MarBoa Project – February/March 2014
Assessment Team Evaluation Report
This must be considered a successful mobility project, fulfilling the core aims and objectives of the delivery from start to finish. Indeed, one could see the progression and bonding between the BOA and St Martin’s students over the course of the fortnight. Initially, most of them barely knew each other, but at the end of the stay one could see how well they gelled and complemented each other both as friends and as co-workers. At the start, the BOA students and the Maltese students would stay in separate group, at lunchtimes the groups even conversed in different language. However, as production activities encouraged collaboration, a mutual respect and appreciation of each others’ skills formed until real friendships were created.
As part of the assessment, each student was asked whether the project had met their initial expectations, how the experience for them and what could be improved upon. All BOA students expressed very positive feedback, from “a once in a life time experience” to “The best two weeks of my life”.
For some of the BOA students this was the first time that they were staying on their own, let alone visiting another country, and many stated that this mobility project has helped them to become more independent, to look after how they budget and be more efficient in their time management and production work. One could note how by the end, all students were focused working on the task at hand. BOA students also commented on the great experience they had meeting the Maltese students.
All students agreed that the formal lectures, held on Day One, were very inspiring and informative.
Structure of Delivery
The nature of the project was always going to prove challenging, due to its ambition and intensity and the first 3 days were packed full of cultural and historic tours throughout Malta, with the group accompanied by a tour guide all day long. For the drivers, in particular, at times it felt impossible to stick to the tight schedule. Some students expressed frustration that, while very informative, the tours were tiring and that, at times, our guide went into too much detail for their production needs. The BOA students had already carried research on Malta. With their local knowledge, and acting as the Maltese experts, St Martin’s students were instrumental in suggesting other interesting sites.
At the end of Day 3, students were introduced to the client, a marketing representative from the Malta Tourism Authority, who provided a background to the work of MTA, and detailed the targeted audience and areas of key focus. While this clarification was welcome, it was suggested that for future flows, that the introduction to the client could take place on the first day, as part of the workshop activity, when brainstorming and learning were likely to be at their peak, and offer an opportunity for the different students groups to begin their collaboration from the outset.
On Day 5, we went to Valletta to experience ‘Malta 5D’, a new attraction in Malta. Again, students felt that this experience should have been nearer the start of the tour, as it would have provided a fun overview of the Maltese Islands and history, and scaffolded the content of the more detailed tours.
The first five days were pre-scheduled to best prepare the groups for production, but the rest of the fortnight was not, as each mobility team would have different production tasks; some would go on potential locations to recce or shoot, while others would stay inside doing more pre-production, schedules could range from capturing a sunrise above a fishing village at 6am to a filming a sunset in M’dina. In this non-scheduled part, communication was not always straightforward, between us teachers as well as amongst the students. There were other bits of miscommunication concerning the administration of the scheduled events, but ultimately with some phone calls and patience these were all resolved.
One interesting aspect of this experience was that the focus went beyond the two main video clips to be produced for the client, as students were also encouraged to undertake other smaller sub-projects, involving local people and businesses. Whilst this may seem counter-intuitive considering the timescale and demands of the project, these activities actually enhanced delivery, encouraging more students to take on leadership and producer roles, greater engagement with local residents and business and enriching the cultural exchange. In one project, carnival float makers were interviewed by students, which together with footage of the float makers at work and from the Valetta Carnival, became a small documentary on its’ own. Other sub-projects included interviews with the owners of a fish restaurant about their trade and traditions, and with a traditional Maltese baker, which again became a short feature – with the latter being broadcast within the restaurant after completion. Even when these approaches were less successful – one student wanted to highlight the quality of the diving sites in Malta, but wasn’t qualified to dive herself – the project still enjoyed good support from the community. In this instance a diving school, though unable to support the production at such short notice, donated their own footage for the student to use in her project at a later time, as well as an invitation to work together during one of the upcoming flows.
Student experiences and feedback
The Maltese students were caught a bit off guard by the demands of this experience. A primary concern was they had tight school exam and revision deadlines that encompassed a lot of hard work. This was one of the main reasons for the poor take up amongst St Martin’s students and this was also why two students that had agreed to take part dropped out days before the first mobility flow started. Indeed, a common feeling amongst the Maltese students that did participate was that the experience in itself was great, but the timing of the event could not have been any worse. The future flows are planned on dates that are more convenient for the Maltese students to give them the opportunity to fully benefit from the experience.
The Maltese students did not have a clear picture of what they were getting into at the start, especially the long working hours, which they did not anticipate. However, they approached the tasks with maturity and vigour; indeed, as stated by one student, this type of work carried with it a certain commitment. One case in point was a plan to meet at 3am to film the fishermen coming in.
One Maltese student, who works in a broadcasting company, praised the BOA students as being prepared and knowing what they want. He also noted the BOA lecturers’ experience behind the camera. The BOA group came all well equipped with professional equipment belonging to the school or to the students themselves, and set an example for the Maltese students to learn from their experience and professionalism as to how some of them at such a young age aspire to be the best directors or producers in the industry. As assessors, we were very impressed by the confidence that some BOA students showed while doing the final presentations, and believe that the Maltese students should aspire to have the same self-confidence and high aspirations.
The feedback from the locals was not uniform. A St Martin’s student, who was conversant in filming, received praise from the director in the team. In turn, the director felt that this student was not being used to his full capacity, because he was also serving as a driver for his mobility production team, in addition to his production role.
