Because it is a relatively new area of expertise, most people have never heard of my occupation “media educator” before. It is an important field, and will only be increasingly so as we, as a society, use new technologies, consuming and creating even more media content than we ever have before.
To negotiate the media world of the twenty-first century, we all need to learn and understand how the media are created, what elements are used to attract our attention, and how the media messages are structured and determined. Media literacy of this kind empowers us to use the media (which is mostly profit-driven), rather than allowing the media to use us—and to recognize and reject manipulations or inaccurate representations when we see them. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared in 2007 that media literacy is a “fundamental human right.” In Canada, Media Literacy is mandated curriculum for primary and secondary students in each province and territory.
Media literacy of this kind empowers us to use the media (which is mostly profit-driven), rather than allowing the media to use us.
Having worked for the National Film Board of Canada, Leave Out Violence, Regent Park Focus Media Centre, and Ryerson University as a Media Educator, I have travelled extensively throughout each region of Canada, working with thousands of teachers and students. I facilitate curriculum-specific production-based media literacy workshops using iPad Animation, Documentary and Digital Storytelling. An important component of media literacy is creation, which is a fantastic way of demonstrating previous learning through implementation of skills and knowledge. No longer are we simply passive consumers of media, with the technologies available to us, we can now all be active creators.
Traditional vs. Workshop Education
Education is a passion of mine, but not the style or environment that is found in most Canadian classrooms. I find the traditional teacher-student hierarchy and classroom layout stifling, counter-intuitive and outdated. I was a substitute teacher in a Dawson City, Yukon public primary school for a year, and spent most of the school day trying to control the kids from running around the room, asking them over and over again to sit still at desks that seemed ready to explode from all their incredible energy.
I quickly realized this was not the environment where I would be spending my educational career.
Through my work with the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture in Dawson City, I was introduced to the workshop-style format of education. Often found in community centers, art camps, or youth programming, the workshop style of educational experiences have a “we can all learn from each other” approach, emphasizing action (instead of lectures), in an environment that often encourages teamwork and skill-sharing between team members and groups. These workshops have been the most effective and enjoyable educational approach and experience I have come across, and have been doing so for the past 12 years.
Stop Motion Animation
To demonstrate the technique I am describing, I will use a 3-hour Stop Motion Animation workshop and a detailed outline of what and how we deliver the content with Hands On Media Education. Because of Stop Motion animation’s accessible nature with limitless creative potential, this technique may be taught to children and adults alike, with very little difference in information presented.
Learning-by-doing is the overarching approach to this workshop, with very little time spent on the introductory presentation. Students are presented an introductory overview of what animation is, what a few different examples are, and how animations are made using visual cues and animation examples. Questions posed to the students are asked throughout, allowing for increased engagement, problem-solving and storytelling opportunities.
A quick demonstration of the animation technique is shown using a simple animation station: iPad, tripod, set background and 2 clay characters. Students are divided into small teams, and choose the background they wish to work with for the duration of the workshop.
As a team, they decide on characters and a story they wish to tell, using their background as an anchor from which to begin. A workshop facilitator walks between groups to see if they need any help with ideas or story arc. Once the storyboards are complete, a variety of clay pieces of differing colours are distributed, and the students get to work creating the story characters, props or additional background elements.
Film production is such a wonderful opportunity for teamwork because of the many different roles all required to produce one project. Director, Camera Operator, Animator, and Set Designer are all roles required for this workshop, with each student rotating between roles every 40 frames.
The iPad applications are very simple and fun to use for children as young as 6 years old, and for adults as old as 65, allowing for independent teamwork with only supervision to ensure the students are staying on track and are aware of the time. This independent workshop activity allows for team members to share knowledge and creative ideas with one another, as well as experimentation with technique and movement.
Teamwork is a challenge for most adults, never mind children, but I like to emphasize the need for patience and communication, saying “If you do not work well together, we will be able to see this in your final animation.” The act of collectively working together towards a shared creative goal can truly be a beautiful process with positive results.
Once all the images are taken for their films, we move into sound (music, sound effects and dialogue). We then add titles and credits, and finish the workshop with a group screening of all the films on a projector for each team to present and discuss the experience. A facilitator asks for feedback from the audience, with each film receiving applause to congratulate each team.
The combination of digital (iPad) and tactile (clay) tools used in this workshop format with emphasis on activity has proven extremely effective, enjoyable and memorable. One teacher contacted me several months after a workshop with her students, describing how the experience had literally transformed one student, who was previously very shy in class, into a leader. He had surprised everyone during the animation workshop with his animation confidence, and was able to carry that forward into all following classroom activities.
I have had the opportunity to work with several children on the Autism spectrum who have really taken to this style of creation—repetition and predictable movement using characters they have created. The moment of real excitement comes from pressing “play” on the images, and seeing their characters come to life!
I have also heard from several teachers how animation has become a regular activity in their own classroom, as a creative and engaging activity in which to address social issues, PSA’s (Public Service Announcements) and as a wonderful storytelling assignment.
Concepts taught through this style of workshop are important from a media literacy and creation point of view, in addition to being well-received and effective. The hierarchy of teacher-to-student is broken down, and the fact that the participants are trusted to create independently encourages each to rise to the occasion, proving to the facilitators that they are capable, competent and responsible. Students help each other, develop leadership skills, learn and practice media literacy, all the while feeling a deep sense of pride (independently, and as a team), that they have literally created magic, as their playful and colourful visual creation flashes before our eyes.