The Digitization of Learning


Looking to energize classroom instruction? Bring in digital video.

In the United States, 21st centuryLeslie Adamsstudents are immersed in media,squandering more time each day infront of various screens and displays thanthe typical full-time employee spends atwork. Therefore, it should come as nosurprise that the recent Kaiser FamilyFoundation study, Generation M: Mediain the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds, whichlooked at the media habits of 2,000 thirdthrough12th-grade students nationwide,found, among other things, that studentsspend more than eight-and-a-half hoursdaily consuming media.

True masters of multi-tasking, childrentoday watch television while text messagingfriends and downloading songs to theirMP3 players—wolfing down their dailydose of media in just under six-and-a-halfhours. But even with this efficiency,mediausage eats up more hours per day thanschool. And as the study confirms—andmost parents will attest—media consumptionranks second only to sleeping in theaverage day of the American teen.

Re-engaging Students With Digital Storytelling

Attuned as they are to the media habits oftheir students, educators are showing anincreasing interest in the concept of visualliteracy. This is because teaching visualliteracy can be an effective way of reachingstudents whose primary means of interaction,communication, and entertainmentis visual. By harnessing their fascinationand familiarity with multimedia,educatorsare striving to re-engage students—manyof whom are left cold by traditional textbasedlearning—in the learning process.

Yet educators are not merely panderingto their students’media preferences. Byteaching them proficiency in informationand communication technologies, educatorsare preparing students for everydaylife and workplace productivity in today’splugged-in world. Teachers can use digitalvideo to excite and engage students inlearning activities across a range ofsubjects and activities.Working individuallyor in groups, students can use digitalvideo to tell stories or createreports on virtually anysubject. Whether they’restudying local history, staginga scene from a famous play, orreporting on a class field trip, even youngstudents can use digital video to tell theirstories in a compelling and memorablemanner. In addition, students can even usedigital video to bring still photos to life bypanning across them and adding music,narration,and visual effects.

Culling the Right Solution

Just a few years ago, the cost of equipmentto produce and edit digital video wasbeyond the means of all but the mostaffluent schools; expensive hardware andsoftware were often challenging to installand operate. Fortunately, computers arenow cheaper, exponentially morepowerful, and easier to use than they werepreviously. Even today’s off-the-shelfcomputers typically have the numbercrunchinghorsepower, disk space, andconnectivity needed to tackle digital videoediting. With the improvements andenhancements in technology, now allschools need is a cable to transfer photosand videos from camera to computer.

These considerations make incorporatingtechnology into the classroommuch more realistic for schools. That said,teachers, district technology coordinators,and principals have varying requirementswhen it comes to choosing the rightsolution.Teachers value ease of use so theycan maintain their focus on curriculum,rather than spending inordinate amountsof time learning, teaching, and implementingthe technology. District technologyspecialists prefer effortless integrationand reliability, because their jobsinvolve keeping many machines up andrunning. Finally, principals are interestedin cost-effective, efficient, intuitiveprograms that will make teachers moreeffective, while fostering growth andlearning in the classroom.


April Payne, a veteran teacher at Highland Ranch Elementary School in San Diego, knows there are hundreds of ways video can make learning more fun. So during a holiday break in December 2002, Payne, a novice to digital video editing, educated herself about editing and filmmaking, planning effective ways to use video in the classroom along the way. On her first day back, Payne introduced the Pinnacle Studio video-editing software ( to her class. Under her guidance over a five-day period, the students brainstormed ideas, wrote scripts, filmed, edited, and produced “Good Readers”—a class activity showcasing the successful strategies of beginning readers. In addition to a positive learning experience, the students’ first project received accolades at the San Diego County Office of Education’s 2003 Innovative Video in Education Awards ( Most recently, Payne’s first-graders took home a math award from the 38th Annual California Student Media and Multimedia Festival ( for “Time Team,” a short digital movie about telling time.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.