Another initially felt that he was not contributing to the discussions, but was later given the responsibility to film and also took great interest in logging footage. Indeed, the interest and detail that he logged this footage with was praised by Mr. Dodzo for reaching professional standards. One could also note that this student was gaining confidence in talking with the BOA group and was able to mingle better within the team, a situation which could accurately describe the development of the level of student engagement over time, during the fortnight.
Some local students felt that they were not given specific hands-on tasks or mentoring on using the camcorders and, due to this lack of knowledge, they could not be involved hands-on in the team. Whilst during the first few days, with an emphasis on lectures and cultural learning, there was limited coaching on production skills. However, this situation was addressed on location, with each student benefitting from one-to-one support from BOA lectures on camera use in the field, especially when shooting segments at St Paul’s Co-cathedral and during the first day in Gozo, when a local Gozotian media student, supported by our hosts Father Mike and Father Dan, accompanied the team to learn more about production skills. St Martin’s students also spent a day during the final week learning how to use Adobe Premiere Pro for editing, and how to properly organize and structure the footage for an edit, an activity which all participants enjoyed and benefitted from.
Two weeks before they arrived in Malta, BOA students were using their blogs, doing their research and assigning roles. However, the Maltese students did not know any details about the event until very late, and as such the MarBoa blog was not updated or referenced by a Maltese student or lecturer prior to the start of the flow. In the coming events, it is vital that a Maltese student is assigned the responsibility to update the blog, thus utilizing their core skills and expertise, as well as increasing a sense of ownership.
Feedback from Partners
MTA – the client, seemed to be genuinely impressed with the work of the students and the project outcomes. He mentioned, that although Malta is a very small island and seems to offer limited places of interests, the BOA students experienced first-hand proved that this is not true.
Jean Pierre Magro, a Maltese producer who was involved in big budget international productions, who was lectured on the topic of Transmedia on the first full day, was more focused on the professional skills of students. He noted each mobility team had two production managers which would not ordinarily be the case, and spelling mistakes in the final presentations, when, in reality, a script with poor grammar would not even be read. He also noted that shots taken inside were done in natural lighting whilst lighting equipment should have been used, and at times, these internal shots contrasted with the brighter shots outside. Mr. Magro also expressed that the product of the second team was more structured, telling a story and using a central character with whom the audience could identify, rather than just the abstract.
Although we had clearance from Heritage Malta to film and publish the material shot, at one of the sites, although we were still aloud to shoot, we were still told that an official letter must be presented for the footage clearance. The person in charge of Heritage Malta assured us that the directive was issued to all Heritage Malta venues we visited, but the message might have not reached everyone. She also expressed interest in discussing what went wrong and what could be improved from their end and that we could phone her directly if we had any issues in the future. She also mentioned that the Institute of Tourism Studies (where the ending Gala dinner was held) has student tourist guides whose services we could use and noted other new initiatives that Heritage Malta is involved in that we could include in our future flows.
Response to Feedback
The assessment team shares many of the conclusions made by other stakeholders.
Overall, this flow enjoyed many successes, which is reflected in the quality of the production activity, and has set a strong foundation for the future flows over the next twelve months. The project has generated a great deal of HD footage, a complete copy of which was left for the Maltese students to practice editing and develop their skills and own sub-projects.
The focus of the first flow was to produce marketing videos for MTA, and through this endeavor and the contributions from many professionals, we are much closer to creating an online transmedia project involving places of interest and the history of Malta. It is in this approach that the Maltese students in the Creative Computing courses can contribute more to the overall successes of the partnership. Other Maltese students and lecturers will be involved in post-production, including the mentoring of two students to create a soundtrack.
At our final briefing, all the teachers agreed that there should have been a meeting every evening discussing how the day had gone and to plan for the next, though it is felt that the bulk of such organization should have come from the students themselves. Although it was not clear from the very start to Maltese teachers, Mr. Dodzo expressed more than once, that students should take responsibility for these matters, from waking up early in the morning and to setting targets for their productions.
Indeed, this mobility project was not about teachers telling the students what tasks to do, but rather to facilitate the students in production activities, for instance by driving them to different locations, and feeding into their professional experiences and to develop a sense of independence, in turn preparing them for the world of work. It was students who were acting as producers, organizing and scheduling, so it was up to them to make decisions on what to do next or where to shoot.
There were practical and external matters to consider also. The team were sympathetic about the Maltese students’ need to leave early in order to study and complete their assignments and revision for exams. From the point of view of our administration, requesting to be excused from certain events in order to study, was felt as lack of respect to the persons we are hosting, which I feel, having heard Mr. Dodzo’s view, this was not the case.
It was not always fully appreciated by stakeholders, students and teachers included, of the full breadth of the project, and far too often participants were focused on the demands of the media production, and forgetting that some of the core success criteria for this mobility project were non-production; cultural exchange and enrichment, independent living and worker mobility. One instance, highlighting this misconception, was our time in Gozo. The visit to the island was primarily a cultural exercise, and although students were encouraged to undertake filming activities, this was not the core goal. Activities including a traditional meal and visit to the Gozo Carnival were included in the itinerary.
Anticipating a late finish, BOA students were given a morning break to rest, but communication of this did not go through all the channels and the Maltese students, already under pressure from both exams and the mobility project, needed to wake early to make their way back to Malta to continue preparation for their exams.
Overall the students from both institutions represented the project well, leading to some very good outcomes and areas to build on future projects.