Yesterday was the last class of the semester prior to the Christmas break. For the past 15 weeks, I’ve been teaching video production to 84 first-year future web developers and designers. It’s designed to be an introductory course, covering all the technical basics of lighting, shooting and editing but also emphasizing video as a visual storytelling medium and use of video on the Web.

Overall it was an extraordinary first semester. My students were enthusiastic, showed up ready to learn, and really got their hands dirty and worked hard on their projects. I challenged them a lot – they had to produce a short video that told a story without using any dialogue (video is a “show me” medium, not a “tell me” medium!), and also create a mini-documentary. What the groups were able to pull off in the limited amount of time they had was really impressive.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t tough having such a large class (it was actually two classes of 42, but still a large group). I found it challenging to be able to connect on an individual basis with everyone, particularly the more quiet students. But in the end, I think I managed to get a good handle on the strengths and weaknesses of each person, and set them up as much as possible for success.

Setting people up for success. That is what teaching is all about. It’s not about standing at the front of a class spewing facts and figures to a room full of half-asleep students. It’s about figuring out how to create an environment in which everyone, no matter what, can learn. The secret to doing this well is to GET PEOPLE INVOLVED. I did very few lectures this semester – and for the ones I did do, I involved people – whether it was having volunteers demonstrate things or asking them questions and getting them involved in a discussion.

Most of the work this semester was done by the students, not by me. My job was to arm them with the tools and the basic knowledge, but the real work (and the real learning) came when they grabbed a camera and went out to create their projects. Sure, they made mistakes. Some had to re-shoot things. Some realized their original concept wasn’t going to work and had to go back to the drawing board. Some got frustrated. Some even wanted to pack it in. But with the right kind of gentle encouragement, they persevered.

Last week and yesterday, when we screened their final mini-documentary projects, and they were all so excited to show what they’d accomplished to the class, I knew I’d done my job.

Teaching isn’t about talking and carrying on until you’re blue in the face. Teaching is about imparting a foundation of knowledge, then stepping back and allowing your students to take that knowledge, work with it, make a bunch of mistakes, and then turn that knowledge in into something they can take ownership and pride in.

Happy holidays to my wonderful classes. Thank you so much for your time and attention. I’ll see you again in fourth semester!