Animation Production 2 – “Under Pressure”

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I was inspired by Loving Vincent and the rotoscope animation technique. My animation is not truly a rotoscope, but similar. I had a technique and a plan, and I got to work.

The Plan? I tried out the Oil Painting Filter in Photoshop, so I knew that it looked more like someone drew the image than photographed it. I’m sure it would have saved me some time knowing more about how the Creative Cloud programs work, but I am only a novice. My technique was quite labor intensive (not as detailed as Loving Vincent, obviously) so I still had my work cut out for me.

Starting Animation Saturday

Using the rough cut video I made, I captured every-other frame throughout. At first, I captured the frame and numbered it (1-1, 1-2, for scene one, etc.). After I got up to about 100 I thought there had to be an easier way. Of course there was. When I looked at the name of the frame when I captured it from the video (before saving it) I noticed that it was quite detailed about where it came from in the timeline of the video and it was numbered. I didn’t have to number it or anything! So I saved precious seconds for each frame after that by simply saving it without renaming it.

oil painting filter applied

Next, I had to take each frame/still into Photoshop to convert it into an oil painting. For one image you could click on Filter-Stylize-Oil Painting. Then one can choose a range of 1-9 for four elements of the filter: stylization, cleanliness, scale, and bristle detail. So to make an image look different, I thought it important to change these parameters at times. They were adjusted “at random” during my process.

my Einstein mug with Oil Paint filter

After a few hours of doing this, I made sure I knew any keyboard short cuts to go through this menu process. It still became mind-numbing and breaks were needed regularly (and to get some other responsibilities taken care of, so it worked out OK, I guess).

Time was running on (not marching, but running or sprinting), so I had to decide what parts of the story could be cut and keep the plot line intact. Out went many great puns and references to song titles and lyrics related to Jefferson Airplane’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us” even though it was so obvious that these needed to be in – the required line I had to use was, “Nothing is going to stop us.” Well, initially that was obvious to me, but I sacrificed the finer points of my script to shorten the film in order to get the project done – you know, working (better?) under pressure.

I cut the part of the story that built tension when our hero encountered another obstacle. I cut the great gag about Bingo. (“Great”?) I cut some lines from each of the characters.

My story went from nearly 5 minutes down to about 3 minutes. Not to better the story (unless you really don’t like puns, then you would say it was better – but not all cuts were puns!). No, not to better the story but simply to get it done because I was running out of time.

Music & Sound

I had to take the audio into Audacity to change my voice to make it fit two additional characters, and keep my original voice for one character. By changing the sound of the voices, it changed the pace slightly – enough so that when I tried to fit the stills back into the timeline there was an issue with the lip-sync. Once in a while I had to add or delete a frame to make it look OK (not good, not perfect, just OK – you know, no time working under pressure).

I thought of sound effects for a couple actions, but that got thrown out.

I knew I needed some music of some sort at least at the start. When everything is silent at the beginning before any dialogue, it just was boring, uninteresting, and a little disturbing to me. I needed to help set the mood for the story. I opened Garage Band and searched for anything ‘techno’ that would fit a sci-fi movie. This was at 6 p.m. Sunday with a 7 p.m. deadline to upload the video.

I came up with a few combinations from the loops available when I noticed it was 6:50 p.m. I exported the track to my computer and threw a little of it into the opening and into another part where tension or action needed more than the dialogue. I think I also put a little at the close of the movie (I’ll have to watch it again to make sure – yeah, I haven’t seen it since I worked on it.)

Other:

Other aspects that I originally wanted to do included animating the credits, and partially animating the 48×2 opening sent to me (and required to use in the opening). I thought it would be a good touch to have it transform from the video version they sent to an animated version in the style of the rest of my video. No time for that. I left their opening just as is. I threw my credits into a frame at the end – but that was simple: all I had to do was put my name all over the place! Ha! I got one thing simple!

my credit screen – simple!

Overall, was it simply getting it done quickly because it was due? or was it “working better under pressure”? I had to make some cuts, some compromises. That will always happen with projects – nothing is perfect. However, I cannot say that I work better under pressure. I doubt anyone really does. When time is limited, many aspects must be compromised, They end up lower on the priority list than expected. Often that is disappointing.

The best way is to not let yourself get into an extremely limited time frame for projects. Time is limited, just don’t take that to an extreme. Keep an eye on your responsibilities, your priorities, and your long-range plans for each.


