Castration, sausages and great educational TV

Kill It, Cook It, Eat It

Saw the latest episode of Kill It, Cook It, Eat It on BBC3 yesterday evening and was very, very impressed. The programme exemplified a lot of the methodology that we use in the Digital Explorer expeditions and also gave me some ideas about how to improve for the next one.

The premise of the series is to create a connection between the meat that we eat and the process of rearing and killing animals, especially in processed forms such as burgers, sausages, etc. The importance of making empathetic connections is ever more urgent. Young people need to learn about the impact of their choices, especially when they are not immediately obvious. It would be great to take every secondary pupil to an abattoir or an industrial chicken farm, so that they could see the process with their own eyes. This probably won’t happen, but at least now we have a virtual trip that can be used in classrooms via the iplayer for weeks / years (?) to come (please BBC keep it up there).

So what can we learn as educators looking to make video for the classroom?

Feature pupil voice… a lot
This seems pretty obvious and is easy to do with your class. For me some of the best bits last night were characters like Phoebe or Luke speaking straight to camera on location about their experiences. These vox pop were sprinkled with cutaways of what they were talking about – castrating piglets has to be seen to be believed.

Keep it chunky
The programme was nicely segmented with very focused sections on different tasks. So we would have 5 minutes on piglet castration and discussion, 5 minutes of pig slaughter at the abattoir, and another 5 on all the wonderful ingredients that make a value sausage. Having short chunks of film makes it easier to use in the classroom, rather than a straight 30 minute episode.

Make it emotional
If you are looking to spark discussion or interest, emotional engagement really helps to promote empathy. The nature of this topic makes it quite easy, as does the inner working of the slaughterhouse, but there are also some nice experiential exercises. Three of the volunteers involved are weighed to see how big their pen would be if they were piglets. They are then made to crawl around a pen that size for 3 minutes. I can see this kind of exercise being copied in the classroom and being very effective.

Characters drive the story
The young people are well chosen and introduced as individuals with a back story as well. I think that this is something that we can develop more on Digital Explorer expeditions. It would be easier to do with a smaller group. The group size of six used in the programme works really well. If you are making films with a class some of the pupils will be better in front of camera, some will be better at shooting video and some better at directing. Use this diversity of talent.

Overall, well done to BBC3. A nice piece of educational film, all that’s needed now is to have it properly packaged and distributed to schools.

Reaching a wider audience – the cost of quality

Innovation in technology and design means money and time. Nothing that Digital Explorer does is radically new nor are the methods we use different from what thousands of others are doing. So what’s the difference?


I have watched YouTube videos that pupils have made. It’s always quite exciting to see which teachers have been secretly filmed. If you’re a teacher and never searched YouTube for your school, it can be quite revealing. The quality of these videos is pretty poor, and not just the content. Sound quality, framing, narrative, soundtrack, etc. are all out of the window. However, for a small group of people they are interesting and amusing. Quality in web video production gives you access to a greater audience.

There are blogs that I read that are easy to navigate, well laid out and full of interesting content. On some blogs, the design really adds to the content, giving a sense of place, ideas and inspiration. Others are truly shocking, full of garish fonts and mis-sized photographs, with dull headlines and lack of decent opening paragraphs. Again, unless you have a very particular interest in the person/people writing the blog or the content, you will not browse, but move on.

When Digital Explorer started, the inspirations were the model of the broadcast news journalist reporting from across the world, and the rigour of the professional expedition. Digital Explorer remains adamant that no compromise should be made in terms of quality, but that costs money.

A curriculum for the digital global citizen would include…

  • the skills to shoot, edit and upload a quality digital video (nothing more complicated than an establishing shot, a few interviews with proper framing and decent sound quality, and maybe an appropriate cut-away or three)
  • the skills to create or identify an engaging, appropriate and accessible online platform (blog, ning, social networking group or page, etc.) and the ability to write engaging content with a mix of digital media to back it up (photos, video and maps)
  • an appreciation and knowledge of digital mapping technologies and how they can help to inform and contextualise issues online
  • the ability to apply these skills to learning in Citizenship, English, Geography and Science taught curricula, so that any digital content has proper rigour in terms of research methods and young people understand how to create change

This curricula involves money and time. Who will build this capacity outside of the current taught curriculum? Where will the money for additional hardware come from? Who will link these new skills to local, national and global issues?

In the future, Digital Explorer wants to grow its current programmes to become a techno-eco-scout movement for the 21st Century.

Give young people the skills they need to become leaders.

We are failing them if we don’t.

URGENT Help! Searching for the right video editing software

I have been searching for a couple of years now for the best video editing software to use on expeditions, both youth and school expeditions, as well as professional expeditions and field research.

The video editing software is the last piece in the puzzle.

So far, I have identified the following as the best in class for value and effectiveness for multimedia web communications from most places on the planet.

Now, I would love to use Adobe Photoshop Elements and Adobe Premiere Elements as the media editing software, because…

Photoshop Elements allows for processing multiple files at the same time. This means that an expedition team could automatically resize and auto-adjust contrast, colour, etc. for all the images in one online gallery. All this can be done at the touch of a button.

Premiere Elements allows for multiple audio and video tracks, separation of audio from video, export to a number of file formats, but most importantly flv and gives a good range of flv export options as well as custom options for bitrate, frames per second and frame width / height and codec.

The problem with both these packages is the amount of memory they need, not only for the files, but also to operate. According to the system requirements, they also need 2GHz processor, 1GB RAM and a combined 6GB of hard drive space.

These are the kind of specs that are not likely to be found on solid state memory mini laptops such as the ASUS or indeed on rugged laptops such as the Panasonic Toughbook.

