At New Technology High School in Napa, one of the first ever Project Based Learning schools in the country, presenting to the class and to community partners is a regular part of the curriculum. Students are expected to present during idea pitches, classroom critiques, as well as formal learning defenses at the end of the project. But what happens when a set of students refuses to present due to undue anxiety, or fear, speech impediments, lack of social skills, being on the spectrum, or just plain shyness? This year in my Game Design and Visual Effects class, I decided to experiment with Character Animate as a tool to help students get over their resistance to doing live presentations.
As a part of the Game Design curriculum, students write a Game Design Document, a long document that speaks to what a video game might look like, how it's played, how characters progress to different levels, who the target market is, and a complete backstory for the main character. This year I decided to have the students present their game concept from the front of the classroom, but this time, do so through a digital puppet of their game's main character. The puppets were created in Character Animator and then were projected on the smart board behind the puppeteer (presenter.)
Students were asked to further develop the persona of their character through exploring their accents, gestures, appearance and personal interests. They were then interviewed live by a fellow student or by me while we filmed the puppet, the interviewer and the puppeteer. Students then edited the three-camera shoot into one video using the format of a game review TV show or youtube channel.
What Students Said About it
"In my class, a lot of students are rather introverted, so we don't like presenting or speaking to more than a small group. In order to make up for this weakness, I think that proper use of Character Animator can help a student out quite a bit, especially if the puppet is displayed, not the speaker. As long as students have access to this tool, I think that students will be able to make some interesting innovations if they are given enough time to do what they want." -Jackson
"I feel like once I completely finish my whole character, it will feel like I am him, but at the same time someone completely different. If I can become my character, I will do it without a second thought, and I will have Adobe to thank if I ever have that opportunity to come to me." -Ajay
"I guess its good that you'll have a puppet to speak through rather than just presenting in front of everybody. I feel like people would be less nervous to present." -Jaime
The great thing about using Character Animator is that any student at any level of technical skill can create this project based on what they already know or don't know. Some of my students created their characters from scratch, going into great detail while building on their existing skills in Illustrator or Photoshop. Other students, who were more beginners, found that using the characterizer or an Adobe-provided template was a great place to start. Every student had some success no matter what skill level they brought to the table.
Prior to this project some of my students simply refused to present, and instead take the zero. With their puppets, every single student in that class presented live and did so successfully and without anxiety, frustration or resistance. I heard loud, clear voices full of confidence during their interviews. As educators, we must always be looking to integrate tech in the classroom in a way that supports deeper and more successful learning. In this case, using Character Animator helped a very specific group of students who have been too shy to develop their public speaking skills. It's been wonderful to see such strong success for students who classically struggle with speaking skills and I will continue to integrate this software into future presentation projects.
Lisa Gottfried is a CTE teacher with 20 years experience as CEO of her own Video and Motion Graphics Production house. She currently teaches Intro to Digital Media, Video Production and Game/3D Design. She loves her job and her students!