Reflections – Week 8

I’ll admit that I don’t really know that much about copyright and how it works.  Usually, I look for media that has clear rules around how you’re allowed to use it.  I get music from places with creative commons licences and I make sure to follow the posted rules about crediting.  I get images from Unsplash where they are clear about how their images can be used.  I think that there could probably whole courses about how copyright works and how to make sure that you are using everything correctly.  I will say that my favourite story about copyright is something that happened between two artists, Anish Kapoor and Stuart Semple.


It all started with a pigment called Vantablack.  Nothing in the world is darker than Vantablack which was initially made by an English company, Surrey Nanosystems, for specialized use in aerospace and optics projects.  It is made with special nanotubes that mean it reflects back the tiniest fraction of light and when the human eyes look at it, they see nothing but a void.  When artists were made aware of the spraypaint-like version of this pigment many of them contacted the engineering company but ultimately they decided to work with sculptor Anish Kapoor.  They signed a contract and Anish Kapoor officially owned the rights to the pigment.  As a quick side note, probably know Anish Kapoor’s work even if you don’t know him by name.  He is the one who created this infamous Chicago Bean, or Cloud Gate, as it’s actually called.


The art world was, of course, not very happy about this development.  People didn’t believe that anyone should have the exclusive rights to a specific material since all kinds of different artists could use it to create all kinds of different pieces of artwork.  It also wasn’t as though Kapoor had made this pigment himself.  He had purchased it and locked it away.  The artist that became a champion of the opposition against Kapoor was an artist called Stuart Semple.  Stuart is primarily a painter, younger than Kapoor by 25 years and not as successful, but, he had an advantage that would truly make it possible to pull on over on Kapoor.  Stuart had been mixing his own pigments since his university days.  In retaliation to Kapoor’s exclusive licencing of Vantablack, Semple decided to release a pink pigment that he had made, called the pinkest pink, to everyone but Kapoor.  This included anyone purchasing the pigment with the intent of giving it to Kapoor.  Semple would also eventually go on to make a pigment called Black 2.0 that’s not quite to the level of Vantablack but it’s pretty close.  That, too, is available to everyone except for one person, Anish Kapoor.


If you want to read more about this whole debacle you can take a look at this article!

EdTech Inquiry – Gaming in Education

Gaming in education was always a part of my own personal educational journey.  With things like Number Muncher and All The Right Type in elementary school, teachers were able to gamify elements of learning that most students would typically find pretty boring, like improving mental addition and subtraction and learning how to type accurately.  Since technology and our understanding of learning have both progressed since I was in elementary school, how has the use of gaming in the classroom changed?  In what ways has this change been positive and what challenges have teachers faced when including these elements?


In an article from called The benefits of Gaming in Education: the Build A World case, they mention that video games, and not just the gamification of classroom skills, can actually lead to a marked improvement in many of those soft skills that we talk about being so important in education today.  There are lots of video games out there that are team activities and they encourage students to work together to achieve goals.  This can help improve communication, teamwork and leadership skills in much the same way a traditional group project would.  The article also mentions that video games can help improve critical thinking and technical skills.  In the world of gaming, students often have to use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to succeed, whether they are working in a team or on their own.  An interest in video games can also lead to an interest in how video games are made which could lead to an interest in coding or game design.


Especially now, in our new Covid infested world, gaming can be an incredibly important tool for helping students make connections with one another.  Even if it’s playing a digitized version of a board game, it can allow students to build relationships even if they can’t see each other in person.  Games like Animal crossing also provide that social-emotional connection that is missing by allowing people to visit their friends’ houses and hang out, even if it’s just in a digital space.  This can help create a sense of normalcy in a time that has had an extremely negative impact on most people’s mental health, not just students.


In terms of negatives, there are some studies that state that video games and TV have a negative effect on the sleep patterns and memory performance of students.  A study from 2007 called Impact of Singular Excessive Computer Game and Television Exposure on Sleep Patterns and Memory Performance of School-Aged Children states that “excessive television viewing and computer game playing have been associated with many psychiatric symptoms” and after studying eleven school-aged children, monitoring them in their sleep after excessive television and video game consumption and testing both their verbal and visual memory, they concluded that television and computer games do negatively affect children’s sleep, learning and memory.


