Friday, 3 July 2015

UK Screening of the film 'We are Teachers'

On Tuesday 30th June we held the UK screening of the film 'We are Teachers' at Mary Ward House in London. We were delighted to be able to share the film with such a broad audience made up of academics, policy makers, education specialists, PV practitioners and students. Thank you to those who came!

If you'd like to watch the film again, or share with colleagues, you can find it at the following links:

The main film with subtitles: 

Some behind-the-scenes comments from two teachers and a head-teacher:

Please remember these films are under Creative Commons Attribution so do feel free to use them for educational purposes (we'd love to know about it if you do) and always credit the makers and the organisations involved (these details appear beneath the project titles)

If you would like to know more about the ongoing collaboration between The Open University, DAPP Malawi and Catcher Media Social, please feel free to contact the Principal Investigator Dr Alison Buckler or leave a comment underneath this page.

If you would like to know more about DAPP's approach to developing 'a different kind of teacher', you can visit their website.

If you would like to know more about the practice and processes of participatory video, and how our partner Catcher Media works with other organisations their website is here.

Thanks also to The Open University's Strategic Research Investment Fund for funding the screening and reception, Mary Ward House for providing such a beautiful venue on such a glorious summer evening, and Nick Holt for the photographs.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Invitation to the UK screening of the film 'We are Teachers'

The Open University invites you to attend the UK screening of
“We are teachers”

A film made by teachers living and working in a rural Malawian community

Tuesday 30th June 2015, 6:30pm – 8pm
Film screening followed by a reception
The Dickens Library, Mary Ward House
5-7 Tavistock Place, London, WC1H 9SN (5 minutes’ walk from Euston Station)

“We are Teachers” is a short film made by a group of rural primary school teachers in Malawi. The film was made as part of a collaboration between The Open University, Catcher Media Social, the NGO Humana People to People and its local member organisation DAPP Malawi.  

The year 2015 marks the deadline of the global campaign of Education for All (EFA). At this critical moment in the international education narrative, this collaboration piloted the practice of participatory video as a research and advocacy tool. The purpose was to explore how collaborative film-making can provide a platform for incorporating rural teachers' voices in this narrative and bring their voices closer to global policy discussions around how to enhance pupil learning.
The event is free, but places are limited. Please contact Dr Alison Buckler to reserve a place.
Please promote this event through your networks.

The Open University is incorporated by Royal Charter (RC 000391), an exempt charity in England & Wales, and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 038302).  The Open University is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.


Thursday, 16 April 2015

PV, research and data

One of the aims of the pilot study was to explore the range of data that can be derived during a participatory video process.  While I'm becoming more interested in the visual and narrative analysis that can be done on the media that PV produces, my main interest is the opportunities to engage in research through the process side of PV - something I've been talking up for a while.  It's a been a great opportunity to play with this without the pressure of a full research project and to start to learn how to engage with people's world views while working with them on a film.

No pretty pictures for this post, but based on the experience, I'd suggest this (probably non-exhaustive) list of data types and opportunities one can expect from a PV process.  The ones in italics are ones we have examples of from this pilot, although without much analysis to date.  The rest are ones I think there is potential for.

Participant observation
  • Notes on facilitation
  • Autoethnography from participants
  • Behind the scenes filming of crew discussions
  • Screening observations
  • Notes on critical decision points
  • Walkabout observation
  • On camera, participant led interviews
  • Vox pops
  • Behind the scenes interviews
  • Parallel semi-structured interviews with individuals
  • Parallel photo-elicitation
  • Parallel self-recorded interviews
  • Peer interviews from workshop exercises
  • Recorded group reflection and discussion
Documentary analysis
  • Production documents - scripts, workplans, storyboards, interview schedules etc.
  • Briefings
Visual/narrative analysis
  • Main film - discourse analysis, thematic analysis, micro-expressions, spatial relationships
  • Training exercises - ditto
  • Photos - ditto
  • Rushes - ditto
  • BTS scenes - ditto
Two particularly interesting observations come out of the project for me, when thinking of it as a methodological pilot.

- Spatial, visual and verbal data sometimes highlighted quite different things.  For example, we started work at each of the schools with a walkabout - an opportunity for the host teachers to show the visiting teachers and ourselves around.  I took notes on what the group seemed most interested in.  At both schools there was little obvious interest in classrooms, and instead lot of attention to the schools as places to live and work the land, with some later interest in facilities and their relationship to donors and partners.  Verbal data in relation to this threw up spatial comparisons too, but much more related to teaching practice - noting how school gardens are laid out, and shopping corners inside classrooms. It could relate to the difference between observing what a group does (coarse grained), and what individuals pick up on (harder to do by pure observation).
- There was a very neat demonstration of the differences in the theory-in-practice of pedagogy at the local heuristic level, compared to external and more formal conceptions of it.  One of the key themes in the film was active learning, which our in-team educational experts related to particular mode of working with learners in class (for example, setting tasks for groups to work out rather than individualised rote learning).  Our teacher participants included this in their description of active learning, but drew the boundary much more widely to include sports, the school feeding programme, community relations, and so on.  At one stage it felt like it covered everything and was fairly naive and meaningless.  However, following it up I'd say that it's a robust conceptual structure (there's a good internal logic, and it was consistent across both schools even though they've little to do with one another), it's at the core of these teacher's practice and values, and it's much richer than the formal theoretical notion.  It seems to relate to an holistic idea of learners and creating the best environment for them to take active part in learning.  This covers things like engaging their interest and incentivising their participation in school, as well as working with the community to provide a good social context for education.  It's practical and relates directly to retention and completion.  I'm hoping to get a chance to build some cognitive maps from the interview data to be in a better position to describe it.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Prosumer gear

As well as the tablet kit for our project in Malawi, we brought a high-end set of gear to work with and to compare in how it's used. It was basically Rick Goldsmith's core film-making kit at the moment (built around a decent camcorder) and supplemented with some of my Open University gear.  It's just possible to film solo with this setup, but that's not really the point - it allows a crew to work together to capture high quality sound and video, with a lot of control over the recording settings.

The kit, consists of:
  • Panasonic AF101
  • Lenses (a decent zoom and some fast primes)
  • Monitor
  • Tripod
  • Shotgun Mic
  • Rode windshield suspension kit
  • Headphones
  • Boom pole.
  • Projection gear
  • Large reflector
  • LED light and stand
Mac laptop set up as an edit deck with 
  • Final Cut Pro 7
  • iMovie

Although our participants needed quite a lot of hands-on support to get going with this setup, it's not quite true that it's harder to use for newcomers to film-making.  Most people can pick up an ipad and start shooting and get something straight away. But once the idea that the idea of control over the camera to get an intentional shot is introduced then it's a less straight-forward comparison.  Having a large, robust rig with more physical controls provides a good opportunity to work with things like focus, exposure and white balance, which even if they're available on smaller devices are often hidden behind touchscreen menu options.  In a sense the equipment itself motivates a more considered approach to shooting and with enthusiasm and appropriate support it can work very well for a group.  It also encourages teamworking, with space for several people collaborate in getting a shot.

The advantages:
  • It's a large, robust setup that enables collaborative film-making.  It works well with groups up to 10 or so if some are being interviewed while others are crewing.
  • The video monitor and headphones help pick up recording issues on the shoot and correct for them, while high recording quality (ie definition and codecs) keep options open in the edit.  We felt this was important for a project which is producing advocacy material for international use.
  • Setting up shots gave our group a lot of time to discuss the content of interviews and coach on and negotiate about what was going to be said next.
  • Options like different lenses, reflectors and lighting and  
  • Several of the teachers we were working with took very naturally to working with this kit, and they could easily form the nucleus of a film-making team in the future.
Issues we've run into
  • The gear is expensive and we couldn't get it insured to be loaned out in the way that the ipad based kits were.
  • Weight - moving all this kit around locally and internationally is a serious undertaking.
  • Shots take time, which means that there needs to be a lot of time available, or that production planning needs to be tight.
  • The complexity of the options available for shooting means that it takes time to get used to using.  It can also be intimidating for participatns to get going.
Higher end kit can have a place in participatory film-making and opens doors for creativity and finer control of outcomes.  It forces more planning and thinking through how things are going to look, but this pays off in the edit. A nice progression was getting participants interested in thinking about film-making and expressing their own ideas with the tablet based kit, and then working together as a group using this gear.  In the end a lot comes out of the particular interests of the participants themselves.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The finished film

After the amazing day of the screening in which the church at Matindi school was absolutely jam-packed with excited school-children (it must have been 200+ pupils easily), village elders and other local dignitaries, we all returned to the UK. I then spent some time putting the finishing touches to the videos e.g. polishing the sound mix (so that all the interviews were at the right level) and adjusting colour levels. I also created a subtitled version as Julia, my wife and Catcher Media Social producer, said that it wasn't always easy to understand what was being said (after I'd been in Malawi three weeks it all seemed perfectly clear to me) and made a few changes based on feedback from DAPP in Malwai.

So for your enjoyment:

The Film:

The film with subtitles:

and some behind-the-scenes comments:

Please remember these films are under Creative Commons Attribution so please credit the makers and the organisations involved:

This participatory video project is a collaboration between the Open University, Catcher Media Social, Humana People to People and its local member organisation, DAPP Malawi.

This film was made by Gaison Liwonde, Clement Meso, Luciano Mwachilira, Grace Mwakanema, Henry Joseph NG'ombe and Michael Nyondo.

With support from Dr. Alison Buckler and Dr. Chris High from THE OPEN UNIVERSITY, Rick Goldsmith from CATCHER MEDIA SOCIAL, Olga Guerrero from HUMANA PEOPLE TO PEOPLE and Gift Vasco from DAPP MALAWI.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Saying thanks and leaving things behind

After two days of wrapping up, we packed and heading for the airport on Saturday.  I must admit I've often felt fresher, and I was quite looking forward to the tedium of sitting down and watching Africa slide by underneath.  Thursday was taken up with a morning of prep and then our final workshop, where we discussed a fine cut with the group, did some interviews and then spent some time saying thank you and goodbye properly.

Letting go is an important part of group work and there're all sorts of things that I think work well. One, asking everyone to help clear up the space they've been working in, wasn't appropriate this time because the workshops were spread over three locations.  Saying good bye and thank you always seems to fit in though, and I took the opportunity to share a tradition from a video course Rick and I ran: T156 - Digital Film School, where we presented students with hero badges for contributions to the course that made it a better place to study.

With this group, we gave them all hero badges and I asked the group to suggest why for each one. It took some of the energy out of the subsequent suggestion that everyone thank everyone else for something specific, but I noticed quite a few hero badges on show the next day.

Friday was more public. I spent the morning at Nasonjo working up a pre-screening for around 150 students and staff.  There was a cheer every time someone they recognised came on the screen - not easy given the amount of light pouring in from overhead, the ad-hoc nature of the screen and the relatively dim battery powered projector. Afterwards there was time to sit and talk to the teachers at the school I hadn't been working with.  They were really sweet and kind and interesting, poking gentle fun at me and each other, and happy to share the spicy potato cakes I'd bought at the Indian shop in town on the way out.

Eventually the car came and found us and we piled out at the main event where chaos was being shaped in to order and I managed to avoid being part of the stage party, something I always try and avoid on account of being too fidgety to be on show.  The screening was preceded by full pomp, with speeches, introductions and dancing beforehand and more speeches and presentations afterwards.  The dancers were brilliant, and I especially liked the girl guides team, who hung on to their spot in the limelight so tightly it looked like they might need to be carried off at one stage, and the Nkosi Zulu style dancing which had more and more people up and kicking up dust, including Rick and I.

The screening itself hovered on the edge of disaster (and had long before I even got there), using up three projectors and most of Rick's nerves.  The sound crew were local lads who revelled in the opportunity to fill the church hall with their kind of music, once they'd successfully evaded the H&S risks associated with 'plugging' in bare wires into a socket.  Rick had spent the morning doing a sound mix on the video so that it could be played out on speakers the size of small trucks, but in the end the audience were even louder, cheering every time someone from their school appeared on screen and loudest of all for their headmaster.

The important parts of the day for me where the opportunity for our teachers to get recognition for their work from their own community, and to leave behind everything we could so that there'd be something more than memories and questions afterwards.  I spent most of Thursday evening putting together a set of the photos and some of the video on a memory stick for each school, and we left a small flip-style camera behind for each school on permanent loan.  I'm really interested to see whether they use them and what for when we come back sometime.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Sneak preview

It's late and there's been a lot of editing for the last few days in the run up to our premiere tomorrow at Matindi school (there'll be photos from that, I'm sure).  In the meantime, here's a preview of some of the material which fed into our title sequence.