Advice from my students on nurturing work

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by Hypercoregz Recently the Communications Technology program has been growing quite a bit, so much so that I’ve been able to offer and teach our portfolio course, CT 399, for upper level majors every fall and spring semester. The course is a single credit two hour […]


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by Hypercoregz

Recently the Communications Technology program has been growing quite a bit, so much so that I’ve been able to offer and teach our portfolio course, CT 399, for upper level majors every fall and spring semester. The course is a single credit two hour lab which is really great as I tend to know all the students quiet well at this point in their academic careers. The students prepare for the two capstone components – a thesis project and the internship – as well as (re)craft an online portfolio.

We discuss quiet a bit (here, here, and here) how much the online portfolio can overlap with one’s digital presence and how varied the approaches can be to maintain them. This semester a student suggested he wished many of these ideas might have been discussed in the freshman course CT 101 Digital Storytelling, which is heavily inspired by UMW’s DS106 course. Everyone in that class gets a domain name, web hosting account, and installs an instance of WordPress. They post work and reflect on it, hook social media with plugins, and begin working on their “Personal Cyberinfrastructure.”

But in the intervening semesters and courses taken between CT 101 and CT 399, many students let their domains and web hosting accounts lapse, often without even archiving their work. It’s definitely a program gap on our part, not supporting the infrastructure for and with the students as well as regularly communicating the values behind maintaining their work.. We’re going to work harder on that by partnering with Reclaim Hosting to sort out a ways to do this more easily on a technological perspective.

In the meantime, my CT 399 students came up with a bunch of advice they’d like to pass on to the CT 101 students as they are setting out on their academic careers. Here it goes:

  1. Maintain your domain, your site, and your web hosting account. If you get an email regarding deadlines to renew, don’t wait until the last minute to respond. If you’re hosting account is with Reclaim Hosting, and you’re still a CT major at York you probably can get a free renewal. Talk to your Professors! Otherwise it’s only $25 a year, so splurge on your future!
  2. Keep adding work to your site. Add work and posts from other classes. If another CT course uses a WP site, ask your professor if you can feed posts from your personal blog. If that’s not possible double post to the course site and your site. Don’t necessarily worry about how finished the work is right now – add it and write about where your process is right now. You can always go back and rework it.
  3. What you make outside of class is as important as what you make for class. And often the work you personally choose to do is even more important. Add this work to your site. See number 2 regarding whether you feel it is ‘finished.’ This work is you steering your own path and can really be a guide to where your interests truly lie.
  4. Take responsibility for your work, develop sustainable working habits. This is probably the most important one to consider and we actually fleshed out ideas to support this more extensively below. Bottom line is to find ways to hold yourself accountable for making and reflecting on your work. Don’t feel like you have to do this alone. Join the CT club which meets every Tues/Thurs 12-2PM. Come in for Meme Fridays on a Friday afternoon. Make with others, whether on a collaborative project or simply side-by-side. Don’t feel like it has to happen in one day. Just keep at it.


creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by mugwumpian

This final prompt from the CT 399 portfolio students to the just starting CT 101 students was expanded upon under the oxymoronic idea of “constructive procrastination.” Many of the students describe big project ideas and the desire to complete them. And they often get down on themselves for endlessly postponing the work and not getting it done. But in discussing what foundations are needed to make big projects, research and small creative acts – which might be mistaken as delaying and avoiding ‘important work’ – turn out to be the very things students should be doing. We even came up with a hierarchical taxonomy of forms of constructive procrastination. It starts with simple organization of interests and taste, to reworking/remixing, and this finally leads to the planning for larger projects.

  1. Considering content that already excites you. Instead of just consuming content, think about how it’s constructed technically or how story/characters/themes are crafted. Form an opinion about how choices are made. This is you identifying your tastes.
  2. Organizing/archiving interesting content, opinions, tutorials, etc. There are many activities that can fall under this idea. Use bookmarks local and/or social (Delicious, Diigo) and organize content that inspires you by tags. Re-organize existing archives of interest such as a music library, by themes, eras, artists, etc. These activities are the seeds for research skills.
  3. Light habits of making. While watching that movie for the tenth time on your computer, cut out pieces and make some animated GIFs – reaction GIFs, perfect loops, add captions, make lots! Creative/reflective writing of any form for any purpose – diaries, poems, critiques, opinions, a reddit post title – anything you write counts. Doodling, sketching of course! Shooting photos from your phone/SLR with intention beyond simply documenting a moment – selfie/friends/family (though those can actually count too). Crafting a playlist of music for a particular person and/or purpose. All of these activities help develop hard skills and showcase your taste.
  4. Constructed Experiments. Shoot your first green screen, figure out how to remove it, and add a background. Figure out the time lapse function on your DSLR or use a specific time lapse app on a phone and shoot a number of them. Edit an image with a new piece of software or develop you existing techniques. Re-work existing personal pieces/projects with a new tools and techniques or simply a different sensibility. Tear down a tool or technology with the intention of upgrading and/or improving it. Rework a piece of writing for a new purpose. Write a blog post about your process for a particular project. Create a tutorial via screen capture, or video of your process. All of these experiments and activities are directed and lead to a better understanding of how to build on existing methods to produce work.

