Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stop Motion for Sustainability - Behind the Scenes

By Katie Martell

Recently I collaborated on a project with the Wang Center for Global Education and PLU Sustainability. PLU was recently selected as a Finalist for the 2014 Second Nature Climate Leadership Awards, and in short, our group was tasked with creating a video that demonstrates the complex concept of "carbon onsetting" and how it is being utilized at PLU to reduce students' carbon footprints. There was just one problem— the project had not yet begun. 

Since video is made up of moving images, the idea is to actually show something happening, but what could the team do when all we had to work with was an idea? We discussed a few well known advertisements, such as the UPS Whiteboard Campaign, "The Story of Stuff," and "The History of Education" by Lightspeed Systems (see below). After doing this research, our first thought was to use simple animations generated in a motion graphics program, but this approach is extremely time-consuming and we were under a tight deadline. So, instead of going through the laborious process involved in motion graphics, I suggested that we try stop motion animation to showcase PLU's sustainability efforts.

Scripting and Storyboarding

Once we settled on using stop motion to tell our "carbon onsetting" story, the next step was to write a script and draw a storyboard. The team from Marketing & Communications was instrumental in this process, and wrote a rhyming script that added a lot of life and interest to the rather technical idea. They also drew storyboards, which are basic images of each scene. Storyboards help me as a video producer because they keep ideas organized and inform me as to which shots we actually need to record so that we have a complete finished piece. Of course, any project that involves a number of constituents requires that we seek input throughout the process, and so the script and storyboards were meticulously critiqued and edited until we were ready to begin production. Below is an example of one of the storyboards we used for this project. 

Stop Motion Animation

Video is actually a series of images that give the illusion of motion, and stop motion animation is a technique that takes full advantage of that fact. To achieve the desired effect, we created scenes out of felt and took still photographs, moving the objects in the scene in small increments (about a quarter of an inch) for each image. When all of the images were played in sequence, the objects appeared to move on their own. After showing our proof of concept (video below) to the group, we received approval to carry out the rest of production. 

The Production Process

While stop motion is less labor-intensive than detailed motion graphics editing, it does present its own set of challenges. The first thing we did was create a space on which we could film the scenes. In the campus studio, we flipped over a whiteboard and brought in lights to set the scene. One thing we underestimated was the time it would take to actually cut out the felt objects and design each part of the story, but once they were completed, the actual shooting was not difficult. Campus photographer John Froschauer even paid us a visit to document the production!

We laid down each scene, one by one, and took about 60 images for every segment using a remote attached to the camera. Some scenes needed to be shot backward and then flipped in post production to create certain motions. Tedious, yes, but also very fun and very much worth the effort! For the final video, I edited each segment together and adjusted length as necessary. I also added music and credits, and finally, plugged in narration by Kirsten Kendrick from KPLU, who was kind enough to narrate the video. Here is the final product: 

This was a very different project from the interview-based material I normally produce, so it was great to let my creativity go to work.
Please vote for our video in Second Nature's Climate Leadership Awards competition today! 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My First MOOC: A New Year’s Resolution Revisited

In January, I enrolled in my first MOOC to learn more about this controversial form of instruction.  It was definitely valuable, both for instructional design research and as a learning experience. 

The course was designed around five basic elements: video lectures, readings, weekly online quizzes, discussion boards, and video recorded “office hours”.  Each Sunday, the instructor would post readings, lectures, and a quiz for the week.  Lectures ranged in duration and number, with four to eight lectures a week each between 10-20 minutes in length.  Required “reading” for the week usually consisted of articles, videos (several Ted Talks), and book chapters, all thoughtfully provided for free through the course.  Weekly online quizzes contained 20 multiple choices questions, written largely at the lowest level of Bloom’s taxonomy.  I spent about six hours each weekend reading and watching videos.  Online discussions were student-generated and optional.  However, during the first week of the course, a forum was created where students could submit questions for the instructor.  At the end of the week, the instructor selected a few questions and posted a video response, calling it “office hours.”  I will admit that I did not participate in the optional discussion boards.  There were over a hundred pages of discussion thread topics and I found myself disinterested in the random debates of thousands of unknown classmates.  

