Input CBBC Project Description
Children's BBC Producer Cathy Derrick explains the project:
Children as Co-Designers Input CBBC Presentation
by Cathy Derrick at Children's BBC
Your Input is our Output - indeed the aim of the CBBC channel is "Your Input is Our Output".
For this channel, I produced an integrated system where children can get in touch with shows using text, web or one phone number. Its called the CBBC Access System and the aim is to encourage more participation from children ranging from voting to giving us their ideas and comment.
That is one level of children contributing as co-designers because their input can and does alter the course of a programme.
Children as authors
At another level, I have been producing a pilot project called Input CBBC, which is not only about children as co-designers but sole authors of content.
This was all about encouraging children who've never made a film to produce their own output - with minimal involvement from CBBC - to find out more about children as co-designers.
Give children a voice
Isn't that what CBBC has been doing for 40 years? Well, yes, for decades CBBC has been at the forefront of providing children with a voice on television.
There are also and have been user generated projects such as Video Nation, now primarily a web experience. BBC Blast encouraged young people to get involved with the arts, giving support and advice. CBBC transmitted As Seen on TV, children's stories, told by children, produced by CBBC between 1994 and 1998. And of course there are non- - BBC schemes like First Light filmmaking project currently in operation, run by Hi 8 us.
But where children are or have been involved in such projects, in the vast majority of cases, their hands have been guided in these processes by researchers and producers or their footage has been edited by professionals - to ensure the best quality end results.
Input CBBC was the first research pilot project attempting to give children control at every stage of the process - from idea through editing to screen. If interesting results were produced - and I am in the process of analysing them - it could lend itself to projects with bigger scale. In a mass filmmaking scheme for children, individual guidance is not viable, hence our desire for a hands-off approach in this pilot - which was a toe dipped in the water of user-generation.
So Input CBBC aimed to:
· test a potential way to get more voices on CBBC from more children all around the British Isles
· test a potential way to provide access to CBBC to children, with places their films can be shown.
· encourage new ways of thinking by programme makers in a more hands-off approach when working with children.
· test whether it would be viable for children to construct whole magazines for themselves on broadband, with some content produced by them, other content being professional items.
Why now? We felt the time was ripe:
1. Because with new, simpler cameras and editing packages, technology is much more user-friendly, cheaper and widely available.
2. Contemporary children are more fluent with technologies such as computers than previous generations.
3. There is a growing emphasis on digital equipment amongst teachers and students.
Begun Oct 02
So we launched this research pilot last October - in collaboration with Ultralab, a research centre of Anglia Polytechnic University, who have a lot of experience in this sort of "loose touch" approach to film-making with children. We knew from the start our project would be a tall order - and we wanted to test our ideas harshly - to see if any child, with no special ability or ambition, could succeed at filmmaking with little guidance.
We chose locations first - Sheffield and Hull - Hull because of perhaps distant future possibilities of connecting with the BBC's broadband site on the Kingston Interactive service. In Sheffield we are interested in possible future links with the BBC Open Centre there. There is a growing network of BBC Open Centres for the public - in the future perhaps children could come, not just for online help, but possibly to a resource centre to help them get their ideas onto video.
Once the two locations had been decided on, we researched and approached established institutions - schools, community groups and City Learning Centres. We picked a mix of communities - ranging from multicultural inner city in Sheffield or the largest council estate in Europe in Hull - to rural and suburban.
We asked the institutions we approached first to seek an interested (and police checked) adult who would act as the supporting adult for each group of children because a key feature of the project was the need for children always to have a responsible adult with them when they film, for health and safety purposes. This was all part of the "arms length " approach of the trial for a long term where CBBC might be offering advice to children what to do if they want to make a film - and the first need is for an adult prepared to supervise such activities.
However these supporting adults were heavily briefed that their role was to organise film-making sessions, keep children safe, provide limited technological help if the children got stuck - but not to interfere in the creative process.
Once the adults were in place, they were asked to choose children to take part.
We requested the children should be in a pre-existing natural friendship group of around 4 where possible. We were also interested in groups made up of different ages - say siblings - and children who were not always the first to volunteer for everything (children who perhaps the adult thought should be achieving better but weren't) for whom film-making may broaden horizons.
Finally our trial consisted of 40 children in Sheffield and 24 in Hull, working in groups of around 4. Four was suggested by Ultralab as a good working number, based on their experience prior to this. The children were aged 10 - 14 (the upper end of CBBC's target age group. It was decided to go with older children rather than younger children who would have less years of experience with technology)
Despite our hands-off approach, for this pilot we gave them briefings in person - something that wouldn't happen in the long term - but we wanted to inform our research, with direct feedback.
