Digital Storytelling with the iPad: Creating Book Trailers
Through a generous grant from a corporate sponsor, our university was able to purchase 14 iPads with iMovie, young adult literature selections for book circles, and video cameras for a book trailer project with a local middle school. A book trailer is, no surprise here, a trailer for a book in the style of a movie trailer. Search YouTube for your favorite book + "book trailer" or "trailer" and you will be sure to find an example or two.
Myself, a professor from the College of Liberal Arts, and a professor from the College of Education, implemented the project. My collegue oversaw the book circles, visiting the English Language Arts classrooms and assisting the teachers in planning and facilitating the book clubs. In the next phase, students were to learn about the video trailer genre, viewing a variety of sample book trailers. Then, they were to storyboard or map out their own book trailers for the book club selections with the assistance of the college faculty and their teachers. Finally, with my assistance, book club students were to collaboratively create trailers using digital media (Flip cameras, digital cameras, and iMovie).
Our rationale for the project was this: Book trailers help students develop important new literacies skills as they adapt monomodal print texts into multimodal compositions comprised of additional modes such as images, the kineikonic mode of the moving image, and sound. Students who lack engagement with traditional literacies skills can “make meanings by selecting from, adapting, and remaking the range of representational and communicational resources…” (Jewitt, 2008, p.263). Further, composing book trailers allow all students to learn revision through digital editing. Digital media skills and skill in communicating through multiple modalities are increasingly important in an age of rapid technological change (Kress, Jewitt, Ogborn, & Tsatsarelis, 2001; Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2001). It also provides the designers/creators with a purpose for reading (to create the trailers) and a real audience – their peers.
Procedure and Implementation
We had two eighth grade classes that were divided into twelve book circles. The school librarian chose the books based on what she had noticed as popular with this population (e.g. dystopian literature a la The Hunger Games) and sought input from the teachers. She looked for a wide variety of appeal according to interests and what she thought would appeal according to gender. In addition, she chose new books to ensure that no one would be assigned to a book he or she had already read as well as to create more interest and buzz.
The first day, I had planned to deliver an introduction to the process of creating a book trailer with iMovie, explaining that we would use cameras to take pictures and upload them to the iPads and then use iMovie to edit, and finally we would share them in a group viewing. I wanted to mention that since it would be helpful to know they would have a real audience for their work.
Next, we viewed some trailers. I had planned to talk about the trailer genre and how to create a persuasive visual text, and I wanted them to see a wide variety of types of trailers (some using video, some just pictures, some with titles, some with voiceover, some with music, some without, etc.) but my coworker felt we should “deconstruct” trailers and rerouted the conversation midstream. (Note: in the end, this is what we dealt with—we had to remind them that they were “pitching” the book, not reenacting the book. They didn’t seem to have a strong understanding of the persuasive nature of the genre). In my opinion, an overview of the genre paired with time for students to brainstorm ways to “sell” their books is what’s good for the first day.
My coworker’s opinion was that they should “deconstuct” a trailer to talk about the parts, like text, voiceover, video, pictures, etc. In my opinion, this is a bit unnecessary because it is something they figure out when you give them time to play with iMovie, which they need to begin with. I think if you want to introduce these components after they gather their media and are actually working in iMovie editing, where there would be some context, that would work. And essentially, that is what I ended up doing; on one day I showed them how to add and edit clips and insert text captions, and the following day I introduced all of the audio elements like voiceover and music.
There was a lot more to do to prepare for this project on the tech side than I had anticipated. I had to unpack the 14 iPads and activate them. Then I had to create an iTunes account and sync them with that account—but it would only support up to 10 devices, so I had to then create a second account. Originally, I thought we would have to purchase 14 copies of iMovie, so I was pleased that with just two accounts we only had to purchase iMovie twice for a total of $10.
I had planned to load the software in my office, but as it turned out, the school Internet was not efficient. I took the iPads home instead. By the time I got to the tenth, I fried my modem. That’s actually what the Comcast people told us on the phone. I had to go to Comcast and get a new one so I could finish loading the iMovie apps onto the remaining 4 iPads. In addition, some of the iPads required that I install the new OS as well. (This was strange because some allowed me to skip this step?)
I had to create a few lists upfront as well; since 4 groups were sharing each camera and iPad, I had to number the items and keep a list of which group was using what tech tool.
“Our book is fun…because he really was, like, running through the woods and stuff”
With digital storytelling projects, you can either seek and find images from the web or create the images yourself, or do a mix of both. Since the school did not want us to enable the Internet on the iPads, we decided to create our own images. I really prefer this because it allows you to avoid any copyright issues but also it requires that the kids conceive of their own media rather than simply search for it. They have enough experience with Google and low-level searching. Perhaps their movies don’t look as professional this way, but that shouldn’t be the point, should it? It’s all about getting into the book in a new way—getting kinesthetically involved in the book. I was really fascinated to see them engage with the print text in kinesthetic and then ultimately multimodal ways.
We had read online that Flip cameras were compatible with iPad and so we purchased some for the project. The cameras did not arrive in time, and so I borrowed the five Flip cams we had in our department as well as ten regular cameras that allowed for still photo and video stored on SD cards. The kids had created rough storyboards that were their roadmaps for image collection.
We split them into their groups and the teachers, myself, and some parent volunteers took them to the different sites on campus for them to harvest their photos and videos for their iMovie projects. One adult could take 1-2 groups to the football field, the gym, the nurse’s office, and the woods, among other spots.
