Video Killed the Paper Star (Part II)

In the first of these VKPS posts, I discussed and showed the Grammar Video Lesson assignment. Of course, you can surely see, lovely lurkers, how this assignment could work quite well in any class subject, any field.

The second way I encourage video projects instead of writing is in the Reading Response. Now, as a prof of the humanities, I perforce assign lots of reading to my students. I curate the reading carefully, and I always ask for a Reading Response (with a few specific guidelines as far as what I’d like to see in their responses). Basically, I want to see that they’ve done the reading, and I want to know what they think about it. More: I want them to connect the readings to other stuff they’re doing, and synthesize it within the rest of their scholarly (and other) experiences.

The Reading Responses (oh, and these are for ALL my courses, not just the ones on writing) usually end up being a few paragraphs of sloppy writing and an accompanying image up on a blog (my assigning blog creation for classes is a whole ‘nother post). But I always give the students the vlog option. Which is simply that they can record a video of their reading response in lieu of a written one, and they post it the same way they would a written response.

Surprisingly, not many students opt for the video version of this, but two students in particular found the option invaluable.

Nate’s writing skill wasn’t top notch, but his immersion in the stage combat class material was. He would ruminate on the readings into his phone while walking through campus, interspersing his thoughts with footage from class, making for an engaging, thoughtful, and thorough response. I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much from a written response from him, and he also got interested in video composition, adding these skills to his technological knowledge in classes. There’s a technology requirement in all general ed courses (which this one wasn’t), which is another reason why assigning videos is a good thing in the comp courses. Here are two examples of Nate’s work from advanced stage combat at Metro. These were from a few years ago, so if you wonder at the video quality, that’s why.

the final over view from Nathan Taves on Vimeo.

Another interview with me and suported by the club. from Nathan Taves on Vimeo.

Jackson is a Composition student of mine. Now these classes are all about writing essays, and for him, writing is a major struggle. So when I gave him the vlog option for the reading responses, he jumped at the chance to have some assignments that didn’t involve writing. Thing is, when he shared his notes for his video responses with me, it was apparent that his understanding of the reading was complete, and when you see his videos, you can hear yourself how intelligent and on top of the material he is. If I had not given him the option to respond with video instead of writing, you better believe I wouldn’t have been able to tell this.

Reading Response Chapter 1 from Jackson Stallings on Vimeo.

Reading response ch 14 from Jackson Stallings on Vimeo.

So there you have it. Two instances of video assignments working well for higher education. That’s not to mention the read-aloud assignment for Children’s Literature…..

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Video Killed the Paper Star (Part I)

Apologies for those of you that have been waiting on tenterhooks for these posts–like I said before, work has bullied its way in front of any creative/extracurricular work I’ve been wanting to do, particularly that with only internal deadlines. But now I am FINALLY getting my two cents’ worth on this subject down here, in lieu of pitching it over at PitchLX (sorry I can’t be there after all, folks: have fun without me). This concept is one I have catchily titled “Video Killed The Paper Star,” and it refers to replacing writing assignments with video projects.

Now please don’t misunderstand me–I don’t mean to say that papers shouldn’t be assigned ever (that ALL assignments should be multimedia), or that there’s no place in higher education for rhetoric and critical thinking. There sure as heck is, and every single student needs that particular type of rigor. Believe me. Of course I wouldn’t posit such things–I have a mouth to feed.

What I will aver, however, is that academic writing is obsolete (as much as the Ivory Tower folks still cling to it), and that the single most important lesson a student can possibly learn in college or university (after rhetoric) is collaboration. Sound a bit corporate-flavored, not academic? Well, yeah. And that’s a good thing. (I know, I know: who am I and what have I done with the real Jenn)…

I have taken to replacing written quizzes or papers with video projects in two major ways. The first is a fun project called the Video Grammar Lesson. I came up with this assignment for the following various reasons: 1) I hate teaching mechanics, I’m not particularly good at it, and it’s not my job. I’m a good teacher of writing, and reading (as well as interpretation of same), but the grammar stuff is irksome to me. 2) all of my comp students need grammar lessons. All of them. Every single one. Yes, Virginia, even the ones who are good writers already (and those are few enough). 3) teaching something to someone else is a great way to learn the thing better oneself. 4) there aren’t many group projects that truly teach collaboration, without the loopholes of the lazy (the one who does nothing and lets the group do all the work) or the control freak (the one who takes over everything because she can’t stand the quality of anyone’s stuff but hers).

