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5 Tips for Planning a Successful Digital Media Assignment

March 2, 2011 by Doug Worsham

Invitation to the Biology 151 Digital Media Assignments Showcase

Last semester, LSS consultants worked with instructors across the College of L&S to plan student produced Digital Media Assignments, from science tutorials and mini-documentaries, to digital stories and film critiques.

In this article, we'll walk through a few of our most important take-aways, focusing on Kerry Martin's Biology 151 Honors section. In this course, students created a diverse set of cellular biology and genetics tutorials, and then published their work on their own YouTube channel. We'll also illustrate each of these tips with a video - some of which were used in the planning process, and others that were produced by students in the class.

Ready for the tips? Here's the first five:


Define (and Critique) the Genre

Recognizing the characteristics of specific genres often helps students visualize and plan their work.

For example, before creating their own science tutorials, Kerry Martin's Biology 151 students started analyzing and critiquing several science tutorials.

Identifying what they liked and didn't like about existing tutorials provided students with a common framework and language to discuss and critique their own work as their projects evolved.

Here's an example of a fun video that Kerry created to help his students identify common characteristics of "less-effective" science tutorials:

Define the audience (and their needs) in specific terms

Working with your students to specifically define the audience for the project can help your students to better plan and critically evaluate their work. Also, knowing whether or not the audience for their work will be public or private is crucial for helping students answer questions about copyright when incorporating media from other sources, and release forms when including video segments like interviews.

For example, Kerry's students discussed how the following video would likely work well as a fun introduction to chemical interactions, but likely would not work at all for a university chemistry major reviewing for an exam. Defining the audience for this example video (and others) illustrated the need to have a clearly defined audience for their own projects, and helped students set and communicate their goals.

Use the simplest technologies you can to meet your course objectives

Often, dealing with the complexities of media production is not a key learning objective. In these cases, it is best to help your students identify simple and readily available tools and technologies, rather than invest time and energy learning complex technologies unrelated to your course.

For example, while many existing science tutorials use flash animation (a technology with a steep learning curve), several of Kerry's students took a simpler route: stop motion animation. This simpler technology makes use of things students have on hand, or can create themselves, and allows them to devote more time to their project goals. In this video, Kerry's students use stop-motion with legos to illustrate key concepts in evolution.

Dive in. Do it yourself.

Media production work is, by nature, a hands-on process. There's nothing like diving in and feeling the thrill of editing your own video segment and then watching it with an audience. Producing your own media gives you the ability to talk with authenticity about both the fun and the challenges that your students will face for their projects.

Media production also involves a healthy balance of play and planning. So, our advice is to dive in and have fun with it!

Here's Kerry Martin, clearly having a great time in this video he produced to introduce his students' work on the Biology 151 YouTube channel:

Showcase student work

As your students finish up their projects, return to the question of audience, and talk with your students about getting the word out about their media projects to the right people.

In addition to creating a YouTube channel for his students' videos, Kerry Martin hosted a debut screening and invited the campus science teaching and learning technology communities to the event. This combination of a public screening (with real popcorn!) and publication on YouTube, gave Kerry's students a memorable event and an ongoing audience for their work.

Admission Ticket to Biology 151 Showcase event

Want to learn more?

Looking for more information on Digital Media Assignments? This post is just one of several in our collection of DMA articles and resources. You should probably also take a look at the excellent DoIT Engage DMA website. Or, contact one of our consultants to set up a conversation!

What are your tips?

Have more tips and advice? Please share them in the comments!

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Kerry Martin and his students for sharing their process, their feedback, and their amazing videos! Additonal thanks to DoIT Academic Technology, the Engage DMA awards, and to David Macasaet and Jonathan Klein who made substantial contributions to this article.

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