Note: While writing this, I went back to my final video to get some stills to show you. When I watched my video, it was corrupted, or bad in places because it did not render properly. So I sent in a bad video.

On the “good news” side, it was not eligible for competition anyway. I went through the procedure to ID my video to the 48×2 people. Then when I tried to upload my video to the Dropbox given to me for the competition, I used the Dropbox app. I drug my file over to Dropbox – and it disappeared. I could not find it in my files, and I could not do anything with the title of the file in Dropbox. It did not indicate that it was uploading or anything.

example of bad rendering
[but this may be a good effect!]

I deleted the app. I went back into Premiere Pro and re-rendered another copy of my video. Then I went to Dropbox online and uploaded my video. It took two tries because something technical happened and it stopped uploading.

The next day (Monday) I received an email telling me my video was not eligible for competition because the video I uploaded did not match the ID of the video I indicated. I asked, they checked, but it was not the same file ID even though it was the same video, so it did not meet competition rules.

[A couple days later, I finally got my video to render like it should be.]

Animation Production 1 – “Under Pressure”

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I’ve already set the foundation for why I did the 48×2 Animation challenge. I already discussed my writing process. Now let me tell you about how the overall production process went – was it simply getting it done quickly because it was due? or was it “working better under pressure” ? This is the first of two discussions of my production process – there was a lot of work in the two and a half days after writing the script.

Pre-Production Activity

prop list

After the script was written the other pre-production planning began. First, I gathered my essential props and set items. That list included about a dozen items that were needed or I thought would be helpful to the setting and story. Some were typical office items, others I added for effect. I made a point to use my Einstein coffee cup, and the coasters were from various international friends and places. The coasters were somewhat central to the plot: the coasters changed throughout the story helping to indicate that things were continually different and needed fixing.

some ‘futuristic’ computer screens

I even had to create some images that would appear on the computer screen to make it look like an active office instead of a dead computer. I tried to make them ‘futuristic’ to match my story setting. I thought that would be better than some random web page or image, and it would change during the shot. I know computers work so much faster in the future (at least according to other futuristic movies).

Other images (still and moving) I needed included a meme, a ‘video’ of VP Talbert at a meeting, and background images for the transport pad and the “wrong place” – a nebulous area that Jefferson gets transported to incorrectly. This was a ‘complication’ in the plot to increase the tension. This creation process took about 2 hours total, though I did parts at various times throughout the production process – inspiration knows no real schedule, I guess.

set area for Jefferson’s office

I then had to choose the settings for the action. Thinking while writing helped speed up this process, and knowing that it would be at my home helped narrow the decisions. I needed a desk for the main character, Jefferson, the lab manager. His coworker, Phil, the lab technician, slaving at the computer needed his own workspace. Then there was Jefferson’s trip back in time to try to fix the problem and his run-in with Vice President Talbert. These three sets could be small since there would only be one person on screen at a time (me). The ‘hallway’ for the past-time action was not my best setting, but the tile wall in the bathroom that I wanted just wasn’t big enough for the action – I would have had to do nothing but extreme close-ups, and I knew that wouldn’t be good.

Just after writing the script, I did a list of shots for each character. A bad version of a story board, but with only one character in each shot I didn’t really bother sketching anything out, I just indicated if it was a medium shot or a close up, and a few extreme close ups.

Production – taking initial video

So, I set up the desk, put the camera on a tripod, and plugged in a lamp to keep the lighting somewhat consistent (since the fluorescent lamps in the garage tended to flick on or off at random). Then I checked the framing with a test shot. After a few minor adjustments I began recording all of Jefferson’s lines.

set for Lab Tech Phil

That first set took about an hour. On to Lab Tech Phil’s office. I could use my home office area and the old computer, printer and other equipment piled closely for his set. Lighting there was the track lights already installed. Camera set up and check once more, then I ran through all his lines.

The more difficult set and character was VP Talbert. I had the choice of Alex or Alexis for Talbert, the required character, and decided to go with a female character. While looking for the required mask prop I saw that my family had quite a variety of wigs, so no problem, right? At this past-time setting, I had to record Jefferson’s lines and Talbert’s. I decided on a different camera angle for each to make it more like they were actually talking to one another (there’s smart planning!).