So I thought, why teach them grammar when I can let them teach themselves grammar? The video lesson sprang out of all of this. They have 5 minutes or less to create a lesson on any bit of grammar or punctuation they want. They tend to choose their lessons based on what they find most interesting, easiest, or most inspired by, seeing the examples I show them and those on YouTube. What happens is usually a fun, creative sorbet before they plunge into the big research paper. Here are some notable examples:

ENG1020studentvidspr2013 from Jenn Zuko on Vimeo.

I am most interested in the first clip of this group’s work. These kids decided that each group member would do a solo video on a part of speech, and they’d stitch them together into one video. I am most interested in the first segment for two reasons: First, the Google search with narration is quietly funny and very engaging, as well as clear and informative. It’s a clever idea. Second, this student was a very quiet young man. I could tell he had a good brain in his head from reading his writing, but he was very very introverted. This is a lovely way of being able to enjoy his dry sense of humor without undue stress, like say what a classroom presentation would cause.


This fun-loving duo came up with a random yet highly entertaining premise for their video on interjections. It’s just delightful and fun, and it’s also cool that Grace’s brother composed the music.

I have a few other examples of grammar video lessons here on the blog. Do a search for Grammar Video and you’ll find them. Stay tuned for post 2/2 where I’ll talk about video reading responses.

The More You Holmes

From: ep. 3.2

Event (culprit): The wedding photographer is the (attempted) murderer.

Reference: Well this isn’t from the original canon (though the name of the murderer [Jonathan Small] and the act of Sherlock catching him by handcuffing him to luggage is indeed from the original namesake of this episode, The Sign of Four). However, this particular plot point was so uncannily like an episode from an earlier TV series, one very Sherlockian in nature, that I can’t help but think Mofftiss were inspired by it and lifted it.

In episode 1.4 of stellar TV series Lie to Me, the reason Cal Lightman, micro-expression expert, can’t see malicious intent on any of the wedding guests in the wedding videos after the groom has been shot, is that the would-be murderer is actually behind the camera. The plot there involves a jilted jealous past love, whereas in Sherlock 3.2 it involves revenge against Major Sholto (another character name from the canon original).

Musings Upon a New (ish) Semester

Well fuck. 

I use invective, lovely lurkers, with conscience and reason. Why I just used one of the words that would make my movie Rated R in America is that I just saw that the last post on this blog was posted in, like, mid-August. Seriously, what the fuck? Why do you tolerate this kind of behavior from me, huh? Are you all so busy reading Parallel Bars that you can’t be bothered? Can’t say I blame you, truth be told…

So I’m jogging in the reins of Week 4 at both Metro and Front Range, Week 2 of Regis, and the verrrry beginning of Week 1 at DU. And lemme tell ya about the cool shit that’s happening at all those fine institutions (okay, I’m going with this invective thing):

At Metro: I’m teaching that online Staging Cultures course I’ve told you about before. It’s a really good reading list, lovely lurkers. Let me know if you want it. I’m also doing a MW (that’s Monday & Wednesday, kids) Intro to Theatre, which is a delightful gen ed course I haven’t done in a while. Man are those First Year Success students bright eyed and enthusiastically bushy tailed! They’re just about to embark on their historical presentation projects AND their Raisin in the Sun unit, so wow how much good material can we stomach at 11am? A lot, apparently. Youthful energy, I’m tellin ya…

Beginning Stage Combat over at Metro is Friday mornings as is usual, but as is not usual, it’s SO FULL YOU GUYS! There’s, like, 24 or something people in it, and they’re all lovely young talented energetic insane theatre majors and I am having so much fun and getting so old…. They’re just about to start choreographing their Unarmed fights, and I could not be more excited!

At Regis: I have two lovely and talented grad students doing a one on one Writing the Novel course w me; and one other lovely and talented grad student doing my own self-constructed YA Literature course (one on one, natch. It’s nearly always one on one at Regis). It’s going to be some stellar writing, which will only make me wish I had more time to work on my own work….