The Ultralab approach is to give the very basics of technical guidance - then encourage the participants to play with the equipment - our briefing was an even smaller one than Ultralab usually do. We introduced them to digital cameras and also to the editing package called iMovie and they had a chance to experiment there and then.
But as well as the practical work, we brought up other important aspects about making a film - especially if you want it transmitted by the BBC - such as..
· Safety - paramount importance - the safety considerations that need to be taken into account. In collaboration with BBC Safety, we have developed a risk assessment form for them to complete and be signed by their supervising adult before they film. Again this was about CBBC giving advice but not actually taking control of the process.
We also briefed on
· brainstorming and working as a team,
· Getting permission. The children are asked to ask people who they want to film to sign permission slips - essential for anything offered to the BBC for transmission
· copyright - they had to note down copyright of any music etc they used too - again so that if required BBC could clear it for transmission.
What to film
· editorial values - such as considerations about what is appropriate to film and not to film - giving them a taste of the sort of decisions producers and directors face every time they film.
All in all we were giving them a crash course in being a BBC producer or assistant producer - and in the process establishing structures for the possibility of a future large scale call to arms for children to make films.
The groups had email and phone support , mid project drop-ins and an end of project showing of the films.
And with our input and supervision, Ultralab developed a prototype website to offer support - because in any bigger scheme with many children making films, we think a dynamic video -rich website would be a good way to brief participants. For example children's own films could be part of the briefings and brands and celebrities could be the "hooks " to get them interested.
The groups were set the task of creating one or ideally two one-minute films of broadly factual content. To do this each child picked an unseen word or phrase out of an envelope. It was arranged that in every group there were two "concrete" phrases and two "more abstract" phrases. The children were asked that their first task as a team was to choose which word/phrase they were going to use as the basis of their film.
The groups were told that the ones that were good enough may possibly be shown on CBBC's XChange programme and Class TV on the CBBC digital channel.
They were also told that regardless of what was or was not transmitted, there would be some sort of event planned to show everyone's films at the end of the project. This is going to be a tour round London's Television Centre, taking place in a few weeks time.
And all the children and adults participating were asked to be researchers too, keeping log books to detail everything they did, what happened, emotions etc.
So what of the results - do we have evidence that children can be designers of content easily, fluently and without much prior training? The first thing to say is that these are provisional results - the children have only recently presented the films and I'm in the process of writing up the report on the project, along with contributions from Ultralab.
We had not sought out children with a burning desire to make films and none of them know beforehand that CBBC was involved. Though there was a small drop -out rate, most of them remained keen throughout.
And, as you might expect, a major motivating factor seems to have been the thought of getting their material on TV.
Group dynamics were revealing - to quote one child, "being friends is not enough, you need to be more than friends."
Group dynamics list
Deciding what to film was one of the things found to be hard and a few groups (especially the one or two that were bigger than four) ended splitting into smaller units.
Four is certainly a maximum in terms of crowding round a screen for editing.
A few individuals were also very damaging to group dynamics.
And in our small sample, as you might expect, gender appeared to play a role in some groups - two groups, both with two girls and two boys, complained that the boys had been unreliable. A third group split completely as two girls, two boys because they were interested in different things.
We had some single sex groups, most completed successfully.
There was also evidence at some of the briefings of some children, mostly boys hogging use of equipment.
The biggest learning curves for me, were all about time factors - how long it took to achieve anything, especially in a school.
· Demands from other commitments of their own
Firstly, despite asking for children who don't necessarily volunteer themselves for every school activity, inevitably the children taking part, tended to be the ones already involved in many other things, like plays and choirs. The demands on their time were many - e.g. the two girls who had spent the whole day and most of the evening rehearsing for a performance at the opening of Hull Stadium but still turned up for an evening briefing.
· reliance on busy adult
Secondly, the children were totally dependent on the supervising adults and hence the time pressures on them. Because of insurance and time issues some teachers were reluctant to leave their premises to film.
· Even getting access to the equipment was a problem.
We had one group who missed half their sessions because their teacher was sick, and no one else was available or would let them play with the equipment.
The adults were keen - some possibly for broader reasons such as the "educational benefit" of learning about risk assessments etc. They gave varying levels of support - and in one case there was a feeling of using access to the equipment as a form of control - i.e. you can't go filming until I'm satisfied you have planned enough.
· availability of daylight after school was also a problem.
