When elementary school students study media they turn the camera on themselves as part of the Telemedia program offered by Saskatoon Public Schools.
Telemedia provides students with the opportunity to learn about video and media production through a hands-on experience that involves everything from writing scripts, preparing for interviews and developing storyboards, all in advance of a full day of production in the studio located at the Board of Education office.
Darla Erickson, a Grade 8 teacher at Wildwood School, said the program offers a unique perspective and gives students the chance to incorporate writing, acting and technical learning as part of a team approach to the study and critique of marketing and television messaging.
"Telemedia was a phenomenal experience for the students because they were able to see media from the other side of the lens. It was something that I really wanted to bring to them," Erickson said. "I wanted to put all of the parts of the curriculum into this and this program offered that."
Student Lauren Elliotte-Hart said preparation for their time in the Telemedia studio involved a lot of planning in class. The students worked together to create, plan and script their projects ahead of time in order to ensure the best use of their day-long studio experience.
"To be able to attend the Telemedia workshop you had to be able to write a commercial script and a talk show script. We practiced learning these skills at school," she said. "The scripts were written by everyone in the group, combining our ideas to make a whole. Sometimes we had to make choices because our ideas did not fit well together."
The Telemedia program has operated for more than 30 years, moving from video tape to the latest digital production techniques. It is guided by the division's multi-media specialists Rob Kunz and Shawn Monahan, who each year welcome 50 classes comprised of an estimated 1,300 students to the studio and production facility.
Kunz says the most valuable part of Telemedia is the combination of learning and teamwork experienced by students as they fill the various roles required to bring their creative vision to life.
"We always say it is about the process — not the product — and learning how to do it," Kunz said. "It's going to be goofy, there are going to be mess-ups, there is always stuff like that. The process of how it goes together is the big part."
Their time in the Telemedia studio introduced students to the camera, video monitors, sound equipment and other components of in-studio production, as well as the endless creative possibilities provided by the studio's chroma key backdrop, otherwise known as the "green screen."
"During the day at the board office we were amazed and fascinated by the devices used to produce our commercials and talk shows," said student McKenna Schneider. "Many of us did not know how to use the cameras or the software but it was intriguing to learn how. A lot of time and effort goes into a commercial and, honestly, it was a little exhausting to get all of that information into our heads."
Erickson said the varied experience provided by Telemedia allows teachers and students to integrate curricular outcomes with the development of valuable skills in collaborative work, planning and peer feedback.
"We really focused on the English language arts portion," she said. "In this part students were able to create and present a commercial and an interview that portrayed what the outcome was supposed to be and hopefully entertained."
The program also offers students insight into career possibilities, both in front of and behind the camera.
"Overall it was a wonderful experience we had with our classmates and we learned many different things. This experience was worthwhile because it gave us an opportunity to experience the jobs of a producer, actor, camera operator, director, advertiser and more," said student Yuyang Niu, who gained an appreciation for the role of director.
Elliotte-Hart said acting would be her first choice out of all the roles students had to fill as part of their productions, while the technical aspects had the most appeal for Schneider.
"I would rather work behind the scenes, either with cameras or the monitors, and figuring out which camera is where each time," she said.
All three students say Telemedia has sparked their interest in video production and, according to Elliotte-Hart, also taught a valuable lesson in the importance of preparation and being able to improvise when necessary.
"(You need to) make sure the night before that everybody had everything they needed. I know that my group forgot something really important," she said.