The lighting was stark, the little spot lamp was all that I had available there. But with the time pressure limits, I had to go with that.

Check the script; check the shot chart; double check the list of scenes. I found a few voice over lines that I didn’t think I had, so I fired up the camera and recorded what I thought I still needed.

Done? No. Just done with recording. Now I had to put together my rough cut so I could animate. I had Saturday and Sunday to put the rest of it together. I didn’t know if I could do it. I knew there was a lot of work, a great deal of tedious, repetitive work that will take an unbelievable amount of time.

I’ll write about the animation process in my next post.

Story Writing “Under Pressure”

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How does one write a story in a day? I really don’t know, but let me share the process I followed as I wrote my story and script for the 48×2 Animation Project.


Background:

This was an experiment in completing a project under pressure (as I explained before). I put myself into the steamer by choice. I did it to see how it affected the project so I could share some insights with my students. 
I don't set my students up for such stress. I provide sufficient time for a small storytelling project, and I expect a valiant attempt following guidelines and fitting into a particular style or medium (audio/podcast, visual/photo, animation, video, etc.). I do not expect a professional-quality production - they are learning, after all. 
However, we all have the temptation to procrastinate. Many use the excuse/rationale that they "work better under pressure." I don't buy it, but I wanted to see what truth there was in it.

My writing did not start by “inspiration” – no muse invigorating me on this project. My writing did not start with a “writing prompt” that is often used in writing classes, workshops, or for writing practice. It did start with parameters and required elements.

This story was to be at least two minutes and no more than 5 minutes. The 48×2 people sent me the other required elements and two genres to choose from:

  • Genre: drama or a sci-fi,
  • Prop: face mask,
  • Character: Alexis/Alex Talbert – Vice President, (did not have to be a main character), and
  • Line: “nothing is going to stop us.”

With the additional parameter being that I was the only “talent” I knew my story had to be relatively simple – at least no Cecil B. DeMille style casting. So I got to work.

Brainstorming ideas using the required elements developed a list, then I quickly moved to the sci-fi genre. I felt more comfortable with it, and it seemed to provide a broader range of possibilities. In my creative efforts, I was influenced by recent reading. A Christmas present from my daughter was “The Time Traveler’s Almanac,” edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer, a collection of short stories around the time traveling theme (“featuring 72 journeys into time”).

Wednesday night I started sorting some ideas and swimming rather aimlessly. I slept on it.

After sorting some ideas and swimming rather aimlessly, I decided I better follow some structure. The story arc was what I grasped for: setting, key problem; rising action/complications (if possible); resolution; falling action. This did support a better approach, providing a linear structure that moved the story forward. It stopped me from my “stream of consciousness” panic.

Thursday morning I decided I better follow some structure. The story arc was what I grasped for:

  • setting, key problem;
  • rising action (and complications if possible);
  • resolution; falling action.

This did support a better approach, providing a linear structure that moved the story forward. It stopped me from my “stream of consciousness” panic. My developing story progressed nicely with each of these steps getting filled in.

Jefferson Starship references

Once I had my ‘outline’ I stared writing dialogue that fleshed out these points. By noon I had my basic script, or a good foundation to develop and polish. Many of my ideas tended to jump from the line, “nothing is going to stop us.” This may indicate my age, but I couldn’t help doing some research on Jefferson Starship and their songs and lyrics (“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us” of course, and other titles seemed to fit well). My humor leans toward puns as well, so integrating references to the song in the script helped my creative productivity. My character names came from the band, also, to help make those creative decisions easier.

It ended up that I used eight song titles, five lines from the song “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us,” and four band names for characters in the initial script.

My “pun fun” guided me to include a humor set up for Bingo, too. I even researched what specific numbers went with each letter to maintain authenticity! I was on a roll!

All this before noon Thursday.

No, you are not going to see the script – I’m discussing the process not the product; that comes later.

I had four scenes:

  • Scene 1 – setting the situation and problem; determining the cause, developing possible solutions;
  • Scene 2 – trying to solve the problem; complication;
  • Scene 3 – overcoming the complication; solving the problem;
  • Scene 4 – falling action

So, my writing under pressure did help me decide to focus on the story arc as a way to get a coherent story going. I know I usually day-dream and imagine all sorts of possible scenes, lines, settings, and … and … and … until I come to a focus. My working under pressure helped me get that functional process going perhaps a little earlier. But, one can start with a functional process instead of dreaming. I don’t think the “working better under pressure” has this as its exclusive benefit.

