My Approach to Teaching Multimedia Production in Middle School

Overview

I teach multimedia production in a Canadian middle school. Groups come to me for anywhere between 120-160 minutes every six day cycle for a three month term. What I describe here reflects my learning from my own experience as a teacher and from my academic work. It may not apply to everyone is every context, but I hope that I can provide something of value to people who come across this post.

Image used under Pixabay license
Image by 350543 from Pixabay

Some view multimedia production as a means to teach hands on software skills for content creation (Malik & Agarwal, 2012), but I view it as something more.  The process of creating and producing a podcast, film, or some other kind of media content, is a large endeavor that uses a variety of skills. This can include planning, visualization, problem solving, critical thinking, distributed learning, reflection, hands on skills with equipment, software, etc. It is a complex process that is not easy to do, and requires a solid understanding of the process when you teach it in order to best guide your students.

Research on Teaching Multimedia Production in Middle School

Middle school can sometimes be a difficult transition for students.  Wigfield, Lutz, and Wagner (2005) suggest that to help students transition through the middle years it is important to address social skills, career information, and cultural awareness/sensitivity.  When you are having students work on a difficult project that can sometimes require them to navigate social relationships especially when working in small groups, it is important to spend time teaching cognitive skills, the design/planning process, social skills, cultural awareness, as well as providing students with the proper scaffolding and support to be successful.  

Peterson and Orde (1995) recommend that when implementing multimedia production in a middle school, students have the opportunity to explore hands on with media creation tools, and that teachers use formative assessment, interactive lessons, flexible schedules, and design materials for the learning preferences of the audience.  Similarly, Liu (2003) describes a cognitive apprenticeship model where the learners function as multimedia designers in a team environment that focuses on cognitive skills through four stages of planning, design, production, and revision. Liu reports that this approach has shown encouraging results for enhancing cognitive skills. The design process promotes active and creative use of knowledge, while the cognitive apprenticeship model the teacher will act as a facilitator scaffolding student learning through modeling, inquiry, and instruction (Liu & Hsiao, 2001).  This process is similar to the learning theory of cognitive apprenticeships which Dennen (2004) describes as process that can involve modeling, explanation, coaching, scaffolding, reflection, articulation, and explorations. In the following section, I will elaborate on my approach and how it ties all of this.

My Approach

When I begin a class with a new group, I typically build up a skill set in students with smaller lessons to give them experience with audio/visual equipment and various software programs before getting into a larger project.  After I feel confident that they have grasped the necessary skills we begin a larger project. The projects differ by grade level, usually in grade 6 I have students shoot a narrative silent film, in grade 7 students record a podcast, and in grade 8 they produce a narrative documentary film.

I usually begin the process with a brainstorming session that usually develops into script writing.  For podcasts I have students write the script like a play, for films I have moved to having students write their script in the “two column” format, with one column being for shot type and the other being for action and audio (more on this in a future post). The amount of scaffolding and support varies by group, sometimes it is a total group write where as a whole class we collaborate for one script that everybody uses, other times it is more of an independent student task.  This choice is not necessarily made on ability, but by time. Different groups that I teach come to my class for shorter time and certain classes seem to miss for school events more frequently, thus making their overall course time smaller.

When the script is complete, if it is a video project, students will typically storyboard, sometimes we will decide upon specific situated roles, but not always.  I like to keep the process flexible so that students can move more freely between activities. I always take a look and give suggestions on pre-production work as I want to make sure that the project is feasible and appropriate.  

When we get to filming or recording, this is where flexibility, critical thinking, and revision strategies are very important.  Depending on the dynamics of student groups some may finish extremely quickly but will need to revisit this stage again later and some may have a number of problems with equipment or group dynamics that need to be resolved. Some students can work together without any problems, while other times personalities and work habits don’t always mesh. It crucial to support students through any difficulties and help them work through any issues. This stage can be very unpredictable, and for a teacher I would say, stay flexible and constantly check in with each group.

When students have generally finished the production process and are working on editing their final work, it’s important to allow them time to explore the editing process while also establishing criteria for a completed project. This can be as simple as saying for a film that they need titles, credits, music, sound effects, and no out of focus shots.  Peer reviews are very valuable here as they allow students to see each others progress while providing valuable feedback. I also try to sit down and go through everything offering suggestions for revision before students submit their final work.

As I have written this post, I realize that this is actually a much more complicated process than I originally thought, and I could easily explore this in much more detail which I may do in the future. My sense is that it could make sense to break this down into separate posts for preproduction, production, and post production respectively.  I hope that what I have written here has been helpful and informative. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to post or contact me.


References

Dennen, V. P. (2004). Cognitive apprenticeship in educational practice: Research on scaffolding, modeling, mentoring, and coaching as instructional strategies. Handbook of research on educational communications and technology, 2(2004), 813-828.

Liu, M. (2003). Enhancing learners’ cognitive skills through multimedia design. Interactive Learning Environments, 11(1), 23-39.

Liu, M., & Hsiao, Y. P. (2002). Middle school students as multimedia designers: A project-based learning approach. Journal of interactive learning research, 13(4), 311-337.

Malik, S., & Agarwal, A. (2012). Use of multimedia as a new educational technology tool-A study. International Journal of Information and Education Technology, 2(5), 468.

Peterson, N. K., & Orde, B. J. (1995). Implementing multimedia in the middle school curriculum: Pros, cons and lessons learned. THE Journal, 22(7), 70-75.

Wigfield, A., Lutz, S. L., & Wagner, A. L. (2005). Early adolescents’ development across the middle school years: Implications for school counselors. Professional school counseling, 9(2), 2156759X0500900206.



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