Critique Week 3 — Blank on Blank

Have you ever listened to an old clip of a dead president or famous singer from the thirties and gotten a little bored? Have you ever wished that someone would boil the message down for you and help you decipher what matters in what he or she is saying and how this person’s words relate to your life, right now today? Well, watch this!

Or this!

Awesome, right? Want to watch more??

Blank on Blank is a digital storytelling project by Quoted Studios in collaboration with PBS Digital Studios. The creators of blank on blank are “dedicated to using animated journalism to preserve and re-imagine the American interview.” To this end, they create animated shorts using the sound clips from interviews of famous actors, scientists, singers, presidents, artists, and other notable figures. The animation matches the audio in a charming and unpretentious way. Each short has a similar style of animation: simple drawings done with subtle colors and straightforward backgrounds. The illustrations of the individuals being interviewed in the short tend to be a bit of a caricature though not in an obnoxious or offensive way.

Each video is three to six minutes, typically, and has a theme or message that resonates with the audience in a way that is relevant for today even though the interviews are many times from another time. It preserves the art of the interview and audio recordings while making it captivating for everyone through the visuals and animation. Sometimes, these interviews were recorded days before the individual’s death, or are now featured because he or she died recently. Consequently, the audience feels like they are getting a glimpse into a time now lost and gone. Here the creators explain blank on blank’s objectives, naturally through super sweet animation and audio:

In my opinion, they achieve their objective! The shorts are fun to watch and give me an opportunity to listen to interviews that I would not listen to otherwise, either because of lack of interest or availability. Listening to these notable historical and cultural figures’ actual voices is exciting, and I learn more because the accompanying animation engages me. They are so short that I never lost interest (#millennialattentionspan), and I came away with little wisdoms to apply to my own life.

This digital storytelling project relates to this week’s theme of Copyright and Fair Use, as the creators at Quoted Studios collaborate with several institutions across the country to gain access to the audio recordings they use in their animated journalism. These institutions include: the Library of Congress, the JFK Library, The Studs Terkel Archive, The JFK Library, the Pacifica Radio Archive, The British Library, among others. They are not taking clips off of Youtube (using a clip converter site— just learned about these #fairuseorcopyrightinfringement? #IThinkIKnowTheAnswer) or something. They are going straight to the source and partnering with the institutions who gather and preserve these sorts of audio recordings and get their permission to use them.

Regarding how this project relates to the work my students and I do in our classroom, oooh boy! Another resource to add to the access, engage, and express toolbox (#trademarkingthat!). My students are very motivated by learning through video and audio. For example, they love Brainpop and other animated or visual learning tools (Khan Academy, Learnzillion, Flocabulary, etc.). Blank on Blank falls into this category, though it goes a step further being that they are primary sources. How amazing it would be to get kids listening to interview with such important people! The videos would entertain them while teaching them those valuable life lessons. Though some of the subject matter may be a little advanced or inappropriate for young listeners, I could preview them ahead of time and post them to our Google Classroom for students to use for biography projects, etc.

Additionally, the media type would be a neat option for students to use when creating projects to demonstrate their learning (project/product as learning, not dessert). For example, they could interview each other as a “get to know you” project and then create some sort of animation to go with it (What sorts of free animation programs are out there for kids to use, say on a Chromebook?); or students could create videos with animation or drawings and include audio in which they explain a concept they studied; or students could create biographies where they invent an interview and record themselves acting like the individual they are studying. Boy, would that be rigorous! Can you imagine, the students have to write questions for the individual and then infer how he or she would answer based on what they learned and know about him or her. Whoa…

Overall, big fan of Blank on Blank. Check it out.

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