The next step in this “working under pressure” project was the pre-production planning before making the video. I’ll discuss this in my next post.

Reporting on “Procrastination v. Working Under Pressure”

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This is one of several blog posts I will share with you that deal with my experience on the 48×2 Animation Project, what I discussed in my previous post. My first response is about the concept of “working well under pressure” as an excuse to procrastinate.

Lola procrastinating

There are several reasons that could be used to try to convince someone not to procrastinate. And, although I have not looked them up, I am sure there are studies showing that working under pressure is rarely a good thing, nor does it produce the best results. This project example tends to prove that statement.

I am only talking from my recent experience. I will keep you in suspense for now about the project itself and focus on the process.

My general schedule was planned to have the script written Thursday, shoot Friday, and animate and edit Saturday and Sunday. Deadline was 7 p.m. Sunday night. This was quite general, but I figured it gave me some structure.

The Timeline

Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. the project began when the 48HFP sent out my assignment details. I had to decide between one of two genres, figure out how a particular character would fit in, how a prop would be used, and write in one specific line of dialogue. So, I had to come up with a story to do that.

By the time I went to bed Wednesday I had a basis for my story, or a general story arc in my genre, and I had several ideas about possible details. It took me about 3 hours.

Thursday morning I woke early and could not get back to sleep, so I started in on story details. I looked up what I thought was relevant information, wrote and re-wrote most the day. I estimate about 6 hours of work, but probably more – I did stay up late.

Friday I got a later start. I gathered my props, equipment and materials and shot some rough video as my basis for the animation. Then I threw together a rough-cut to work on. It was at the edge of the long limit. I knew it would be too much to complete, so I thought about cuts to my masterpiece.

Saturday I started snipping stills and labeling them for editing. As I expected, this was the tedious, time-consuming part of the process. By mid-day Saturday I didn’t think I would be able to complete my project. Not that I didn’t want to, or was getting tired of the mundane, repetitious details that were mind-numbing, but that I would not have time to do it all. I considered other cuts to the story to make it more feasible.

Re-writing the story to cut time made me focus on the essential elements, identifying dialogue or whole scenes that did not forward the story. Seeing it on a new day also pointed out to me that it really was not that good of a story. I was not expecting award nominations, but wanted to have something worth watching. I had that, but maybe no repeat viewings in its future.

I cut it from 5 minutes to 3-and-a-half. Okay, that was better even if some of my favorite puns and attempts at humor were gone. It was a tighter story. For the purposes of this project, it was necessary. I kept working.

Sunday I felt like I could possibly do it on a basic level. My hopes were to make a music background to add to the story, but I was not holding out on that. I kept working on the stills and putting them back into the timeline. By late afternoon I had all but the last scene put together and ready to be smoothed out.

Once I had the stills all in, matching the dialogue, I watched from start to finish – and saw that my very first shot, my establishing shot, the foundation that the viewer needed, was not there. Backtracking and searching found what I needed. I edited that and threw it back in.

I had a “final” cut with an hour to spare, so I started working on some music. Next time I looked at the clock I had ten minutes left. Once I started breathing again, I decided on minimal music, threw it in and rendered my video.

Overall Reflections

It was not what I had envisioned. I saw so many details that needed fixing. It did not include some of my favorite lines and scenes, ones that gave it more life, more body, more substance and humor (at least my humor, but humor is personal or individual anyway so I was not worried about that), more of the elements that are beyond the basic story line or actions that make the story arc more interesting and engaging.

But it was done.

Is being “done” enough? Most the time I would say, “No.” There are times that it must be done and that is what is important. If vital needs are involved, then it may be more important than not getting it done. One can come up with several actions that must be done well or properly as quite important (medical surgeries, or landing a plane, for example).

When considering a video project for a class, getting it done is more of a goal than making sure it is the best video an audience will see this year. For my students, I would say, “Just get it done. We are learning about the process in this class.” And we do learn that producing a video of quality takes more time than we have for this two-week assignment (what I typically give my students to complete it – and theirs is usually 30 seconds minimum running time, not the 2-5 minutes I had to produce).


