On a large-screen TV monitor inside the Discovery Channel headquarters, a series of stunning, computer-generated images appear: A blue skirt flows across a thin white cylinder, like a dowel hanging in a clothes closet, the skirt’s bottom edge rippling out and back as it crosses over the cylinder, then flaring and flapping as the top of the skirt comes to a halt; a Lego character holding a sword rotates 360 degrees, viewed from an angle looking slightly down upon its head; short bursts of flame are snuffed out as quickly as they appear, leaving behind little curls of smoke.

Then a door opens, and the camera takes viewers inside the Imaging Lab at South Burlington High School (SBHS) in Vermont, where these fantastic images were created.

“Students at South Burlington High School … are using state-of-the-art technology to produce computer graphics that really rival the work of the very best professionals,” says a quotation from former Education Secretary Richard Riley.

The images and quotation appear in a 10-minute video produced not by Discovery Channel executives–though, judging by the video’s high quality, it very well might have been–but by SBHS students, to showcase their school’s use of technology.

Seated around a long conference table, six professionals from the education, journalism, and video-production fields stare at the TV monitor, captivated by the SBHS students’ video. They’re judges in the first-ever Student Video Discovery Awards (SVDA) program, which aims to recognize and honor excellence in student video production.

When the video clip ends, the judges launch into an animated discussion about its many merits. Everyone agrees it’s extremely well produced and is certainly heavy on the “wow” factor, but a few judges note the lighting appears insufficient at times, and one judge says he thinks the video’s pacing could be a little quicker.

The SBHS clip was one of seven finalists for top honors in this year’s SVDA program. Created by eSchool News and sponsored by Discovery Education–a division of Discovery Communications, which operates the Discovery Channel–with additional support from Cisco Systems, Apple Computer, Avid Technology, Macromedia, and NEC, the program is intended to give students international visibility for their work–and some professional experience to boot.

For consideration in the inaugural awards program, eSchool News asked high school and college students to submit videos they created themselves under the guidance of an educator sponsor. Entries, which could be up to 10 minutes in length, were to focus on the use of technology in the students’ school or district.

Entries from across North America were submitted by hundreds of students working as teams or as individuals. From these entries, the six judges–including Ed DeLeon, the Emmy award-winning executive producer of “Assignment Discovery”–narrowed the field to seven finalists. From there, the judges chose a winner and three runners-up.

All agreed: The quality of the seven finalists’ videos was top-notch–in many cases, just as professional as something you’d see on a network news program.

“I was blown away by the consistently high production value and quality storytelling,” said Charlie Parsons, executive producer of Discovery’s The Science Channel. “It is wonderful for these creative students to have an outlet to display their immense talents–and it is equally terrific to see how much the schools embrace and support their skilled filmmakers.”

Parsons added: “I did not know what to expect when I was asked to be part of this competition, but I was not ready for what I watched. The [documentaries] were extremely well done, and this year’s winners will be setting the bar high for next year.”

Betsy Whalen, a former teacher who is now manager of educator programs for Discovery Education, agreed.

“What struck me about many of the entries was how effectively students are using technology not only in the classroom, but also to build community within their school,” she said. “Whether students are using broadcast video as a medium for communicating with the student population, creating Public Service Announcement videos to turn a school tragedy into a meaningful learning opportunity, or using graphic design as means of self-expression, the video entries demonstrated how technology has reached beyond the traditional boundaries of classroom curriculum.”

Videos were judged using a number of criteria. Here are some of the qualities sought by the judges:

  • Does the video communicate a clear topic or theme right from the beginning?
  • Is there a well-developed story, told in a logical (and well-paced) sequence of scenes or images that lead to a satisfactory conclusion?
  • Is the writing of high quality? Is the narration well scripted–and does the video maintain a consistent quality throughout? In a five-minute video, “if the first four-and-a-half minutes are great, but then it fades at the end, that’s what the viewers are going to remember,” said DeLeon.
  • Are the video’s production standards of high quality? Does the audio mix maintain a consistent volume of sound, are special effects used in appropriate moderation, is the camera held steady during pans and other camera shots, and is the lighting adequate for comfortable viewing?

Video production is “like the long snapper in football,” said Parsons. “If you do your job well, no one is going to notice–but if you screw up, it’s a distraction.”

The winner and two runners-up will be announced in the June issue of eSchool News. Videos of the seven finalists themselves are now available for viewing in the new eSN Video Resource Center.

Winning students and the involved educators will be honored during an awards ceremony at the National Education Computing Conference (NECC) in Philadelphia June 27-29. In addition, these students will receive free video equipment worth thousands of dollars for their schools. Sponsors of the award are contributing video gear worth more than $30,000 total.

Students also will receive international recognition by having their work posted at eSchool News Online, the world’s most-visited ed-tech publication web site. In addition, they’ll get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from a team of seasoned newspaper reporters, a professional video crew from Discovery Education, and video experts from Apple, Macromedia, and Avid.

Under the tutelage of these mentors, the students will cover NECC, an educational technology conference that annually attracts some 18,000 educators and education supporters. They’ll record each day’s events and put together a video featuring some of the highlights from the conference, which will be available for readers to view at eSchool News Online and also shown at the closing ceremonies of NECC.

Besides DeLeon, Parsons, and Whalen, the judges for this year’s SVDA program included Gregg W. Downey, editor and publisher of eSchool News; Dennis Pierce, managing editor of eSchool News; and David Pendery, communications manager for Discovery Education.

“Being part of the inaugural Student Video Discovery Awards was a fantastic experience,” Pendery said. “The level of talent was saw in each and every submission was so impressive and made for a challenging day. These student filmmakers are an inspiration to all of us.”

Related items:

View the seven finalists’ entries

Meet the judges

Slideshow: The judging process


Discovery Education

Cisco Systems

Apple Computer

Avid Technology

Macromedia Inc.