Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Review of iMovie '08 ... the Shock of My iLife!

I was so excited. I unwrapped my new Macbook Pro ceremoniously, reverently hit the power button and waited with anticipation. I had worked with iMovie for years, and was especially pleased with iMovie '06. Now, I would have my first look at the newest version of iMovie. When my dock appeared, I was pleasantly surprised by the slick new icon.

As I opened up the program, I was a little awed at the total transformation. My simple little program screen had turned into a completely different movie app.

However, as I navigated around the new program, I thought: Apple, what are you thinking?

I have used iMovie for years in the classroom. It is simple and offers many options for kids to create quite polished products. Some of the better features of iMovie 06 include:

  • Timeline view
  • Multiple audio track editing
  • Themes
  • Many editing options (transitions / titles / Video FX like reverse & slow)
  • Ability to open more than one project at a time, and copy & paste clips
  • Exporting selected clips only
I also liked:

  • DVD chapters and integration with iDVD
  • Option for third party plug-ins
However, guess what is missing from iMovie 08?

  • Timeline view
  • Multiple audio track editing
  • Themes
  • Many editing options (transitions / titles / Video FX like reverse & slow)
  • Ability to open more than one project at a time, and copy & paste clips
  • Exporting selected clips only
  • DVD chapters and integration with iDVD
  • Option for third party plug-ins
And the worst part? iMovie 08 CAN'T OPEN older iMovie projects. Apparently, iMovie 08 is a stripped-down version of 06, perfect for beginners, or people looking to throw together a 2 minute YouTube video. (Read this blogger's top 10 features missing from iMovie 08.) However, I almost wept as I thought of the years of video projects I have made with my students: V-show productions, Greek Myths, the Virtual Digestive System, not to mention all of the projects they did just for fun. Was my digital video life destined to fall prey to limited creativity in the name of efficiency?

To be fair, some people like the improvements. MacWorld calls it "the iPhoto for movies." There is more color-correction and cropping options, and no rendering time when you add effects. Also, it can input a wider variety of video formats. But, that's about it. Some people theorize that Apple wanted to prevent iMovie from competing with Final Cut Pro. Other people recognize the good along with the bad.

When I recovered enough to open up a new tab in Firefox, I read that many people are outraged. Thankfully, Apple offers a free download of iMovie 06. (CORRECTION 3/21/09: The download is no longer available as iMovie 09 is released.)

I can breathe again.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Content Cake and Technology Frosting

My last post reminded me of one of my favorite teaching "rules." I love introducing technology to my classes. However, it is inevitable that the "bells and whistles" will draw kids' attention away from the content.

So, a few years ago, we came up with the "cake and frosting" analogy. The content is the "cake." Obviously, if the cake is terrible, I don't care how good the frosting is, people aren't going to eat it. And, if you are planning on handing me a plateful of frosting without any cake, I am going to be rather offended.

We go on to discuss that you can make some frosting ahead of time, but it needs to stay in the fridge until the cake is ready to be frosted. If you focus too much on making the frosting and don't pay attention to the cake, it can burn or collapse and you'll have to start over.

Once they have a good cake, they can decorate with "frosting" (the effects, comedic interludes, or (shudder) "bloopers".) However, we discuss how the best cakes have simple, well chosen frosting for dramatic effect. (In fact, when the class and I create a rubric together after viewing previous student work, they almost always add a requirement to "limit random distractions." However, once they actually begin a project, they see how tempting it is....)

With every technology project I have implemented, I have had open lab time and often I am shooing kids out of the room at 5 pm, 6 pm and even later. They put even more effort into their content, so that they can add the "fun stuff" later. In fact, my kids have (on average) put more creative effort into digital projects than anything they've turned in on paper.

Of course, the kids take the analogy as far as they can. For instance, one kid tells me, "my sister likes to scrape the frosting off the cake and eat it by itself." I tell them that after they finish the cake for me, they are welcome to scrape off the frosting and post it on YouTube...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Teaching with Tech: Does it Work?

A recent article on asks, "Are students in the digital age getting dumber?" Tom Oppenheimer, author of The Flickering Mind: Saving Education From the False Promise of Technology, is quoted throughout the text and he believes technology is wasting our kids' time and energy. I agree that the article brings up some valid points, but I believe teachers have been dealing with similar issues in different formats for years. The article claims:

  • Technology, such as Powerpoint, results in kids creating weak and inaccurate content, while spending an inordinate amount of time on graphics that don't matter.
  • IM lingo is a problem in today's schools.
  • Laptops in the classroom actually interfere with student learning.
Weak, inaccurate and time-wasting? It certainly is easier to copy and paste information from the web, rather than laboriously copy text from an encyclopedia by hand, however, I can argue that my own classmates and I produced reports in which they "didn't absorb" the material either. Kids' learning is dependent on their investment, whether by hand or machine. If they don't care about the learning, they often won't care about the accuracy either. (The "let's just get this over with" mentality.) And, one only has to look as far as the file cabinets of saved class materials in college frats to realize that cheating existed well before the existence of term paper sites. These problems have been here for a while. Now that it is even more convenient for students to be lazy, educators need to be even more aware of student involvement and ownership.

Think back to all the reports you wrote as a kid. I was a good student, and I remember writing reports on the sun, medieval entertainment, leaves, and the state of Arizona (or was it Arkansas?). What do I remember from these reports? The posters I made, the pictures I colored, the poster I created. I don't remember a thing about Arizona or Arkansas. I don't believe it is only technology that tempts kids to "spent nearly twice the time working on the graphics than ... researching the report." I refer to this as the cake and the frosting. My kids know what I mean.

