April 19, 2015
The Association for Educational Communications and Technology is a professional organization founded in 1923 for educators and others whose activities are directed toward improving instruction through the use of technology. The organization’s mission is “to provide international leadership by promoting scholarship and best practices in the creation, use, and management of technologies for effective teaching and learning in a wide range of settings.” AECT members are teachers, media librarians, and tech coordinators in schools; instructional designers in industry; and faculty in colleges—just about anyone who is involved in the study, planning, application, and/or production of communications media for the purpose of learning. The Executive Director of AECT is Phillip Harris, who agreed to talk to Technos in advance of AECT’s International Convention and its increasingly popular International Student Media Festival (ISMF). This year, the Convention and Festival will be held in Orlando, FL, November 4–8. The theme of the Convention is “On the Horizon: Rays of Change.” The Festival celebrates excellence in the area of student-produced media and includes workshops and screenings of winning entries as well as an awards ceremony.
Technos: Let’s talk about your organization’s International Student Media Festival, which I was surprised to find out has been going on since 1974.
Phil Harris: ISMF has been a long-term activity of AECT, and it has grown to the point that we have to decide what to do with it. It’s getting way too big for us to manage as a volunteer activity.
I really look at this student-produced media as something more than just a passing fad. The growth that we’ve seen just since 2000 has been amazing. We started seeing huge increases since that year. And we’ve experienced 25-percent increases in the number of entries nearly every year since 2004. This year, we’re looking at nearly 1,300 entries—and that includes more post-secondary and more international entries—so that our activity is getting more recognition all the time. I began to see this as a school reform initiative that may have the best chance of creating permanent change in my lifetime—and that’s reflecting over 50 years of education.
That’s saying a lot!
The reason I say that is because this is the first substantive change that I’ve seen come from the classroom level, driven by the students and the teachers and not mandated by an elected or state-appointed official. To some people, media production is just something extra that’s going on, like an athletic event—there’s a group of students doing all sorts of media, like an extracurricular activity, and not something that would be taken seriously as an integral part of the educational experience.
I’ve really tried to articulate what this is, as something more than just an interesting thing for kids to do. Unfortunately, there’s not much that I can point to that’s helpful in this respect—although the online journal Edutopia and EDUCAUSE occasionally get close to reflecting and understanding what this student-produced media may potentially enable students in schools to do, in terms of really changing how teachers interact with students and how students interact with teachers and with other students.
NOTE: Please refer to our Featured Article for more information on the format of the International Student Media Festival.
I understand you sponsor workshops during the Festival—are these for the teachers or the students?
The workshops are primarily for the students, with the teachers standing in the background and the students telling us (or their entries telling us) what they could benefit from knowing more about. For instance, we introduced GarageBand for those kids who wanted to put music to their pieces, because that was an obvious interest. So, the workshops are driven, to the extent that we can infer from the students, what it is their level of skill is telling us they need.
How many student entries do you have this year?
We’re looking at 1,300 this year; up from last year, when we had 1,047 entries. These start coming in from late April through May 15th. We try to have the judging complete by the third week of June, so that we can start notifying the entry participants and they can plan to be at the Festival that fall.
Who are your judges?
We’ve got a variety of mostly volunteer judges who are elementary, middle-school, and high-school teachers, and college faculty who have some experience working with students. We provide a rubric for each category and production type—these are criterion reference not norm reference—so of the 1,300 entries we may have 500 winners; it’s either “A” or “Incomplete.” Every entry gets reviewed, and the comments of the judging team are sent to the students and the sponsor, so everybody gets feedback. But, if they didn’t hit the standard, their feedback would tell them what they need to do next year in order to have a higher quality piece of work.
Two states, Georgia and Florida, have a pre-screening of student media, which is their own state-level competition; they send their state winners to our Festival. When you see the quality of these entries that come in from the high-school level, it is difficult to believe that these students didn’t go to some commercial radio or TV station to get help.
The kids are really good at this stuff.
Yes. Now, you get a lot of PowerPoint® projects at the elementary level, but the range of production types is really interesting at the middle- and high-school levels. And the students are trying all the time to stretch their own knowledge and skill levels, in shooting as well as in editing.
