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VIDEO: Homework the whole school sees

Seth Stafki, a junior, shoots video for his final project. Stafki was careful to consider his placement on screen, sound quality, and the appearance of the background.

The Mass Media class at Perham High School is no cakewalk.

Students will tell you: It's fun, but it's hard. There's a lot to learn, and a lot to do. And not a lot of time in which to do it.

The assignments require a wide range of talent and know-how, from performance art to technical computer skills.

In addition to a big final project and regular tutorials to follow, the class is expected to produce six 20-minute 'Magazine Shows' in the trimester-long course. These videos are entirely in students' hands - they write the scripts, draw up storyboards, film, act, edit and more.

When the videos are done, they get an audience - the whole school watches them, in-between scheduled class times on Wednesdays.

Teacher Sandra Wieser-Matthews challenges the students to do something different with each new video, to practice and apply the skills they've learned in class. Using a handful of the latest computer software programs, students edit the videos: They dub in voiceovers, music or narration, add in graphics, and experiment with special effects like 'green screens,' stop-motion and Star Trek-like teleportation.

The end result is videos that are at times funny, clever and informative. They consist of several short segments such as news reports, spoofs of well-known TV shows, parodies of movies and more.

The class's second video starts off with a segment called, "The School," which is suspiciously similar to TV's "The Office." There's a satiric 'news report' about the supposed apocalypse of 2012, followed by a report about the conditions of the school's bathrooms. Another segment reveals the 'dangers' of the school's crowded hallways, ending with a slow-motion shot of a 'student' (actually a few pillows stuffed into jeans and a sweatshirt) dramatically falling down the stairs.

Anyone who watches the videos can see that the kids have a good time with it.

"I'm glad we have this class," said junior Nick Honer. "It's pretty fun."

John Huber, also a junior, said he's learned a lot, as he had never edited video before - something a lot of the kids said.

"The class was hard at first, learning all the new stuff," admitted senior Jordan Bruhn. "But it just takes time - and a lot of practice."

Joseph Heineke, a junior, described the class as "hectic at first," but he started to have fun with it as he got more familiar with the computer programs. The class uses software and online tools like Adobe, Animoto, Aviary, Moodle and others.

"I like that you get to be creative," Heineke said.

For senior Kenzi Kovan, the class has changed the way she thinks about movies and TV. She has an appreciation now for what goes on behind the scenes - what it takes to put together a well-polished final product.

"It's really cool to see how things work," she said.

Kovan is currently working on her final project, a video about Miss Moorhead that will be submitted into a contest later this year. Other students are putting together graduation videos for their final projects, or other creative videos that demonstrate what they've learned.

Wieser-Matthews said the kids don't just learn the technical skills, they also learn how to work in teams and meet deadlines. But most importantly, she said, they learn what it means to make something.

"Everything's about being a creator, not just a consumer," she explained. "That's my main theme of this class."

Mass Media has been offered for years in Perham, but it's evolved as technology has changed, Wieser-Matthews said. The focus is on digital media now, and faster and more efficient cameras and computer programs have changed the process of storytelling.

To watch the videos, search for "swieserdoc" on and look for the WPHS Magazine Shows.