About 5 years ago I was working with a friend, Dan Raven-Ellison, on using video in the classroom using mobile phones. The whole thing was quite hard really, and if I’m honest, we didn’t really get our heads around how we could make mobiles work. Vodafone generously lent us a dozen high spec mobiles and we set out to lend them to pupils, so that they could make films with them.
Dan’s idea was sound, but, basically, it didn’t work for me. It didn’t work partly because I didn’t think carefully enough about how it was going to work, and instead focused on the technicalities of uploading and downloading and editing. Of course in those days mobiles didn’t capture in standard formats, we had to convert them. The pupils didn’t have computers at home that were powerful enough to edit video, even if they got over the problems of conversion. So, we’d have to hunt for a PC suite in school and then waste hours downloading footage, converting it and watching the students edit it.
Most importantly, I didn’t help them understand what videos like these might be used for, how they might be well made, and I didn’t really integrate them into my teaching and the students’ learning. I thought we’d have to teach them how, and assumed that they’d work out the why themselves.
So, I was really excited when I visited Mark Richardson’s talk at the recent SSAT conference on “raising achievement through embedding learning technologies”. Mark’s realistic, but very enthusiastic approach, and his clear thinking, really “moved me on”. I was very impressed with the idea that, whilst most problems of downloading and the technicalities of editing could be easily solved by most children, they still need teaching about how and why to make a good film. This means that digital literacy is much more than being able to ‘do stuff’ with computers, and that, contrary to the myth of the digital native, the role of teachers’ is more important today than ever. It also chimed deeply with my prejudice against teaching ‘packages’, which change rapidly. Instead we should teach concepts, ideas, and foster an attitude of experiment.
Freed from the burden of teaching technicalities, we can focus on learning objectives, clarify our thinking about why using video with these students for this topic at this stage in their learning will offer benefits. Then we can communicate this thinking to our pupils, sell the activity as a learning activity, rather than (as well as) something fun. Along the way we can devise success criteria around skills of communication, argument, presentation, team working and production.
All of this means ‘HOMEWORK’! One of the themes that kept emerging, for me, throughout the conference was the possibility of sidestepping the problems we all face of ‘finding a computer suite’. Then we have to justify our time in there by spending the whole of it with our pupils staring at screens, rather than interacting with each other, or (god forbid) the highly expert and expensively trained teacher in the room. Let them stare at screens and use ICT for communication at home, whilst they’re in school let us plan, talk, decide, listen and organise our ideas.
Mark Richardson teaches at The Thomas Hardye School in Dorset. He also runs the website ‘Films for Learning’ (http://www.filmsforlearning.org/), with the help and (really quite large as it happens) generosity of Microsoft it should be added. On this site students and teachers can upload and comment on each others’ films. The site is moderated, so should be ‘filter friendly’. Mark is looking for volunteers to help him moderate films and develop the site, if you’re interested you can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org. When you visit look out especially for the biology teachers explaining cloning, and the film made by three of Mark’s students on the train to visit London.
When I’ve got around to joining I’ll upload my increasingly dated video on Castles near Newbury – which as it’s pre-beard will amuse my pupils!