Thursday, December 4, 2014

English nerd to Journalism geek

The transition

SID Students film GameDay: Northwest
Eighteen months ago, I embarked on a new journey in my teaching career: transitioning from English teacher to a Convergence Journalism instructor at Olathe Northwest High School.

For 10 years, I taught English at Olathe South and ONW. I feel like I came a long way teaching English from my early years when I didn't know how to teach Julius Caesar or Close Reading strategies.

I majored in English and Journalism at K-State, and it was always my dream to teach Video Journalism. It was just a natural move for me to go from English teacher to Journalism teacher, while incorporating my love of video, technology and social media.

However, last year I felt like I was behind the learning curve of my students. The software, technique, studio and cameras were all foreign to me. I felt like a brand new teacher all over again.

Washington, DC bound

Last February, I traveled to Washington, DC to learn the concept of Backpack Journalism from Bill Gentile. Backpack Journalism is the idea that anyone can film, edit and tell a story with equipment that will essentially fit in your backpack. 

Working with Jerry Gardiner on his backpack journalism video
I elected to do my story on one of the workshop participants, Jerry Gardiner, who came from Liberia, Africa to learn video storytelling. I followed Jerry on his journey for two days, documenting his mission to film and edit his story. Here is my finished documentary:

This experience taught me so much about video storytelling. I learned the six-shot system and the concept of video sequencing.

It was such a great experience that we brought Gentile to Olathe Northwest High School last summer to work with 15 of our students. The students learned a great deal, and I took away even more ideas for my students.

Bill Gentile working with our students in the summer

Tri-ing new things

Last year, our studio and equipment was falling apart. It had not been replaced since the building opened 11 years ago. 

This year, we tore out the old set and changed our studio into a green screen, infinity wall. We also ordered a new tri-caster system that allows us to produce our ONW...NOW! shows in a much more efficient and up-to-date way. We use a virtual set for our anchors, and we can produce the show with fewer people than we did before. Overall, it runs much smoother than our old set-up.

Students producing ONW...NOW!
Here is an edition of a show from this year:

Sophomore redesign

One other change we made this year was to redesign our sophomore video curriculum. I was excited to share what I learned from Bill Gentile, and I saw many of the ideas were applicable to our sophomore class. 

We started the year with "Cutting Carrots" which is a filming and editing exercise that implements the six-shot system and sequencing. Here is an example:

We took this simple concept and applied it to the rest of our projects: AB Sequencing, Chase Scene and music videos. The last two projects directly applied the ideas of backpack journalism, where students filmed each other putting together legos and told the story of the blood drive.

Sophomores filming the Lego Project
I feel great about the direction our sophomore video class is going, and I believe our students will be much more prepared for my Convergence Journalism in the future.

Looking to the future...

I have a vision for where I would like to take this program. A few goals I have for the future are:

1. Learn more about the tricaster. I am hoping to attend a workshop in New York City this spring where I will learn how to use the tricaster to its full potential. I know it can do much more than we already do with it.

2. Implement more writing in the class through news articles and student blogs. I spent most of first semester working on the video portion of the class, and I feel great about the progress we have made. I want to improve our writing and begin creating stories for our Raven Daily website.

3. Win awards. e-Magine is our spring film festival that we host every year. Last year, we didn't win any awards in the news story category. After the competition last year, I told the class I was making it a goal to win awards at e-Magine. I feel great about the work we have done, and feel we can be competitive this year.

Final thoughts

I feel like I have come a long way in the last 18 months as a convergence journalism teacher, but I know I still have a great deal of work to do. I am constantly reading other blogs, websites and communicating with other journalism teachers. It has helped me grow a great deal. I am excited about where I will be a year from now when I look back again.

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