Video Documentary – A Student Centred Collaborative Inquiry Research & Presentation Task

My Year 10 Social Studies class had the topic of Global Issues to tackle.

global issues

This is an interesting topic but can be really dry if the teacher retains control and tries to teach the facts. I decided to hand it over to the students and get them to create a documentary in pairs on a Global Issue. We still had the important problem to overcome that the whole class needed to cover topic content for the end of year examination, but I felt that we could deal with that later on. The topic is perfect for me as a teacher to model the statement in the New Zealand Curriculum (page 36) encouraging us to “explore not only how ICT can supplement traditional ways of teaching but also how it can open up new and different ways of learning“.

This time around I decided to do a quick one lesson introduction to the students to discover their understanding of Global Issues. I followed this up with the students analysing together an expertly made student documentary (by a young american girl) on child Labour in the late 19th Century USA. The purpose was for the students to not only analyse the components of what they were expected to produce, but to set a high standard for my students to attain to when it came to their turn – a summary of the class analysis is here. I then followed this up with John Pilger’s (a world renowned professional documentary maker) documentary on US intervention in South America called “War on Democracy”. This allowed the students to discuss a range of the Global Issues touched on in the documentary (Global Corporations, American Imperialism, Poverty, Media Manipulation & others) but also to analyse the techniques used by the documentary maker in terms of use of background music, imagery, case studies, how he builds his story up etc.

I then made available a range of Global Issues topics for the students to choose from which they would research and present in documentary format together in pairs. The issues ranged from ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES to HUMAN ISSUES to more POLITICAL ISSUES. Students chose using Google Forms with 3 preferences and topics were then allocated.

Here is a link to the Research and Documentary Task Document along with a link to which is a good source site for many of the issues. The task was assessed using SOLO Taxonomy which has been  introduced into the school since late 2013 and is having a positive impact on students thinking and understanding about the way they learn.

As this was my first attempt at something new there were a few things I would do differently, however I would have to say that this was a major success for engagement and improving student learning. So much so that another teacher half way through this tasks adapted the same assessment task for his Australian Aboriginal Issues Internal Assessment Task for a Year 9 class that we co-taught (me Y9 ICT and him Y9 Social Studies) the following term.

One of the most pleasing successes was that I did not teach the topic content to the students prior to the exam. Instead I played 3 of the student created videos to the students on 1. Poverty & Global Inequality, 2. The Greenhouse Effect & Global Warming and 3. Deforestation just prior to the recent end year examinations. The students took notes from these videos and over half of them chose this essay for the examination with many of them writing excellence essays and two gaining full marks.

Students creating top quality  content good enough to help other students learn is the ultimate testament to the success of any task.

The main things that students have learned from this task are:

  • how to collaborate effectively on a large scale research and presentation task
  • how to write good focus questions (and the need to revisit and re-write them when needed)
  • how to research and gather information in a way that avoids plagiarism
  • how to write a script – put research information into another form (other than an essay to answer the focus questions)
  • how to present information as a documentary considering factors which influence audience emotion such as:
    • powerful introduction
    • use of titles
    • use of colour
    • powerful images and appropriate images to back up points
    • modulation of voice, use of emphasis
    • influence of music
    • balance of audio, silence, voice, type, etc…

The Video Creation Tool we used was WeVideo

WeVideo_logoWeVideo is fully cloud-based and allows for collaboration between the students who worked on Chromebooks and from home. The education version comes at a cost to the school for signing up but having tried it, I would thoroughly recommend it. We are now looking at signing up the entire school for 2015. Note: Our Media Studies department also trialed WeVideo and are also planning to roll out for all Senior Media Studies for next year.

There were a range of things that the students, and I, learned from our first foray into producing documentaries. One of the things that we will certainly do differently next time is refrain early on from using snippets of popular music as students run into problems once it is published on YouTube. Although copyrighted and allowed to play – it leads to pop-up adds and warnings and blocks in some countries. There are a range of free background music styles freely available in YouTube editor providing good backing music for video creation.

Below is a 10BA Social Studies Global Issues Playlist which you can watch at your leisure

All produced by 10BA Social Studies (who, for international audiences, are boys aged at 14 years old – some going on 15).
Note: Apologies if some videos do not play due to blocking in some countries due to copyrighted snippets of music, but others will play.

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