Dirk Schouten, Amsterdam Polytechnic.
"That was great, we learned a lot more from this than from a
year in class. Are we going to make a video again next year?"
Students think it is fantastic to make a videotape themselves or to work on a tape-slide show. They put a lot of effort into it and are often willing to continue their work during the breaks or to finish a job after school. Showing the program to the target group is a climax, a victory in a struggle they chose and fought for themselves. The discussion afterwards unites the parties involved and there is mutual understanding for each other's viewpoints; the necessary changes the students want will indeed be carried out.
The teacher who is coaching such a project has an easy job. The curriculum objectives are easily reached because intrinsic motivation is the moving spirit behind the actions of the students. She is surprised that the activities take so little time. Even the math lessons could easily be integrated in the project when they needed them for the analysis of the conversations they taped. It is delightful to be a teacher for these students. The next group is already anxiously waiting to hear her introductory lesson. It has little news in store for them because the story of her way of working has already spreaded throughout the school like wildfire.
An audiovisual project like this generally goes well when a model is used which divides the complex job into separately manageable stages. The working model described is divided into the research stage, the stage of analysis and the production stage. The stages are subdivided still further, also in order to be able to time each activity accurately. Research and analysis take up the most time, production the least.
It has advantages to place audiovisual media (AVM) in the hands of students. A short summary:
AVM give pupils possibilities to make the knowledge they have acquired accessible to others. Knowlege can effectively be passed on to a target group. This is not a noncommittal proces; it serves to start changes. With AVM students can tape their own experiences and bring them into the classroom. In that way AVM become part of education and are a starting point for learning. By making this authentic research material themselves students gain control over their own situation. Audiovisual research material offers good opportunities to re-live and analyze the researched situations. By making audiovisual materials themselves, students find out about the manipulative possibilities of the mass media and in that way they develop a critical consciousness towards the mass media. Students can express themselves with AVM and can be less dependent on reading and writing abilities. Making a program is one of the best exercises in reducing complex problems to manageable size and in providing insight into complex relations. Working wiht AVM encourages independent thinking and acting. In short: Go to it!
Two more things are of importance before the teacher can work with the model. Without this basis the making of audiovisual material by students can degenerate into unthinking acceptance of the codes and conventions of the mass media. "Yeah, great, let's make a videoclip with lots of blood". Or it can be bogged down in useless hard work. Students running around wiht a camera, recording interviews by the cubic foot, but never giving a moment's thought to what they are doing and never monitoring their material.
In the first place the work is done on the basis of a project approach. The dictionary definition of 'project' is very usable in this respect: 'A subject that is taken into study by a group of pupils or students together, on wich a report is made or of wich the outcome is in some way explained or shown'. This definition is still too neutral, though, and lacks the involvement needed for students to produce useful work of their own. The approach is only fruitful when the subject follows naturally from the ideas, opinions and interests of students. And the audio-vusual show is certainly not a neutral affair, because by showing a program students can express their own opinions and in that way are able to aim at targets of change. When students made a program about a dangerous crosswalk it was not only a piece of work in wich they convincingly demonstrated the situation was full of danger. It was also a program that provided a solution to change the situation.
In the second place students have a story to tell, they have real interests and are willing to aim for them. Often their interests are difficult to recognize and to handle because they are expressed in terms that do not please teachers, for example: "How do I get out of this dump of a school as soon as possible". The model described here takes the two conditions mentioned above as its starting points.
The rough division of the model into the research, analysis and production stages can now be refined. The research stage can be divided into knowledge-assessmemt, problem-definition, choice of theme, presupposition and the actual research. For clarity's sake these stages are treated separately. In practice they often blend into one another or go on at the same time. The process the students go trough during the making of an educatioal production starts with:
The world is big and it is hard to get a handle on it. To produce some order out of chaos students make clear to each other what they already know about the subject. They often do this by putting together an album of photographs. They make snapshots of things they think important and combine them with their own written texts. In that way they bring their own experiences and ideas into the classroom. Pictures and texts are discussed with the teacher. Together with the students she traces presuppositions in their thinking and reveals implicit basic assumptions. She then presents them to the students. They can agree with her or give better interpretations of their own material. In that way they try to isolate a theme from this photo- book. For example, a group of youngsters on the dole turned out to have roughly similar views on the poor way in which the Employment Exchange worked, after putting together a book of pictures. It quickly brought them to the question why the Employment Exchange did not work for them. Was there something wrong with them? Or was it the labour market? This required some thought.
In this stage, photography is a very useful tool. After a fifteen-minute explanation, students can go on to produce authentic material that is accessible to many people. Elswhere it has been described how students can make screened photographs with very simple means. In this way offset quality photo-books can be made with a simple Xerox machine. Multiplication of photo-books becomes dirt-cheap. The photo-books are used in school, but grandparents and aunts receive them too. Sometimes they are also sold. In the course of discussing the photo-book the students naturally reach the next stage.
