quality game, but appreciate any feedback on this question (since I’m not really a gamer).

Another thing I thought about was when I created video production for my school district back in the early 1990s, my main motivation was to put the tools in the hands of my students. (Yes, I am a constructivist!)  I figured that one of the best way for students to become media literate was to construct media themselves. They would discover the power of shot choices, post-production manipulation and so on.  And that’s exactly what happened. As such, my interest was piqued when Sylvia Martinez brought up sites such as Scratch where students can build their own games. So much so that I intend to explore this option with the students in my media arts courses. My film students have been able to become quality creators and critical consumers of media, and this seems like a natural extension using today’s tools.

The last thing I thought about came from an article written by University of Wisconsin professor Kurt Squire entitled

Changing the Game:
What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom?

I found the following quote from the article powerful stuff (and I couldn’t say it any better so have left it in Professor Squire’s own words.)

“Indeed, just as no one game appeals to all students, neither does any one curriculum, and games challenge us to ask to whom traditional curricula appeals and whom it leaves behind. Our traditional secondary curriculum is largely an
experience of mastering a pre-defined set of objectives, mostly through listening or participating in structured activities with well-defined, pre-determined outcomes. In post-secondary schools, the activities are more open-ended, but mostly mediated through secondary accounts of phenomena through the use of textbooks and lectures. College students mostly listen to lectures, read texts, and if they are lucky, discuss them with peers or an instructor. Those who prefer to develop understandings through building, tinkering, or more direct experience are left behind.Educators hoping that digital games will be a “silver bullet” because they are exciting and motivating will be disappointed. The real challenge is not so much in bringing games—or any technology—into our schools but rather changing the cultures of our schools to be organized around learning instead of the current form of social control.”

The evidence:

cc licensed flickr photo shared by adventuresinlibraryscho ol

cc licensed flickr photo shared by circulating

The Story

In the spirit of digital storytelling I decided to create a short film for this post.


cc licensed flickr photo shared by Jim Blob Blann


The truth is out and and I am exposed.

I’m a newcomer to blogging and have mostly experimented with ideas in my blog through trial and error. I’ve been pretending to know what I’m doing, and hoping for the best. I have experimented with the look and feel of my blog and, as a visual thinker, I have tried to incorporate images to support my ideas. And I knew even then it was just – well, okay.

Some of the struggles I’ve had include:

•Topics – Figuring out what to say and how to say it. Justifying that anybody should or will care. Balancing between making the blog  ‘mine’ or extending class discussions and assigned responses.

•Layout and Graphic Design – I care about how things look, and get frustrated when I can’t get a post looking quite right. I have also struggled with how Google Reader sometimes handles the formatting. (I always check, but haven’t always been able to do something about it.)

•Comments – Apologies to all –I was completely oblivious on what to do with them (mostly because I hadn’t figured out how to subscribe to them using RSS). To anyone that’s commented on my blog in the past, I promise I’ll do better (I have nowhere to go but up)!

•Privacy and Freedom – My blog is simply where I’m at in a given place and time, yet the internet is unforgiving and forever. This doesn’t scare me, but makes me wary. As someone who works primarily in the Arts this can feel rigid at times. And as somehow who teaches high school it can feel limiting as I’m always aware of the boundaries.

These struggles have lead to the following questions:

1) I spend most of my day exploring creativity. How does blogging help or hinder creative exploration? The arts involve lots of experimentation – can you (or to what degree should you) experiment when your audience is potentially anyone and everyone?

2) Are there examples of bloggers who create using different types of text (visual, audio, written…)?

3) Are there good sources for improving the look or design of a blog? Many of my students are visual artists and I would like to show them some possibilities.

4) I appreciate the guidance, encouragement and wisdom Sue Waters shares, and I would like to extend this to my high school students. However, this guidance may not necessarily be connected with a specific class I teach (think the arty crowd). Instead, I’m sometimes approached by the type of student who seeks out unique opportunities and wants to connect with others. Specifically, how do I help these students begin to safely create their PLN?  Is this even  appropriate if it’s not directly part of a class?

In the spirit of support (calling on creative writers and visual artists) – a creative writing student I taught last year (she’s in 1st year university now) – has created her own blog and is attempting to establish her own PLN through Twitter and a Facebook group, but I know she’s finding it challenging. Luckily she is patient and tenacious.

I realize that’s exactly what I need to be, too.