There are several more pros and cons to including gaming in the classroom and it should be considered carefully from as many angles as possible before being implemented.  This might not be the answer for every classroom and it should not be used just for the sake of it.  It should have an underlying purpose.  Gamification is a tool and should be used to supplement students learning, not to replace anything.  However, during this pandemic when there are often not a lot of alternatives, socially, gaming could be a good tool to help your students build relationships within the classroom.  Strong relationships in the classroom can make learning a better experience for all



The benefits of Gaming in Education: the Build A World case

Impact of Singular Excessive Computer Game and Television Exposure on Sleep Patterns and Memory Performance of School-Aged Children

4 Pros and Cons to Gamified Learning

Jane McGonigal – Gaming can make a better world – TED talk

Reflections – Week 7

I’ve always really enjoyed the video editing process.  I’m not incredible at it but I do know the basics and that’s usually enough for the things that I do.  It started in high school when I would film and edit my friend’s audition tapes for drama festivals and universities.  I also took a lot of digital media and photography classes during my undergrad so I have a considerable amount of experience editing photos as well.  In fact, the header photo for my last blog post is a compilation that I made on Photoshop using some photos from Unsplash.  It’s something that I really enjoy doing but don’t really have the opportunity to practise.  When I am given the opportunity I usually take it.


For the past couple of weeks, during my observation class, I have been going to the Film and TV class at Claremont which has been pretty enlightening.  It seems that this is the first year that the class had been available in a while and from what I have observed, the teacher responsible for teaching the class doesn’t seem to have very much experience with the actual production side of things.


First of all, he is asking the students to use Imovie, despite the fact that the school pays for the Adobe suite, meaning that they have Premiere Pro available to them.  Imovie is a serviceable program but there are a few things that become incredibly frustrating as you try and do more and more complicated things with it.  This includes the difficulties with editing audio.


In my experience, it is usually a good idea to record audio separately as best you can because not only is the audio that your camera or phone picks up not the best quality, but unlinking audio and video can be an arduous process.  Also, saving a backup file of just the audio becomes a lot more difficult.  Since the Film and TV program at Claremont is only in its first year, there isn’t a lot of money being thrown at the program and I’m not sure they even have access to simple audio recorders.  Still, they all have cell phones that they could record separate audio on.


It seems to me, even though I have only been observing for two days, that the students haven’t really been taught the basics of the programs that they are meant to be using and have largely been left to their own devices to figure it out.  This includes recording film and audio.  We were able to watch some of their finished projects during one of the classes and a lot of them had these audio issues where it was almost impossible to hear what they were saying.  This seemed to be a result of either not having enough time to actually review their work (they were only given a two-hour block of time to finish filming and edit their two-minute videos.  For reference, it took me around 6 hours to edit a five-minute video with a separate audio file and I at least have a little practise using the editing software.) or it was a result of them not getting sufficient instruction on how to avoid things like that and how to review their footage before they decide they’re done filming.


Ultimately, I’m really glad that there is a Film and TV class being taught in high school but it’s clear that the infrastructure isn’t quite there to make it a course that will be super useful in the long term.  These students will really only be able to carry forward the skills that they have learned on their own and not anything that was actually taught to them.


I’ve decided to attach the video I made for my free inquiry project in my EDCI 780 class.  I was curious about what different tools could be used to assess the arts since you can’t really assess them based on skill.  It’s not perfect and I would have liked to spend a little more time on it but, in this learning economy, I just didn’t have the time.


I hope you enjoy it!

Free Inquiry – Part 7

There aren’t a lot of movies that I hate.  There are movies that weren’t really my thing or that I thought were too problematic to be enjoyed or that disappointed me but films I actually hate are few and far between.  At the moment I can really only think of two, Splice (Natali, 2009), which I had to watch in a horror film class during my undergrad.  A movie that made me so deeply uncomfortable that it still haunts me to this day.  The other film, the film I’m going to be discussing today, in this blog post, is The Last Airbender (Shamalan, 2010).


