Notes from the VisCom Classroom: Teacher Goes Back to School

What happens when the teacher goes back to school? Where I teach, in the School of Journalism at the University of South Carolina, we’re bullish on video. Under the fearless leadership of Professor Van Kornegay, our sequence head, we strive to incorporate video instruction into most of our visual-communication courses. For example, in Introduction to Visual Communications, we have our students work in groups of four to produce short videos on the various topics covered in the course. We then start each class session by showing the video that relates to the topic of the day. Through this exercise, the students get their hands on a video camera — some for the first time — and also learn basic editing and audio skills using iMovie.

Watching the videos gives us the chance to introduce specific subject matter, such as typography, color, and design. But we also get to discuss what makes a good instructional video — elements such as pacing, transitions, and, above all, an upbeat, even humorous, mood. Other courses, such as Advanced Photovisual Communications and Advanced Visual Communications, incorporate video in assignments and final projects. However, we currently do not have a stand-alone video course. So, last fall, we began discussing how to get one in the curriculum. I volunteered to draft a syllabus, and with input from all the other faculty in the Visual Communications sequence, we now have a course ready to present to the curriculum committee.

As Maine Goes, So Goes the Nation

Meanwhile, I was checking the Web site for the Maine Media Workshops when I noticed an intriguing week-long workshop called “Film and Video Teachers.” This course, scheduled for July 6–12, is being taught by Bart Weiss, a Dallas-based independent film and video producer/director. The course will focus on curriculum development, the selection and use of cameras and editing software, finding the best textbooks and training manuals, designing student assignments, and critiquing student work. In other words, nearly everything this teacher needs to learn in order to teach a stand-alone video course. What luck!

Well, to make a long story short, this teacher is headed back to school. My wife, Maggi Morehouse, who is a professor of history at the University of South Carolina Aiken, is also enrolled — she has been using video to collect oral histories and hopes to teach her students to add video to their research skills. The Workshops are located in Rockport, Maine, a drive of about six hours or so from Cape Cod, where we spend our summers. I’ll report on our experiences in the course in my August “Notes from the VisCom Classroom.” In the rest of this column, I’d like to share with you my thoughts about the new course I hope to teach in the spring of 2009. I’m sure my week in Maine will provide a rich influx of new ideas and teaching methods.

Video Course, Of Course!

The goal of the new course is to help students develop the skills and techniques needed to produce high-quality videos and multimedia for use in a variety of mass media applications, including interviews, personality profiles, documentaries, event coverage, and persuasive communications. Students will be evaluated on the basis of video and multimedia assignments, along with other tests and exercises. We will also need to develop a language and a methodology to evaluate and critique video and multimedia. We are striving for technical and artistic mastery of the medium.

I’ve found it useful, when designing a course, to break it into segments — this makes the design more manageable, and it also forces you to define exactly what you want to accomplish during the semester. In the case of the video course, here are my instructional segments: Technology, Video Basics, Preproduction, Production, and Postproduction. The Technology segment will introduce the students to the hardware — camera, tripod, lighting kit, audio recorders, microphones, earphones, portable hard drives — and the editing software, which in our case will be Final Cut Pro.

Under Video Basics, I hope to cover different camera shots (long, medium, close-up, extreme close-up), composition, camera angles, focus and depth of field, exposure and white balance, panning and tracking, along with various output formats, including small-screen applications such as the iPod and iPhone. We’ll also discuss the principle of A-rolls, B-rolls, cut-aways, and shooting to edit. The purpose of the Preproduction segment is to introduce the students to concept development, scripts, shot lists and storyboards, working with models and talent, sets and location scouting, props and wardrobe — all the things you need to do before you even unpack the camera.

Production is the meat and potatoes of the course. This is where students will go out, usually in teams, to shoot their assignments. They’ll need to keep a written list of shots, called a camera log, and mark each scene with a slate, to make editing easier. My proposal calls for four assignments during our 14-week semester. I think we’ll start out with a simple interview, perhaps using available light, to get things rolling. Then the assignments will become more complex — perhaps a short informational video, followed by event coverage or a short documentary, and finally, some form of persuasive communication. The trick here, as with any course, is to provide enough instructional lead time so that the students are prepared for each new assignment, without relying on too many lectures (borrring!).

The Postproduction segment will cover downloading and archiving the videos; editing video and mixing audio; adding still photographs, infographics, and special effects; working with titles, and producing DVDs. It is my hope that students completing this course will be able to add another layer of skills to their already multilayered approach to visual communications — and I’ll bet it won’t hurt them in the job market one bit either! Stay tuned for my next column, where you’ll read about how the teacher (and his syllabus) fared during his week as a student.

[tags]video production, photography education[/tags]

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