At Front Range: it’s two evening courses: a Comp I and a Comp II. The former is revising their Mini-Essays as we speak (Er, as I type), and you know what that means! That’s right: the Mini-Essay Contest winner post is imminent! Let’s hope it’s not the next one, as I need to be more frequent than that here….

Comp II as is usual these days for me, functions under a theme of Creativity and Innovation. They just finished their (quite high quality) Elevator Pitches, and now have just been introduced to the Analyzing An Image essay, which is where they pick an ad or psa and analyze it in essay format. Should be some good reading.

And finally,

At DU: Children’s Literature started today! As my ancient, steam-powered laptop decided to become a doorstop recently, it was quite the challenge to get that course shell updated and ready to go for a fresh crop of Professional Writing graduate students. But I am nothing if not diligent. And, yes, I have a lot of work to do still, but hey at least it’s up and functioning, and thanks to the SO, I have a brand spanking new refurbished box I can now use to get everything even more ship-shape. Thanks to that generous soul…

Oh but that’s not all! I also continue to have professional endeavors:

Bronze Fox Burlesque is doing their next show at License no.1 under the loose theme of Clue (the movie) and murder mysteries in general. I am mulling over choreography for a duet and a new solo right now…

Metro is doing The Country Wife in a couple weeks, a ribald comedy of no manners at all, and I am consulting the period movement as well as choreographing and directing a raucous chick fight with fans. And maybe fisticuffs.

I’m still writing for Parallel Bars and Your Boulder, editing the SO’s spectacular new book, and I’m just now starting to think I could remount my Retro Reviews of Sherlock, over on Sherlock’s Home, now the 4th season is far enough away…..

So.

Megan shows my Intro students the ropes. Literally.

Hm.

I guess there’s a reason it’s taken me so long to post here. Yeah, well. NO FUCKING EXCUSES, AMIRITE?

Ahem. Carry on….

Upcoming Fringe Fest Show

FringeSLogo_Wide_PinkBlack_RGB-copy

It’s Fringe Fest time in Boulder again, lovely lurkers, and this summer I’m involved in the show that Boulder Burlesque is putting on, called Pussy Grabs Back. It’s a pretty fun show, full of all kinds of boobs, politics, twerking,  and other shenanigans, and we’ve got 5 slots over at the Wesley Chapel Theatre nearly on campus. If you’re local, come by and see us perform, and contact me to ask what days have the most me in them (the lineup is different each night). As I am the production manager for this show, and am getting ready for a new semester which starts MONDAY (gaah!), this is also why I’ve been a shoddy blogger lately. Anyway, here’s the flyer:

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Jack Collom

I recently made a post over at the blog on which I write under a pen-name, re: Jack Collom and I writing pass-around poetry at the also-no-longer-with-us Penny Lane coffee shop, so I thought I’d make a post about him here too. His recent passing impacted many of us in Boulder, as he was probably the one who taught us poetry as kids/teens, if we grew up here. Me, I had the honor of having him as a teacher in 7th grade, again in undergrad at CU, and then in grad school at Naropa (which I only went to at his urging), I was mentored by him in the ways of writing instruction. I have his infectious enthusiasm to blame and to thank for my job, then till now.

RIP Jack: may you be yodeling to the angels and spotting which different bird wings they all have.

Here are the pass-around Penny Lane poems I have shared with you all before, lovely lurkers. And no, at this far remove, I don’t have a clear recollection of which lines are mine, which his.

Autumn Acrostic

Two Poems

I love this picture of Jack, because it shows him in his element: teaching kids to write poetry. Plus, it has an acrostic behind him, which was his peculiar forte. (Image credit)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The More You Holmes

From: ep. 2.1 (and also brought up frequently in the rest of Seasons 2 and 3)

Event (costume): Sherlock, in an attempt to hide his face from paparazzi, grabs a random hat from a costume rack as he leaves a building. It’s a deerstalker. He mutters, “I’m a private detective; the last thing I need is a public image.” The resulting pictures of him in the hat become iconic and famous.

