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Archive for August, 2008

Bored. I'm so bored of these.

[BTW: ...and by "bored" I mean "infuriated".]

[BTW: excellent remarks from Sylvia Martinez on another example of child exploitation by educators: "It’s easy to believe in them, because they validate what we believe about ourselves."]

Okay, Fine.

For those who were around back when I wrote my anti-homework manifesto, lemme confess: I'm assigning homework now. Two problems every day — one tough, the other tougher — choose between them, same grade value for each.

Our block schedule inspired my not-quite-180° reversal, the fact that my kids go 48 hours between classes and need some kind of interim refresher. Kids are still cool 'cause I'm not indiscriminately assigning #1 – 30 (odd, of course). Parents still haven't made their minds up about it.

Regardless: you win, homework.

Agh.

dy/av post-mortem

Dean Shareski posted an interview over at his Ideas and Thoughts covering my summer-long vodcasting series, dy/av. Since the guy is like Lesley Stahl with a Skype mic, I went back through the archives to prep myself. I cringed at moments I didn't expect and found some moments more durable than others.

More of my public navel gazing:

Defining The Structure

I knew I wanted the episodes to land between two and three minutes (though even that proved too long for some of y'all), to feature three words in the title, to close with my blog's plucky little tagline in voiceover, and I wanted to shoot in a 16×9 aspect ratio (think HDTV, not your old 4×3 TV tube) because the thinner rectangle lets you balance your composition in fun ways, packing useful elements into both sides of the screen.

For example:

The structure evolved in the editing room. For better or worse, I started adding a short, silent cutaway before the final line, an effort at ratcheting up the drama before the close.

Cringeworthy

Throughout the ten episodes, I felt too somber and too portentous by nine-tenths. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the seventh episode, which I shot on two different days. One day I'm more or less my ornery, ebullient self, the other I'm kind of staring and speaking at the camera like I think I'm Jesus. I only kept a consistent, accurate tone in the ninth episode, which, of course, was the last episode with any monologue.

Oh, and the cutaway in the office episode where I try to conjure Jim Halpert just didn't work.

Audience Interaction

I shot the behind-the-scenes episode three times, each reshoot modified by your inquiries into the process. Aside from that, the production time (averaging out at 14-ish hours per episode) prohibits the kind of post/comment/followup feedback blog posts enjoy. Once I shot an episode, only a monster incentive would reset the process.

My Least Favorite Episode

The behind-the-scenes episode, the visual core of which (the parallel shots of creating lessons and creating vodcasts) disintegrated halfway through. The last thirty seconds are particularly painful for me to watch as I murmur several passages which would've been better served by simple a blog post.

Favorite Flourishes

In carver's classroom management, I mention how "I always, always took discipline personally." I visually italicized the second "always," with a slo-mo shot of Carver on top of the police cruiser chopping at the air, a shot you'd already seen at regular speed.

It lasts less than a second and underlines everything I believe about the strength of video.

Oh: the eyebrow in episode seven.

Also: "graham crackers and wiki hour."

The Hardest Part About Editing Videos You've Spent Months Brainstorming, Writing, And Shooting

Forcing yourself to watch and listen to your story through the eyes and ears of someone totally unfamiliar with it, a hypothetical viewer. I found it really easy to cut too much, having grown deathly bored hearing myself say "My name is Dan and I like to teach."1

The Least Watched Episode

dy/av : 007 : the motiongraphics episode, which was also my favorite, illustrating my connection to the content I have spent my professional life teaching.

The Most Watched Episode

The most watched episode was dy/av : 002 : the next-gen lecturer, the popularity of which surprised and, frankly, annoyed the hell outta me. I paced the ten episodes according to which ones I felt would play like gangbusters and which I felt would lull an audience appropriately. Turns out I have no idea what any of you people are into.

Watching it again, I'm really happy with how I edited the classroom conversation into the video, a conversation which includes so many aspects of teaching I'll cherish long after I stop teaching.

Nielsen Ratings

My Most Flameworthy Assertion In Dean's Interview

"Video at its best is better than writing at its best."

Essential Vodcasting Skills

Dean asked me to define the skills essential to this vodcasting gig. There is only one. It is common to good speechwriting, good storytelling, and good teaching: increase the bandwidth. More throughput. Say more, just as clearly, with less.

For video that requires two specific skills:

  1. Use the blade. Edit the dead air from your shots. Cut the passages that don't serve the point of your video. It's just like the delete key with blogging, only harder. (In fact, if you can't wield the delete key adequately in your blogging, rethink video.)
  2. Layer video. Is there something so special about how you look when you talk that you need to show yourself talking? Show something else — something informative, illustrative, or (for humor) contradictory — while your voice fills the background.