The instructor’s video lectures were thought-provoking topics that held my interest, despite a traditional “sage on the stage” approach.  Students watched the instructor lecturing on a Yale production studio stage.  Occasionally, images, graphs, or quotes were displayed in a split screen format next to the instructor, but presentation slides were generally not utilized.  The professor discussed lots of research, terms, and scientists.  The lack of visual supports made it more difficult to process all the lecture details.  Without the support of a textbook or slide presentation, I often missed important facts later represented on the quiz.  This small frustration reminded me of the importance of using visual cues to assist in the processing of new information, especially when discussing names and terms that are hard to aurally discern.

One of the common complaints about MOOCs is that they provide for little or no interaction with the instructor.  This concern is valid.  I had no direct communication with my instructor for this course.  If I was enrolled in a face-to-face or online course, I would have most certainly asked questions of my professor and discussed topics with my peers.  There are fears that MOOCs might replace college courses with an impersonal broadcast of learning.  Elements integral to active learning were not present in my MOOC course and I don’t consider MOOCs to yet provide an experience wholly equivalent to a traditional or online course.  With thousands of students, it would be difficult for a free online course to sustain the same level of interaction.  To provide course credit for MOOCs, rigorous certification standards would surely be necessary.

Although active learning is a powerful form of instruction, I still appreciated the MOOC for what it could offer.  I treated the experience as form of self-instruction.  The most positive benefit for me was access to a free course thoughtfully arranged by an expert in the field.  This expert selected insightful readings and provided poignant lectures, conveniently presented for my learning pleasure.  I don’t begrudge the Discovery Channel or the New York Times for failing to design active learning experiences; but then, they are not expected to do so.  I appreciated my first MOOC for what it could provide, however unidirectional.  The learning experience was filled with rich resources and well worth the investment of my time.  I look forward to taking more MOOCs in the future.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Planning Ahead for the Sakai 2.9 Upgrade - Friday, June 6

Sakai Unavailable, Friday, June 6, 6:00 am - 12:00 noon

On Friday, June 6, from 6:00am to 12 noon, Sakai will be out of service to upgrade the system from version 2.8 to 2.9. Please note that June 6 is the first Friday of the Summer 2014 academic term, so Sakai will not be available for course work that morning. Thus, please plan Summer term assignments and other activities which use Sakai accordingly. 

What’s Changing With This Upgrade and Why Does It Matter?

The new version of Sakai will feature:
  • several improvements to the user interface, including a prominent ‘Publish Now’ button which allows instructors to publish course sites with one click and a tool menu that users can minimize for more screen space;
  • a major new tool called Lessons, through which instructors can consolidate course materials, assignments, quizzes, discussion forums, and multimedia while presenting all such items within a structure that mirrors the actual flow of the course; and 
  • enhancements to commonly used Sakai tools, such as Forums, Gradebook, and Tests & Quizzes.
More details about the Lessons tool and other changes to Sakai will be posted to this blog in April. In the meantime, consider the following preview of the Lessons tool.

A More Integrated Sakai Through Lessons

Although instructors can easily add the Lessons tool to a course via the "Edit Tools" function in Site Info, Lessons is not just another ‘add-on’ tool. The unique power of Lessons stems from its ability to organize and build course content for the entire site. Through Lessons instructors create or select course material stored in Resources, Assignments, Forums, or Tests & Quizzes and present these items with supporting rich text and multimedia on a Lessons page. By creating several such pages, instructors can build up their course and organize material by week, unit, topic, or any other scheme that intuitively represents the flow of the course.

Figure 1 below shows an example of a Lessons page seen from an instructor’s perspective. It depicts a simple page entitled “Section 1” which incorporates blocks of rich text, links to two readings stored in the Resources tool, and a link to an assignment from the Assignments tool.

Figure 1: Lessons - Instructor View (click image to enlarge)

Figure 2 below shows the corresponding student view of the page from Figure 1.

Figure 2: Lessons - Student View (click image to enlarge)

This simple example of a Lessons page demonstrates how Lessons can integrate different learning activities that are associated with distinct tools (e.g., Resources and Assignments) and present them on a single page to represent a discrete unit for a course. With Lessons instructors can author several such pages (e.g., Sections 1 through Section 5), so that online learning activities are presented in a more cohesive and intuitive style than has been possible with previous versions of Sakai.