Under pressure? Yes. Did that pressure help me “work better?” Yes and no. Any time one is under a deadline pressure, it would help IF the project was a priority. Nothing helps if a project is not a priority. So I focused more intently when I did work on the project.

one of my responsibilities

However, I did have other priorities that needed done. I did not totally ignore my responsibilities. I don’t expect my student to ignore theirs, either. I had to take time to deliver medicine to my mother and visit; to mow the lawn (we only have a few days without rain); to grill dinner; to run an errand with my wife; feed the dog, eat, dishes, vaccume the house, sleep, and other responsibilities.

Working better under pressure means that you are forcing yourself to focus more intently on the project. But more often than not, it is simply a saying that makes you sound better than, “I procrastinated and rushed through it.”

As I tell my students, taking the first step is the hardest, but once you get started, the momentum will help keep you going. So get started NOW not later.

Procrastination or Working Under Pressure?

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My students often procrastinate. We all do. I often wondered in my Digital Storytelling class why they would wait until the last moment to complete their project.

Some simply procrastinate. Some say they “work better under pressure.” Some wait until inspiration hits. Some just don’t have a clue about a project. I can relate to all of these.

From my perspective, I thought having a class where you could tell stories, make up things, play with technology, make movies, take pictures, and all this in a different subject and format would be a fun thing to do. I like it, anyway.

But, how could my students wait until the last moment to complete a project?

I must say, some came through with shining colors. Others, perhaps most who rushed it, produced a less-than-stellar project.

So, having a window of opportunity, I decided to try it myself. I heard about the 48×2 Animation Project. It happens to be between my spring and summer terms (in 2020). I thought I should know what my students are going through – trying to come up with a story idea and produce it in a limited time frame. I’ve done this before (and written about it in this blog), but not so much of a limited time frame. I give my students a week on many projects and at least two weeks on their animation project.

This challenge is 48×2. On the start, they provide a genre, a character, a prop and a line that all must be used in the short film. By short, they require a 2-5 minute animated film. Then you go to work: writing a script, pre-production, animating, post-production, and submit it. All this from a Wednesday to a Sunday.

So, . . .

I registered for the challenge yesterday. Today I woke up edgy, nervous, and a bit perplexed at what I did to myself. Even though it is between terms, I do have other responsibilities, chores and duties that must be done. *sigh*

The challenge comes in the covid-19 separation time, so I have more limited resources. I will be working alone (as my students often do). But, the credits will be easy to put together!

You won’t hear from me until it is all over in a couple of weeks. I know I won’t have time to blog about my progress – I’ll be trying to make progress!

So, stay tuned for a report on “procrastination or working under pressure.”

Ideas – Spreading, Reusing, Networking

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I lectured in Second Life (SL) in a course called “Virtual Environments: Is One Life Enough.”

I took the course in the fall of 2012. I was already interested involved in SL, exploring around, when I heard of this interesting approach. A few years later I co-taught the class. We had students from Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and from my university (The University of Akron) cooperating virtually. When DIT offered the course later, I was asked to guest lecture.

That evening we were discussing Mashall McLuhan’s ideas of media, how the medium is more than a tool and becomes a part of us, how we think, how we act, and how we see the world. We also discussed the idea of “deep reading” and if we can do that with brief texts and short attention spans we seem to have now.

So I was in this mindset of seeing things differently and trying to understand how we visualize the world and use media (or how it uses us). Then the topic of the corona virus came up in conversation again, and the manner in which an infectious disease spreads.

Then it happened.

A link to an article came to me somehow (across my email, on a web ad, ?). Melting Asphalt by Kevin Simler posted the article, Going Critical. I felt an immediate affinity to Simler when I read in his brief bio, “I publish very infrequently” – much like I do here in Dreamscape Diaries. But I’m afraid his readings are much more in depth and thought out (and longer by necessity).

Anyway, Going Critical discusses complex systems, networks, and how things move and spread across a network. The topic is relevant in so many ways: diseases, ‘viral videos’ and innovations, for example. I read it thoroughly.

Diffusion model – “Going Critical” – Melting Asphalt

I also participated with the post. Simler uses an interactive app that illustrates the various theories and ideas he presents. The reader can change the inputs or variables that have an impact on the outcome – which is shown flashing in a window before you. The results can be repeated, changed, taken step-by-step, stopped early or watched to conclusion.

I loved it.

I was as enamored by the interactive delivery of the app and examples as much as the concepts discussed and the clarity the app provided to the thoughts. Each step and each variation could be explored. As the input variables increased or changed, the reader could click and try again and again.