Now, I didn’t really grow up watching the show as my family didn’t have cable and the only TV we really watched was at my grandparent’s house but, I did discover the show in about 2010 when I was 13.  I loved it almost immediately and I still believe that it’s one of the best-structured stories of all time, with barely an episode wasted.  By the time I was watching the show I was aware that the film existed and that everyone hated it.  However, I had a philosophy about media when I was younger that I still stand by today.  It’s hypocritical to hate on something that you haven’t seen.  If you want to be critical about a piece of media then you should experience it for yourself instead of jumping on a hate bandwagon when you really don’t know anything about what you’re hating on.


So I did watch the movie and let me tell you, it’s not good.  I do not know what possessed M. Night Shamalan to believe that he could compress a little over seven and a half hours of TV into a single two-hour movie but he sure did try.  In doing so, any character development, foreshadowing or humour that was present in the original show was cut so they could cram in as much plot as possible.  Not only does this betray the spirit of the original show, but it makes for a bad movie.


The script is poorly written and clunky, designed to fit in as much plot development as physically possible without actually have to show any of the things the characters actually go through.  The acting is bland and emotionless, the only people who get a pass are Dev Patel and Shaun Toub, playing Zuko and Iroh respectively.  I don’t even blame the actors for this really.  Noah Ringer, who was cast to play Aang, was only twelve years old when the film was released, he had no formal acting training, this was the first film he was ever in and he only had a month to prepare for the role.  Add to that the blandest script I’ve ever seen and you can’t really expect to make anything that good.  The cinematography is really strange too.  Lots of extreme close-up shots of characters not emoting at all and long shots for action sequences made to show off the martial arts but in reality they just slow the whole film down.


This post is getting kind of long and I haven’t even touched on the fact that all of the “bad guys” are East Indian, which, yikes, and the only characters from the Water Tribe with speaking parts are white, despite the fact that the Water Tribe was originally modeled after Inuit people, also yikes.

Also, they won’t stop mispronouncing things.  You’re adapting a TV show, not a book, all the pronunciations are, like, right there.


In conclusion, I hate The Last Airbender.  I hate it because M. Night Shamalan took an incredible story and gutted it for profit.  I hate it because its bad to look at and hard to watch.  I hate it because the idea of seeing a story you love play out on the big screen in live action is intoxicating and it draws people in.  A concept that has fundementally changed to film landscape now a days.  All you have to do is look at what Disney is putting out these days.


The good thing is the original show still exists, unaltered and untarnished by anything that came after and holds up incredibly well even fifteen years later.

Reflections – Week 6

Sometimes I feel that during this semester, we, the students, have had a lot of excuses made for us.  These mostly come in the form of discussions around how hard it must be to do things over Zoom all the time.  However, that has not really been my experience.  There are certainly challenges that come with transitioning to a new form of learning for both students and teachers but there have also been some benefits, in my opinion.  For example, though it has been difficult to differentiate between classes since I do my classes from the same spot in my room for all of them, not having to drive to the school every day for class has saved me both time and money.  Staring at a computer screen for six to ten hours a day is certainly not good for my eyes, nor is sitting in the terrible office chair at my desk particularly good for my back.  However, being in my own home means I can step away from my computer during class to stretch and give my eyes a break in a way that is much more disruptive in a classroom setting.


I haven’t really been able to identify if I’m learning any better or worse than I would be within an actual classroom setting but I have felt a lot freer to fidget without worrying about disrupting other students and since I don’t have to dedicate part f my focus to not fidgeting, I feel I can focus better on the class at hand.  I imagine that this is not the case for everyone in the program.  That for some, the sacrifice of not being in a physical classroom with other students outweighs any of the potential benefits of online learning.


In terms of accessibility, Zoom seems to have a lot of different features to help out.  The ability to record lectures and allow students to watch them on their own time or watch them back to re-familiarize themselves with anything they might have missed the first time is incredible and something that I would have found helpful in high school and could still probably use now.  Additionally, the inclusion of closed captioning is wonderful.  Sometimes I have some difficulty processing what’s being said, especially in film and TV so I watch pretty much everything with subtitles and that can help me understand things faster.  I’m sure that having that for lectures would be helpful.  I think that these elements from Zoom could be used as either substitution or as augmentation within the classroom and would be helpful even outside of the pandemic for people with auditory processing disorders or anything that makes it difficult to sit for long periods of time in a classroom.


