2 – The Sketch Film

The first assessment task (I have used this in 2010, 2011, and 2012) has been to make what I characterise as a ‘sketch’ film. This is made and published using Korsakow and is based on the library of media clips students have made over the first six weeks of the course. The aim of this assignment is for all students to become familiar with using Korsakow in a concrete way by making and publishing a finished film. Every student makes and publishes one online. It is a sketch film because the weekly tasks are small, quick, easy to make, hard to do well, and explicitly framed in opposition to ‘industrial’ media. They are closer to Chris Marker than James Cameron.

The sketch film must be accompanied by a written essay of between 500 and 1,000 words that addresses:

  • How the text has been used (what have you written Why? What idea or narrative effect where you hoping to achieve?)
  • How have you thought about structuring the work?
  • Do you think it is successful? How?
  • What is the most important thing you have learnt in making this?

The assessment ‘coercively enforces‘ the technical literacies needed to be able to ‘write with’ Korsakow, and this sets up the rest of the semester for more important learning outcomes around multilinear structure and narrative.

Previously I have grouped students informally so that they could share each other’s clips as a media library. This had the advantage of providing a larger set of video clips in their films, and helped foreground the problems that arise when different resolutions, aspect ratios, and file formats need to be combined in a single project. (This is one of the many things you can talk about every week but no one pays any attention to, or understands, until they are confronted by it in the materiality of actually making). However, I no longer get students to share their video clips as there is so much variation between each student’s work that it is pretty much impossible to make a comprehensible Korsakow film, which gets in the way of making the transition from joining clips based on a story to the new sorts of poetic pattern creation being sought.

In 2012 students only used their own clips in their sketch film. This provides incentive to make the weekly clips as if they don’t they will not have media for their sketch film. It is also easier for connections between the clips to be noticed and used, or failing that, noticed and raised by me during the assessment conversation. In almost every case there is some commonality across clips that can be the basis for a pattern of relation amongst them in the sketh film, and as I say repeatedly, Korsakow is absolutely about the creation of patterns amongst parts. It is a pattern making engine.

This assessment is highly constrained as this makes it easy to ensure that everyone has the basics of the software before they explore its possibilities through their second Korsakow project. This first task is where they learn the basics of ‘how’, while the major film is where they explore ‘why’.

Generally I require the sketch film to:

  • use all of the clips from the weekly tasks
  • be a multilinear Korsakow film
  • published online
  • use three thumbnails
  • use thumbnails that are images, not videos
  • use a text track via the Insert Text feature of Korsakow

Students are provided time to work on this in class. I do not have a specific set of problems or outcomes to be discussed and largely leave it to the questions students ask that arise from their making. This is not because there are no important things needed to be asked, there are, but until they’ve made a film like this most of what needs to be learnt is not heard or understood, and certainly not deeply learned (where I take deep learning to be where the student can contextualise knowledge into their own intellectual life world), until the work is critiqued through an oral assessment.

The questions that generally arise are often technical, involving problems of codecs, compression, saving the work, exporting it to the web, putting it online, how to edit an interface, adding keywords, and what the difference between in and out keywords might me.

If more sophisticated questions arise, they get discussed, though usually reflexively with a “what do you think”? or “what do you think might happen?”. This is followed with the prod come velvet fisted demand to just try it and see – do not be surprised by how many students will not test their question on the project by making a change, exporting, and having a look!

However, I am not concerned at this point if no questions about the specifics of multilinear structure, pattern making, corridors and clouds arise. For most students these things really don’t make sense until they have the technical literacies out of the way, and this is very much the role of the sketch film. I can talk about dead ends and regressive loops in a Korsakow film but for 90% of the class it is wasted breath and teaching time. Not because they are poor students but talking about this is treating it as an already tacit knowledge, where the role os this task is to first make these things explicit. This means they will learn it, but primarily by doing it. (Otherwise remove the software from the learning and just set a reading course, but if you’re going to make, recognise it is through and then critically reflecting on the making and the artefact that deep learning happens.)

Assessment

An assessment template is used to make explicit what matters for the sketch film, however the major assessment event is a verbal critique that is done in groups of 3 or 4. I use a group model as seeing other’s work assessed accelerates learning outcomes by modelling more conversations and because of the differences able to be noted between each student’s work. It is important to recognise that the key learning happens during the verbal assessment itself, and not as a result of the student doing the assessment task. I do not read their essays before the assessment as I have found this prejudges my approach to their work, instead I model what their audience might do.

I open each work, and ‘think out loud’ where I narrate what I am noticing, thinking about, deciding to do. The key things that I like each group of students to leave this assessment with are:

  • Some simple rules and ideas about how to design a better interface (this usually involves conversations about the relative size of thumbnails and videos, space between both, the use of a title and background graphic or colour, alignment to a grid).
  • That less keywords generally works better than more (a lot of keywords means too many clips connect in too many ways, this produces what Bernstein has described as a ‘tangle’ which, as a structure for an entire film, pretty much becomes the absence of structure).
  • That keywords produce patterns between clips and these patterns are the structure
  • that the user is looking for. Once found they then have a frame by which to understand the work.
  • And that hat until this happens it is experienced as random.
  • That repetition is legitimate as returning to an already visited clip and seeing that I can go somewhere else, and that there are now different choices available, is how I know it is a generative work and not merely a branching tree.
  • That in our normal experience of a film interpretation happens backwards since we know what has happened but we don’t know what will happen next, we speculate about this, but we have to wait and see. In a Korsakow film we interpret in the opposite direction – you tend to forget what you watched two clips ago but you understand and interpret the current clip on the basis of the present and visible thumbnails, on where you can go next. So we interpret forwards, wondering what the current clip has to do with those that particular thumbnails, and where should I take it next.
  • So thumbnails are not there for navigation but are where your user can literally see the relation and patterns that structure your work.
  • Therefore the choice of what you choose as a thumbnail is a big deal.

It’s a big list, and intellectually a game changer.

Notes

Bernstein, Mark. “Patterns of Hypertext.” Proceedings of the Ninth ACM Hypertext Conference. Pittsburgh PA: ACM, 1998. 21–9. Print. (http://www.eastgate.com/patterns/Patterns.html)

Rosenberg, Jim. “The Structure of Hypertext Activity.” Proceedings of the Seventh ACM Conference on Hypertext. New York: ACM, 1996. 22–30. Print.

Miles, Adrian. “Assessment Template: Sketch Film.” 2012 Assessment matrix

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