Yesterday I spent a wonderful day working with a team of nearly a dozen teachers from MLK Elementary School in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The school is located in a low-income, high-crime community, just blocks from the affluence of the local casino district; approximately 95% of the school population comes from African American and Latino households working in service jobs for the casino industry. They're in the third year of a NJ Department of Education grant to use technology to improve student literacy, particularly in the context of exploring causes of bullying and neighborhood violence.
Now in its third year, the project is expanding to student video production, which is why I've come here for a couple of days. I spent the morning introducing the teachers to various documentary production basics, such as the roles of different team members (editors, researchers, producers, etc), a typical documentary production timeline and the mechanics of documentary storytelling. The group kept me on my toes, peppering me with questions all morning.
After lunch, we began brainstorming how the project would unfold over the course of the year. Rather than having students create their documentaries and call it a day, we're going to incorporate video blogging as a key tool in the learning process. The teachers will manage two video blogs, tentatively called Atlantic City Rough Cuts and Atlantic City Final Cuts. The Rough Cuts video blog will be used to premiere student works-in-progress – “rough cuts” of documentaries that need to be critiqued. They'll post them on the video blog as a way of seeking feedback from the public, particularly video bloggers from around the world. The students will then examine these suggestions, decide what's appropriate, and revise the videos, reposting them as necessary to the rough cuts blog. Eventually, when the videos are ready for prime time, they'll be posted to the Atlantic City Final Cuts video blog, for people who simply want to experience the final product.
As far as I know, this will be one of the very first times anywhere in the world that video blogging is integrated into a public school curriculum, let alone an elementary school curriculum. The entire process of documentary production, from concept development to scriptwriting to editing, will be used as a way to meet state standards regarding proficiency in reading and writing. And if all goes well, we'll end up with a sizable collection of video shorts representing a diverse cross-section of life here in Atlantic City. And while Atlantic City may not seem like a very “global” place in terms of the goals of this website, I think it's a microcosm of the challenges that ethnic minorities often face here in the United States. Plagued by poverty, violence and limited job prospects, the community is striving to find opportunities among its obstacles, and improve local prosperity for all residents — a situation that can be seen in so many parts of the world.
In honor of yesterday's marathon training session, I've cobbled together a five-minute video blog of what we accomplished. Please excuse the really crummy narration quality – I forgot my headset mic and had to use my laptop's internal mic while its fan was whizzing away. -andy
Video of today's documentary and video blogging workshop at Martin Luther King Jr Elementary School in Atlantic City.