Reference: Though in the canon, Holmes only wears hats like this when in the

Sidney Paget

Original canon illustrator Sidney Paget was a big part of the reason why Holmes has been pictured in this hat since way back then.

country, as is normal for a Victorian gentleman (and the hat is only mentioned in Doyle’s words once, as an “ear-flapped travelling cap”), the most famous image of Sherlock Holmes in global culture is that of his profile in the deerstalker hat (and meerschaum pipe, which is also not from canon). There’s a glorious line in ep. 2.3, when John is admonishing Sherlock about not being careful enough with his fame. He says, “That’s not a deerstalker anymore; it’s a Sherlock Holmes hat.” And he’s right.

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Blog Post Apocalyptic 

Well I do have a rather involved post relating to my Video Killed The Paper Star planned for you, lovely lurkers, but suffice to say the work involved in composing it is anathema to the work involved in…well, the rest of my work.

So, for the nonce: a check-in and a run-down. 

Denver Comic Con went well, as did the bikini car wash event I did that Sunday for Boulder Burlesque. Nasty sunburn notwithstanding. Methinks the Aged Goth need not participate in an event like that again…yipes. I mean,  I’m still peeling.

Last week was my week with the teenaged ballerinas in Longmont. This is the stage combat gig I do each summer, and it was nice to see everybody again and to have the very young students drain my life force from me (in the best of ways). It’s good, bc I have a very full class coming up this fall at Metro and I needs must get back into fighting trim. But it’ll happen, and this week helped. The SO and I, too, have started training a wee bit together, in an informal sort of way, and I’m hoping between that and adding to my (and actually making it into a) daily yoga regime, I shall be suitably badass by the time late August rolls around.

Summer college has been pretty fun, though: the FRCC comp 1 students recently created some entertaining Grammar Lesson videos, and have now moved on to their condensed semester’s culmination, The Researched Argument (enter epic music here). Topics this semester include: ecological subjects such as saving the wolves and green commuting, subjects on sexuality such as LGBTQIA rights and the legalizing of prostitution, health topics like how diet fads are destructive, and how video games improve one’s cognition, amongst many others. The capstone students at DU are composing analytical papers as well as creative work: two Christian-themed memoir pieces in this group. And Metro’s Staging Cultures class just read Angels In America and M. Butterfly (guess which marginalized culture is the theme this week). 

Like I have time to read anything else but the above-described; but I’ve joined a book club, composed of some of the members and affiliates of Boulder Burlesque. We’re meeting tonight to discuss The Art of Seduction, and I’m interested to see what they all say about it. 

Speaking of Boulder Burlesque, their show for the Fringe Festival, another version of Pussy Grabs Back, is coming up next month. But that’s another post for another time. 

So. That’s my life right now. How’s yours?

Some ancient locks and keys that arrested my attention, at the Vikings exhibit over at the Denver Museum of Natural History.

The Fight is the Story (part 2)

Make sure you go back to the previous FitS post, part 1, and read it thoroughly before you read this one. This is my contrasting example to the pointless fight scene that was in the Phantom Menace. It appears at the end of Return of the Jedi. Here it is:

Let’s look at the basics first: this, like the PM fight, is a master and apprentice vs. a solo opponent. What’s that? Oh yes, it is. If you are under the impression that the Emperor isn’t a part of this fight because he isn’t whipping out a lightsaber, that’s where you’re wrong, and that’s also where you’re falling into the same trap as so many storytellers out there, when it comes to fights. The Emperor is a major part of this fight, throughout. In fact, he starts it.

So. 1): Why here, why now, why these characters fighting? What’s everyone’s OBJECTIVE?
It’s quite clear: Luke’s OBJECTIVE: to bring his father back with him. Vader’s OBJECTIVE: same thing, basically: to keep his son here with him, enjoy blissful life in the Dark Side as a family. And our third fighter in this scene, the Emperor? He wants these two to fight to the death. Remember what Vader seems to have forgotten: there’s only a master and an apprentice Sith at any one time. Now for the Emperor, he’d obviously rather have Luke, as he’s younger and stronger with the Force, but hey, if Vader ends up killing his own son, well talk about Dark side, and he’s been a pretty gosh darn good viscount of terror for this many years. Really either way is fine. And no, you don’t have to have read novels or anything to get this from this fight scene–in fact, if you didn’t see any of the rest of the movie, this would still be clear as day.