Arranging and analyzing reality in such a way that situations are no longer viewed as self evident but as a consequence of historical, social and political causes. Situations, ideas and circumstances are connected with factors like social position, cultural background, history, interests and philosophies. The teacher can be an important support by asking questions, by retaining important remarks and by finding out if the connections that are made work for all students. Most of the time a broad scala of possible themes emerges. Everything seems to be related to everything else.
3. Choice of theme.
A wide area of interest must be narrowed down in order to be manageable. Choices will have to be made. In the first place, criteria for the choice have to be established, because the school as well as the teacher have their own interests in the choice of theme. What if one has to coach a group that picks a neo fascist or sexist theme?
A few examples of criteria: The theme must be fitting for the social group of the participants. The problem must be researchable by the participants on their own. It must have an action perspective and it must be possible to direct it towards desired change. The theme must be well defined so it can be handled by the paticipants in the available time and with the available money. These criteria can sometimes differ, depending on the type of teaching situation.
The students decide which area or problem they want to deal with and on which subsector they want to concentrate.
For the initial research a theme is still too unmanangeable. It is too broad, too comprehensive and sometimes too abstract to inspire action. The problem must be narrowed down in such a way that a presupposition emerges.
The presupposition contains a number of elements. First, the ideas and experiences of the students themselves must be contained in it. Secondly, it must contain the problem they choose as well as the most significant parties involved. Finally,the solution they have in mind for the problem should be stated explicidly. For example, a class of young farmers complained about their future traineeships with farmers. Their hypothesis was: 'Things often go wrong between farmer and trainee because their expectations differ. A farmer expects a farmhand and the trainee wants to look over the books and talk about farm profits. Not the school but we ourselves must find the right traineeships'.
This involves testing one's own ideas and opinions against those of others. For example,a group of students goes to the Employment Exchange to talk to the employment officer about his good job and their slim chances to find work at all. They take a photocamera and a cassetterecorder with them or a videocamera and a microphone. They carry on conversations with the employment officer and they also meet someone whose job mediation has turned out very badly. One conversation often provokes another. To the teacher nothing is more beautiful than to see a group of students return to school after an afternoon of research. Full of great stories and remarks about the content of what they experienced and what the people said in the interviews.
In this stage audiovisual media are indispensable, because registrations of conversations and photos of situations are accessible to everyone, as opposed to notes, for example. Also, during research all participants can listen to the farmer, talk to him and to each other and intervene in the conversation. If one of the students makes notes and cannot keep up, obviously a selection is made and that happens again when the notes must be worked out. Moreover, when using a camera and recorder the students are less dependent on writing and reading abilities. And a recorder also records sounds that are difficult to describe; the nervous coughing of the police officer, the ticking sound of a foot against the leg of the table. All these sound can have a meaning.
It is often the teacher who puts the students on the track of all these possibilities. She helps students formulate questions, divides the tasks and takes care that the group does not take too much tape, because it must all be monitored and discussed afterwards.
Students also collect material in the form of books, music, loose notes and everything that seems interesting during research. Depending on the duration of the research period stacks of material pile up. Collecting material can go on forever but it is advisable not to spend more than fifty percent of the available project time on research, otherwise there is not enough time for the next stages and they must be cut short. That would be a waste of the time spent on preparation and research. When the research phase is concluded, the next stage begins.
An important stage between research and production is the analysis of the material collected by the students. Of course, analysis also takes place during the research stage. On the way back to school the kids tell each other that it is too dumb for words that you are not allowed to handle the farmer's harvester, and this is also a form of analysis. In another conversation such a remark can show up again as a direct question to a farmer.
This involves viewing and monitoring the collected material and discussing the experiences. The premise is compared with the collected material. The central question is: are there any aspects of what we have heard and seen that contribute to our premise and, if so, what are they? If the presupposition does not correspond with the collected material, what does? Are there any indications in the material that the research should take another direction? Does the research indicate circumstances that are illustrative for the problem?
Naturally, research and analysis are not strictly separable processes. They often interplay. Students monitor tapes, compare statements, put a lot on paper and discussions, at times heavy, lead to:
The premise, adapted or not, is made into a thesis. It often takes the following form: 'This part of reality is put together like this, as far as we have been able to establish'.
When students have so much knowledge in their hands they do not want to keep it to themselves. Most of the time they already know in one of the first stages of the model who they want to adress their knowledge to (now defined in a thesis). However self evident this choice may seem to the students, it is still necessary define it.
8. Choice of target group.
Most of the time the teacher explicitly raises the question of the target group and indicates a few possibilities to the students. To whom can you best adress your thesis? Are you making a program on abuse in the school for your fellow students (in order to gain supporters), for the board of direcors (in the expectation that something will be done about it in your school), for the school inspector (so something will also change in other schools) or for the ministry of education (so nothing at all will change). All these target groups demand a different approach, even when in each case the program is about one and the same thesis. For example, fellow students can be approached in a much more 'popular' way than the school inspector. When the target group is known you can ask yourself which medium is best suited to reach it.