HERE is a curated list of assistive technologies if you’re interested in learning more about how to create an inclusive classroom

Free Inquiry – Part 6

Sometimes I wonder if there is a place for film analysis in a high school setting.  What is the difference between analyzing a film and analyzing a book?  Surely, they are building up the same critical thinking and observation skills?  Surely, they both have the ability to help expand and improve vocabulary?  There are a good deal of films that can be seen as mindless fluff but there are also a lot of books that fall in that category as well.  Can students get the same or similar things out of analyzing film as they do out of reading books?


When I was a kid, I was an incredibly voracious reader.  I could get through something like a book a week and I spent a lot of my free time reading.  As I got older, it became harder and harder to justify spending the time sitting down with a book for fun.  Then, when I got to University, my recreational reading was almost entirely replaced by academic reading.  That or watching a movie.  It felt nice to be able to sit back and allow a story to be told in front of my eyes.  It felt similar to having a book read to me when I was little.  My dad used to read me and my sister the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snickett.


Sitting back and watching these films was not a passive experience, and neither is being read to.  I think ultimately, the two different mediums build similar skills in different ways.  I don’t think that one is inherently better or worse than the other and I think that, in the future, I’d like to use film as more than just a time filler in my classroom.  Perhaps it would be interesting to have students critically compare books to their film counterparts, thinking about how the medium of film requires that changes be made, even if that can be upsetting to many book fans and if sometimes it’s not done in the deftest way.


I believe that analyzing film can help develop critical analysis skills in the same way that literary analysis can and could perhaps engage students who aren’t as interested in reading as some others might be.  I do really hope to be able to involve film analysis in my classroom in the future and allow students to consider the possibilities of critical film analysis.

Reflections – Week 5

I was a little nervous about the Ed-camp when it was first announced.  I didn’t really understand the structure and there is something about not having the anonymity of sitting in a big lecture hall that made me uneasy.  Luckily, for me at least, it ended up being really informative.  It was nice to be able to talk to a bunch of students from different schools about their perspectives and to get to talk a little bit with people who had a little more expertise.


I spent most of my time in the room discussing how to use group work effectively, which was actually the topic I put forth in the google doc! I felt like we had been talking quite negatively about group work, especially in that big meeting with both cohorts and the professors.  I figured that there must be some reason that we assign group work beyond the convenience of having less to mark as a teacher and while I had my ideas about why we use it, it was really nice to have some other perspectives on it from other people.


We talked about group work from the perspective of a student and from the perspectives of future teachers.  Most of us in the group agreed that we had been the kind of students to just shoulder the extra work when one student wasn’t pulling their weight and that brought us to a question about what to do as teachers to prevent that from happening.  We also talked about how to assess group work in ways that were not entirely reliant on the whole group.  Should students receive an individual grade and a group grade?  And if so, how should each segment be weighted?  We ended up settling on some kind of peer evaluation system that would allow students to comment honestly on the dynamics of the group as well as making sure to provide in-class work time so that, as a teacher, we would be able to observe how their group works together for ourselves.


We also talked a little about whether it’s better to allow students in high school to make their own groups or whether groups should be assigned to them.  The concern around allowing students to make their own groups is, of course, that some students who, perhaps, did not have any friends in the class or were less outgoing would have a difficult time asking to be included.  The issue with assigning groups is that it may make it difficult for less outgoing students to share their ideas if they aren’t with someone they feel comfortable with.  We didn’t really come to a concrete answer on this question but one of the suggestions was if you were making groups of four, to have students pair up and then put the pairs together in groups of four.  That way each student would have one person they feel comfortable with but they wouldn’t have the pressure of having to make a group of four.  Still, there are many things to consider with this solution.


