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Video Editing for the Masses

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If your school district is anything like mine, video editing is done on several specialized pieces of equipment that sit in the media center somewhere. (I remember our first unit had a "studio" that was locked, of course, and students could never even think of using it.) Students stand in line, wasting time, or have to come back at night for their time slot to work on their project. And in most cases only a handful of teacher's classes can be accommodated just due to the lack of available equipment. This has slowed the growth of this video editing in schools for years. 

The good news is this is changing. That is, it's good news given that you appreciate the value of video editing. If you don't, you might be wondering why schools incorporate a subject like this into the curriculum at all.

Why video editing?
It's a legitimate concern. But video editing is, simply, another of the many forms of digital art making its way into schools' art curricula. Like digital photography and digital painting, it incorporates creative talent and technical ability in ways that allow students to express themselves and learn quite a bit more about technology than, say, typing in a word processing application. It teaches the manipulation of video, sound and image files; file management; and copyright adherence, among other skills.

As a former teacher, I discovered the benefits of assigning projects that allow students to be creative a long time ago. Anything that gives the student control and allows him or her to make creative decisions will be far more successful than any teacher-dictated assignment. (In fact, in my last few years in the classroom, I let the students take over completely. I gave them the objectives for each topic and they may all the decisions about how they might show me they knew that material. It worked very well.)

And, like all the arts, it's valuable simply for its ability to inspire students. So it is, indeed, good news that video editing technologies are becoming much more accessible for students.

How technology is changing the feasibility of video editing in schools
With the aid of two pieces of software—iMovie on the Mac and Windows Movie maker on Windows-based systems—it's now entirely feasible to offer lab-based video editing in a computer lab. This allows a school to offer many more students the opportunity to learn this skill at a fraction of the former cost. Windows Movie Maker comes standard with every copy of XP, and iMovie comes pre-installed on every Mac. Both are simple tools that require minimal training—which is to say the teachers will need the training; students will not.

But, of course, there's a catch. You must be prepared to handle several issues that come along with doing video editing on a large scale in a computer lab environment. Here is a list of the issues that you must be prepared to tackle:

  • Large file sizes, which impact both storage and transportation from machine to machine
  • Video capture devices
  • Network issues with configuration of Movie Maker

Large file sizes
In our district, we've taken several steps to deal with the large file sizes that are generated as movies are created. First of all, we have recommend that any teacher assigning a project adhere to certain guidelines about length of movie projects assigned and number of students in each group. Additionally, flash drives were purchased to be used during the project for each group. Network storage is possible, but file storage limits for users would have to be temporarily increased, and network bandwidth could be issue if it is not sufficient. Allowing students to check out the flash drives would also mean they could bring the project home.

One other option is the use of removable storage. With hard drives constantly coming down in price and occasionally going up in quality, removable storage can be a cost-effective solution for handling large files. Further, with USB 2.0 and FireWire being able to handle more bandwidth than is required for standard-definition and DV video, external storage isn't going to put a bottleneck on the creative process. (In fact, both USB 2.0 and FireWire offer enough throughput to handle a two-drive striped array, which not only provides increased storage, but also improves performance during playback.)

For external storage, you may simply buy a USB enclosure (starting around $20) and place the appropriate type of drive into the enclosure—perhaps even repurposing some older drives that would otherwise go to waste. Two-drive enclosures for RAID-0 (striping) configurations are also available, though drives do not need to be within the same enclosure in order to be striped.

Video capture devices
There are many options for video capture devices. External devices are more flexible to use but may disappear. Internal devices are generally cheaper and more secure, but less flexible as far as changing from one computer to another. We started with 10 capture devices per lab. (This also speaks to the limitation of group size.) Another thing to consider is having extra cables for video capture if students are bringing in cameras from home. They may not have the cables with them.

It's also worth noting that for video capture, often all you'll need will be the FireWire/IEEE 1394 port built into many of today's computers—including, of course, every Mac notebook and desktop system currently on the market. And Apple's iMovie is, in fact, geared toward capture straight through the FireWire port. (DV and HDV cameras all have FireWire ports, and most include the appropriate interconnect cable for hooking up to a computer system. MPEG-based cameras generally use USB connections, which are also standard on today's computer systems.)

Networking and Movie Maker
It it highly recommended to do smaller pilot projects with a few teachers to work out any network issues you may have with how Movie Maker is configured. In some cases temp files can be stored on the local computer that may cause issues if a student moves to another computer the next day.

In the case of our program, we found that temp files stored locally could cause issues when students switched workstations. We solved this by instructing students to create a folder in their H or home network directory and make sure that everything that will part of the movie is saved in that one location. If students are working together, using a flash drive for storage of everyone’s parts worked well.

These are the types of issues a pilot project will uncover.

Using lab-based video editing allows it to be experienced by many more teachers and students. Just be prepared to work through the technical issues that may arise. It's well worth it.


About the author: Darrell Walery is Director of Technology at Consolidated High School District 230 in Orland Park, IL.

About the Author

Darrell Walery is Director of Technology at Consolidated High School District 230 in Orland Park, IL.

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