9. Choice of medium.
In a culture that is adapted to reading reports a tape-slide series is of little use. An poignant example is that of a group of youngsters on the dole who sent a tape to the ministry of Social Affairs. A civil servant over there is still busy finding a recorder to view the thing.
Media can be books of photo's, exhibitions, tape-slide series, radio programs for local broadcasting, neighbourhood papers, videoprograms, etc. Most of the time the choice does not only depend on the target group but also on the available means. When the medium has been selected the choice remains which kind of narrative is most appropriate or attainable. 10 Choice of form.
Generally speaking, one can choose between two extreme forms; documentary or drama. Both forms have their advantages and disatvantages with respect to the expressive qualities of the students, the instrumental abilities of the teachers and the possibilities for reception by the target group. In principle, working in a documentary form produces usable programs the fastest.
The stage of analysis is now finished. Not only has the material from the research stage been analysed, the students also know now what they want to archieve with the results and how they are going to go about it.
The only other thing teachers and students need to do is to
make a program. That has now become a piece of cake. All
stages the students have gone through, so far, can also be
conceived as a meticulous preparation for the production of a
In practice, the students now make a shooting schedule: a list of things they want to record. They return to the Labour Exchange with three questions for the employment officer. He already gave the answers in the research material, but now they film him with a factory visible in the background. Then they will also shoot the empty assembly hall which they later use when the guy on the dole talks about how it all happened. When they have done the shooting they list what they have on tape and at what tape counter reading it can be found. Then they design the coarse structure for the program, a sketch of the content of the program on the basis of a story structure. An example of a structure: For the introduction we use the footage we shot at the dangerous crosswalk. The core of the program exists of the juxtaposition of the views of the mothers and of the police pr-man. It ends with our conclusion that the crosswalk should have traffic lights. In between we put summaries so that the story is easy to follow. The appeal to the viewers (in this case the Department of Public Works) will be made after the show. Much more complex structures are possible, depending on the possibilities of the students.
After this the students make an editing schedule and edit the program. That sounds easy and it is. In a project that takes up about seventy hours the stage of production takes up little more than twenty hours. The editing of a videotape or a tape- slide series, including music, commentary and captions takes about four hours.
12. Presentation (including reactions of the target group).
The programs made by students are watched in their presence by the target group. That is often the moment to exchange ideas again with the target group. A pleasant by- product of this new exchange is that often new ideas for themes or programs arise. Then the process can start over again. But every participant in the process has gained a mass of experience and is motivated to look at the world from a different point of view in order to get a little more of a handle on it.
Naturally, in practice we see stages mix and we see that it is sometimes possible to run through stages very quickly or even to skip them altogether, because they are already part of the actual experience of the participants.
The model is usable for almost any amount and any division of time. We have worked in classroom periods, in half- day shifts and in whole weeks. The total amount of time for going through the model has varied from eighteen hours to six weeks. Roughly divided, the first stages up to the research phase take up about ten percent of the available time. Research takes up about fifty percent of the time, analysis ten percent, and the remainder of the stages about thirty percent.
When the model is used in day-release courses the participants use about half the time for research. In other situations like film and t.v. schools the students spend less time on research and more on production. In philosophy classes relatively more time is spent on analysis of the research material and less time on production.
The model is rooted in the work of Freinet and Freire. Some notions of of the French educationalist Celestin Freinet (1896-1966) are indispensable background for this model. First, his method of natural learning (la m‚thode naturelle de l'apprentisage) in which a pupil is offered a functional context for learning. The pupil can spontaneously aquire knowledge and abilities, starting from the motivation to do things better because they now are of genuine interest. Secondly, the method of trial and error (t…tonnement experimental) for opening up new possibilities. On one hand the pupil is open to new situations and is actively prepared to encounter these new and unknown situations. On the other hand the pupil has a great ability to cope in different situations of life. In Freinet's words, disposing of 'adequate techniques of life' (techniques de vie). Thirdly, the formation of the pupil for and by means of work. Work, according to Freinet, is in essence not something forced upon man but it is the most fundamental human need. When that need is fulfilled by meaningful and inspiring work it is a source of deep satisfaction. Already in the thirties Freinet saw the possible uses of audiovisual equipment which has now become available for education.
Freire's notions of dialogue-reflection-action are clearly important for the model presented here, but we need not go into them in detail.
With the model very simple and very complex curriculum objects can be realised. During the research stage, for example, it can be necessary to learn how to make a phone-call in order to make appointments for interviews. In a complicated analysis, statistics are sometimes indispensable and they must be learned before the analysis phase can start. In this model it is possible to insert mini-courses on special subjects, which interrupt the process described here in favour of learning abilities that students need at that particular moment. Learning how to handle a videorecorder or the explanation of editing equipment to edit a program are in fact also mini-courses.
To work with the model one does not need much in the way of audiovisual equipment. With very simple means good results can be archieved. We now have about ten years of experience with this way of working. We worked with Dutch as well as foreign students, in the Netherlands, Zambia and Portugal. Wherever people have interests and want to disseminate them,this model can be used.