Macs enhance Reflective Practice

Martin Levins
10 March, 2008
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"Assessment for learning" is one of the buzzwords you’ll find in many a syllabus and educational blog. It refers to assessment that concentrates on identifying areas that can be improved and celebrating areas of achievement rather than ranking or scoring a student relative to a benchmark or to other students. It has various components, but includes the practice of reflection: what went well, what didn’t, how could I change things for the better and so on.

As part of any good approach to learning, reflective practice has elements of repetition and mental rehearsal that are key to an effective revision which will lead to mastery.

Here at the Fortress of Learning, we’ve found that getting boys in particular to write reflectively is like pushing string uphill (no real surprise), but we’ve had much more success when the process is made easier by repurposing existing elements, especially when they are images, audio or movies, to form part of the reflection. Most syllabi make reference to videos, podcasts, and other multimedia as learning experiences, so, if any of these, or their planning components can be re-used, the job of reflection is made easier.

Easy is good, right? So says year eight anyway.

It’s easy to select a piece of writing from an essay and show how you would rewrite it after feedback from your teacher, but is it just as easy for multimedia? For this to happen, the multimedia software must retain flexibility of data (not make the author decide the end use of the data at the outset) but remain in essentially pristine form throughout the post process so that the user can then decide on destination(s) rather than being restricted to one and have to go through the whole process again for another.

There’s a side issue here regarding the hardware used to capture the data in the first place: a warning to those who flock to buy cheaper, hard-disc-based cameras where compression can be so great as to render post-production a fairly dodgy exercise. But let’s concentrate on the software side of things for the moment.

I’ve always considered iMovie to be superior to Moviemaker on Windows because it imported original video with no changes and asked the user to decide on a format after editing. In fact the “Share” menu allows export to a whole heap of formats, leaving the original intact. Hence our student, having completed a project, can excerpt segments and compress for a reflective piece on the web, redo parts of the original and export to DVD, or even send clips to a teacher or other student in mobile phone format for progress review.

Moviemaker assumes one end product, not the many that a project may need to produce.

All applications in the iLife suite behave this way: originals left pristine, with export opportunities or, in the case of iPhoto, recording the changes you want to make to an original and leaving the original intact for later reversion if needed. The Lesson: if you’re not using iLife, you should be.

If you can’t, get the data into a consistent format, maybe using a remote site such as Zamzar or Mediaconverter, or better still, QuickTime Pro if you have it. (Apple, would it kill you to provide this for nothing? There’s nothing worse than proclaiming your computer as the media machine that “just works” and then have to shell out more money to make it fully functional.)

Keep in mind the “start with as good a set of data as you can” approach. You can get multimedia from any number of sources but, if you’re not careful, everyone looks like they are assisting the police with their enquiries. The old maxim ‘garbage in, garbage out” is appropriate here.

Let’s just reflect on that for a while.

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