Meet Me in the Swamp: Structure, Motivation and Vulnerability in the Classroom

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Today’s guest post is from Beatriz Wallace, Visiting Professor of Journalism and Multimedia Arts at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on her experience blending online tools like MediaStorm’s Online Training into her curriculum.

Beatriz Wallace is from New Orleans, Louisiana. She has an undergraduate degree in English from Amherst College and a master’s degree in Photojournalism from the University of Missouri. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

Vulnerability in the Classroom

On the night before my semester begins, I can barely sleep. I prepare all the class topics for the semester before the first day because I’m the nervous type. But then I surrender to training videos, field workflow checklists, in-class activities, rubrics and students to guide the semester.

Three things take precedence in my classroom: vulnerability, structure and motivation. Brené Brown says in her widely circulated TED talk, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. To create is to make something that has never existed before. There is nothing more vulnerable than that.”

We achieve vulnerability when we feel safe making mistakes and prize individuality. I have sixteen weeks to prove that the only wrong act in the classroom is to not try. I’m responsible for creating a classroom wherein students are more motivated by their passion for storytelling than they are afraid of vulnerability. Research and personal experience indicate that directive structure creates an environment more conducive to vulnerability.

MOOCs And Flipped Classrooms

Educator and author Aaron Sams famously asked, “What’s the most valuable thing to do with the face time I have with my students?’ The answer is not, ‘Stand up and lecture them.” The answer, according to Sams’ research that innovated the “flipped classroom” model, is “What used to be classwork (the lecture) is done at home via teacher-created videos and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class.”

Comparing the “flipped classroom” model to the MOOC (massively open online courses) model is like comparing glitter to grass; they don’t have anything in common. Both models celebrate technology in the classroom, but each embodies vastly different approaches to learning. MOOCs offer courses online for free, to anyone with Internet connections in the spirit of democracy and equal access to higher education. But MOOCs do not provide the personalized guide or the physical site for constructionist learning. I use online training videos to flip my classroom, not to replace class time.

Sages and Guides

Flipped classrooms develop environments wherein students are engaged learners that participate in personalized education. As a teacher, I am not the “sage on stage, but a guide on the side.” I get to admit that I don’t have answers, nurture curious and innovative young people, facilitate hands-on experiential learning projects, and implement clear direction and constructivist learning? I’m in.

Our classroom asks questions like a think tank, and pitches projects like a consulting agency. We are as loud and as messy as a recording studio. We take vision quests and photograph warm light. We spend class time watching short documentaries that inspire us. We critique the visual aesthetics and audio narratives. We complete mini-assignments, produce, edit and publish stories.

MediaStorm Online Training captures students with seductive, rebellious and non-judgmental enthusiasm and faith in the possibilities of storytelling. The training videos drive the curriculum, assignments and final products.

MediaStorm’s training videos constitute clear directives that prepare students for in-class assignments, editing, production and publication. Students watch video modules for homework: Reporting (Audio, Stills and Motion), Post-Production and The Making of a Thousand More. They complete quizzes on each segment and receive checklists that match the training videos to structure their field workflows. And I get to spend three hours per week learning from and building relationships with students in class. We execute structured assignments that practice skills covered in the training videos.

My course preparation is to relax and be present for intimate learning in the classroom. Secondly, I visualize and practice directives for in-class exercises. Lastly, I grade assignments with rubrics and quizzes with answer guides that reflect the audio, stills, motion and post-production skills covered in the training videos. I use Facebook groups to facilitate peer-to-peer learning and find inspiration on Twitter. I consume educators’ blogs, trending videos and documentaries to stay current on multimedia storytelling.

Shame is the Swampland of the Soul

The freshmen I teach grow up in a society that vows to fix problems, answer questions and measure everything. Students hide behind apathy and cell phones because they think they don’t know enough. They are afraid of disappointing me with ‘wrong answers’. It takes the first couple of weeks to grow into a place where we all agree that we are good enough, and that we are here to make stories. We won’t have the best equipment or the most experience. But we will tell stories that matter.

The MediaStorm training videos provide directives that help to facilitate a safe place free of shame where we can celebrate the art of hands on learning. As Brown said in reference to achieving vulnerability, “Shame is the swampland of the soul, and I’ll meet you there.” I’ll meet you in that swamp, where a love of storytelling is greater than the fear of vulnerability.

Beatriz’s companion curriculum to MediaStorm Online Training, developed in partnership with Steve Rice (University of Missouri – Columbia), is now available for free to educators participating in our Educational Program. Contact us to sign up for a two-week trial account.