At Armstrong Jr-Sr High School in Pennsylvania’s Armstrong School District (ASD), students who take video production classes learn far more than how to interview people, use TV equipment and edit video — they’re learning to look critically at the world around them.
“I feel we’re teaching them real life skills, how things are created, why interviews are conducted the way they are,” Chris Garritano told Education Dive. “But we’re also teaching them how to interpret what they see in real life.”
Students can start taking some of the classes their sophomore year of school and continue through senior year. There’s a weekly TV show, shot with a three-camera setup in the district’s TV studio, that runs about 25 to 30 minutes. Students also produce a live show called Talent Talk that’s shorter, often seven to 10 minutes, said Garritano, ASD’s multi-media technician, whose primary responsibility is running the TV studio and equipment.
“The way we approach teaching [TV production] in our district, is that it’s not just about the video, TV and film product, but it’s about the process of it being made,” he said.
In a world of digital consumption, teaching students how to create what they see, hear and watch is like teaching them the secrets behind a magic trick. Students often spend hours weekly on digital devices, reading stories or looking at images, GIFs and video. They consume vast amounts of digital media without often understanding how it’s created.
It’s easy enough to copy and paste an image or forward a GIF. It’s quite another thing to edit video and audio and cut it into usable clips that tell a story. But once someone has the skills to craft a narrative on their own from raw material, they can understand how what they might consume on, say, a social media platform was created, as well.
At Atascadero High School in California, students can take one of eight career and technical education pathways — and video production is one of the classes within these areas, typically taken by juniors and seniors. The class is taken over a year, and students produce projects that teach them basic skills like editing, with most work completed as teams.
Students are also given a chance to work in the school’s studio — which includes a control room with a switcher, three high-definition cameras and other tools — where they rotate between jobs as either producers or talent. The broadcasts are sometimes put on the school’s web site, and they also critique each other’s work in a peer environment.
To Ivan Bradley, the skills students pick up are far beyond learning how a camera works or which switch to push to change a shot. They’re learning how to tell a story through a graphic medium, and the message their stories can impart.
“Students develop their skill of seeing things in a different way as they frame shots and emphasize or subordinate things within a shot to, pardon the pun, ‘focus’ on them as the important feature — visual literacy,” Bradley told Education Dive by email. “I think they also develop storytelling skills both in writing and visually through the projects, and in doing so, gain a better understanding of people.”
Bradley has been teaching the video production class since 2005 as its regional occupational program (ROP) instructor for the Graphic Communications, Video Production, and Computer Animation and Modeling courses. Besides helping students develop technical skills, he also infuses his classes with classic film screenings. Students might come to class and watch “Fantasia,” “High Noon,” “Metropolis” and “Dr. Strangelove,” he says.
He also assigns students work that has a specific focus in mind and brings in local experts to help them learn more about a subject before they create. For example, one of their current projects is to produce public safety announcements (PSA) that focus on overpopulation of animals. For that, Bradley had a local humane society come in and do a presentation. Other PSAs have focused on the environment.
Garritano believes students also need to connect to what they’re producing. Whether it’s the medium itself or topics they’ve heard about, he wants them to engage in what they’re creating — and believes they do.
“The work is relatable to the students because they’re building on technology they’re familiar with and want to use,” he said. “It’s also tied to things they see on TV and how it impacts them.”