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How to design a digital media assignment

November 5, 2012

Student works at USFWS for new media projectsEach year, faculty members approach me about assigning students a digital media project as an alternative to a formal written paper. Often their first thought is a video, but project ideas have also involved academic posters and podcasts. When it is designed well, a digital media assignment can be an excellent learning activity for students. This article provides a summary of best practices, some ideas for projects, and a list of resources to get you started.

Best Practices

  1. Start with the end in mind – first identify learning goals for both content (your subject) and process (media production). What do you want students to be able to do as a result of the project? Make sure the project is clearly aligned with your course goals.
  2. Decide how to assess work – create a rubric based on learning goals; here’s an example. Imagine yourself viewing a project; what are you looking for in terms of content, production value, and length? You don’t expect Disney, but you want to clearly see and hear what’s going on.
  3. Create one yourself – personally go through the process of developing a project to get a sense of how to use the technology and much work is involved. Your project doesn’t have to serve as a model for students — in fact, it probably shouldn’t.
  4. Estimate the time involved – how long will students take to learn the technology, then capture and edit the media? If you are adept with technology, then double the amount of time you took. Students will also have to plan, do research, visit a site, write a script… Make sure the time investment is appropriate for the project’s value in your course.
  5. Line up tools – identify the necessary hardware (cameras, recorders, etc.) and software (desktop or web-based). Pick the easiest tools you can find, then ensure that students have access to them. They probably won’t all have phones that can shoot HD video. Will there be any cost for items like media, a website account, or printing?
  6. Line up support – find out where students can turn for help locally, whether it’s the IT help desk, library, or media resource center. If you must rely on web-based help, make sure comprehensive tutorials and documentation are available.
  7. Practice first – assign a low-stakes task where students use the technology to do something simple. This should get many of the questions and details out of the way before they embark on the larger project. You may also learn which students are the most technically capable.
  8. Public or private? Let students know right away if projects are to be shared beyond the classroom. Copyrights are a concern where work will be posted online or viewed in a public space. To protect privacy online, students can use fake names and decline to give out email addresses. Students may also need releases from people they record or photograph.
  9. Provide milestones – create check-in points between the day you assign the project and the day it’s due. Milestones might include a topic, outline, storyboard, soundtrack, rough draft, and peer feedback. Identifying dates and sticking to them will help students avoid procrastination, which can be fatal with this type of project.

Project Ideas

Resources for Faculty

Tip o’ the hat to Patty Payette at Louisville for the POD Conference session that inspired this article.

Image credit: Flickr photo by Pacific Southwest Region US Fish & Wildlife Service

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