Why film reels in the learners

Digital-video technology is inspiring pupils of all abilities to new heights of creative achievement, says Emma Haughton
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The Independent Online

These days making films is not the just the preserve of Hollywood moguls. The growing use of digital-video technology in schools is giving thousands of pupils the chance to get behind the camera and express themselves in a medium they're all familiar with, but to which they have never before had access.

Leading the way in the UK is the Government's British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta). Last October it produced an evaluation of its 50-school digital-video pilot, which aimed to gather evidence of the impact of DV technology on pupil engagement and behaviour and to identify models of effective practice. The results were unanimously positive, finding that digital video "dramatically increases the motivation for learning and engagement of a wide range of learners, particularly those excluded from the traditional curriculum".

Tana Stickler, the learning mentor at Speedwell Technology College in Bristol, which won first prize at Becta's Creativity Awards for Digital Video, agrees. "I work with children outside the curriculum to raise self-esteem and aspirations, and many of them have literacy problems and difficulty expressing themselves through words. But they watch a lot of TV so they are very attuned to visual stimuli, and they understand the language of TV and film. And it's an immediate hook that gets them interested."

Stickler is working with her pupils on a digital-video project around crime. "We're making short films of the immediate moments after a crime, exploring how the victim feels. We're also going to look at bullying." The children learn lots of skills in the process, she believes. "Some find it difficult to interact with others, and they learn to work as a team. They have to plan it carefully, and put in some effort over a period of time to get results." Pupils also benefit from creating a high-profile piece of work - films can be shown in assembly, says Stickler, or shown on the school website.

Becta's Creativity Awards for Digital Video, now in their second year, aim to celebrate this growing excellence in creative use of the new medium, and to inspire both pupils and teachers to exploit the technology. The competition is open to pupils of all ages from across the UK; winning entries will be showcased nationally by 4Learning - the educational arm of Channel 4. Winning schools also receiving a digital-video learning kit comprising a Mac computer and a Canon digital camcorder. Digital video really motivates students in the classroom, believes Pam Fancourt, Becta's educational officer for awards and dissemination, "especially those with behavioural problems or learning difficulties. It gets them using imagination, because they don't have to sit with a pen and paper listening to someone spouting facts at them. It's very hands-on and they can get almost instant results."

Disabled children can also benefit, believes Robert Overton, the expressive arts co-ordinator at Mere Oaks school in Wigan, one of the original Becta pilot schools which has been using digital video for three years. "We use it as an access route to learning, because a lot of our kids can't perform live on stage. With digital video they can do a performance and edit it until it works. They can create plays and documentaries, use special effects and animation. It's a very creative medium and enables as many kids as possible to engage in the arts."

It also raises their self-esteem, he says. "All the kids can be involved actively in one way or another, both in front of and behind the camera, in production and in editing. They take pride in the results, which also make an excellent record of achievement for parents, who get to see their kids doing things they had no idea they could."

For more information about the awards e-mail: dvawards@becta.org.uk