Blog Balance and “Bridge of the River Kwai”

DS106, How To, Tip 2 Comments »

Background and Balance
As I write today’s analysis of certain scenes in a favourite movie, I am worrying about “blog balance”. This is a condition that I continue to wrestle with as I progress on my learning journey with the online digital storytelling course DS106. In past, I have posted articles that I felt were of interest to students and teacher in K-12 classrooms. True some activities might have been immediately applicable and some readers might have said “Yes … I can use that resource or strategy with my students next week”. Others may have been shared more for information and the content may not have direct impact and or adaption by teachers. However, as I progress through the 8th week of my 15 week DS106 course and move into the video production segment, I worry that my required blog reflections may have little impact on most K-12 educators unless they are teaching a film study course.

In past, I have warned readers that my required DS106 assignments and reflective blog posts would make my learning more transparent. However, I still worry about “blog balance” since I want to try and ensure that there is some information that might apply to K-12 educators in the vast majority of my posts. I believe that I may have a possible solution. When I am writing a post that focuses heavily on a DS106 assignment which I feel may not have as wide appeal to my K-12 readers, I will try to provide some additional relevance to K-12 educators my inserting a “Teachable Moment” into the blog. This way readers who are not interested in the details of my DS106 reflection can look for my “light bulb” icon and quickly read the related “Teachable Moment” information which may be more meaningful or applicable to them and their students. Undoubtedly in today’s post where I look, through a new lense with a much more critical eye, at one of my favourite movies, I will attempt to provide better blog balance by inserting a later “Teachable Moment” in this lengthy post.

Bridge of the River Kwai
In past I have watched movies for their entertainment value and, I must admit, rather superficially. More recently, I have enjoyed looking at the “Extra Features” often included in DVD movie rentals. For example, while listening/viewing the director’s comments about certain scenes (together with the number of “takes”), seeing the attention to detail on an actor’s uniform to make it appear authentic, or watching how a certain special effect was created, all helped me to better appreciate the amount of work and detail that happened “behind the scenes” in the making of a particular movie.

In my DS106 video pre-production assignment, I have been challenged to pick a favourite movie, identify key scenes, and analyze the movie using some of the elements identified by Roger Ebert.

The movie that I selected was “The Bridge on the River Kwai” which won seven Oscars in 1957. Although fictionalized to some extent, this movie is based on historical reality in which British POWs were forced by their Japanese captors in 1942-43 to build a bridge on the “Death Railway” to link Bangkok, Thailand to Rangoon, Burma.

Undoubtedly the acting between the two adversaries, Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), – the senior officer of the British POWs and Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) – the POW camp commandant, was superb. Add to this the musical theme of the River Kwai March (sometimes referred to as the Colonel Bogey March) and you have a powerful movie that I remember every time I hear someone whistling this unforgettable tune.

It is obvious that “The Bridge of the River Kwai” fits quite nicely into the War or Adventure genre but the Drama between the two protagonists should not be overlooked.

DS106 has revealed so many new aspects of storytelling to me. I must admit that the following quote from Roger Ebert’s “How to Read a Movie” has caused me to view movies in an entirely new manner:

In simplistic terms: Right is more positive, left more negative. Movement to the right seems more favorable; to the left, less so. The future seems to live on the right, the past on the left. The top is dominant over the bottom. The foreground is stronger than the background. Symmetrical compositions seem at rest. Diagonals in a composition seem to “move” in the direction of the sharpest angle they form, even though of course they may not move at all. Therefore, a composition could lead us into a background that becomes dominant over a foreground. Tilt shots of course put everything on a diagonal, implying the world is out of balance. I have the impression that more tilts are down to the right than to the left, perhaps suggesting the characters are sliding perilously into their futures. Left tilts to me suggest helplessness, sadness, resignation. Few tilts feel positive. Movement is dominant over things that are still. A POV above a character’s eyeline reduces him; below the eyeline, enhances him. Extreme high angle shots make characters into pawns; low angles make them into gods. Brighter areas tend to be dominant over darker areas, but far from always: Within the context, you can seek the “dominant contrast,” which is the area we are drawn toward. Sometimes it will be darker, further back, lower, and so on. It can be as effective to go against intrinsic weightings as to follow them.

