Learning is learning…isn’t it?

Having just completed a rather long essay on how ‘metacognitive’ thinking can impact on attainment I was reminded of something that one of the lecturers had said. “Learning is learning.”

By that they meant that it doesn’t matter what age you are or what the subject area is, learning is simply learning. I could go into several definitions by respected academics at this point but boredom would set in on both sides of the screen. However, I was reminded of an unusual situation I was in on the way back from supporting some schools in Kazakhstan.

On the aircraft I was surrounded by some tough looking military types who were overjoyed at the opportunity to sample the inflight hostess service. After about half an hour of this (and several wines, beers and shots) they obviously wanted to make friends….with me. Their english wasn’t great but it was a million times better than my Russian or Kazakh. We stumbled through a conversation and I gleaned that they were tank commanders in the KZ army on route to Nice for some joint training with the French. Then they asked me what I did. Obviously that is difficult to explain, I teach children, I teach adults, I help learners learn more effectively and I tend to use technology to do it. This was a strain on our lingua franca so I whipped out my iPad (luckily not the mini iPad with the mini mouse cover!) and opened Explain Everything.

I immediately tried to show how the technology helps me as a teacher or a learner to manipulate ideas (the screen shot is of my first diagram I drew for them to show

imagehow how we could look at Tank field positions and tactics.

This isn’t an area of expertise for me to be fair but immediately the guys could see how the ability to manipulate ideas, try out a solution then go back and all in a socially shared space (at 33 000ft!).

So we can debate the theory of what learning is long and hard but as a starter for ten I can say that using the device in this way immediately made sense in terms of allowing me to show how you can learn with an iPad in the most unfamiliar situations!

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Look no hands….well, wires anyway!

I have written previously on this blog about my shift to using iPads for film making over and above movie cameras. Working from the I2L Centre means that we often do have groups here to use high end cameras and explore film making in some detail. However, a lot of the students who come here for a ‘movie day” have had little previous experience of camera use or film production. I have found the use of iMovie invaluable for this is it scaffolds some of the technical process without getting in the way of camera techniques.

For example, we had a fantastic group of Y8 and 9 students a week or two back who wanted to do a film making day, they had done very little previously. I wanted them to activate the implicit understanding of how a film is shot by making it explicit through choice of shot. By using the trailer option in iMovie they were able to do just that. The scaffold of the shot length (and suggested focus) along with pre-designed titles and audio meant that the students only concern was to ensure that the shots were strung together coherently (basic storyboarding) and shot appropriately (choice of shot). The camera on the iPad minis that they used is plenty good enough to allow the students to explore this. Purists would of course argue that there is little option to zoom, properly tilt and pan etc etc etc but that is not the point at this stage in my opinion. This example is typical of their first attempts:

You can see that it immediately draws of genre pointers in the scaffold but also I asked them to think very carefully about choice of shot, distance to the subject, what is included etc. They are clearly drawing on their own understanding of what the film needed to include.
Once they had successfully made their trailers (and watched them), I took the straightjacket off. The afternoon task was to make a new movie in iMovie (as a project) with a vague title of “The Arrival”. Some groups changed this slightly but stuck to the theme:

We had talked at length when reviewing their trailer work about use of light and lack of vision for the audience and this group took that forward into their final piece. I had also used the opening sequence from Once Upon a Time in the West as a stimulus to the task and you can see the Leone-esque style they have applied to aspect of this.

Taking the idea of “gore looks rubbish on a budget” even further the following group went for a less is more approach. There are one or two dodgy sound effects in here but the choice of shot and grammar of the piece hangs together pretty well for the genre:

And finally we see the most abstract offering from one group. I was incredibly impressed that instead of following the crowd and the obvious story for the title, they took a completely different approach:

The shots were simply framed and really their film from that point of view has little to focus analysis on but the concept here is everything and I liked the fact that they went so bold on what they decided to do.

So what can I draw from the experience? The lack of scrabbling around for the correct lead to put the captured images onto a “proper computer” is a massive help and the quality of the images is absolutely fine for the tasks that they were doing. Comments from the students tended to follow this one “this is the best day at school ever”. I don’t think it is simply because they were having fun (but they were as it happens). There were moments during the day when the pressure was on o get their video finished and shots were not working as they had intended. They had to problem solve where shots needed to “look and feel” a particular way and they could not simply work alone, everything was based around team work. They have now had an excellent grounding in getting a film made, encountering some of the common problems that crop up in the filming stage. They are now ready to go back to the process and start to storyboard more closely, look at film genres to explore using stylistic techniques in their own work and improve their awareness of how a script contributes to the piece. They can do most of that on an iPad or maybe explore actual use of “proper” cameras but the experience that they have had so far has given them a flying start and I would argue is plenty good enough quality to be of use across any subject, not just Media: