By Sara Martin
Sara Martin is technology coordinator for the Hart-Ransom School District in Modesto, California
A few years ago I attended a session at a conference on school news shows. The presenters did a great job explaining the benefits of these programs. They stepped us through how they started their show and the processes they used to produce it.
The idea of a news show was intriguing, but I was intimidated by a number of factors. How could I raise the money to invest in cameras, closed circuitry and all that stuff? And that “stuff” was equipment I didn’t even know I needed, let alone know how to use. I reminded myself that even though I was our school’s computer literacy teach and the district technology coordinator, I still had to think carefully when I connected the cables to my DVD player. It sounded good, but how could I find the time to learn, raise school awareness and funds, plus implement the project? Not only that, but when could I schedule the actual time to write and tape the show? It was a good idea, and I really understood the value of providing this type of experience to my students, but at the time I had to dismiss the idea.
All this changed when I was introduced to Adobe’s video production software, Visual Communicator. I took one look at the interface and I was hooked. I knew immediately that I could use this with my middle school students. Everything I needed to produce a professional looking news show was included in this easy-to-use, affordable and amazing product. There were several factors that jumped out at me right away.
First of all, the software integrates a teleprompter that runs on your monitor, so you sit in front of your computer screen and read your copy with a camera mounted right above it. You can use a green screen and the program automatically replaces that green with a background that you select from the animated and still backgrounds available from the program’s libraries. Or you can use a still picture to place behind you. Visual Communicator makes it look like you are in a professional video. When you read from the teleprompter the camera is very close to your eye level so it looks like you are looking directly into the camera, even though you are reading from the teleprompter. The result looks like a professional TV show!
The program allows you to alternate between the camera view, which records what the camera captures, and other media that you place in the timeline that corresponds to the teleprompter. For example, if you are talking in your video about a visitor to your campus, you can cut to a still picture of that person. Or better yet, you can drop in a video clip of that person’s visit and then cut back to you in the camera view. You can even create graphics in programs such as PowerPoint and Photoshop. When you cut from camera view to other media you can even chose from several transitions, like page peels and picture in a picture or over-the-shoulder views, just like professional TV shows. It’s all very slick and best of all, it’s easy to do!
I knew immediately I could do this! This program would enable me to produce a news show without investing lots of time learning all the technical details of producing a traditional news show or the expense of the electronic gadgets needed to produce and transmit closed circuit TV.
Purchasing the Equipment
To get started I enlisted the help of one of my fellow Adobe Education Leaders, and Visual Communicator expert extraordinaire, Rob Zdrojewski. Rob provided me with a list of exactly what I needed to get started. He even provided me with a few sources where I could purchase what I needed. I put together a budget and an implementation plan and took the idea to our superintendent. He has always been a supporter of technology, so I was not surprised that he loved the idea and arranged for the initial funding. I was able to get what I needed to start for under $2000.00.
This is what I purchased to get started for the news show:
- Panasonic PV-GS500 3CCD min DV camcorder (about $700). You need an external mic port, firewire capabilities and a camera that uses tape media. Webcams are not recommended because the resulting video is choppy.
- Mic adapter by Beachtek DXA-2S (about $180). So two mics can be used during the news show. You only need this if you are going to use two news anchors.
- 2 external mics and cables (about $150). The wireless ones are good but a little too pricey.
- Tripod I suggest investing in a good tripod.
- Green screen and stand. You don’t have to have a green screen. You can paint a wall green or use green paper stapled to the wall.
- Lighting, We got a kit with two lights and umbrellas and one spotlight. All three have adjustable stands. You don’t have to have a lightkit, you can use inexpensive lights from the hardware store, but you should have some lighting.
All the above ran about $1700.00 and was purchased through B&H Photo-Video-Pro Audio. I called the 800 number and the sales staff were extremely helpful in steering me to the right products for our specific needs. Of course you will also need the software, Adobe Visual Communicator 3.0, which runs approximately $175 for educators and $400 for non-educators.
Producing the News Show
With equipment in place, we were ready to start our news show. We started in the fall of 2007, with one newscast each week. I introduced the concept to my seventh and eighth grade students and invited them to apply for the news team. One obstacle we faced was that the show had to be produced before school, and almost all our students ride the bus to school. Students applying for the news team had to be able to get to school by 7:30 am on Thursdays and Fridays. For most of them that meant they needed to be able to get a ride to school from their parents.
Interested students completed an application, got parental permission, and three teacher recommendations. Only eight students applied (six boys and two girls). They all were qualified, and I was able to accept them all. I suspect that many more students will apply for the news team next year, now that they know just how much fun working on the team is.
The Hart-Ransom newsroom team
Since the first of November our team has been meeting before school every Thursday and Friday and in a flurry of activity we write the news copy for the show, edit any video we have taken during the week for our special features, create any additional title slides or graphics to add to the program, set up the equipment, rehearse, film the show and save it. Our last step is to output, or publish the show to a format that meets the viewing needs of our audience.
Visual Communicator gives you several options, including exporting via closed circuit TV. Since our school does not have closed circuits, we publish our shows in the Windows Media format and then upload them to the Internet. We link them to our school website and also to a great free web resource called schooltube.com. Students and parents view the show at their leisure since it is always available online. We were surprised and delighted when our school news show was recognized right away and we were the featured school in the February edition of the website school-video-news! See: http://www.school-video-news.com/index_files/Hart_Ransom.htm
Now that our news show is rolling right along, I am ready to use Visual Communicator to create videos that are not in news show format. I’m planning other projects that integrate the curriculum in exciting ways. For example, 5th grade students could virtually “broadcast” from their own state capital for state reports, with pictures from their state behind them as if there were really there.
Other video ideas using Visual Communicator include: public service announcements and other informational videos wrapped around virtually any curricular subject, teachers providing video lectures and video broadcasts for distance learning and other needs, and training videos, The possibilities are endless!
It’s now been about four months since we aired our first show. The nine students on our news team have learned so much and so have I! With Visual Communicator we feel like professional broadcasters because our show is so professional looking. Of course none of our shows are perfect, but we are improving all the time. The effort has definitely been worth it, for both the students and for me!
You can check out some of our broadcasts on //hartransom.schootube.com. And check out “Ask Mr. Z.” hosted by Rob Zdrojewski on schooltube.com for answers to questions you can post yourself as well as instructional videos.
In the past, producing a school news show was a huge undertaking, requiring closed circuit television capabilities and thousands of dollars of video and electrical equipment, plus video expertise beyond the reach of most educators. Today, video equipment is better and more reasonable all the time, and with the advantage of being able to upload your projects to the internet to sites such as SchoolTube for free, more schools than ever can provide this opportunity for students to produce and view their own school news show. For these reasons and more, now is the time to start your school news show!