But, what I DO like about technology is that is levels the presentation playing field. I remember back to one of the first iMovie projects I incorporated into my science class in 2002. The day before the students were to share their work, one of my special education students said to me, "This is the first time I am proud to show off my work because it looks as good as everyone else's." Here was a kid with a written expression disability who spent years seeing his written work hung up next to all the rest. He volunteered to share his iMovie first.

IM is a problem? Mignon Fogarty, author of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Clean Up Your Writing, believes that when kids text habitually, they in effect train themselves in writing a form of shorthand. "They'd be tempted to use it on their homework and exams. They might even slip into using abbreviations unconsciously." Again, I think it is up to educators (and kids) to know the difference between formal and informal writing. It's all about communication.

A student recently emailed to me, ""...prolly you would yell at my grammer but then again u dont teach LA." This email was informal. He clearly communicated his point to me in his message. He has never "unconsciously slipped" in his formal writing (homework, lab reports) for me. Why? Because he is conscientious enough to differentiate between formal and informal language. He cares enough consider his audience and the situation for his writing. I have no problem with IM. I do struggle with student apathy. As adults, we know the difference between writing a grocery list and a legal document. We talk differently socializing with our peers than talking with our grandmother. Kids can be taught an appropriate audience and situation for their IM-speak. Oppenheimer says, "There’s no job in the real world that allows writing in IM lingo." Sure there's not... yet.

Laptops are distracting? The article quotes a study in which laptop-equipped students, "On average, the students spent 17 minutes out of a 75-minute class doing activities not related to class work." Umm... that's not a problem limited to laptops. Un-engaged students are distracted by passed notes, open windows, shiny objects, and their own thoughts.

None of these problems are new. I think it is easy to "blame" technology. Students will learn when they are engaged and invested. In my opinion, technology is a tool to increase student engagement. Educators and students must use it effectively. Just as I would never put in a 50 minute video and sit at my desk during a class period, neither would I set up situations in my classrooms where technology will be a crutch to facilitate sub-par learning. Technology isn't the enemy here. Apathy, on the part of students and teachers, is. C'mon ppl, old skool doesnt cut it if we want r kidz 2 learn in 2day's world. :)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

To Filter or Not to Filter?

Blogger Andy Carvin writes about his recent experience in which he invited to give a presentation to a group of "educators, historians and media professionals participating in their annual summer educational institute." (There's a link to the presentation in the post - interesting stuff!) He clicked to show a visual on YouTube and it was "flagged as inappropriate" and blocked!
The room went totally silent for a moment, then erupted in laughter. Here we were, a group of educators participating in a professional development seminar trying to discuss the role that Web 2.0 sites can play in civic education - at a presidential library, no less - and we were denied access to the information and tools we needed to have that discussion. My hosts at the library did their best to override the filters, but no one could figure out how to do it. I literally had to pantomime some of the video clips to give them a sense of what I was going to show them - and obviously, I couldn’t do any of them justice. One teacher then offered a tip to the group: if you ever get blocked, ask your students for help - they can show you a number of ways to get around the filter and access YouTube.

It's that teacher's comment that impacts me the most. S/he's right. By middle school, most kids can get around the filter. So, when no one is watching, they are accessing whatever content they want. And, all it takes is a "clear history" to outsmart the next most popular parent/teacher content-checking "trick." On the other hand, the kid who researching breast cancer or sex discrimination is blocked.

And, I've had it work the other way as well. While looking up an image of a medieval plant used for cosmetic purposes, our "filtered" Google Images pulled up a woman who no doubt had a botanically-inspired stage name. Oh yeah, and she was not even wearing a fig leaf to cover up.

In Carvin's case, a single video** was flagged for inappropriate content, but the story brings back my reoccuring fear that our district might soon chose to block YouTube. After all, they have already blocked a variety of social networking sites, including MySpace. There is certainly enough non-academic material on YouTube to warrant a filter, however, I've often used the site in the classroom to teach about topics including the theremin, cicadas, electric cars, and more. It helps bring in items that are too expensive and/or difficult to bring into the classroom. The multimedia is a nice (and free) addition to plain text resources. Another benefit is the ability to quickly assemble clips from opposing viewpoints to begin a discussion on media literacy. And, honestly, sometimes it's just plain fun.

Filtering cannot be the only answer. There is no substitute for pre-screening materials and supervision. I would never blindly search for clips in front of a classroom, nor would I allow my students to use the Internet without circulating and monitoring their usage. Another post discusses a recent U.S. Senate Hearing , in which the committee chair speaks against relying on technologies, like filters, to protect our kids.
Rather, our efforts must rely on a multi-layered strategy – one that teaches our children about safe and responsible online behavior; one that encourages industry action to develop tools that will aid parents in their efforts to restrict inappropriate material from their children’s access; and one that relies on swift and certain action by law enforcement officials in finding and punishing those who would use the Internet to harm children.

We cannot rely on filters alone. We need to teach kids responsible, ethical use of the Internet. As a middle school teacher, I know we cannot shelter them forever, so we might as well teach them how to navigate responsibility. And, if educators are committed to this goal, it needs to become part of the curriculum. (In my new position this fall, I am excited to have the opportunity to develop such a focus.) Additionally, everything we teach kids about responsible use, media literacy, and safety is applicable in also other areas of their lives. I think the senator has the right idea.

** CORRECTION 8/10: I misunderstood. It ends up ALL YouTube videos were blocked. That's exactly what I fear.