These four sets of activities, ones that students may not have easily considered as part of their working process really do support the foundations for larger planned projects. All can help form good habits of making, that you can lean on at various levels when you are struggling. It’s all practice and that’s where the great work comes from, a sustained pursuit which you can’t let go.

Let ‘Em Breathe Fire

Next Monday I’m really excited to start teaching with Ryan Seslow for the first time. I’ve been lucky to work with Ryan on a bunch of projects, recently my favorites being GIFFight and Animating Transit. We’re going to combine two sections of CT 101 Digital Storytelling, which is inspired and still heavily influenced by the […]

testifying-the-truth-explosion-unnecessary2

Next Monday I’m really excited to start teaching with Ryan Seslow for the first time. I’ve been lucky to work with Ryan on a bunch of projects, recently my favorites being GIFFight and Animating Transit. We’re going to combine two sections of CT 101 Digital Storytelling, which is inspired and still heavily influenced by the #ds106 course at the University of Mary Washington.

I took a break from teaching this course for a year, anyone that has taught a version of ds106 would understand :). But the time away has been well spent. Last year I participated in a faculty study group centered around the reading of Maryellen Weimer’s Learner Centered Teaching. One of the key practices Weimer speaks about is the changing of the balance of power between the student and teacher. She understood that:

…the way I controlled students and their learning processes might be a detriment, or that the way I was teaching might benefit me more than them.

And when teacher control is the focus of learning:

In reality, the balance of power in the classroom favors students. They can render teaching pointless by not learning.

This last statement was a real kick in the stomach. Students can and will not learn out of spite. They are literally so offended by the way you are teaching, out of protest students give no effort.

Most faculty respond to a lack of effort by students as their lack of focus and ability – some students are just not college ready. But Weimer asks faculty to instead look in the mirror and she simply suggests they look at what they are not doing in response to the lack of learning happening in your classroom.

I’ve always appreciated the way ds106 has given students a certain level of control by allowing them to choose from a vast array of assignments in the ds106 assignment repository as well as contribute assignments as well. Last semester after a frustrating start teaching a sound production course, I decided to point the finger at myself and make a change. I asked for help from my students. We collaboratively came to an agreement of how we might together reach the learning objectives of the class. Including ideas I hadn’t imagined for a basic production class, like micro-internships with friends that make music, what a good idea!

So what I’m learning and more importantly I hope to improve upon is how to give my students more power over the classroom. And make sure I’m creating an environment that they feel comfortable doing so. Their desire, the fire to learn that’s inherent, is breathed.

Hopefully Ryan and I will find new ways to work with our students and discover surprising turns in an already free-form course. But this post is a nod to Jim’s #wire106 version of digital storytelling at UMW. Even with their focus on The Wire this semester I bet we’ll find some points of convergence. Maybe host a cage-match styled GIF Fight?

Oh and this fire breather is from the first episode of season one of The Wire and inspired by unnecessary explosions.

Rocketing Off to Connected Courses

I introduced the Connected Courses open course to two colleagues of mine at York College in the Educational Technology department and they’re game to follow along and even blog! So I’m going to jump in as well. It’s great to see a few familiar faces among the course instructors, but I’m more interested to hear ideas from […]

16th-nyan-cat

I introduced the Connected Courses open course to two colleagues of mine at York College in the Educational Technology department and they’re game to follow along and even blog! So I’m going to jump in as well. It’s great to see a few familiar faces among the course instructors, but I’m more interested to hear ideas from some new people and learn about other programs using blogs, feeds, and/or any other sort of connectivist-ish type of pedagogy.

So this is my first post under the connected courses category, which will allow me to syndicate to the course site and not throw cold water on the aggregation engine. Looking forward to getting started next week!

If You Understand Me, Just Grunt

Another GIF Fight has brought again a bunch of imaginative work created by the original Giffighters and lots of new faces mostly from the ds106 community. I still need to do a proper blog post about GIFFight, but you can read about the origin of the project on Giphy. For now I just wanted to […]

Another GIF Fight has brought again a bunch of imaginative work created by the original Giffighters and lots of new faces mostly from the ds106 community. I still need to do a proper blog post about GIFFight, but you can read about the origin of the project on Giphy. For now I just wanted to reflect on some of the great work made using the JCVD Funny or Die footage and share a tutorial of how I made my GIF for a friend who asked for help!

Jean Claude Van Damme is finally going the Schwarzenegger action hero becomes comedy actor route with a new movie and an even more interesting remix contest hosted by Funny or Die. JCVD recorded a number of short clips in front of a green screen while shooting, kicking, defusing a bomb, and delivering one liners like “They found us! I’ll cover you!” The challenge was from JCVD to the crowd to, “Make My Movie!” And there are some really great films that were made by lots of different people. I particularly liked the Vintage Van Damme Toy Commercial (c. 1997).

