A tale of two workshops

I am a Technical Tutor for moving image and deploy this skill as a central resource, without alignment to any one course. My remit is to deliver a procedural appreciation of editing software. The programme will run for several weeks with a step-by-step approach that will deepen learning at each weekly workshop. The aim is to introduce and demystify new tools so that, over the sessions, students will learn to successfully edit their videos.

There are 20 names on the list; 2nd year undergraduate students who need to make short promotional videos, but will likely have no previous experience as filmmakers.

We are in an IT suite and 17 students have each claimed a chair and computer. Some have logged in, others still tap at their phones, one wears headphones, and about half have yet to remove their outdoor coats.

“Good MORNING” I say with energy, hoping to convey that something is about to begin.

“QUIET Please” I say loudly and with authority.

I wait for their attention to turn to me. There is a ripple of hush that moves across the room, making the rest of us very aware of the pair whose conversation persists. I move towards them.

It’s my intention not to chastise, but to include

It’s my intention to affirm my authority

I don’t know them, and so it’s important to set the right tone from the outset.

I aim to establish an atmosphere of mutual respect, in which we work together to advance learning.

I need to establish discipline in a way that suppresses the chance of further disruption.

It’s possible their conversation is important, that their distraction is legitimate due to reasons of which I’m unaware, or simply that the intensity of their discussion caused them not to hear.

In giving them the benefit of the doubt, I demonstrate respect, whilst letting them know that their attention is now required.

In giving them a warning, I demonstrate that I consider them disrespectful, and won’t tolerate it.

Being respectful will encourage students to contribute when invited.

Being authoritarian will discourage students from contributing unless invited.

They apologize and explain that they were discussing the timetable because they were uncertain about whether they were in the right session. It turns out that one of them is hard of hearing.

I’m grateful for my strategy to respect and include, because it doesn’t require her to declare her difficulty.

She should have declared her difficulty. I can’t be expected to support conditions of which I’m unaware.

I use their question about the timetable as a catalyst to clarify the schedule for the group.

If confusion exists for one it probably exists for others who may be less confident about speaking up and asking for clarification. Establishing a clear horizon, by mapping out the big picture up front, helps everyone to navigate the journey to come.

I’m aware of the importance of managing the expectations of students but to do this I have to first find out what they are.

I ask the student wearing headphones what he thought this and the subsequent sessions were about.

It’s not my intention to embarrass, but to invite engagement by offering a stake in defining the session. I’m also testing to see if he was listening, or whether the headphones are disruptive.

A little embarrassment lets him know I’ve noticed and am in control.

It turned out later that a little background music helps with his anxiety.

Knowing this, we have negotiated when it is appropriate to wear the headphones.

He should have declared this. I can’t be expected to support conditions of which I’m unaware.

I am aware that a significant number of students will have dyslexia, whether they know it or not, and for many English is a second language.

I ask whether anyone has found the resources, which I uploaded to myUCA in advance of the session.

I don’t upload anything in advance because I worry it will deter them from attending.

The option to familiarize themselves with the subject before the session may diminish the potential for language to become a barrier to learning.

It’s such a small adjustment, but saves me a lot of time in class.

It is the students’ responsibility to seek support from Student Services. They must rise to the required level.

I don’t have the time to make adjustments to meet their need.

We move on to the software.

I think it likely that they will be familiar with other programs belonging to the Adobe Creative Suite but to test this assumption I ask if they know to which software suite this package belongs.

I ask if anyone has used this software before to assess the level at which I should work.

I’m only here to teach the editing package, so I tell them where to find it.

I assume that they are all beginners to level the field.

We’ve all opened the software and are ready to begin. I ask if they can all see and hear.

I ask about their experience of filmmaking.

Silence. Shaking heads.

“Who has used a phone camera webcam, Snapchat, Facebook, WhatsApp and a host of other video creation tools?” I ask, reminding them that they could probably all consider themselves filmmakers, at least on some level.

I hope this small perceptive shift will encourage them to think of themselves as not entirely new to this. Sowing that seed now should help their confidence and support them to develop the skill.

By now, they’ve all removed their outdoor coats.

I take the silence for an answer and the opportunity to move quickly on.

At least this way my status as expert is confirmed relative to their inexperience.

“Is it still cold in here?” I ask, because several of them seem to have sunk further into their jackets.

Someone scuttles in late.

I encourage the group to relay to the latecomer what has been resolved about the purpose of the session. This is an opportunity to check what has been understood so far, and for its repetition to further consolidate this learning for all.

I tell the latecomer that she will have to wait until a break for me to catch her up.

It turns out that she has dyspraxia and planning her attendance had been stressful.

I am grateful not to have unnecessarily compounded the stress she was under.

I’d like to think that in education we can be progressive agents of change, not models of outdated industry practices.

Education is stressful, as is industry, and she will need to develop strategies to cope.