It was striking how different kids began to naturally sort of fall into different roles like director, actor, costume director, stage director, script writer, lighting, visionary, etc. I heard some interesting knowledge about movie-making that they brought with them as I walked around with groups. As one was filming, they knew they weren’t going to have the audio in the video clip, and so they said, “Just say watermelon!” (Apparently the word “watermelon” can look like anything on video.) There was so much creativity and problem-solving of this kind.
It was interesting to see the students reconceptualize the school space as settings from their books. They were seeing the school in new ways and composing multimodally using the school site, their bodies, and found objects.
I overheard interesting talk around the ways they approached the embodiment of their characters: “That’s not how a girl cries. Put your hand up to your face, and make your fingers more like this.” “Sit like a man would, not like a boy would."
Technically, the iPads could have been used as an all-in-one photo studio since they have cameras built-in. However, using the cameras allowed for more mobility, and since the kids were in the woods and running all around the school, it was best that they had the separate cameras to use to gather their photos.
We used the Apple Camera Connection kit (~$20) to load the photos and videos on the SD cards to the iPads. This worked beautifully. Some had problems accessing their photos in iMovie even though we could see them in the camera roll on the iPad. As it turned out, we had to change the security setting to allow iMovie to access the camera roll.
Those who had used the Flip cams were not able to load their videos. Yes, Flip is compatible with iPad; you can access the files. However, you cannot PLAY them. I had to go home and convert the files from AVI to .mp4 and then load them onto the iPads. Thankfully, there were only five cameras of this kind, because had it been more, I would have probably cried. I transferred the AVI files onto my MacBook and used Handbrake to convert the files. Then I had to load them into iPhoto and then transfer them into the iPads that way. Apparently, the iPad only recognizes the media if it is in iPhoto. It took a lot of Googling and trial and error to figure that out!
“We are editing, cropping, and enhancing”
Once the media is loaded, going into iMovie you are able to decide whether you want to “start a new project” or “start a new trailer.” The new project affords total freedom; the trailers are templates. They work very well for this project obviously, since they are trailers, but they do not let you tweak the templates. You can add in your own text, pictures, and videos, but you can’t delete or change any structural part of the template such as the number of “slides” and you can’t do a voiceover on the “New Trailer” function.
As I walked around, I noticed that some students already had some knowledge of photo editing. As I watched a student working on a photo, he told me, “We are editing, cropping, and enhancing!” How do you know how to do that? I asked. “I already made a movie. It was in Alaska. I made it as a present,” he told me. Others chimed in:
“My dad has an iPad.”
“So does mine.”
“I’ve already used iMovie.”
Because there are so many levels of readiness, it’s nice that some can use templates with iMovie and those with more skill and familiarity with the program or similar programs can start from scratch. I really wish there was a middle ground though; it seems like you are either locked in to a rigid template, or you are completely on your own. The templates look quite professional, but they constrain. Starting a new project allows for complete freedom, but the product does not look professional when it’s your first project!
Composing with digital media is interesting because revision happens throughout. They revised constantly as they watched their work and the changes they kept making in their projects. Even as they filmed I heard revision happening: “We can edit that out.” It’s an emerging process.
One group came back every day with new pictures on an SD card for me to load onto their iPad.
As they pieced their projects together, some were finding that there were certain images they could not create that they needed to create their trailer. One group had a picture of a bobcat in their trailer, and I asked how they got the bobcat image. “We took a picture of the Internet!” they told me. I had to laugh at how convoluted that was, but I admired their problem-solving skills.
Since we were using the iPads offline, the students were limited to the music already in iMovie. The app only provides 8 different “theme music” looping tracks. If they wanted any other music, it would have to be loaded onto the iPad through a computer with iTunes. Most groups found something that worked, but there was some frustration that came with the constraint.
“We need the Star-Spangled Banner because it’s about America if it’s gone down the tubes,” one group told me. They ended up singing it into the voiceover function, which was in effect really eerie and worked for their project.
One group brought a guitar and composed their own original music to accompany their trailer.
One group played a song through their phone into the voiceover, making for a very grainy sound, but at least they got to use what they wanted.
We didn’t have a cart, and so it was difficult to find a space to plug in all 14 iPads. I borrowed two power strips from my department, and I could have used 3-4 more because the iPad plug heads are so large they occupy more than one outlet.
Luckily, they seemed to hold the charge all day even with the continual use.
If you are in a classroom, headphones would be helpful as students edit their projects. We were in a big open space and so it was less of an issue.
Many students wanted blank slides with text, and we could not figure out how to do this in iMovie other than to take a picture of something and overlay the text. I found out about an app that is $1.99 that allows for these kinds of slides and lets you create credits and more, too. I would like to have this for round two of this project in spring.
The last thing I had to figure out was how to get their work off of the iPads. I did not want to take all 14 home with me again to use the Internet to send them off (iMovie lets you export to YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, and CnnIReport) so I was left with the options of sending to the Camera Roll or to iTunes. I could not figure out how to use iTunes to this end, so I saved their movies to the iPads’ camera rolls, and then connected them to my Mac one at a time—I used iPhoto to move the files onto my desktop. They were in .mov format, which can be played on Mac or PC with Quicktime.
We ended up having a showing a week later and the students seemed to enjoy seeing their projects on the “big screen.” My coworker had them fill out a sheet as they watched where they would write what the most effective and least effective technique used in each. I thought this was cumbersome for what were, on average, thirty second trailers. Your mileage may vary.