I admit that the above quotation, caused me to look at the following YouTube video excerpt of “The Bridge of the River Kwai” through a new lense:

 Bridge on The River Kwai – 1957 – Clip 1

As the whistling British POWs march into camp, they travel from the right to the left side across the picture. This subtly indicates that they are moving towards a much more negative environment demonstrated by the harsh treatment of the soldiers by the Japanese. A box or platform is brought out for Colonel Saito to address the POWs and this repeated action throughout the movie allows the camera angles to point down on the insignificant POWs while looking up on the superior commandant who controls the prisoners’ very existence.

Teachable Moment
I realize that, at present, not all educators have access, due to school or Divisional filtering, to YouTube videos to enhance their teaching. However, this “Teachable Moment” tip will save time when attempting to efficiently cue YouTube videos for viewing at home and/or school.

For example, the previous “Bridge on The River Kwai” (Clip 1) contains 6 minutes and 34 seconds of video. However, if you wished to focus only on Colonel Saito’s address to the POWs, you might want the YouTube movie to start at the 4 minute and 25 second mark.

This can easily be accomplished by adding the “&t” time (in minutes and seconds) parameter to the YouTube video URL. The above clip can be found on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcIehms6u5M If this entry was copied and pasted into one’s browser, the video would begin at the regular default start position of 0 minutes and 0 seconds. However, if “&t=4m25s” (without quotes) is added to the end of the above URL so that the new address is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcIehms6u5M&t=4m25s then the video display will automatically start 4 minutes and 25 seconds into the particular YouTube video.

For those who find this to be too technical, I recommend you view the easy-to-use web interface found at: “Cut to the Chase at YouTube Time“.

To help readers better understand this process, I will demonstrate linking to a specific YouTube video starting time throughout the remainder of this blog post.

I trust that this tip provides some balance for my K-12 educators to offset this rather lengthy DS106 video assignment post.

 

This DS106 assignment introduced me to the term “trope”. As a former Mathematics and Computer Science educator, I must admit that I was unfamiliar with this term and was unaware that movies use a host of tropes or “metaphors” to convey their messages. Using the TV Tropes as a reference, I have identified the following tropes in “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and provide appropriate links to YouTube videos to illustrate their use:

To the reader who has read to the ending of this rather lengthy post, I congratulate you.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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DS106 – Now Available on Blu-ray Disc!

DS106, Humour 8 Comments »

The overwhelming majority of individuals who are engaged in the DS106 course are doing so remotely. Today’s statistics indicate that there are 596 active DS106 members whereas less than a total 80 are in attendance in the two sections facilitated by Jim Groom and Alan Levine at the University of Mary Washington.

However, if you are part of the vast majority of off-campus DS106 participants, imagine if you could acquire a Blu-ray Disc which contained the following:

  • all DS106 lectures of both Jim Groom & Alan Levine
  • guest lecturers including Gardner Campbell & Zack Dowell (“the Noise Professor)
  • featured student reflections from past DS106 courses including the talented artist Giuila Forsythe, two of Saskatchewan’s most influential educators Dean Shareski & Alec Couros, and inspirational designer and DS106 facilitator Tim Owens
  • tips on how to acquire a personal domain and quick-start steps to setting up a WordPress blog & theme
  • time-saving tips on how to use GIMP and Photoshop
  • sample student and instructor progress conferences
  • top three assignments (voted by peers) for each of the eight assignment categories from past DS106 courses

How much would you be willing to pay for such a Blu-ray resource? I know that as a non-credit online “freeloader”, I may not have paid money to enroll in the DS106 course, but I would certainly pay handsomely for such a DVD if it saved me time and provided me with additional resources to improve my learning experience.

When I was considering enrolling in this course, I was impressed by what Jim Groom stated in his welcoming post entitled “ds106: We’re open and you’re invited“.

… what made it amazing was that anyone can do as much or as little as they wanted as part of the open, online section and leave the rest. We don’t accept apologies and we don’t believe in guilt, there is no sorry in ds106. Simply come prepared to make some art, have some fun, give some feedback, and leave when you want.

This important statement “there is no sorry in ds106” resonated with me. True, it provided me with a guilt-free opportunity to learn. However, this quote was also quite similar to an important line and theme from the 1970 movie “Love Story” staring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal. In fact, it was this quote that motivated me to consider designing the following Blu-ray Disc cover as part of the “Animated Movie Poster“.

