How can media production enhance teaching and learning and raise standards in geography education?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

VJing Geography Mapping

In the last lesson of this side of half term my Year 7 students produced some brilliant creative, imaginary map and word work using music and VJing images for stimulation. As the music and images came up students were asked to produce a timline/map of colour, shapes and descriptive words to describe what they were seeing. This was to conclude a unit on making connections/map work.

VJing is when you mix different video tracks and graphics to create new, alternative images. It is normally used in night clubs and at concerts. You can use your own video footage and graphics to your own music or download other peoples. A great place to find some videos and about how to VJ is the BBC Radio 1 website Superstar VJ.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Aerial Video

Can you take aerial videos for under £50?

Well, I am yet to conclude how well you can do this, but the answer is deffinately yes and it does not include flying yourself. It is also good value for money as after the initial outlay of around £45 for a Verbatim 5-in-1 device, it will only cost you about £2.50 a flight. How you might ask?

As this picture shows, it is not high-tech engineering. Eight helium filled balloons and 200 metres of string let me get enough height to see around 40 houses and a huge field for 12 very shaken minutes. Here is the problem, it is very shaky. I had to slow the video footage down to make it usable, but it is that, usable. The challenge now is to try and make the camera more stable. Once that is done meanders, mountains, coasts, cities and suburbia will all be under attack from this eye in the sky.

Any ideas on how to make the camera less shaky?

Chroma Key

Chroma Key is a special effect that allows you to replace a colour within your video and replace it with another image. Wikipedia has a good explanation. I have used this twice in my own teaching now and once at a training session I took at 21cc the BBC classroom for the 21st centuary.

Most commonly you will have seen Chroma Key being used in weather reports. The presenter is standing infront of a bright blue screen, but a computer replaces the colour of the screen with a weather graphic of some sort. You will also have seen Chroma Key on big Hollywood films like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. The great thing about this special effect for Geography education, is that you can make people appear to be somewhere they are not.

Chroma Key: Year 7 Weather
The first time I used Chroma Key was with Year 7 students who were asked to do weather presentations. The group was a mixed ability group of boys and girls who were up for trying anything out.

Setting Up
They were set a homework to script and reherse a presentation in groups of four, one of the group was to produce a background graphic or presentation that could be added later. I also told them about some video footage I had previously filmed and they could use if they wished.

I did not have any budget to actually buy a proper Chroma Key screen (a piece of bright, streched fabric) so I thought I would give my B&Q blue tarpaulin a try. It stretched well over my whiteboard and so the scene was set.

The Lesson
After a short introduction of a clip from the previous evenings news to remind my Year 7 students what Chroma Key is, I gave them five minutes to reherse and get ready for their presentations. I was extatic to see that every group had prepared a good script and only one team and not yet completed their graphics. Most groups had asked for some footage that I had taken of a hurricane in Belize during 2001.

I gave students who were not to be presenting a simple assessment table for them to reflect on the work of other groups. This 'peer assessment' required students to mark each group out of five for presentation, information and innovation. I was more than happy for them to enjoy the presentations and not worry about this stage of the process too much, but being keen Year 7 students they happily and thoughtfully rated each group, discussing with freinds and justifying their choices.

The presentations themselves went really well. Someone new had a turn at using the camera to do the filming each time. They did this hand-held and in reflection it may have worked better if the camera was on a tri-pod as the camera frequently recorded the wall to either side of the tarpaulin. In addition the camera person needed to be much closer to the presenter and blue tarpaulin. When you are using a LCD flip-out screen on a digital video camera you do not see the true picture as a small amount of what the lense is seeing is cut-out of the edges of the screen. I have found that using the eye view-finder shows a true and accurate image.

Shy of a these technical problems the lesson went very well and the students (assessed on noise tone, pitch and levels) really enjoyed this Geography lesson.

After the lesson
To make the magic happen I used some software by Pinnacle Systems called Pinnacle Studio 9. This software is very easy to use and I have enjoyed the features and ease of access that it offers for a number of years. It can be a little unstable, but with Studio 9 I have had fewer problems than with Studio 8, the previous version. Maybe 10 will be even better.

Chroma Key is one of the many special effects that Pinnacle Studio offers and takes seconds to do. You simpley put your video footage with the colour you wish to remove/swap in the second visual timeline and the background/replacement video footage in the main, first timeline. After a little thinking the software then replaces a colour of your choice, in this case 'tarpaulin blue', with the video footage of your choice.

It took a little while to do this with all five groups, but was well worth while. The best looking presentation was one where one boy appears to be in the middle of a hurricane. He actually looks like he getting wet. This was an additional special effect created by his group with a complex mixture of water bottles and tap water.

For Year 7 students the idea of using Chroma Key really helped to focus their language. Students remarked on having to imagine being in a specific place and so needing to get the detail right. Indeed in many instances students had to memorise details of things that would appear behind them but did not. Geography requires of us to use our experience and imagination to learn, develop and understand and in this case the Chroma Key actually gave students some experience (in sight and sound) of a place and asked them to push their imagination a little further than normal. They also really enjoyed it.

Pinnacle Studio is a cheap way of achieving this effect, but a major draw back is that you can not see what you are doing in real time as you do it. This means that you must plan in advance where you point and when you need to make certain actions in order to correspond to the background image.

Year 10 to come...

Geography teachers flying using Chroma Key to come...

Friday, October 14, 2005

Geographical Learning & Multimedia

Without a doubt creative media production has the potential to enhance teaching and learning but I want to find out the answers to these questions:
  • What works and what doesn't work?
  • When is the best time to use media (especially video) production for learning?
  • Why bother using media production?
  • Where can best practice be seen?
  • Who gets the most from media production?
  • How do students learn when they plan, make, share and assess media for geography?

This blog is an attempt to explore and share how media, especially video, can be used to enhance teaching and learning for geography education. It is for anyone with an interest in geography or media education to share ideas, methods, theories and ways forward.