Tuesday, August 12, 2014

TMA 680 - End of Course evaluation.

Evaluation of progress on my goals for this class:

1. To complete a reasonable review of concepts, skills, and roles that I learned as an undergrad (in TMA 185, 285, and others) to help me refresh those items my brain may have misplaced for lack of use.
  • I'm not fully equipped to judge how thorough my review was, but it was certainly effective.  The things that I did revisit were all useful to me and I was very careful to try to integrate them into my skill-set as things I would be able to continue developing my working-knowledge of after this course has ended.
2. To feel reasonably confident undertaking a moderate single-creator video project, from pre-production through post production. 
  • My confidence is still not where I'd like it to be, but my willingness, and even eagerness, to undertake such a project despite my failings is actually much improved.
3. To increase my proficiency in using equipment and software I will continue to have access to after the course ends.
  • This has been a high priority for me in this class, and despite numerous set-backs, I have doggedly stuck to my attempts to shoot on a DSLR, because that is what I will have access to on my own.  Though I am now more anxious than ever to upgrade to a camera with a larger sensor and a headphone jack.  I'm also trying to evaluate my best options for sound equipment.  I'd like to upgrade from the simple cold-shoe mount mic and wired-lavelier I have now, but I don't think I can afford the Sennheiser wireless kit I borrowed from my neighbor for my last two assignments, and I don't think I can, or should, keep borrowing it indefinitely.
4. To increase my pedagogy arsenal for teaching the skills covered in class to others in the future.
  • This was the most uncomfortable part of this course for me, and the part for which I have consistently felt the least qualified.  Because I have so little practical grasp of what might work in a given class environment (because of my lack of a concrete class parameter upon which to base my ideas), I feel less than confident that my lesson plans would pan out to create successful experiences for students.  I expect, however, that they'd be a decent jumping-off point for designing a more focused experience for an actual group of students. So, where I to find myself in a teaching position, they'd still be useful.
5. To create several things that provide me with the benefits of "carpentry" discussed by Ian Bogost.
  • The greatest benefit I found along this line, was how much easier it was to understand a concept than to actually enact it.  I was consistently humbled by my inability to create scenes and footage that followed all of the guidelines I understood and could describe well.  Something about rubber actually hitting the road, and things actually requiring practice to master was a refreshing challenge after having written so many papers describing and critiquing other people's work. 
6. To see a measurable increase in the production value of projects I create over time.
  • I did improve my ability to navigate the controls and options available to me on my camera, and I think this will ultimately lead to the increase in quality I'm hoping for.  However, I rather feel like with every conceivable setting set to "manual" instead of "auto", I'm bound to have a growing-pain period where I screw things up and they turn out worse for a while before they can turn out better.  At least this is the rhetoric I'm working in my head in order that I don't let the perfectionist in me take over and make me quit. 
7. To engage in critical discussion about the decisions that go into the creation of media. 
  • This wasn't a super-high priority in this class, but because of our background in previous courses in our program, I felt like we were able to pretty seamlessly introduce thoughts along this vein during a number of class periods. 
8. To feel/be qualified to instruct an absolute beginner in acquiring basic video production skills. 
  • This, encouragingly, is one goal I can feel was unequivocally met by this course. While my pedagogy may lack polish, I feel confident in my knowledge base and skill set that I'd be able to get the needed information from my own head to a students', through lecture, demonstration, exercise, and reflection.
Final Question is: "Where would I like to see myself in a few years in terms of using production skills for pedagogical purposes? How would I like to incorporate these skills into my classroom/practice?"

  • At the moment my long-term career goals are especially ambiguous, but I do anticipate that they will ultimately utilize everything I have developed in the class.  One possible emphasis would include teaching a class on the use of media in accumulating and organizing biographies and family histories.  The skills and lesson plans developed here and in my previous documentary class would be especially helpful in creating a curriculum.  Regardless of the direction my career ultimately takes, I will be better-equipped to remain engaged in the creation of media, and hope to remain comfortable in it and to not let my skill-set atrophy the way I felt it did the first time around (largely due to lack of access to equipment, software, and opportunities). 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Documentary Assignment: Documenting events and/or processes

The process of composing lesson plans has been unilaterally deflating for me, but, in creating a documentary assignment,  I encountered particular difficulty in coming up with an assignment for students that I could also complete an example of.  (My life and the spaces, events, and people I have access to are rather antithetical to the lived reality of most students mature enough to maneuver a camera and editing software.)  So the parameters of my final lesson plan are ultimately a bit more vague than I’d like.  If I were spending more time in a teaching environment, it’d be more feasible for me to complete a project along the more clearly defined parameters of my first draft of the assignment, so I think they are both useful as alternatives to one another even though they sort of reverse the process of capturing footage.  One exercise gathers interviews about a past event, while the other gathers interviews about an ongoing process, and then captures the field footage of that process afterward.  They both create an opportunity for recognizing the process of trying to match interview sound bites with the footage of the event or process that allows for appropriate contextualization and understanding.

I continue to be humbled by the process of working with equipment I’m not entirely familiar or comfortable with, and the process of filming an interview is still stressful for me.  Two of my interviews were severely compromised by my willingness to rush through setting up the shot because it felt so awkward to ask my subject to wait for me to get it just right.  The first interview I conducted was with my Aunt Heidi, and it was my first time using the Seinheisser wireless mic system with my camera.  I hadn’t had time to be trained on it before that, and I could tell on playback that the levels were too high, but I couldn’t figure out how to adjust them on the transmitter/receiver units and didn’t have a user-manual with me.  Rather than make my subject wait for me to figure it out (she was in a hurry), we just kept moving the mic further from her mouth, and she tried to speak more softly than usual.  All the microphone drama led me to forget to re-set my focus after moving the tripod, and so not only was the sound bad, but the subject was out of focus.  Bad news, and no time to re-do the interview, so I’m forced to use it despite how awful it is.  I also had problems shooting my Aunt Holly, as the light levels (coming from a window) dropped drastically almost immediately after we started shooting.  I did stop her and adjust them once, but the lighting in almost her entire interview is problematic.  I didn’t feel comfortable stopping her to adjust the lighting as often as I’d have needed to to save all the shots, so I’m still working through how I ought to have handled that.  I’m mostly concluding that it would have been better to have dealt with mixed lighting, or less-attractive lighting, and to have had the levels be more consistent than to have been at the mercy of unpredictable cloud cover. (Also, I've conceded I am too stingy with ISO, I need to think rather differently about it in video than in still photography). 
(I’m not altogether happy with the other two interviews, I think they look really blown out, even though the meter in my camera was telling me 0.  All of these things point to: Emily needs more practice. Preferably under less stressful, rushed circumstances.)

Ultimately, I think this could be a really fun unit or lesson to teach.  Especially in a time when more and more youth are actively creating media for the web, I find it exciting to think about equipping them with the skills to create more polished and engaged pieces about their own lives and the lives of those around them.  It seems like a pretty effective way for them to engage in virtual communities and invite investment from their peers and viewers, and thus a really relevant skill set for them to have.