In that most participants in this DS106 course were likely born after 1970, and may not be familiar with the original movie, I thought that I would share the following original image:

I realize that my attempt to animate this image is somewhat elementary when compared with my colleagues’ more sophisticated submissions. However, I am just learning to use Photoshop Elements and I hope, in time, to eventually improve on the animation process using this application.

In the meantime, I chose to use a free, Windows tool called Ulead’s Gif Animator Lite (GALE). I concentrated on the word “STORY” because the focus of DS106 should be on the STORY (and not the software). Unfortunately for me, I am spending many hours becoming familiar with the intricacies of the Photoshop Elements software and I can assure you that I do have a story to tell about my learning experiences.

To animate a word, I knew that I would need to save several copies of this Blu-ray Disc cover, each with the word “STORY” in a different color. I began by changing the black “STORY” in the original “Love Story” font to red and learned that one does not want to have to change the letter colors pixel by pixel. This discovery only took me 2 hours! I then decided to replace the original black “STORY” with a similar font in Photoshop Elements where I could highlight all 5 letters and select a new color. Since only .BMP and .JPG images can be loaded into GALE, each Blu-ray image, with its own “STORY” color, was saved in a .JPG format.

 

In GALE, one selects the “Layer > Add Images” menu items which allows selection of the prepared colored “STORY” .JPG images using this important technique. Each of the individual color images were then set to display for half a second. By clicking the “Start Preview” button, one can determine if there needs to be any changes in the respective color time delays. Once the animation test looks reasonable, one can click the “File > Save As” menu items and save the result as an animated GIF.

In summary, there is no doubt in my mind that my engaged learning within the DS106 community is indeed a “Love Story” of sorts. My only concern, is that I have not added too much friction, with this Blu-ray fiction.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Fair Use Educational Image Credits:

  • “Love Story” Blu-ray Disc cover -
    http://www.starpulse.com/news/Paramount/2011/12/26/love_story_debuts_on_bluray_february_7
  • Alan Levine photo – http://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/6318291537/
  • Jim Groom photo –

    http://www.colecamplese.com/2008/11/the-revolution-is-in-full-swing/

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Xtranormal – A Movie With A Message

Activity, Application or Web App, LwICT 2 Comments »

Wow … have I been having fun! I was actively engaged in learning as I explored Xtranormal, a web 2.0 video-creation tool, which students and staff will find fascinating! Unleash your creativity by picking a setting, characters, and begin typing narration which is automatically transferred to speech with appropriate lip-sync. To better learn how to use this innovative application, I created the following movie with a message.

In the following short video, entitled “21st Century Learners – A Movie With A Message“, Jessica and Don, two high school students, discuss why teachers need to change to meet the needs of 21st century learners. They summarize their discussion by suggesting that perhaps the key ideas might be best reflected by the acronym “CREATE” which might stand for:

C ollaborative
R esourceful
E ducators
A pply
T echnology
E ngagingly

**************************************************

“21st Century Learners – A Movie With A Message”

I have always been excited by the opportunity to engage students and teachers in the digital storytelling process. With Xtranormal, teams can put together movies by simply typing in the narration or dialogue between the two actors. Regardless of the technology application used, the emphasis should be on the story not the software. Xtranormal provides another process and opportunity that students can use to tell a story.

Although I created my “movie with a message” by myself, I believe that this web 2.0 application would foster both creativity and collaboration if used as a movie-making tool by teams of students. In fact, if a student chose to work “solo” to create a movie, I believe that s/he would be missing a powerful learning opportunity. The vast majority of today’s 21st century learners, when they become part of the workforce, will need to learn to work collaboratively. Workers will join teams where members bring different skills, backgrounds, and personality traits as assets. Furthermore, it is doubtful that such teams will be comprised of members who all live and work in the same geographic location. So the sooner that we, as teachers, can encourage students to cooperate in school projects, the sooner students can develop the necessary collaborative skills to survive in the competitive world-wide workplace.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Supporting Resources:

NJ Tech Teacher Musings – “Xtranormal’s Extra Fun Introductions”

http://njtechteacher.blogspot.com/2009/04/xtranormals-extra-fun-introductions.html

Digital Nation – Persuasive Commercial (6-8) Teacher Page

http://www.4aplus.com/jato/digital-nation/index.php/persuasive-commercial-6-8-teacher-page/


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