So, how about 2)? Lots of clear TACTICS going on here, starting with Palpatine’s biggest TACTIC, the one he’s best at: to seduce. Notice that he’s using mainly words in this fight, up until the end, that is. Why? Because WORDS ARE HIS STRONGEST WEAPON! Palpatine has no need to resort to physical tactics through most of this fight. Why? Because HIS VERBAL TACTICS ARE WORKING. It’s his insidious tease and threat to Luke’s friends that spurs Luke to grab his lightsaber and attempt to kill him. And yeah, it’s obvious that that is what he’s trying to do–the way the first move is choreographed makes that apparent. Vader’s objective? To protect his master. Through the first part of that whole fight, every physical move Luke does (after the initial failed one) is to try and get away from his father, so he won’t have to fight him. Kicking him away, only blocking Vader’s blows, jumping up to the catwalk–all these things are attempts to STOP fighting Vader. Why does he start fighting him again? Well, Vader himself pulls out the verbal tactics, to get Luke to come out of hiding and continue the fight. He finds out about Leia, and threatens her safety. This TACTIC works: Luke is overwhelmed with anger and launches himself at Vader, his attacks now vicious.

This is where we see the fight take a major turn. And this is where the biggest fight scene mistake was made in ep. 2 (the ridiculous Yoda vs. Dooku lightsaber fight), when you compare.

Luke accidentally cuts off Vader’s hand. This shocks him, and makes him stop his barrage, remembering what his OBJECTIVE is and how this attack was NOT a TACTIC to get him that OBJECTIVE. Palpatine takes this opportunity to pounce: still using verbal TACTICS, he reveals his OBJECTIVE to the other fighters. He tells Luke to kill Vader and take his place. When Luke turns off his lightsaber, throws it away, and says, “No,” this is the moment when Palpatine’s verbal TACTICS have run out. Then, and only then, does Palpatine resort to physical violence. And he does so in a way appropriate to his character (unlike Yoda vs. Dooku). Does he whip out a lightsaber and supernaturally become agile real quick? No, of course not, that would make no sense. Instead, he uses a physical weapon much more apropos to him: the Force lightning. Luke has no idea this is even a thing, and has no defense against it–all he can do is collapse, screaming in agony. He does have one more verbal TACTIC left in him, though: he calls for his father to help him.

And boy does that TACTIC work: Vader then uses a physical TACTIC to stop the barrage. Because of this balance in the fight scene, it’s my professional opinion that Vader didn’t predict that he’d die from the lightning. It sure doesn’t look like he expected it, but once it was happening, he changed his OBJECTIVE into killing Palpatine, because he knows he won’t survive to collect his previous OBJECTIVE. And thus he succeeds. All of this is crystal clear, not from obscure back story, but FROM THE FIGHT ITSELF.

Not a whole lot of spinning in this fight scene, but what a more compelling, interesting, gripping, and exciting fight this was than the one in Phantom Menace. Well, the music in the other was pretty cool…..

The Fight is the Story (part 1)

Since I will only have a mere 15 minutes for my DCC presentation this year, I thought it’d behoove everyone interested if I posted my more detailed thoughts about what I’ll be discussing Saturday, so that folks with inquiring minds can get the full effect of my presentation. This year, I’ll be talking solely about The Three Rules for Actors, how they apply to plot, and how fight scenes fit in with that. For background on these rules, see the following two older posts, one about the Three Rules in writing, and one about the Three Rules in warriorship. Read these articles first, so you can be familiar with the concept of OBJECTIVE, TACTICS, and OBSTACLES.

