HarrisIt’s relatively easy to create a test which covers material covered in a textbook or in class lectures. 

However, creating a test which allows a student to prove on paper he has learned how to operate a piece of equipment is another story.  I think probably the only sure-fire way for a student to prove his knowledge would be to nearly write a complete instruction manual for that piece of gear.  Having to grade something like that would be a nightmare for the teacher.  Alternatively, the teacher could create a test comprised of many leading questions with short answers which would be equally difficult to grade.  I suppose you could create a multiple choice test but the student could pass that pretty easily since the questions would have to contain so much information that the answers would be giveaways.

I decided to simplify the process significantly.  I used oral tests which I called “practicals.”  For most pieces of gear I would gather my students around that piece of gear, say, for example – the ENG camera.  I would then, using the terms the students had learned during the classroom lecture/textbook phase of the instruction, explain what every knob, button, switch, and dial does, when to use it, why to use it, what happens when you do use it, what happens if you don’t use it, and how much it costs if you break it.  Students could ask as many questions as they liked.  I’d then step away and students would move in and talk.  (Obviously, when I had more than one of an item, it was much more efficient to place 3 students around each of 10 cameras than 30 students around one camera.)

Students had to wait 24 hours and then they could come to me, or any advanced student in my class and ask to take the practical on “x” piece of equipment.  The test consisted of regurgitating what I had said:  explain what every knob, button, switch, and dial does, when to use it, what to use it, what happens when you do use it, what happens if you don’t use it, and how much it costs if you break it.  Students had to get it 100% correct to pass the practical.  If they missed anything, they were told what they missed, their questions asked and answered and they waited another 24 hours and could take the practical again.  No grade was entered in the gradebook.  The students just couldn’t use the piece of equipment until they passed it.  And in a class called “Television Production,”it is impossible to pass without creating television productions.  When the student passed the piece of equipment at 100%, the date and initials of the certifying person were placed on an equipment card.  The completed card was turned into me.

The equipment card was simply a piece of heavy duty card stock on which I had photocopied the names of each piece of equipment the students were expected to learn to operate.  They could not begin using any equipment until all the pieces of equipment on the card had been passed.  This was terrific incentive for the students to learn well and learn quickly.  After all, most of the students sign up for the course to play with the toys!

I’m often asked about the requirement for 100% for passing a practical.  Students say, “in our school system 60% is a passing grade.  My response is: in this business no one who can only run part of a camera is going to get a job, because there is always someone who can run the entire camera.  Why would an employer hire someone who couldn’t do the entire job?  Another way of looking at it is the following analogy: 

“I work for FlightsRUs Airlines.  I went to school in (insert the name of your school district here).  Therefore I have been certified that I can take off and land this plane successfully 60% of the time!  Welcome aboard!”

Who in their right mind would get on my airplane???   In fact, name a job (besides politician – ha) where you can actually keep your job if you only do it at 60%?  Even the guy who picks up the garbage cans on your street would be fired if he left 40% of the cans un-emptied.

A few practicals were handled differently:
• The practical on the CG was to actually prepare a set of titles which included 4 different movements, 4 different backgrounds, 4 different transitions, and multiple fonts and colors.

• The practical on the switcher was to operate the switcher following a set of commands from the certifier over headsets.  The commands were things like “dissolve from cam 1 to cam 3, wipe to 4, fade out, fade in to split screen of cam 4 and 5, dissolve to title screen, etc.

• The practical on the editing system was to edit together a sequence from unedited raw footage.  All students were given the same raw footage.  Where did I get the raw footage?  I usually had my advanced students make it the first month of school.  It would be a simple process video – how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or  how to unlock, sit, buckle up, start, drive away a car, or something else.  The advanced students loved making it and slating each take and then watching the beginning students try to put it together so it flowed with no jump cuts.

• There was one practical called ENG setup.  This was a timed practical.  Students would gather all they needed for an ENG shoot in one spot in the studio.  The clock would then start.  They would have 5 minutes to get the camera on a leveled tripod, connect all gear together, and record themselves saying their name into a clip on mic or hand held mic.

The above method worked very well for me.  Each day I would “teach” a different piece of gear.  I obviously had multiples of some of the gear but on others (camera switcher, lighting board) I only had one.  Some students passed the gear very quickly and when they turned in their equipment certification card, they would usually checkout out their first gear that very day to begin production.  Other students took a while to pass everything.  This process allowed the students to enter the production phase of the class in a staggered rate rather than everyone starting at once.  This way, by the time the slower students finished, the faster students were already finished shooting their first shows and were in editing so the cameras were available to those just starting.  This worked much better than watching students fighting over equipment at once.

Check out the book review on Television Production and Broadcast Journalism, Phil's newest book by clicking here.