Learn More by Attending a Workshop

Faculty and staff can register here to attend the following workshops offered this academic term.

Sakai 2.9: What's Changing and Why Does It Matter? - Sakai will be upgraded early this summer to version 2.9. Get an overview of new features as well the new Lessons Tool. Learn to simplify your course structure for students and explore new pedagogical approaches. This workshop is offered three times this term (Spring 2014):
  • Friday, April 25, 2014 - 12:00 PM
  • Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 2:00 PM
  • Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 12:00 PM

The New Sakai Lessons Tool - The Sakai Lessons Tool allows instructors to present course content in a structured way to guide students through their learning tasks. Using the Lessons tool, you can organize resources, assessments, forums, and media into a topical (rather than tool) structure so that students don’t need to navigate to different tools.
  • Friday, May 2, 2014 - 12:00 PM

We look forward to working with you in making the most of these new features in Sakai. If you have questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to email us at

    Layne Nordgren, Director for User Services / Instructional Technologies
    Sean Horner, Web Application Developer

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Lagerquist - Behind the Scenes (Installation)

When last I blogged....

The patch bays were being punched, equipment had arrived, and Travis and I were itching to begin the installation. The tight schedule in the music building gave us one week to accomplish a huge amount of work - so when Monday morning arrived, we hit the ground running.

Pre-installation Production Room
My mother always told me that the best way to clean a dirty room was to start by picking something up. While this sounds a lot like Forrest Gump, the theory holds true. We began by pulling out the excess cable, one at a time. Over the years, these cables had become a tangled mess of copper wiring: unlabeled, and stubborn. Most of the first day was spent gutting the room. Equipment, furniture, and seemingly miles of cable were removed from the production room. Tearing apart the room was oddly calming, but by the end of the day we were a little worried.
lots and lots of cables!
Going into the project, we knew it was going to be a struggle. We had a rough idea of how long all the work would take, but we hadn't expected so much.. stuff. The technicians who originally installed the cabling - may their lines forever have hum - didn't run the cable too well. By run, I mean lay the cable neatly on it's path towards it's destination. Cables were wrapped around each other, criss-crossing through the ceiling. Travis and I spent a good hour and a half sorting out a bundle of 26 video cables, and that was only a portion of the work to be done. Most of Monday was spent sorting cables, but the organization we achieved payed off in the end.
Air soldering
By Wednesday we had accomplished much more than we expected given our Monday setbacks. Most of the cable had been run, and the equipment rack was taking shape. Mike - our amazing woodworker - arrived and installed the new desk we had designed. The room was starting to look like a production space. We ran cabling from the patch bays across the room and into the desk, managed it nicely to the sides with a disturbing amount of zip-ties, and began connecting all of the equipment together.
Mike installing the new desk
Thursday and Friday were spent wrapping up. While we planned well, there were still things that we hadn't thought about. We tied up loose ends, cleaned the room, and began testing. The scary thing about an installation is that four days in you still don't really know if everything will work or not. We checked all the lines to and from the concert hall, and found that (miraculously) all the lines worked.
Managing cables..
Friday afternoon brought a sigh of relief. We hadn't gotten everything done, but we had accomplished more than we could've hoped. In the space of one week, Travis and I tore apart and reconstructed a production studio. While there was still work to be done, the production room was functional. We packed up our tools, and at 5 PM began a well deserved Winter Break.

It's a work in progress, but it's still beautiful

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Spring 2014 Technology Workshops

Check out the schedule of Spring 2014 Technology workshops at along with registration information. Workshops include a diversity of topics such as: 

  • Blended Learning 
  • Flipping the Classroom
  • Engaging Students 
  • Strengthening Connections 
  • Sakai Learning Management System
  • Clickers
  • Google Apps
  • Microsoft Office
  • And more..! 
For a complete listing of workshops, see the workshop flyer.

If you have a particular need for specialized and customized technology workshops for your class or department, contact Layne Nordgren (, 253-535-7197) and we'll do our best to meet your specific needs.