As far as tools for monitoring group work go, we had someone introduce a product called Enlighten which, for looking through their webpage, works a little like Trello.  It allows you to categorize tasks and check them off when they are complete.  I hadn’t really thought about using those platforms to monitor group work but I think having each student have their own individual task list within a group Trello board or Enlighten board could be something that’s really helpful for ensuring that the tasks are distributed as evenly as possible.


I’m really glad that I got a chance to participate in this Ed-camp and I would definitely like to participate in something like this again!

Free Inquiry – Part 5

There are so many elements in filmmaking that need to come together to tell the story.  The script has to be solid, of course, but so does the acting, the costumes, the set design, the special effects, the score, and of course the cinematography.  I’ve talked a little about the impact that music can have on a film as well as how much of an impact the gaze of the camera can have on what we remember about a film but today, I’d like to focus on colour.


There is this basic storytelling idea that different colours represent different things.  Red equals danger, blue equals calm, black is evil, white is good and so on and so forth.  However, the reality is a lot more complicated than that.


It is true that colours can be used to evoke a single emotion from an audience but it can be used just as powerfully to represent a character and a character’s emotional state.  For example, in the Disney film Treasure Planet (Musker, Clements, 2002) the main character, Jim Hawkins, starts the film wearing black and generally being an irresponsible scoundrel who does not understand his place in the world and longs for a father figure to show him his place in the world.  Throughout the film, as Jim gets closer to Silver, a secret pirate who may or may not be using Jim for personal gain, unbeknownst to him, he starts to gain that connection that father-son connection that he had been longing for and his clothes change from blacks to lighter browns.  then in the final scenes of the film, Jim has found his place, he has learned to take responsibility and he no longer has any longing for a father figure and he is shown wearing white, completing his journey from insecure misfit scoundrel to morally upstanding young man.


Some examples of colour use in film leave a lot more up for interpretation.  For example, in Star Wars (Lucas, 1977), there is the very obvious red is evil, blue is good connotation that comes from lightsaber colours.  Lukes lightsaber is blue and Darth Vader’s is red so they must represent good and evil.  But, Yoda and Obi-Wan have green lightsabers.  How does that fit in the binary red-blue understanding?


You could argue that Yoda and Obi-Wan are both Jedi masters and green is a step even further from red than blue is on the colour wheel so Yoda and Obi-Wan are even more good than Luke.  But, the laser from the Death Star is also green.  So, where does that leave us simple film analysts, simply trying our best to examine storytelling through colour?


Perhaps, within the Star Wars universe, green is simply a colour that is associated with power.  Or perhaps it just looks cool.  Mace Windu’s lightsaber is purple and it’s never explained in the universe of the films nor does anyone else wield one but, it does look cool as hell and sometimes that’s the only reason why colour is used.  Still, I think that it’s something that’s interesting to pay attention to and when you do, it may deepen your appreciation for a filmmaker’s hard work.


If you’re interested in a more in-depth look into the history of colour in film as well as a more in-depth analysis of the different ways it can be used I would highly recommend the video I have linked below!

Reflections – Week 4

I’ve been thinking a lot about inclusivity both within this new mode of learning we’ve developed and outside it.  I went to high school in a small town and although I have no idea whether these inclusivity discussions were happening behind the scenes, they didn’t seem to be coalescing into any visible changes within the school system.  Perhaps that is simply because these elements were not as much part of the discussion between 2010 and 2014 when I was in high school or perhaps it was because my school had about 600 students at a time.  Both explanations certainly make sense but the latter leaves me a little concerned that schools that don’t have as high of a budget will get left behind in the forward march of progress.


During one of our Wednesday observation visits, the Superintendent of Schools and CEO of the Saanich School District, Dave Eberwein, came and spoke to us.  One of the things he shared was a robot named Milo, a few of whom had been purchased for elementary schools within the district.  Milo is meant to help students with ASD learn better.  He never gets frustrated, distracted or tired and he delivers lessons consistently in a way that learners with ASD respond to.  However, Milo retails at $7,500 plus all of the software upgrades that need to be adapted semi-regularly.  A school system that already doesn’t have any money to spare might be hard-pressed to find the budget for a tool like this.


