HarrisLast month’s article discussed how to force a “must learn” attitude toward the written tests you give students.  In a nutshell, it said to not let a student progress into the “fun” part of the class – using the gear – until that student had proven knowledge in at least 85% of what you taught about television theory. 



This month, we assume that students have all cleared out of the written tests.  Now you enter the operational phase of equipment.  Using all the information and terms which the students have now demonstrated acceptable levels of understanding, you need to teach the students how to use the equipment.

I created a chart listing every piece of equipment I planned to teach which the students had to “qualify” on in order to be able to use that piece of equipment.  There was a block after each piece of equipment for initials of the person who “cleared” the student and the date the “clearing” was accomplished.  The chart was similar to the one below:

Equipment Certification Checklist






AC Charger


Audio Mixer




Editing System


Cable Coiling




Character Generator


Studio Video Recorder


Studio Camera




Field Camera


Field Monitor


ENG Equipment Setup


Lighting System


Duplication System





I went to an office supply store and got a ream of “card stock” paper and photocopied the Equipment Certification Checklist onto the card stock.  I used card stock because it was more substantial than regular paper.  The students would each be given a Checklist card and they’d carry it around with them for days as they went about getting cleared on the gear.

I learned long ago that it was much easier for me to teach my students if my classes were mixed, that is, first and second year students in the same classes.  The second year students became my assistants in this phase of the course. 

Each day I would take the entire group of first year students to the piece of the equipment I was going to teach that day.  The first year students needed to be close to me to see everything.  Because the second year students had “done this” extensively last year, they stayed on the periphery and watched.

Now using all the terms and concepts the students had previously learned I explained

·         what every knob, button, switch and dial did. 

·         When to use it. 

·         When not to use it. 

·         How to use it. 

·         What happens if you don’t use it and you should. 

·         And finally, how much it costs if you break it.  (This last item really got their attention!) 

I’d ask for questions which I would field.  I’d then step back but still remain nearby as the first year students would move in and begin to manipulate and look and talk and ask more questions.  The students had to wait 24 hours at least and then they could come to me or to any of the second year students with their Certification card and ask to take the test on a piece of gear I had taught. 

The students would then explain the six bulleted items above.  If they miss anything at all, they are told what they missed and they have to wait another 24 hours to try again.  There is no grade given.  If they get it 100% correct, then the person testing them places their initials and the date on their card.

There was always someone who would tell me, “the school system says you’re passing if you make a 64%, why do you make us get a 100%?” 

My response always was, “suppose I am a pilot working for a major airline.  You need to fly somewhere.  You get on the plane and buckle up and hear me come on the PA system stating that I passed flight school and you need not worry because I guarantee that I can take off and land this plane successfully 64% of the time.  Would you want to get off the plane?  How many jobs can you think of where you can keep the job if you only do 64% of the work?  Even a garbage collector would lose his job if he left 36% of the trash cans unemptied.  Can you imagine any television station hiring you if you could only run 64% of a camera?  Or of an editing system?  Or you could only build 64% of a set?  The very idea is laughable.  Would you want a surgeon to take out your appendix if he only knew how to do the first 64% of the job?

There was no limit to how many different equipment practicals a student could take in a single day.  They just could not take the same practical more than once a day.  There was no limit to how many times students could take an equipment practical but they could not use that piece of equipment until they had passed it.  There were no exceptions.  I did not require the students to be alone with the testing person when taking the practical.  One person could be attempting the test with several more looking on.  It did not matter how the students learned the information, all that mattered was that they learned it.

Students received no grade for passing equipment practicals.  However, since they could not use any equipment until they did certify on everything, they had to certify in order to produce programming which was graded in a class called television production.  The completed certification card was their “ticket” to passing the rest of the year.  When the certification card was completed, it was turned into me and that student could immediately begin using equipment, checking it out to take home for location shooting, or any other approved purpose.  There was a requirement to produce a certain number of programming pieces per grading period so there was a clock ticking to encourage them to complete the certification card as soon as possible.

On the Equipment Certification Checklist, there are three items that require an action to indicate knowledge.  They are:

1.      Cable coiling – Give the students a 25’or larger cable and have them practice coiling it into neat even loops and then securing it with a cable tie.  This sounds much easier than it is.

2.      ENG equipment setup – Let the students gather together all the gear that would be necessary to do an interview in the field.  When they are ready to take the test they tell you.  You start a stopwatch.  They have 5 minutes to get the gear completely set up and record themselves in front of the camera stating their name.

3.      Editing System - Every year at the beginning of the year, I had my advanced students script a story that was an instructional "process." 

For example, one year it was a student leaving the school building, going to the car, opening door, sitting, closing door, buckling seat belt, putting key in ignition,  and eventually driving off. The script wouldn't take even one class period.  Then they went out and shot it.  Slating every take, shot at least 3 good takes, long shot, medium shots, close-ups, and at least one take that would not match up in the editing room without creating a jump cut.  All the raw footage was on one tape and I duplicated that for each editing station.  The first year students would edit the sequence together as an editing exercise/test.  To pass the editing practical the finished program they put together must run glitch-free and be easy to follow.

Actually, the advanced students relished this first video task of the year and toward the end of their beginner year would often talk about what they wanted to do when it was their turn to create the editing video the next fall.

Remember, if students still haven’t passed all of the written tests at 85% or higher, they cannot even begin equipment practicals.  They should stand around the equipment with the other first years and listen to the instructions and then go back to the classroom and work on finishing the written tests.  The rest of the class who has passed the written work can move on to the equipment certification.  Human nature being what it is, some students will clear the practicals on gear very quickly (perhaps some will finish the day after you teach the last piece of gear.)  These students are the first ones who begin shooting their programming.  By creating a system which staggers the “starting time” for productions, the problems of everyone trying to start shooting at the same time when there isn’t enough equipment to go around diminish.  The early starters will be finished shooting and into editing as others are just starting shooting. 




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