Teaching and Learning – Four Weeks in China

It’s the start to a beautiful day in Brookside, NJ and I’m home at last after a long and arduous 4-week trip to China.  I had been teaching Chinese journalists, video journalism or new media as they refer to it in China.

I hadn’t fully realized how hard “teaching” really is until after these past four weeks.  To begin with, I was teaching a difficult subject – “how to produce and shoot short video stories”, to journalists at the “state’s” largest news and photo agency.  I had 4 days to teach 4 weeks worth of material –how to think and shoot in motion, edit video stories and upload them online. To make things even more difficult, everything I said had to be translated by my interpreter to my students, making the instruction take three times longer.

Each week my students amazed me by their eagerness to learn, despite coming to the class with the bare minimum in the way of  “tools”.  Some students didn’t even have cameras that could shoot video. Some had dated low res video cameras and no one had any audio gear at all.  When it came to the editing part of the program, their computers were under equipped to handle Adobe Premiere CS 5.5, which they had recently downloaded and installed on their PC’s. And yet, each class managed to produce a short story after less than four days!

This entire adventure was a lesson in collaboration. My students learned to collaborate.  Like most photojournalists they were used to working solo, so collaborating was a foreign concept to them.  But, collaboration is a common way of working when it comes to video and it was a necessity in China, because the students were lacking in gear.

I was part of a team of four teachers on this trip, so I too was working in a collaborative way.  That was equally tough, as I am used to working as an independent producer and accustomed to making my own decisions.  The other three photographers/teachers were also independent photographers, used to doing things their own way.  Egos collided from time to time within the group, yet we ultimately knew we needed to maintain the “group” in order to deal with the angst that came with doing this job. On top of that, our Chinese hosts wanted to control us.

I think we all learned a lot about each other in the process as this adventure played out.  I know I did.  But, I also learned a lot about myself. Perhaps, this was the purpose of this trip – to learn more about myself and grow from the experience.  Time will tell.

I can also say that I learned from my students.  There is always one student who feels that they already know everything, and usually tries to “stump the teacher”.  When this happens, I handle it with humility and thank the student for teaching me something that I did not know. I do not hide the fact that I don’t know everything.  And then I take the opportunity to relay to the rest of the class, that I never want to stop learning, no matter how old I get.  I tell them that in living this way, it has brought many rewards in my life and I encourage them to do the same.

I’m home now.  It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in Brookside, NJ and I’m reflecting on my last weeks, which remained an adventure until the end.  Chinese activist, Chen Guangcheng was on my flight from Beijing to Newark, NJ, seeking asylum in the US and making a new life for himself and his family.  As Chen adjusts to a totally new life in America, I’m happy to be home again with my freedom and liberties in tact.

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