The basic thesis of my presentation “The Fight is the Story” is twofold: 1) a fight scene needs to be an essential part of the overarching story itself; 2) a fight scene needs to tell a story alone, too: a fight should be physical storytelling. Too often, fight scenes are shoehorned into stories (especially in this Age Of The Superhero Blockbuster), where they have no place, aren’t interesting or necessary, and are completely gratuitous. Why does this happen? Why, because fight scenes are cool. Empirically. But let me explain further:

1) Whenever a character speaks, what that actually is is TACTICS. The only reason a character ever opens her mouth is as a TACTIC to obtain her OBJECTIVE. When she has run out of words–that is, when each one of her verbal tactics has failed, then and only then does she resort to physical ones. This is (or, should be) the only reason a fight scene occurs. When the words run out, that’s when the fight happens. Actually, it’s my opinion that this is why fights happen in real life, too. But I digress…

So when I’m choreographing a fight scene for a play, I look at the whole script. I ask myself (and often the director) the following vital questions: Why does this fight have to happen here, now? Why between these characters? Why these weapons? What about all these things are vital TACTICS, to bring the characters to what OBJECTIVE? What do the characters want, that they are fighting to get it? Often directors will be surprised at how little actual fighting needs to be seen onstage.

2) Each move within a fight scene is a TACTIC to gain an OBJECTIVE in and of itself. Each thing a character does physically is to move him closer to his OBJECTIVE. When a fight scene in cinema has too much CGI, or too many cuts, the viewer can’t see what the TACTICS actually are, and so loses the thread of what should be physical storytelling.

EXAMPLE ONE: The Phantom Menace

So, let’s talk about 1): Why these characters, here and now? What is Darth Maul’s OBJECTIVE? What is Qui-Gon Jinn’s? Obi-Wan seems to be rather tagging along with his teacher, but it’s unclear what his OBJECTIVE is, either, except for one brief and fleeting moment (which I’ll talk about in a minute). Are the Jedi protecting the Queen? Well, no, it doesn’t seem like Maul is really threatening her, and she’s off being a badass with her army somewhere else anyway. The only thing I can see here is Jedi vs. Sith. No reason for the fight to happen, here and now, and the only reason I can even tell who’re the good guys and who’s the bad guy is that the good guys are white men dressed in light earth tones, and the bad guy looks like an amalgam of multiple cultures’ portrayals of demons and devils through history. Sorry, but it’s true: nothing in this fight needs to be happening now, as far as the over-arching plot goes (such as it is). Are the Jedi wanting to kill the Sith, or disarm him? Doesn’t seem like either, at least not judging from any of the moves seen here. And what’s Maul trying to do? Besides show off his aerial cartwheel skills? Which brings me to:

2): NOBODY IS TRYING TO DO ANYTHING TO ANYONE ELSE. There are ZERO physical tactics going on here, and no OBJECTIVES to speak of at all. Seriously. Look at it. Now, a lightsaber is a pretty versatile weapon: you can stab, cut, sever, throw and catch, and even do stuff to the environment to advantage. Is any of that happening? No. Not for any tactical reason anyway. It’s all for show. There’s a lot of spinning going on, both of blades and of bodies, for no reason (and yes, Virginia, I am a martial artist and I do know what spins are actually for in martial arts. Nobody is spinning anything for any of those reasons). The lightsaber blades are literally meeting in the air between characters, like kids playing with sticks in the park.

There’s one brief moment of a clear OBJECTIVE: when Qui-Gon Jinn is killed. Obi-Wan then suddenly, clearly, and beautifully shows us (FINALLY!!) a reason he’s fighting. He doesn’t have to speak it for it to be apparent: “You killed my teacher; I’m going to kill you!” However, that OBJECTIVE promptly disappears into the purposeless, spinning choreography as soon as it starts up again, and Ewan MacGregor’s brilliant acting reverts once again to Dancer Face.

My conclusion? The only reason this fight scene is here is that the writers suddenly realized, “Oh shit! We don’t have a big spectacular lightsaber fight scene yet! The movie’s almost over! Quick, put one in!” Because fight scenes are cool, and lightsabers some of the coolest. Thing is: if the only lightsaber fight was that brief drive-by encounter on Tatooine, earlier, that would have been much more compelling, much more impactful, and would have made a whole lot more sense. Think about it: Maul has a specific OBJECTIVE for having done that quick fight. His purpose was to reveal himself, scare the midichlorians out of the Jedi, and leave them freaking out. That way, we wonder with the Jedi: what the heck is gonna happen in the next movie? Was that the master, or the apprentice? What will they do next? (Of course, those of us nerdy enough to remember that the Emperor’s name was Palpatine in ep. 6 would totally know this, but still!)

Stay tuned for Part Two, where I Roger-Ebert a *good* example of a lightsaber fight scene.