So with 1.1GB of pre-keyed (no background only JCVD) footage available for remix, I thought it would make for a good GIFFight. We had recently done something similar by collectively participating in the Tate’s 1840s GIF party which led to a lot of great GIFing. But this was the first time we started with video footage rather than a still image to animate. It’s a little against the rules of the GIFFight, but JCVD proved to tempting.

Tom Woodward recently drop three awesome JCVD Pink Valentines, but I think Fallin for U is my favorite. And overall I just love Rochelle Lockridge’s Oh Sheep! – GIF humor is always at it’s best when they include animals.

Rochelle also summarized the work she created with the JCVD footage and gave a tutorial, which was interesting as it’s very different from mine. So I thought I’d share my as well to build a larger base of GIF remix tutorial knowledge. A lot of it is similar to how I make GIFs for Don’t Turn that Dial, which I shared on Youtube.

To open and select a portion of JCVD footage I used MPEG Streamclip. I used to use Quicktime Pro 7, but I’m starting to prefer Streamclip as it opens videos in different codecs without have to convert them first as Quicktime does.

Isolate a portion of the clip you wish to use for your GIF by advancing the playhead to start point and press ‘i’ (for the in point) and then advance to the end point and press ‘o’ (for the out point). You can use the left and right arrows to advance forward and back frame-by-frame to be very particular about your edit. And at any time you reposition the playhead and type ‘i’ or ‘o’ the in and out points change. After which, you should see the section you want dark grey in the player.

streamclip-JCVD-trim

 

Next select Edit>Trim and then Save As… with a new title. By not exporting or making any changes to the codec, the transparency alpha channel is maintained and now you have the short snippet to import to Photoshop.

Photoshop’s File>Import>Video Frames to Layers… gives you the opportunity to create your animation and reduce the number of frames you’ll use to create your animation by selecting even 2, 3, or more frames. For GIFs I’m making for Tumblr (which has strict file size constraints), I’ll generally throw away as many frames as there are seconds in the clip. So for example if it’s a three second clip I’ll set the limit to 3. This will typically give you 30 or fewer frames of animation based on film and video being between 24-30 frames-per-second.

Import Video to Layers

 

Now with the transparent background and the animation working – test GIF at the top of this post – it’s time to add a background. In this case I used a a short clip from an episode of My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic (because who wouldn’t want to see JCVD in Ponyville)! Using the same process I created a second Photoshop file with 7 frames of ponies. Now you need to do a little math to make the animated background fit the JCVD foreground which was 33 frames. I decided on 2:1 ratio or 14:7 frames, meaning the pony clip would loop 2 times for ever one loop of JCVD shooting. So this required I throw away 17 frames of JCVD which involved highlighting every other frame or so and then clicking the trash icon in the animation timeline.

To now add the frames from one Photoshop file to the next you need to highlight all the frames from the foreground clip (JCVD shooting) in the timeline. And then in the timeline menu (circled in red), select copy frames.

highlighted 14 frames in the animation timeline

In the other Photoshop file (with ponies) highlight all the frames. Then select paste frames in the timeline menu. You will be presented with options of how to paste the frames and you should select “paste over selection.”

paste over selection

 

This will place the 14 frames of JCVD of ponies on top of the seven frames of ponies and create 7 new frames of JCVD with still a blank background.

jcvd pasted over pony frames

 

This also creates 14 new layers for ever frame of JCVD in the Photoshop file. You’ll notice as you highlight frames 1-7, you see a pony layer and a JCVD layer are visible.

frames to layers in Photoshop

 

So for frames 8-14, highlight each frame and then make visible the corresponding pony layer to complete the loop. For example highlight frame 8 make visible pony layer 1, highlight frame 9 and make visible pony layer 2, etc. It’s a little tedious, but you get through it.

Also realize it’s possible to resize and reposition the entire background or entire foreground using the Edit>Free Transform or Edit>Transform. I described this in how I make GIFs for my Don’t Turn that Dial GIF project. Just highlight all the layers of the foreground, then choose Edit>Free Transform. You can then resize and reposition. This is particularly useful if the media sizes of the foreground and background don’t match. Or you just want to make JCVD bigger!

Free Transform JCVD

 

To create the rainbow effect over the burst of flames coming from the M-16, I drew in two new layers two versions of the rainbow. I then alternated between them for every other frame. But to have them stay connected to the end of the gun, I also nudge the layer using the Move Tool. Unlike Free Transform, if you adjust the position of content in a layer between frames using the Move Tool each frame records a different position of the content.  And to have the rainbow blend with the background the layer, I changed the blending mode to dissolve and/or hard light. This was the final result!

jcvd-shooting-rainbows-vomit-rainbow-bullets

Oh and I forgot painting the bullets rainbow was as you can imagine slow and tedious, done frame-by-frame, but totally worth the effort.