I’m stuck! Please help if you can.

PS over the weekend I have tested the following software to see if it delivers: Microsoft Windows Movie Maker, Cyberlink PowerDirector, Corel VideoStudio, Sony Vegas Movie Studio 9 and Muvee Reveal and none quite hit the mark.

PPS I have just spoken to ASUS who have a more suitable laptop with the following specs:

Intel® Core™ Duo Processor U7500 : 1.06 GHz FSB: 533MHz, 2MB L2 Cache;

Mobile Intel® GM965 Express Chipset + ICH8M

DDR2 667 MHz SDRAM, 2 x SODIMM socket for expansion up to 4GB SDRAM
*Due to the 32-bit operation system’s limitation, only 3GB will show up with a 4GB memory. The 64-bit operating system will not have this issue.

Panasonic’s rugged camcorder

nullPanasonic have released a waterproof, drop-proof and all round pretty rugged camcorder. The Panasonic SDR-SW20 benefits from using SD storage (SD cards are now made with up to 32GB storage) which is less susceptible to damage from drops and knocks. Think the memory card in your digital camera versus an external hard-drive and you get the idea about the relative robustness of the two digital storage systems. In return for being able to take your camera underwater, into the desert, up a mountain (hard-drive storage is usually dodgy above 3000m altitude) you compromise on image and audio quality (there’s no external mic socket and a single 0.8 megapixel CCD). But as the Panasonic website says:

…with its dustproof and waterproof performance, [the Panasonic SDR-SW20 is] the ideal camera for anytime use outdoors, in active situations, and for casual everyday video shooting.

Definitely one to consider for expedition use, and probably best suited to youth expedition teams creating web video and not suitable for those looking for video output for other purposes.

Please help young voices from Lebanon be heard

I have just spent a week working on the next Offscreen Expedition in Beirut and Saida in Lebanon. It’s been truly inspiring – such wonderful energy and passion. One of the things that I hate is having to chose. I interviewed twelve pupils for a place on the expedition to the UK in July this year and have to disappoint ten of them.

I have been thinking about how to provide a platform for some of the voices to be heard and want to provide the support and equipment for them to start making short films and reports about the issues that they face and their lives. Wonderful Irina Prentice has agreed to provide some filming and editing training and now all I need to do is to get a camcorder and MacBook out to Lebanon.

So here’s the deal… I’ve got £500 I can allocate to this, and I reckon that the total cost will be about £1200.

If you have a MacBook in good working order that you don’t need or a decent camcorder please get in touch. Likewise if you would like to fund this, I would be enormously grateful and you will be changing lives at a very grassroots level.

Thank you all!

Great advert for renewable energy

I just love this advertisement for renewable energy…

Digital Video for the classroom (SMART Board integration)

If you are making Digital Video for the classroom, here are a few pointers to make life easier for teachers:

  • 1-4 minutes is great for Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14)
  • 5-20 minutes is great for Key Stages 4 and 5 (ages 14-19), where a more in depth exploration of a topic may be useful (although short clips are also still useful)
  • attention in the classroom can be lost in the blink of an eye, so it’s great if video can be integrated into interactive whiteboard software – the most commonly used is the SMART Board software, Notebook
  • Notebook currently only supports Flash Video (.flv and .swf) and so Digital Video should be downloadable in either of these two formats

If you are a teacher looking to integrate Digital Video into your SMART Board resources:

Good luck and have fun inspiring the next generation.

TechCrunch reviews web video

TechCrunch writes a great review of web video, noting that things have moved on since Google bought YouTube a year ago. Incredibly informative and a must for anyone looking to host video online.

Web video for the classroom (pt 2)

One other thought…

Please, please, please don’t host your video only on YouTube or similar media-sharing sites. Only the most enlightened schools haven’t blocked these.

By all means use a service such as tubemogul to propagate your video on a number of sites. This will mean that young people can access your content on their own terms outside of school.

I am looking to develop a hosting service for teachers, schools and other developers of educational web video. If you don’t have the ability to host web video at the moment and want your films to be viewed in the classroom, Digital Explorer should be able to help sometime in 2008. Busy times ahead!

Web video for the classroom

There are two things that I have noticed when using web video in the classroom. The first and most pertinent is pupils asking me to enlarge the player to full-screen. When using media players such as Windows Media Player or Real Player this is fairly simple. The complication comes with embedded flash video. In a Year 11 Citizenship class examining the issues of debt and aid, I used video from the Make Poverty History website. The problem was that the videos could not be enlarged. This left some of the less enthusiastic members of the class fairly disgruntled.

The solution:

  • use a video player that has the functionality to enlarge to full-screen (the best I can find is Jeroen Wijering’s excellent flv player)
  • ask your school IT department to upgrade to Flash version 9 (this will mean that the enlarge function will work)
  • produce video using the .flv format, which will ‘stretch’ without the image becoming too blocky

The second issue is the 10-20 seconds gap between pressing play and the video starting. This is enough time for young minds to wander or assume that their teacher is a technological incompetent (I still hold that by some quirk, teachers’ ability to function a DVD/Video player has a strong inverse correlation with their length of time in the classroom). This is a mistake that we made (as with the one above) on the Offscreen Student Expedition, by having a black screen and a boring pre-loader (the small animation that shows as the video gets ready to play).

The solution:

  • have an still image rather than a black screen before the video plays
  • think about having some interesting animation going on so that pupils know that something is about to happen (nothing too extravagant)
  • or maybe use some attention grabbing optical illusion that will keep their attention (if you stare at the dot below for long enough the grey haze recedes)

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