This is what technology was meant to do: to help engage and to help clarify.

“Because many of us consider the details of “presentation” to be only icing on the cake.”

Of course a lot of work went into this presentation. I don’t mean just the research and thought on the content, which was significant, but also (and perhaps more significantly) the presentation, the programming for the app. Why would this aspect be more significant? Because many of us consider the details of “presentation” to be only icing on the cake.

If you do follow ed tech, ed theory, communication principles, communication theory, and many other areas of study, then you know that “presentation” is a vital part of communication, understanding and learning – perhaps even more important than content at times.

“Going Critical” illustrates how ideas lead to innovations and how technology interacts with and supports knowledge. One interactive illustration shows the implications of networking and network density – being closer to others and having more interaction with others.

from “Going Critical” – Melting Asphalt

So the post does so much more than simply share information or ideas. It engages, it illustrates, it sparks curiosity, it allows purposeful fun and enjoyment, it challenges, and it leaves you both satisfied and hungry.

Even though “we” have been experimenting and applying new technologies like virtual worlds, virtual reality, augmented reality, and others for several years, none have seemed to catch on as “the app.” After reading Simler’s “Going Critical” I have a much clearer understanding of why that is.

As I continue to wrestle with the use of technology in education (and fun?), I will keep these ideas in mind. I’ll probably have to return to the post to re-read and experiment with the scenarios. Then there will be times I bring this into my classes for illustration, discussion and inspiration.

I am glad somehow I was linked to Simler’s network, or at least the network that his post is in. I can’t remember clearly just how I did come across it – part of the ever-changing network and variables of our modern Internet world, I suppose.

Print, Screen,Video, . . .

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Are my students reading the textbook?
books

I find myself wondering how many of my students (primarily the online students that I don’t see in a classroom) purchase the textbook for my classes. I wonder if they just find the information online somewhere. Sometimes I wonder if they read it either way, based on their test scores. That may be a little unfair, however, since learning is difficult and test taking skills vary with each student.

Yet, if I am exploring technology use in education, as this blog says I am doing, then I need to do more than wonder, don’t I.

Here’s my situation. I have a class that I regularly teach whose textbook is being “discontinued” – the editors are not renewing the contract with the publisher.

puzzle
What do I do?

One solution is to just keep using the same textbook, letting the students find a used copy and continue to recirculate it. I don’t like that because (1) after a while the used copies disappear, and (2) there is some content that should be updated in some chapters. I want the students to be able to find and buy the text, and I don’t want students to buy a book with outdated information.

Another solution is to find a different textbook. The difficulty there is finding one that meets the needs of the class. This is always difficult because some chapters may not be relevant so not used; some books do not have all the information required for the course, so additional readings or a second book is needed. One incomplete book, or two books that are not completely needed?

Can technology help?
lightbulb

Why technology? One study in 2015 found that 78% of the students surveyed frequently used digital devices to read course material. Earlier research by Educause found that students use electronic devices for education and studying 3-5 hours per week. A 2017 study by McGraw-Hill Education found that over half to two-thirds of the students surveyed agreed that digital technology was helpful in studying, preparing for exams and completing assignments.

In one review of this type of research about students learning better by reading print instead of digital, the conclusion concerning digital or print was basically, “It depends.” This review concluded that “students were able to better comprehend information in print for texts that were more than a page in length” – students preferred to read digitally, and reading was significantly faster online than for print;

In other words, there’s no “one medium fits all” approach.

They found that “for some tasks, medium doesn’t seem to matter” and general comprehension was fine when using both print or digital. But for deeper concentration, print seems to be better.

Of course there is the traditional “write another book” print technology. Or we have a growing movement toward OER (Open Education Resources) through our online technologies. Either way, it is the time and effort of writing or curating the information that is needed.

list
Here’s my plan.

I will be looking into developing a version of a digital textbook. This should help my students get the information they need, enable me to keep it updated, and ideally keep the cost considerably lower than most textbooks for my students, too. I would prefer that the digital text be engaging. Although much of that depends on my students’ desire to learn, there are things that can be done to increase the engagement level. Perhaps technology can be helpful there, too!