There is also the consideration that these technological tools are not cure-alls and while they can be extremely useful as supplements to a teacher or therapist the should not be seen as a way to deal with staffing constraints or something that will be a perfect teaching tool unsupported by any other forms of teaching and interaction.  There is, of course, also the fear that teachers will one day be replaced by automation or that technology will advance too quickly for them to keep up with training or the belief that there are much simpler solutions to accessibility and inclusivity issues.


I think these inclusivity tools are fascinating and have the potential to do a lot for our ability to be more inclusive instead of outsourcing students to specialty schools when we feel as though we are unequipped to manage them in a positive way.  However, I also think that there is a long way to go in our understanding of how to implement these tools and how to budget for them.


If you’re interested in reading more about Milo this link is a pretty good place to start!

Free Inquiry – Part 4

In 1967, the French literary critic and theorist, Roland Barthes, came up with a theory that argued against the tradition of incorporating the intentions of a creator and their biographical context into the interpretations of their texts.  This encourages the consumer to divorce the literary work from its creator.  He posits “to give a text an author is to impose a limit on that text.”  Barthes calls this theory “La Mort de l’auteur”  or  “Death of the Author.”


I think that there are some important questions that we must ask ourselves when considering this theory such as whether it is possible to fully divorce a work of art from the person that created it, if it isn’t, should this line of thinking be ignored entirely and is this line of thinking actually helpful when it comes to analysis.  I also think that it is important to recognize that this theory of literary analysis is not interchangeable with the argument that many people use to allow them to consume media without having to think critically about the creator.


So often when I see Death of the Author raised as a potential theory of media analysis or criticism it is being used to defend works from those with who the analyst does not agree on a moral or personal level.  For example, Annie Hall is #31 on the AFI’s “100 years…100 movies” list which is a list of the top 100 American films of all time.  “Annie Hall” was directed by Woody Allen who, most would agree, sucks really bad.  While I do think that there is a discussion to be had about how we consume this kind of media, I don’t think that Death of the Author applies especially because, as a literary analysis tool, it is rarely ever possible.


When creating something, be it a book, a painting or a film, a creator’s perspective and implicit biases are embedded into the work.  Even if you know nothing more than their name, you often will come away from a reading or a viewing with some idea of who the author is, whether intentional or not.  When we talk about a great American novel like Moby Dick, we talk about the whale as a metaphor for the all-consuming nature of revenge and we are left wondering how the author came to this realization.  Did he have a personal white whale?  You can see the Christian allegory in the Chronicles of Narnia without knowing that C.S. Lewis’ religious beliefs.


However, when a creator makes the decision to be the masters of the universes that they have created, you run into a different set of problems.  In the case of someone like  J.K. Rowling, you get a situation where she is very forthcoming about events that happened outside of her book series and she’s more than willing to share it with her audience, despite the fact that sometimes we really wish that she would not.  However, this results in situations where you have an author claiming representation of minority groups without having to do any of the actual work that comes along with representing them.  J.K Rowling gets props for claiming that Dumbledore is gay after the release of the final book in the series and then denies multiple opportunities to actually codify that fact.  She is, after all, the only credited writer on the Fantastic Beasts films.


Before this becomes a rant about J.K. Rowling and her many, many flaws I’ll return to the initial point of this post.  Is it possible to fully divorce a work of art from its creator?  Not really.  The personal context of the creator will always affect the creation in the very same way that a viewer’s personal context will affect their analysis.  Now, should we simply succumb to the will of the author and treat their word as gospel?  Probably not.  A creator may have had a specific intention in mind when they were making their creation but to believe that we all approach media from the same angle is foolish.  Personal context affects analysis in the same way that personal context affects creation.  Who says that a scriptwriter or director or actor knows what happens to a character after the movie ends any better than the viewer does?


Lastly, is this line of thinking actually helpful when it comes to analysis?


I don’t know.


It’s certainly interesting.  There are certainly flaws with the theory, especially now when every author can have a very public life and can just tweet amendments to a book that was published 23 years ago.  It’s difficult not to look at a creator as some kind of authority about their creations but I think that it is important to take their opinions with a grain of salt.

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