Video Podcasts in Mammal Ecology
Many students are interested in becoming involved in natural history documentary making and wildlife photography on completing their Zoology degrees, yet the opportunity to gain experience in film making is rare. This project created a series of video podcasts (or vodcasts) that were made available to Zoology students on Blackboard.
The first videos concentrated on rodent handling (wood mouse and squirrel), mammal identification and mammal tracking. Each vodcast was designed, written, directed, filmed and edited by the EXPLORE team. As well as developing students’ film making skills, this project brought important field techniques, which are often difficult to impart to large groups outdoors, to a broad audience of undergraduates.
We had an initial project team meeting on the 10th of February, during which we discussed the best way of involving everyone in the team, and the projects we would most like to shoot.Firstly two members of the team were charged with looking at possible video cameras to purchase.They reported back a couple of weeks later and the camera was subsequently purchased (see below). We then decided the best approach would be to divide the overall team into three video sub-teams, each responsible for making one video in the first instance, and if time permits a second video later.We chose a number of possible video topics, and then prioritised them according to a) team interest and b) usefulness of the video for teaching purposes. The list of topics is as follows (this is a working list and adjustments may be made in the coming weeks!):
Small mammal handling and identification
Live trapping and measuring of squirrels
Seal counts/behaviour at rest
Tracks and signs of Irish Mammals
Advanced dissection techniques
The video camera has been purchased. After looking at a number of models, the unanimous opinion in the group was to go for a Sony HDR-CX210E high definition camcorder.We were advised on the quality of the brand, and this camcorder has an excellent 8GB internal memory, and a ‘Steadyshot’ stabiliser, making it perfect for outdoor use. Details can be seen here and the camera is currently stored in Dr Lawton’s office, but is available for use by other Explore projects.
The Explore team was well represented at the Explore Networking Lunch event, and at least two members of the team signed up for the ‘Hands-on Introductory Course in Video Production for the Web’ offered by the Video Production for the Web Training Course Explore Team.
In the coming weeks we intend to start planning our first two videos. Two of the sub-teams are keen to work on their videos in the gap between lectures finishing and the exams.
A project team meeting was held on April 13th to plan the first two videos.
The students unanimously voted to wait until after the exams before shooting the first video "Small mammal handling and identification".The shoot has been planned for May 14th and 15th.On the 14th we will meet to plan the video in the morning and prepare the trapping equipment.The traps will then be laid out in the field (Merlin Park woods) that afternoon.The next morning the traps will be checked, and any animals caught identified, measured and released, while the video is being made.
Rather than use the smaller teams, in this first instance, everyone is interested, so the whole team will be involved.This will then be reviewed for subsequent videos.Three key roles have been identified, and for the first video Michelle Larkin will be director, Lauren Martin cinematographer, and Jessica Larson and Hannah Mulcahy will be co-editors.Others will assist as required.A discussion was held about the best way to do sound (on camera, voiceover later, or a mix of the two).We decided to experiment in this video and decide from there on the best approach.
The second video (Live trapping and measuring of squirrels) is set to be shot on the 6th of June, in conjunction with Emily Goldstein, a postgraduate student of Colin Lawton in Cahir Park, Co Tipperary. A pre-production meeting will be held beforehand, and roles assigned.
Jessica Larson and Anthony Smart both attended the ‘Hands-on Introductory Course in Video Production for the Web’, and their technical know-how is already greatly benefiting the team.
The first video, “Small mammal handling and identification”, was shot as planned over two days during May. A group of five of the Explore team students took part in the film production, with Colin Lawton going through the process of setting a series of Longworth small mammal traps, and then the following day, checking the traps for rodent captures. Wood mice and bank voles were captured, and the process of handling the animals, measuring them, assessing their sex and breeding condition and marking the animals (with a small haircut to their rump) was carried out. The students were very active in planning the shots and doing the filming, and each shot was filmed twice, one with a running commentary by Colin Lawton, and another in silence. This allowed the option of adding a voiceover later if the live sound proved to be of poor quality.
The Cahir Park trip took place in June, with a group of four students joining Colin Lawton on a trip to the park in Co Tipperary, to film the squirrel population PhD study. Again the students did the filming and shot direction, with Colin in front of the camera in some shots, and PhD student Emily Goldstein in others, with Colin providing a voiceover.
Following the two very successful trips to the field, footage had been gathered for two videos. Jessica Larson took charge of editing the footage for the squirrel video. A first draft was made and after a meeting with Colin Lawton, some changes made. The final video is now ready to be added to the Blackboard page for the new academic year’s third and fourth year classes.
Unfortunately other students were not available during the summer and so the second video is still to be edited and finished. With four of the Explore project team joining Colin Lawton’s research group to carry out their final year theses projects, the plan is to complete this video in September.
There are plans for further videos to be shot in the coming semester as well. They will be based around the fourth year projects the students will be doing, including videos on “Otter spraint collection and analysis” and “Tracks and signs of Irish mammals”.
This project was always perceived as a long term project, and so students in the new third year class will be invited to take part in producing these videos and further ones in spring. This will allow a bank of films to be produced, displaying the various field techniques to future groups of students, which will be particularly useful in showing third year students the types of studies open to them as possibilities for their final year projects.