We are educating for employment, so must replicate even the bad practices found in the world of work.

I ask them what we mean by ‘sequence’.

The latecomer volunteers an answer and, with a little prompting, a few others build on the idea.

Receiving a glossary of new terms in advance has helped several of them get ahead of the curve. It’s clear that this is useful regardless of dyslexia and English proficiency.

I tell them what sequence means.

One asks how to spell it. They’ve all taken out note pads and begin feverishly to scribble.

This doesn’t require any writing, they just need to listen and follow what I do. I realize that I may need to reduce the ambition of the session.

A sequence is a set of related events that follow each other in a particular order. It is the goal of an edit. I use straightforward language to describe it because there is no need to make it any more complicated. I am aware that I sometimes drift into using jargon and don’t always remember to check whether students understand. I am making a conscious effort to make this session accessible to all students irrespective of their level of literacy.

Some of them are searching for a definition on their phones. I encourage this when appropriate because there is no need to fight the technologies with which they are familiar and from which they are accustomed to learning.

I remind them that this definition is in the notes I loaded pre-session onto myUCA and encourage them to compare this with the definitions they located.

I instruct them all to turn their phones off and put them away, it is very draining to have to compete with handheld devices for student attention.

I can see that a visual aide might help. The use of video will helpfully break up the talking, and shift gear to maintain interest.

I ask someone to tell me the last film they saw.

When using examples, I try to ensure relevance to the student experience, and to maintain their stake in the proceedings.

I try to think of an example.

I am aware that several of the students are International, but Western cinema is fairly pervasive.

It’s time for a break. Regular breaks can aide concentration during the session.  Even a short break can be reviving, just moving around is helpful.  Those who need to take medication or eat at regular intervals can do so.  Visits to the loo for whatever reason can be discrete; not visible to all.

I suggest that they use the break to discuss films they’ve seen recently, and ask them to select and example to watch on return.

After the break there is renewed energy and I can tell that their investment in the session is growing.

We watch an example of an Indian film with which I’m not familiar, but the students seem enthused, and I’m learning from them.

I am gasping for a coffee, but have to catch up the latecomer, and find an example to show after the break.

After the break, my energy is low and I am already watching the clock for the end of the session.

I show a clip from my favourite film, which cheers me up a bit, but the students remain impassive.

After the screening and discussing some examples, we proceed to engage with the software.

One of the students is packing away his things and getting ready to go.

He gestures his thanks on his way out the door. I am grateful that I always make myself available ahead of the session, and that we had the opportunity to discuss his need to leave early.

I tell him pointedly, and in front of the whole class, that the session is yet to conclude.

He should have declared his need to leave, I’m not a mind reader.

As the workshop develops, the students follow my example to create their own edits.

I ask them to buddy up, so that they can help each other out if necessary. I find that by working in pairs (or small groups if appropriate) they can often problem solve without needing to ask me. This frees me up to work equally across the group without leaving lots of students waiting for my attention.

If I need to intervene for the group, I raise my hand, and the silence is infectious.

I ask them to work in silence because I can’t be heard over chatter, and need to shout to get attention.

If they have a problem, they can raise their hand.

At the end of the session, I ask them lots of questions as a way of re-capping the key points from the session.  Doing this is a win, win, win situation.  I win because I can assess how much they have learnt and thereby evaluate the effectiveness of my session.  Anyone who couldn’t answer the questions wins because they can learn from the answers of those who can.  Anyone who was able to answer the questions but was not confident to speak up wins because they can confirm whether what they were thinking was correct. 

Just asking ‘are there any questions?’ often results in silence or questions from a few with the rest already sloping off.  I have learned not to do this anymore.

I always end 10 minutes early to allow for a closing discussion and have ample time to resolve any outstanding concerns, whilst making links to the next session.

I ask them lots of questions as a way of re-capping the key points. This way I can assess how much they have learnt and thereby evaluate the effectiveness of my session. The answers have the multiple benefit of informing those who didn’t know, and confirming for those who did.

I ask if there are any questions, while some are already sloping off. No one asks anything so I can assume all is understood. However, several stay behind, not confident of speaking up in front of others.

We’re out of time and I am kept late.

My desired outcomes were that learners would be able to:

  • Identify Adobe Premiere Pro and describe its purpose
  • Import video in order to begin an edit
  • Navigate the workspace and use the tools
  • Create a basic sequence

I have every confidence that these outcomes have been successfully met.

This is a great group of students.

I’m delighted to see so much engagement; they’re a really enthusiastic group. I tell them so and that I am looking forward to working with them again next week.

I have little confidence that these outcomes have been met.

This is a difficult group of students.

I receive several emails seeking clarifications in the following days. The first twenty minutes of the following session are spent recapping what had not been understood in the previous session.

I don’t have time to upload notes in advance, even if I wanted to.

Mike Rymer, Technical Tutor Media and Moving Image, Epsom