Making & Reaching Your Goals

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Over the years I have tried to reach some goals. Often the goal was quite easy like, “Get the lawn mowed before dark,” or “Don’t waste time on social media today,” or “Write more regularly in your blog.” These are worthy goals, but not life goals or even long-term goals. You will notice that this is a little longer than most my blog posts and not specifically about technology. That is because there is a lot behind the use of technology. This continues the thinking in my previous blog and relates to other former blog posts.

The other day a quote by Katherine Miracle caught my attention:

Your mindset will lead you to what you desire, if you are willing to work for what you dream of.

This is more of an inspiration than a goal, but it still relates to the process of achievement. Katherine Miracle knows about achievement. I was inspired by her work ethic several years ago when she was a senior in my class trying to graduate. You can read about her achievements over difficulties in her book, Discovering Your Dawn. And she started her own company that has become nationally recognized. Truly she is one who has a mindset and a willingness to work.

Soon after I read that quote, I saw an interesting report telling about combining psychology and typography in order to help in education. I found that quite interesting. This cooperative research and experiential learning project resulted in a new font that helps people to better remember what they read. Their research as they developed it showed a significant memory increase for those using this new font (see the details at Sans Forgetica).

The psychology of it, oversimplified, is that this font makes the reader fill in gaps and work harder than typical or traditional fonts. I knew of the concept of “perceptual completion” in nonverbal communication or “illusory contours” and even taught these concepts to my students. We complete what we don’t see by filling in what we typically see or expect to see – we complete the unfamiliar with what is familiar in order to understand it or make sense of it. The common fonts, those we have seen so many times in everything we read, are so common and familiar to us, we need less effort or thought to understand the words. Our brains are lazy, it seems. Similarly, you may have seen the memes that jumble letters in a sentence to show we don’t need fully accurate spelling to understand words, as long as the first and last letters are in place. (It is explained briefly at LifeHack, and the “original” research is attributed to Graham Rawlinston.)

up to meI do know that we have become lazy. Or, perhaps more fairly put, we have developed so many things to help us or make our lives easier that we have become less likely to work at things to get what we want. We don’t always have to. Take memory for instance. Know a phone number? We don’t have to because our phone saves it for us. More simply, remember anything? We don’t have to because we can look it up, or “Google it.” It began with the pencil and paper being readily available to us – we could write it down instead of remembering it – whatever “it” was.

Another popular discussion related to this is the concept of “grit” explained in a TED Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth. This, quite briefly, is the idea that it doesn’t matter how smart you are or your IQ as long as you have the “passion and perseverance for very long term goals,” or stamina, or sticking with your goals – the desire to keep trying. This goes for success in any category – school, work, sports, arts, etc.

So why don’t we have more of this (grit, effort, work, desire)? How do we get it? Perhaps more important for me as a teacher is, “How can I get it into my students?” I want them to learn. I want them to succeed. I know they need to work at it. Science has not come to an answer to this question yet.

So I try many things to spark that in my students. Sometimes it may be an encouraging comment that helps a student through a difficult semester and find their dawn, like Katherine Miracle. Or it may be grading tough, expecting the best so a student realizes that an A- is not good enough and works toward being the best, then goes on to win Emmy’s in a major market, like Michelle Molnar. Or it could be showing my love for the field and teaching that inspires a student to go on for a PhD and also enjoy teaching, like Anthony Esposito. Other times I am not sure what it is, but some students make a point to tell me that I helped them, like Micheal Fath and Paul Liberman. Or like many others that have been kind enough to mention it to me.

And there are the negative comments from students, too, usually on the anonymous course evaluations. I read them all. They tell me how I am bad. And I consider them. I try to figure them out so I can make it not so bad. I keep thinking about it, and technology usually comes into my plan.

Because I am still trying to reach that goal . . .

Helping Students Understand

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During my career the past 30+ years, I’ve realized something important: I cannot teach. And I find that odd because that is what I am supposed to do. That is what they pay me for. I’ve even won awards for doing it.

So what’s happening? I realize that I am only a helper. If students want to learn, then I can help. But I cannot teach them if they do not want to learn.

I try to present information in an understandable, sometimes entertaining way – at least not boring. I show students how this information can be used, how it could help them in their life and career, and what things I find interesting in all this and how they may find it interesting, too.

Then, of course, there is the external motivators. I set up the assignments and grading to force them to practice the things they need to do with the information and skills I am presenting to them. Since most of my classes are online, I am not using attendance as a motivator – in other words, no grade for attendance or penalty to their grade for not attending.

