July 26, 2012
Class turns students into nature documentarians
Doug Osman, clinical
assistant professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication, looks on while
student Mike Williams shoots additional footage for his nature documentary at
the Celery Bog in West Lafayette. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
To Doug Osman, the Celery Bog wetlands in West Lafayette are an invaluable local resource primed for bird-watching, nature walks -- and documentary making.
This spring, Osman, clinical assistant professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication, taught an environmental documentary filmmaking class centered on the bog and its multitude of natural inhabitants. During the class, five students each created four- to five-minute documentaries about the bog's habitats, food webs, human history, geological history and animal adaptations.
Once the documentaries finish going through a final production phase -- likely by January -- they'll be distributed to local schools and libraries at no cost to those entities, Osman says. The documentaries, which are aimed at a fifth-grade audience, also will be available to the general public through The Education Store for Purdue Extension.
The class was made possible through a $5,000 grant from the Office of the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and through collaboration with Mary Cutler, naturalist for the Tippecanoe County Park and Recreation Department.
Osman says that he hopes the documentaries provide a dynamic, up-close way of teaching science to elementary and middle school students.
"Students in Tippecanoe County who watch these documentaries will be looking at a resource that's right here in their backyard," Osman says.
"If even one student watches these documentaries and becomes inspired to go see the Celery Bog, and to eventually pursue a career as a biologist, that's what I'm really hoping happens. I want to open young students' eyes to the benefits of a career in the sciences because we desperately need scientists here in the country."
The students in Osman's spring class each spent about 20 hours filming in the Celery Bog, capturing everything from a turtle digging its nest to muskrats swimming to deer foraging for food. Prior to shooting, Osman provided a three-day, in-class filmmaking boot camp so the students would have the technical skills they needed.
Osman's preparation for the class began months before the first students came on board, he says. After receiving the community engagement grant in January, Osman linked up with Cutler, who met early on with students, fact-checked scripts and reviewed rough cuts of the videos. She also will be involved in packaging the final cuts.
"This documentary project is very exciting because it has the potential to reach a very large number of teachers and students," Cutler says.
"The recent economic climate has made it very difficult for teachers to take students on on-site field trips, so having something that will be able to connect students to a local natural resource is a big benefit. We hope the videos inspire students to take that extra step to visit this resource, which really is in their backyard."
Greater Lafayette's education systems continue to be involved in the initiative as well. In February, Osman convened a group of local science teachers, who helped formulate the documentaries' topics. In August, school curriculum officials will review the videos; in a year Cutler will help local teachers formulate lessons revolving around them.
Eventually, Osman hopes to develop an interactive, Web-based program that would see Purdue experts visit myriad nature areas to conduct live question-and-answer sessions with science students here and around the world.
"We'd love to bring scientists from across Purdue to places like the Celery Bog and be able not only to show these documentaries to classrooms live through the Internet, but also have the students in those classrooms be able to interact with the scientists and ask questions," Osman says. "It would be like a field trip, but without the travel costs involved for the schools."