bases-covered00The stare down, the pitch, the crack of the bat---it's a long and high one, bouncing off the center field wall. The runner accelerates and builds momentum as he rounds the infield; first, then second base, and heads to third, the outfielders collide and one bobbles the grab as the batter now reaches and rounds third, it's going to be close, the long throw, the bounce, and... safe. But wait, a base umpire is signaling-the runner in his haste failed to make solid contact with second base, and the incredible play that should have made the highlight reel is relegated to a footnote in the sports section.

Don't worry, you haven't picked up a sports magazine, this is a column dedicated to finding and utilizing media projects for the real world, for the real classroom. But one of the biggest challenges we face as media educators Is not locating funding (which is a formidable challenge), or even keeping up with ever-changing technology and standards. Our real and present challenge is to engage our students with real-world projects that approximate, if not equal, 21st century media needs. We need to ensure that our assignments "hit all of the bases" (you knew that weak analogy was going to creep back sooner or later).

I'm afraid that all too often we view our student's projects like Clark Griswold's approach to a family vacation. They drive and drive, only to reach the landmark, and after a few seconds of gazing at the grandeur of it all, he says "All right kids, hop in the car, let's go." We see our projects as a quick destination, a grade in the book, and then it's off to the next assignment. The cycle repeats. Before I get accused of using two different analogies (guilty) without solid application (not guilty), maybe we should re-evaluate the litany of projects that we routinely assign.

As skill-facilitators of the next generation of media pros, our primary goal is to actually prepare our students for the wide array of possible careers in a diverse field. The trend in the industry is away from specialization and focused-skill, towards multi-modal and well-rounded employees, who are as comfortable in the field shooting, as they are in post, at home whether sweetening an audio mix, or crafting a dramatic lighting setup for a round of celebrity interviews. Search the soul of your curriculum; are we hitting all of the bases? Are we lopsided in our approach, favoring an area of study that has no more justification than it is an aspect of production that we personally excel in or are comfortable teaching? All of us are guilty of that in some respect.

Clark Griswold could glance out at the Grand Canyon and moments later be consumed with reaching the next destination. Let's not view our projects as the destination, but rather see their real value in the journey-the application of the various skills that must combine to successfully achieve the goal. As our assignments force our students to make solid contact with all of the bases (insert word: fundamentals), the experience they will gain is incalculable. Are we giving one-dimensional assignments, that is, projects that primarily require a limited application of a total skills set? Look for opportunities to combine and integrate, projects that force a wider array of both hardware (read: equipment) and software. It's understandable that early on in their education, we give bite-sized assignments, but for our more advanced students, we need to challenge them with more "meat and potatoes" (yet another analogy).

Inventory time: do we have assignments that bare little approximation to anything they will face in the field? Are we having them produce pieces that will never see the light of a demo reel? Is our program of study a reflection of the industry? As we reflect, we might just realize that It may be high time to clean house (a fourth analogy) and to make our hallowed halls a better mirror of the real world (final analogy).

Over the next several issues, this column will present practical, rubber-meets-the-road, project ideas that you can incorporate into your training program TODAY. If you would like to share your "hitting all the bases" projects, I would love to hear about it. Send me an email at [email protected]. We might just include it in a future article. Remember, when it comes to projects, it's not only about the destination, it's about the journey.

randyRandy McWilson is the Digital Media Instructor at the Cape Girardeau Career & Technology Center, Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He has aB.A. in Mass Communications from Southeast Missouri State University (1991)and has been teaching digital media since Aug. 2000. National Education Team for the Television (Video) Production Contest for SkillsUSA Nationals. Coordinator for the Missouri State SkillsUSA contest in Television (Video) Production.