Since I am still teaching digital storytelling as I have before, I continue to present examples for my students. This time, it is another infographic:

Class Costs

This infographic displays the costs of each individual class meeting for a senior at The University of Akron in 2018. I specify a senior because there are fewer fees than other undergraduates, so I thought it would be simpler data to show, and because my students are seniors in class this time, making it more relevant to them.

I used Canva. I find it quite easy to use, and it has a free version that is limited but complete enough for most designs.

Does this help motivate them to learn? I think it should, but that is me, the teacher, the parent, the worker, the bill payer, not me the student – and I do remember that even though it was several years ago.

For example, I do remember a course I took that I didn’t care about too  much; you know, one of those required classes. I did what I had to and didn’t study as much as I could or should. Then the final exam came. It was exceptional – a wonderful example of applying what we were supposed to learn and showing how well we learned it. I was frozen, thinking, “What a great exam! I’m going to fail it, but what a great exam!”

That stuck with me, but it did not mature as an idea until a few years ago – when I realized I cannot teach.

I do not know what my cost per class was back then. I do know I had college loans to pay off for several years after I graduated. But my degree did get me into my career, so it was a great investment. I love what I do – even though I am not sure I can do it.

I cannot teach, but I will do whatever I can to help students learn. Sometimes it is part of my course content, and sometimes it is a part of life in “the real world” I need to share.

Video Lectures – Here’s Two Options

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As I incorporate video into my classes (online and supplemental in my face-to-face classes) I find that there are many new “tricks” and “techniques” that are pushed for producers to use – in education as well as the many business applications for video.

One thing I like is to have me visible at times as well as the other visual content. I feel this helps keep my students engaged and watching/listening to the video more than if it was simply one or the other: just me as a “talking head” or just the information without a person or face with it. Mind you, there is probably research out there to confirm this feeling, but I’m not quoting it here now.

Video-self

I know whatever visual changes we make helps keep our limited attention span connected to the message, and eye contact in communication provides “immediacy” (or: Cognitive Valence Theory– section on Verbal and Nonverbal Communication) which helps the listener stay engaged.

I found a couple tools I can use to put face and information together in my video. Each has some advantages and disadvantages. Let me explain my perspective and experience with them.

Panopto is relatively simple . . .

Video-small

One is incorporated into the LMS we use at my university and is possibly available to you as well: Panopto. Panopto is relatively simple to use to capture you via your computer’s web cam as you go through your PowerPoint or Keynote slides. Once recorded, I wait for it to render and then I can download the video podcast in one of several formats: primary video only (me); secondary video only (my slides); picture-in-picture (with me small in the lower right corner); side-by-side; or tile all streams (which ends up being the same as side-by-side for me since I only have the two streams).

The picture-in-picture and side-by-side are my favorites. But sometimes I want to change views during the video instead of maintaining the same view throughout. In order to do that with Panopto videos, I have to download the different views I want and edit them together (I use either iMovie or Premier.) I try not to take the additional time for that extra step.

Whichever way I use the video, I can embed it into my course or web page.

Soapbox is simple and flexible . . .

My other approach is using Soapbox. Soapbox is simple and flexible to learn and to use. This is a Crome add-on, so I have to use that instead of my usual Safari or Firefox, but that is really not a deal-breaker for me. Wistia allows you to use Soapbox for free, but there are limitations, of course.

Video-side-by-side

To record, you have your presentation open, make sure your computer web cam is aimed properly, and begin. To use the recording, you can leave it as it is with a split screen showing you and your presentation side-by-side, or you can edit it. The editing allows you to clip the beginning and end points, and let’s you choose between the side-by-side, the presentation alone, or you alone. This variety can help emphasize the presentation information or bring you in front of your audience for that personal communication touch. This is an easier way to add variety to the video.

The limitation of the free version is that you cannot download the video or embed it into your course or web page. You have to provide the viewer with a link to Soapbox/Wistia for them to watch the video. This may not seem like a big deal, but I like to keep my students in my class as much as possible. Opening another window is like opening a window. By that I mean that it is one more distraction from the class itself. I try to avoid distractions from the class as much as possible, so I limit my use of Soapbox even though I like it.

With enough money, none of this would be a problem – one could hire the production staff and let them worry about it!

For me, I still go between the two trying to decide.