You can find my best throughput in the coffehouse scene from episode ten, where I split two complementary angles while at the same time layering audio from the next scene for a smooth transition.

It's my best work of ten episodes.


  1. Zadie Smith sez: write it and put it in a drawer.

Nicholas Felton is a graphic designer working in New York City who, every year since 2005, has produced an annual report — everything from where he traveled to what he drank — using infographics which I'm pretty sure he stole from my math classes. His work inspired this blog's annual report contest, which you'll see again at the end of 2008. His annual report also inspired my classroom assignment, The Feltron Project. After struggling with my students to reproduce his accomplishment, I had several questions, which Felton was gracious enough to answer.

Dan Meyer: Can you describe your workflow, from (eg) a day's subway ride to its appearance as an infograph in your final report? What hardware and software shows up along the way?

Nicholas Felton: As I'm in front of my computer for most of the day, I use the mac's calendar application to keep track of all the day-to-day statistics. I arrive in the office, and immediately note anything of importance from the night before and the current morning. If I am away from the machine, or I am accumulating too many specific notes to keep track of, I will use the notepad in my mobile phone to write them down, or email them to myself. If I'm travelling, I tend to use my sketchbook to keep tabs on everything, which I will later enter into the calendar. For more infrequent activities, I also keep running lists in excel or on backpackit.com.

Throughout 2007, I also kept monthly maps of Brooklyn and Manhattan on which I traced the streets I walked each day.

DM: How much math goes into the final product? My best guess, for the record, is that you use Excel to turn (eg.) pie chart percentages into degrees and then pull that information into InDesign or Illustrator.

NF: A lot, a lot, a lot of adding. A lot of dividing by 365. A lot of multiplying by 360.

Nearly everything goes through a spreadsheet before it goes into the report, but none of the math is terribly complicated…. mostly calculating percents and angles (I should use excel, but I do this with a calculator). I have used an online tool that will output the diameter and radius of a circle if you provide the area, which has proved useful, but I don't believe I've applied it to my annual reports.

DM: My students were somewhat shocked you spend only 20.6 minutes per day (as reported in your 2007 Annual Report) recording these piles of data. What corners have you cut to save time?

NF: Actually, that measurement was 20.6 measurements each day in 2007. I don't know what it's corollary in minutes would be, but certainly less than 20. My best guess is that I only spent between 5 and 10 minutes a day on notation. But 2007 was the most complex year of datalogging thus far, and I ultimately found that I had too much… which bogged down the tabulation and design process. This year I've decided to refocus my data collecting in a way that only requires a couple minutes on most days, but occasionally gets much much more complicated.

DM: How much of your final report comprises data you have PASSIVELY collected, data generated from last.fm's music service, for example? What other sources do you use?

NF: Unfortunately, not enough data comes from passive sources yet… probably less than 10% of last year's report was captured in that way. As you mention, last.fm keeps tabs on all my listening through itunes and my ipod. I let netflix keep track of the movies I rent, and flickr tracks how many people have viewed my photos. I have also purchased weather records for New York City, which I augment with out of town records for the last 2 years in order to help determine my average temperature as well as the maximum and minimum.

DM: My students didn't have much trouble making infographs but the designs didn't stray much beyond Microsoft templates. What essential advice would you give a high school freshman for creating a compelling design?

NF: Reduce, reduce, reduce. I find that you can eliminate nearly all the elements that Microsoft wants to include in a graph with considered editing and placement. In most cases, I can get away with eliminating a key or an entire axis altogether.

DM: My students are quick to accuse anyone of your dedication of having "no life" or "too much time on his hands." Aside from the obvious intrinsic value you get from this project, do your reports benefit you tangibly? What do you get out of this?

NF: For the record, I prefer to consider myself curious or inquisitive, rather than the victim of dull circumstances. The truth is that the more I do, the more interesting I find the reports to be. Like everyone, I tend to be a creature of habit, so it's the outliers of activity that interest me. I am indebted to the project for a host of benefits. Without the report, I wouldn't have a very good reason for counting how many coffees I drank in a year, which truly intrigues me. The additional acclaim the report has received is terrific and has helped me forge a name for myself in a crowded field of talented graphic designers, leading to more commissions, as well as a refocussed dedication to continuing the project.

DM: Can you preview any new statistics you're tracking for your 2009 Annual Report?

NF: I'd rather surprise you in January…

[photo by Ellen Warfield]

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