ACS Technology White Paper: Digital Storytelling

Academic Computing Services (ACS) is embarking on a new initiative to share the best of our thinking on various academic technology topics with the Vassar faculty. Our Technology White Papers will be brief, informal reports on technologies that we think you’ll find interesting. Each will explain what the technology is, what its potential benefits are, how it’s currently being used in higher education, and how you can get started with it.

Our inaugural white paper, researched and reported by Senior Academic Computing Consultant Baynard Bailey, is on the topic of digital storytelling. Possible future topics include high performance computing, virtual reality, and microcredentials, or digital badging. Please let us know if these efforts are useful for you, and if there are particular topics that you’d like us to address.

Steve Taylor
Director, Academic Computing Services


Reflection: A Semester with FCP X – Video Editing with non-film students

fcpx2013Last summer the decision was made to use Final Cut Pro X as the supported video editing software for Vassar students. CIS deployed FCP X in the Film Department’s editing labs as well as in the Digital Media Zone in the library. To help us adapt to the switch from beloved FCP 7 to FCP X, we organized an on-campus workshop with Roberto Mighty. For two days Film faculty and CIS employees worked shoulder to shoulder, getting valuable hands-on experience with an interface that was new to most of us. There had been quite a controversy about Apple’s changes from FCP 7 to FCP X, and most of us were apprehensive about the switch. But after two days of excellent instruction, our general sense was that the FCP X could generally do anything FCP 7 did, and it did some things better. I was looking forward to using it with students.

Using FCP X for Digital Storytelling

Past years I’ve worked with French Faculty with students who were tasked with creating digital storybooks. (For more on the pedagogical goals of this project, I invite you to read Digital Storytelling in Intermediate French.) Early in the fall, I met with Tom Parker and Mark Andrews to discuss their classes’ projects. In small groups, the students compose and illustrate children’s storybooks in French, which they scan and narrate. Previously we’d uploaded the images to VoiceThread and done the recordings via their online Flash interface. Students were able to upload and record easily enough, but I found other aspects of VoiceThread lacking (editing, layering audio, search, embedding, restrictive licensing, to name a few). FCP might be harder to learn, but once learned, they would have total flexibility on how they created their projects and they would have a skill that might be used for another project or life after college. Tom and Mark were amenable to the idea so we tried it out.

I only had an hour with the students so it was a bit of a challenge to cover the essentials in such a short period. Luckily, their projects only required them to import their scanned storybook pages into FCP X, then record narration. We spent a fair amount of time doing practice narration. We touched briefly on titles, incorporating sounds and music, and exporting. Students that had brought scans of all of their storybook pages were able to get a significant amount of work done during the workshop. One of the classes was able to have a follow-up workshop where I was able to work with each group, advising and troubleshooting. This was extremely valuable and I wish we had been able to schedule this for both classes. Generally speaking, students adapted well to FCP X and were quite successful. I don’t think I would have been confident enough to use FCP 7 in the same way. Here is an example:

I liked how they were able to incorporate both their narration and some sound effects. The use of titles, music and end credits added a bit of polish too. I should add that most of the students I work with have little to no experience with video or sound editing.

America in the World Digital Narratives

Eve Dunbar and Carlos Alamos co-taught AMST 250: America in the World this past fall. For one of their major assignments, students could choose to write a paper, create a podcast, or a a digital narrative. I trained the entire class to edit audio, but a couple students were interested in using video for their digital narratives, so I met with them one-on-one. The students were able to start editing after an hour of training. Here’s an ambitious project that a student put together based on interviews she made using her phone:


So for me and my work, FCP X has been a win. It is an easy to learn and very capable video editing platform. Students are able to get up and running with their video projects in a way that would have been too daunting to attempt in FCP 7. (One hurdle is that special formatting is required for projects on external drives to show up in FCP X.) Students do have the option to download a trial version of FCP X, which is often all they need to get through a project.

I’ve already got one class scheduled to use FCP X this semester: Candice Swift’s ANTH 245: The Ethnographer’s Craft is going to use FCP X to create digital enthnographies; they will use Final Cut to create voice-overs on top of stills and video. I am looking forward to this FCP X project and others like it this spring.


Good News for Clip Rippers

Library of Congress image courtesy of Baynard Bailey

This past summer, the Library of Congress issued a number of exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), one of which made it legal for academics to rip clips from DVDs, for use in their teaching or publishing.

Since June of 2009, Vassar has had a streaming media server that can deliver video clips to Moodle (and more recently to WordPress). The Wowza software streams video content quickly and beautifully anywhere on campus (best if using a wired connection). We were very excited to share this technology with the faculty, especially faculty members who work extensively with video. Faculty members who used our streaming server delighted in having the resources available via Moodle. The videos look great viewed on laptops or desktop machines. Streaming from Moodle during class made for a convenient teaching situation as there was no need to switch video sources or fumble with DVD or VHS controls. ACS envisioned a radical transformation of the Library Reserve desk where students could watch and re-watch films for class, on demand, and at their leisure. Students would not be tied down to three-hour reserve deadlines (or finding the video already signed out). Faculty members wouldn’t be troubled trying to arrange screenings for classes. The on-demand streaming video revolution that has transformed the outside world via Netflix and Hulu would now come to our campus!

DVD being interted into a laptop

Unfortunately, our fanciful visions melted to clouds of despair as UCLA came under attack from the Association for Information and Media Equipment. AIME’s accusations of copyright violation caused UCLA to suspend its streaming video service while they worked out the legal dispute. Educational institutions from all over the U.S. paid close attention, including Vassar. ACS had to reconsider how to inform the faculty about Vassar’s streaming media server, as our new policy restricted how we stream copyrighted material. There were more than a few awkward conversations with faculty members who had grown quite fond of our Wowza server, not to mention their concern about the time and effort put into curating video resources for their classes.

Since this summer, when it comes to clips, ACS can once again legally stream video ripped from DVDs. The Library of Congress exemptions impacted a number of areas, but the proviso that impacts scholars ripping DVDs reads as follows:

(1) Motion pictures on DVDs that are lawfully made and acquired and that are protected by the Content Scrambling System when circumvention is accomplished solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment, and where the person engaging in circumvention believes and has reasonable grounds for believing that circumvention is necessary to fulfill the purpose of the use in the following instances:

(i)  Educational uses by college and university professors and by college and university film and media studies students;
(ii) Documentary filmmaking;
(iii) Noncommercial videos.

In summary, clip-ripping portions of DVDs for academic fair use is legal. All previous laws and guidelines about the sharing of copyrighted material remain; what is new is that educators are no longer banned from the act of ripping materials from a copy-protected DVD. It is also legal for documentary filmmakers and creators of video not intending to make profit. If you are interested in learning how to rip clips yourself, I recommend this great guide for ripping DVD. You can also contact your ACS liaison for assistance in curating clips and how best to use them in your teaching.

If you’d like to learn more about how the recent exemptions impact the flow of information and pedagogy in the 21st century, I recommend this interview with Abigail De Kosnik, Gary Handman and Mark Kaiser of University of California, Berkeley.