· transport to get out filming
Different learning styles
Different learning styles that are currently much talked about in education were evident. Some groups were very keen to plan their film thoroughly before shooting, predominantly these were female groups - and others, often boys, were desperate to get out and film on the hoof but not being able to because of the external factors described above. (We had made it clear that either approach was valid).
Some children's eyes were opened about the amount of hard work involved in making a film.
Before I move on to the output and our successes here's some learning from the above points that would be worth considering for any children's user generated schemes in the future.
· make it clear to prospective groups that it takes a long time and commitment to make a film - possibly even give a sample timetable
· strike a balance between briefing on rights management and safety - and trying to stop the supervising adults become so fearful about things like copyright.
· emphasise that children learn in different ways - some need just to get out there and film
· our whole approach has been to encourage the importance of play - but this should be hammered home even more. A suggestion would be that children make tiny things first of all - such as little exercises - before attempting even a one-minute film.
Key learning 2
- friendship groups:
· emphasise how important pre-existing strong natural friendships are - how groups of 2 to 4 work well (mentioning the different roles required in filmmaking) but that a really strong individual character could work on their own. Age variances did not seem to be a problem if the friendships were strong.
· emphasise to supervisors how important access to the equipment is - and for them to keep an eye that no one is hogging the equipment.
· while it would be terrific if this was a common school or after school activity, schools, and especially teachers, are under so many pressures. Community groups and organisations such as scouts and guides could be good places to work.
And what of the material itself - well it is not Stephen Spielberg - very much first films- but it is planned for some of it to be transmitted. It is important to remember that none of these children had made films before - hardly any of them had even picked up a camera before. None of them had used an editing package. A substantial proportion of the adults were not familiar with cameras either. But this was all part of our plan - to test our idea to destruction, so to speak.
So we took a bunch of regular kids, who had never done it before and were in some cases pleasantly surprised - particularly with the more impressionistic films. Here are three of them - the first is a sort of rites of passage film - about a girl's first trip into town on her own, now she is old enough.
VT: FILMS 1
· Yvonne's Film
· I'd rather be dancing...
· Just another day (snow)
The first film really shows up the benefits of more time. The rest of Yvonne's group dropped out - she was in a community group. While she shot in just a couple of hours, she had access to about 15 hours editing unlike other groups with a snatched few hours. The last film was made by a brother and sister, aged 11 and 9.
It is interesting to see sparks of imaginative shooting, editing techniques, and cutting to music come through.
Some were more successful on the technical side than the creative.
Sparks of humour
And I have found it fascinating to see the humour - even brilliance come through, things Ultralab had predicted - its delightful to see their personalities emerge on film. Here are a few extracts from some of the others, with diverse ideas.
VT: FILM MONTAGE
· It's crazy that...recycling
· Night before Christmas
· Amy's winter workout
· Really wild show
Mostly 1 film
The Sausages film was our only experiment in puppetry - they came up with the idea of back projection themselves - but had to keep rushing out to buy new stars when the packets of sausages went off.
Most children only finished one film, but here's a film that three year seven boys put together with an hour's shooting and about half an hour's editing.
VT: Bored Brothers
· I'm bored extract
And I hope I haven't been boring you today!
So, to conclude:
· this was an experiment - and we tested it really harshly - and still came up with results. We've proved that when children get their hands on equipment they are clearly producing media that is of value to them, for the first time.
· the children and adults were co-researchers, keeping logbooks, doing interviews, being filmed. The research and their films are proving fascinating.
· we have encouraged some more voices and empowered a group of children to make films
· we have met our other stated aims of investigating and learning from how best to encourage this material.
· and have begun to establish ways of handling health and safety issues and rights management for user-generated CBBC projects at arms length. E.g.
I consulted with BBC Safety, a child safety expert and the BBC legal department on how to operate the project at a distance but with good safety guidance in place.
· have helped some children see TV with new eyes.
· we've proved children can be designers of content - and these are not children with special abilities or a burning ambition to make films - and they come from many different communities.
· but it is not easy for children to produce films, because of the factors described above
· you have seen the films so the jury is still out about the true extent that children may in the future be able to contribute on mass to programmes, much as they send letters and pictures in now.
Your input is our output
CBBC, as the country's foremost broadcaster to and for children, remains the best place to give children a voice on television. As I said earlier it is our aim that "your input is our output" and this project has fed that aim.
Finally, it is not just us broadcasters who have learnt from this experience. We have proved filmmaking is a journey of growing self-discovery ,self-expression, self-discovery and confidence building for the children concerned.