*This was originally written in August 2020*
My name is Cassandra, I was hired as the Museum Educator summer student this year through Canada Summer Jobs. I worked at the museum last summer as one of two summer students running the summer kid's programming. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the museum only hired one summer student and our summer kid's programming had to go through a very swift change. In a normal year, our drop-in crafting program would be held three times weekly, in-person, and ran by a team of two summer students. However, this year has been anything but normal, we are in the middle of a pandemic and there was only one summer student. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, even after the museum reopened to the public, social distancing and cleaning requirements made an in-person drop-in program difficult this year. So for everyone's comfort and safety, we decided to go digital.
From the trial and error involved in figuring out the tech, to the steep learning curve that comes with developing a new program. Here is a behind-the-scenes look at my experiences in developing a digital program from the ground up.
Right from being hired, it was clear this year was going to have to be done differently. A few brainstorming sessions later, we decided that we would keep the overall structure of the drop-in program. It would still be craft activities planned around weekly themes, it would just have to be done through videos. We also settled on a video release schedule, Mondays would be a promo with supply lists, Wednesday a prerecorded video would be posted to our YouTube channel, and later to Instagram TV, and on Friday I would do a Live crafting session on Facebook. I was excited about this new format because I had always been interested in video editing and stop motion animation, and this new format allowed me the opportunity to develop those skill sets. The planning of the actual crafts was very similar to how we had planned drop-in activities in the previous years.
Once the initial planning was done, the next thing to figure out was how and where I would do the filming. For the filming location, I settled pretty quickly on a table with a copy stand(mount for a camera) which was right beside a huge window upstairs, allowing for lots of natural light. This spot was also pretty convenient because it is in the same corner all the craft supplies are stored on a normal basis.
So the where solved, now for the how, that required some problem solving, multiple days, and a lot of trial and error. I started with a camera that we normally use at the museum for getting really high-quality photos of artifacts. As good as it was, there was one main problem, it didn't have the capability to shift the focus as I moved my hands and did the craft. That issue was solved by filming with the iPod, which worked much better and had surprisingly good audio quality. This solution brought me to the next puzzle, how to mount the iPod to the copy stand without a mount really meant for what I needed it to do. Two days and multiple prototypes later (having a well-stocked craft corner was very helpful), I had macgyvered a stable mount that would support the iPod and keep it stable while I worked without compromising video quality.
Weekly planning had to be done as well, what the title sequence was going to look like, in what order was I going to film things in, and each video had to be story-boarded and scripted.
The filming itself was actually pretty straightforward and unproblematic, multiple takes and a voice-over here and there aside. For any given week my schedule more or less looked the same. I would film Wednesday's video first and make a model of Friday's craft, then I would go back and film the stop-motion for each week's title sequence as well as any other additional video that I needed for the Monday promo. To make the stop-motion sequences, I used an app that I could take pictures directly in, adjust the frames-per-second rate as needed, then export as a video file to be downloaded onto the computer along with all the rest of the video files. I enjoyed the stop-motion filming process especially, it did take a while to do though. Each 3-4 second sequence took about 20-30 mins to complete.
A sample of the stop-motion title sequence from S.T.E.M. Week
Once all the video clips were on the computer, then there was the editing process to contend with. There was a lot of trial and error when it came to finding a video editing software that would work well and was free to use and export the video. It took a while but after going through about 5 different software that didn't work for us, we finally found one that did what we needed it to do. I needed to learn how to use the software, but after that, the actual editing process was just complicated by the fact that the computers were not quite powerful enough to run the video editing software that we had settled on. This did two things, it made the editing process itself much slower than it would have otherwise been and it also tied up the computer while video editing was happening. The computer couldn't run the video editing software and do anything else at the same time. While this didn't restrict what I could do with the video editing itself, it did slow down the work. It especially slowed the rendering and exporting process. Once that was done, each video got uploaded onto our YouTube channel, or in the case of the weekly promos onto our various social media pages.
It goes without saying that this summer was a very different summer than we have experienced previously. On the one hand, it was a lot of work for one person to do I was often behind schedule and getting videos done at the last moment. On the other hand, working alone allowed me to use multiple computers at the museum and could get some other things done while the video editing software was doing its thing. Working on this project by myself was also more practical for the space I had, having two people trying to do filming and editing in a small corner of the meeting room would have been tight. Overall, I found this year challenging in its own way but it was also a lot of fun and very different than my experience last year at the museum. I enjoyed the opportunity to be challenged, try something different and problem solve. However, I did miss the many face-to-face interactions with the children who attend our drop-in program, and other various events we would usually host over the summer.
If you want to check out our Craft with Us Video Series you can follow the link to our YouTube channel for both the Wednesday videos and the Friday LIVE videos which have been uploaded to our channel.