Benjamin Franklin Fellows use Flip Cameras to document their experiences


The summer project was the use of 27 Flip Cameras to record several interviews and other daily activities with students from 39 countries and several U.S. states, as part of the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows (BFTF) Summer Institute, a Department of State program hosted by the Department of Communication at Wake Forest University. This was the second summer grant we received for the BFTF and we added a multi-media component, so the Fellows could incorporate their videos into other forms of online communication (sites, blogs, interactive maps, et cetera). We also experimented with a journalism-blogging component, with a BFTF Fellows blog. The Fellows created 4 website based on their research on specific issues:

Childcare and Education

Arts and Performance

Economics and Poverty

Waste and Consumption

All Fellows spent the first week of the Institute taking classes, including one on documentary theory and practice. During the last two weeks, 15 students were part of a more focused workshop where they worked in teams of 2-3 to shoot, direct, produce, and edit their videos and develop websites and other interactive projects. The BFTF Fellows interacted among each other, with Wake Forest students, with members of the local community, with their host families, and with Government officials and recorded interviews and shot footage for short videos.

In a post-Institute survey, the Fellows rated the documentary class as one of their favorite parts of the program and they were very satisfied with the knowledge they gained and the training they received with the Flip Cameras. The 15 Fellows who participated in the workshop produced insightful and focused short documentaries and websites. They all expressed an interest to develop additional videos and use online tools to make them available to audiences back in their communities (in the U.S. and Europe) and beyond.

This project holds great promise to enhance further teaching and learning opportunities. As the second year working with Flip cameras, we were able to improve and add to the ways the Fellows learned through technology. The key lessons for educational application are:

-plan time to familiarize the students with both the theory and the practice of using equipment like Flip Cameras, so they do not start using them without an understanding of some specific goals and skills.

-work with experts who know how to maximize the use of the equipment. I worked with two graduate students associated with the Documentary Film Program who have lots of expertise in documentary film making.

-allow the students ample freedom to select projects/topics.

-stress the importance of editing in creating the final product. Hours of footage can lead to creative paralysis without some sense of the importance of editing. The final videos were no longer than 4-5 minutes, even though they shot hours of footage with the Flip Cameras.

-upon completion of the videos, it is important to plan a way to store and organize the videos/material.

We definitely plan to use Flip Cameras again next summer, for the 2012 BFTF. I also allowed students in several of my 2011 classes to use Flip cameras for projects and the results were very interesting. Students recorded interviews and personal narratives (for group and final projects). Students at WFU already have the availability to check out Flip Cameras, so they tend to be very familiar with them (several students own their own Flip Cameras). However, it is essential to have expert help to maximize the pedagogical potential for this technology. For the BFTF, we employed the assistance of Jon Bougher and Chris Zaluski, the two documentary filmmakers who worked directly with the Fellows in the summer, to help students become more familiar with the applications of Flip Cameras to produce thoughtful final videos.

In addition to the student-produces videos, Jon and Chris directed four interviews with Fellows from Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the UK. They also helped the Fellows with several short videos:

Chris also worked with the Fellows on an interactive, multimedia recipe book:

As an outcome and a reflection of our work with technology in the summer, I have developed the Where Are You From? Project, a collection of interviews about migration, mobility, and citizenship. I have been working with Chris Zaluski for the first 7 interviews and we are working with two undergraduate students in the Spring 2012 to conduct at least 20 additional interviews with WFU students, faculty, staff, and community members. The interviews are modeled after what we did in the summer. We have created a YouTube channel and are working with library staff to transcribe all interviews and make them available on Wake Space.

My main suggestion for the successful use of Flip cameras is to offer mini-workshops or seminars for both faculty and students with the goal of familiarizing them with the equipment and its possible applications. Most users will have no difficulties using a Flip camera, but they may not know what projects to develop with it and HOW to transform what they shoot into a polished final product. For example, the BFTF students benefited greatly from this help at various stages. The short class provided some theoretical background to film editing and helped the Fellows develop an eye for usable footage. Furthermore, the workshop familiarized them with the equipment, encouraged them to develop ideas for a specific topic, and helped them to edit and produce their final video.

This experimental mode of recording material should definitely be used in future projects, both inside and outside of the classroom, to allow students to share with others possible applications of new media. A possible class assignment can develop into a short documentary and/or web-episode instead of, or in addition to, a paper or class presentation. Because the Flip Cameras are designed to be easy to operate, this user-friendly approach serves as a pilot program for future classroom projects.

Furthermore, the experiment with BFTF students allowed us to examine how technology can be used for community service. During the program, the Fellows volunteered with several agencies and community partners throughout Winston-Salem. The Fellows used the Flip Cameras to record their experiences and reflect upon the meaning of those experiences in benefiting the community.  The final videos were great illustrations of how cooperation and reflection benefits all those involved.

This use of technology helps advance Wake Forest’s commitment to Pro Humanitate by offering visual evidence of practical and thoughtful civic engagement opportunities for WFU students. The use of equipment like the Flip Cameras could lead to inspiring videos to be used by the Institute for Public Engagement, other campus organizations and even community partners in their efforts in generating social responsibility and encouraging civic engagement.

For the Where Are You From? Project, I have received funding from the Provost’s Fund for Academic Innovation, the Institute for Public Engagement, and the International Visiting Scholars Fund. I have also applied for external funding. We continue to work with the Wake and the local community to record people’s stories and to share them with others. We will be hosting a Symposium on March 29-30, 2012, during which we will present and discuss the interviews as part of a discussion on mobility, migration, and citizenship.

Originally post by Alessandra Beasley Von Burg, Department of Communication.

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