Xtranormal and the Perils of Technology
This is the winner of the class oscar ceremony, best movie and best script categories. (Click through to see it in xtranormal). OK, so it’s not David Mamet, but it’s actually quite witty…and by two sweet girls, rather than dirty boys.
From script writing and practice (one 90 minute class), through the movie making process (about two classes), to final viewings (one class), this took up quite a lot of time. Was it worth it? I think so, on balance - although if I only had them once a week instead of twice I might be more sceptical.
Xtranormal (http://www.xtranormal.com/) is a site which allows us to put together animated movies simply. For this class of young adults, I gave them free reign regarding location, topic, language… pretty much anything went as long as it was three minutes long and featured two characters. In the first class, I had the students prepare their characters, location, scenario and script and then act it out for another pair. Then we went to “the computer room”, and I gave them a brief tutorial about the application, led them through sign-up to first steps in scripting and directing, then kept an eye on them as they worked. They finished off in the next class, then as our end of term “treat” we had a viewing, made speeches and awarded prizes (cardboard cut out oscars).
It took a long time, and it was hard to keep students in step (especially in the early stages). However, in retrospect it was better to have a bit of confusion - figuring something out in English never does anyone any harm.
Students are generally more technically adept than we give them credit for. If they don’t understand, they can teach each other. If none of than understand, they can figure it out together.
As some students finished faster than others, I had an extra activity in which they researched the vocabulary we had been studying via flickr, youtube and so on… this was actually quite enlightening in itself.
As a final class treat, I didn’t want to do anything too challenging, so I just asked them to take notes on the strengths and weaknesses of each movie and to vote in three categories - best director, best script and best movie. With more time, I`d like to have students analyse the areas in which xtranormal has trouble generating accurate emphasis, pronunciation and intonation. For a computer programme, it is actually pretty good, but not perfect. So why not use that to our advantage?
Now, the rant……
I haven’t yet come across a “computer room” that fits the late twentieth century, let alone the 21st. Do you remember the old typing pools, where ladies sat in rows, typing, head down….
Well, that’s what many computer rooms look like now. Add in the security and firewalls that make everything take six years to load, and the trouble getting fifteen machines to run the same programme simultaneously (frequent crashes) and the special trip to the computer room is murder. Where are the round tables where students face one another across small terminals? Easy to navigate rooms full of well-connected, powerful, wireless machines which can be moved around as necessary? I realise this costs money, but would it really be much more expensive than the banks of machines in lockstep rows facing the teacher that we see now?
Is there a paradise on earth? Where are these “normalised” technological classrooms?