What I’m personally interested in is seeing how we can look at these entries as a way to inform us about what students are interested in and their changing interests as they develop. In 2005, I was able to view about 50 or 60 secondary-level entries, and I was struck by what I was seeing in them about teenage interests and attitudes. At the time, I thought that this is a source of information about adolescents that nobody’s ever had before. An extraordinary number of the entries I’m talking about (from three years ago)—probably as much as 70 percent—started out with an opening scene of a dark room, with an alarm clock ringing and an arm reaching to shut it off. I had seen research from my time at Phi Delta Kappa about the sleep patterns of adolescents and how school schedules are inconsistent with them, drawing the conclusion that, in fact, the optimal time to be starting high school is about 10 o’clock in the morning. So, getting back to the entries…in all of those videos, the kids struggled getting up in the morning. But they then also—almost without exception—focused on relationships. The content of these entries really showed how important and powerful relationships are for these students. Now, it’s one thing to know that and another thing to ask how can knowing that inform me as a middle-school or high-school teacher or secondary school administrator? The point is that there is information to be mined from looking at these entries, not for their technical skills, but for their content.
I’m working on a proposal to try to get research funding to look into the content of these student productions. We have ISMF data collected over the last seven years to review and analyze and to make note of changes over time, and I think there is embedded in it a wealth of information about young people that hasn’t been tapped before. One of the videos I saw was a 60-second entry that was anti-abortion. Without getting into a debate about our positions on this issue, take my word for it that you couldn’t be anything but impressed with how that high-school senior approached it.
Both the critical thinking and the production quality.
Exactly. The skills these kids, at various ages, need to demonstrate—from writing the script, to laying out a storyboard, to organizing the information, all the things we say we want kids to be able to do by the time they graduate—they already have those skills. If you give them the chance, from what I’ve seen, they can do it! We just have to make sure we don’t kill interest in using those skills. A couple of years ago, we received an entry that featured an original musical score by a middle-school student that was so impressive, it actually distracted us from watching the entry. The youngster sat down and created an original piece for his friend’s entry, and it was so impressive that we’ve created a new category as a result.
Music and Production…I was going to ask you if the competition has changed through the years, as far as categories?
Yes. We add those things if the technology merits it, and we introduce it on a pilot basis to see if there is interest. Just like we introduced still photography four years ago, and this year it’s one of the largest categories.I understand you’re getting more entries, and they’re coming from around the country and internationally.
We’ve gotten entries from Great Britain, Germany, Canada, the Bahamas, Central America and South America. The Japanese, the Chinese, and the Koreans are all involved. Those three countries each have an affiliated organization that works with us, and they’re trying to start a competition and festival similar to what we have in their own countries.
It’s getting to be too much.
It’s getting to be too much to be a volunteer activity. Also, right now, if teachers have questions or concerns about any of this work, they have no place to turn to—there’s no professional organization, there’s no journal that they can go to that deals with student-produced media. So, we’re expanding a column in Tech Trends to address that issue. And I’m envisioning a publication that will probably be an online publication devoted to providing professional tools for teachers who want to do this work. If we get an outside interest, one of the things we’re going to do is create an electronic journal that focuses on teacher-produced articles that describe their experience in student-produced media.
Are these teachers all just learning on the fly? What university teaches pre-service teachers how to do this work?
None. So we’re looking at the Festival now as a way to expand the range of interest of members of AECT, most of whom are college faculty. We used to be an organization that was primarily for school librarians; now we’re an organization of college and university faculty and graduate students, with just a few of those school librarians still involved. I want us to “make a bigger tent” and bring in classroom teachers who are interested in using technology to improve both teaching and learning.
It sounds like eventually the teachers and schools are either going to respond positively to this grassroots movement, or the kids will drop out and do their own thing.
Exactly! Now, this year ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) has started a major student film activity, and EdWeek has begun a similar student film initiative…so there are signals out there that tell me that there are some other people who are recognizing this movement and it can’t be ignored. I’m trying to decide: How can we use it to benefit AECT? That’s one goal. A second goal is: How can we use it to really focus on improving teaching and learning?
Do you find this to be mostly a generational thing with teachers? Are the younger teachers picking up on it sooner?
That’s hard to say. Right now, the teacher sponsors who have brought this to its current level are the over-40 group of teachers. They recognize it, and I suspect there’ll be more teachers coming in with a greater range of skills and better software and hardware to work with—which will make it a lot easier than the teachers of the past 20 years have had.
I’m sure that, in 1974 when you started the ISMF, the first submissions must have been film and now it’s grown so much that you’ve got a tiger by the tale!
Originally it was a committee activity, and they got a few entries each year but not many. But from 2003 to 2004, the jump in the number of entries was unbelievable, and it’s been a steady growth activity ever since.
To find out more about the International Student Media Festival, visit the AECT Web site—and read this month’s Featured Article. Read our Featured Interview with Mr. Jeff Rudkin, a multiple-award winner at the ISMF and recent Milken Teaching Award winner, in the August issue of Technos e-Zine.