Need one on one assistance with technology? Instructional Technologies provides two digital technology labs with computers and software for digital editing projects. The Digital Design Lab is located on the first floor of the Library near the Help Desk. And the Wiegand Multimedia Lab is located in Morken 115.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My First MOOC: A New Year's Resolution

I am not one to jump on the bandwagon for any type of fad that gets a lot of media attention.  My first iPhone was the 5, just out of stubbornness.  But in my role as an instructional designer, I felt it was due time for me to have an opinion of MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, based on first-hand experience.  (For those of you new to the concept of MOOCs, see the info-graphic below for an overview of the concept).

Click above to view the complete image.

After making the resolution to participate in a MOOC this January, I found myself unsure of how to get started finding one.  After a bit of searching, I decided to select a course from the options provided by either edX or Coursera.  Both providers have websites that host online courses created by faculty across the globe, though edX is a non-profit partnership and Coursera is a for-profit education company.  Edx and Coursera courses are both developed by a range of faculty from ivy league, private, and public institutions.  As of January, EdX had posted 125 courses and Coursera had posted about 550.  I was secretly relieved to discover that neither provider offered courses directly relevant to my profession, so I was free to take a course just for fun.

The amount of information listed about the courses varied greatly.  Some courses included a rigorous syllabus of readings, assignments, discussion boards, and tests.  Other courses posted little detail up front, and may mostly utilize lecture videos and reading.  I was pleased to see some courses provided reading material for free, while others listed traditional text books to purchase.  Having already earned three degrees, I found myself disinclined toward courses that had more rigorous work expectations and expensive textbooks.  I love to learn just for the pleasure of it, but I think I need external motivators (i.e. cost or credit) if I am going to take exams.

I decided to enroll in a Coursera course, Moralities of Everyday Life, created by a Yale psychology professor I had previously seen in TedTalks videos.  The enrollment process was simple and required just my name and email information.  I was given the option to purchase the “verified certificate” track for $50.  This service, called Signature Track, uses typing patterns with facial recognition to confirm a student's identity.   Since it’s my first experience with a MOOC, I am going with the free option.  Class begins January 20th  (apparently MOOCs don’t honor federal holidays) and lasts nine weeks.  I am excited to personally experience how a MOOC compares to a traditional online course.  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, if you too are inspired by the new year and want to learn something new, I invite you to try the MOOC experience along with me and share your thoughts.  Here are the sites I explored:

Monday, January 13, 2014

PLU Christmas Greeting - Behind the Scenes

Pre-production - Can we make this work?

For this past year’s Christmas Greeting, PLU Photographer John Froschauer (photo-left) and I (photo-right) decided to try something a bit different. The idea was to use long exposure photography to capture students “light writing” Christmas themed words at iconic locations on campus. The real challenge was finding a method to turn the resulting series of still images into an engaging video, but we found a way!

Production Night!

First, we had to plan a night time shoot so the “light writing” would stand out against the background. Long exposure simply means using a long-duration shutter speed, and in this case we left the shutters in our cameras open for several seconds at a time. When this is done in the dark, the paths of any moving light sources become clearly visible.

Because we wanted to spell out the Christmas-themed words over time, we had to take several pictures (ten or so) as each letter was added. Volunteers from ASPLU helped us achieve longer phrases, such as “Merry Christmas.” For each image, we called out letters and the students would essentially draw the letter in the air with a colored flashlight. As each light path will never be identical to the one previously drawn, the letters appear to dance on the screen, which created a nice effect in the final product.

Final Touches

After the shoot we were left with hundreds of photographs, which John sequenced and turned into little movie files, with about ten images per second. This is a much slower frame rate than would usually be used for video, but we agreed that it gave the best result for spelling out the words over time. I then imported all of the videos into our editing software, and began piecing things together. For the final “Merry Christmas,” I decided to put a move on the image series to make it a little more dynamic. All that remained was to add some appropriate holiday music and a snazzy PLU logo at the end. Here is the final result!


If you are interested in learning more or seeing some amazing examples of light writing/painting, here are a few of the videos that inspired us:
How would you like to be featured in the 2014 Christmas Greeting? We are already brainstorming new ideas and will keep you posted over the coming months!