Online course for movie buffs uses video annotation technology developed by experts in Ball State's iLearn program

June 11, 2015

Richard Edwards and Chris Turvey

Richard Edwards, executive director of Ball State’s iLearn Research, and Chris Turvey, an iLearn developer, developed OTTO3, a software program used in the free course TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir.

Spoiler alert: There’s no postman in the 1946 movie “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” ... or is there? And how about the claim that the 1953 film “The Hitch-Hiker” was based, not so loosely, on real events? Fact or Hollywood lore?

Fans of film noir will get an unprecedented chance to not just view 100 classic movies, but extensively discuss the movies, thanks to a partnership between Turner Classic Movies and Ball State.

As part of TCM’s Summer of Darkness film festival, an online multimedia course called TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir, will be offered free throughout June and July. Film fans can learn about how and why the films were made, then discuss details of plot development, characters, set, script—anything they wish to explore—by using software developed by Ball State experts.

To date, some 16,000 students have registered for the film noir course, which continues through Aug. 4.

“Saying that I’m excited is an understatement,” said Tania Hussain, a Ball State sophomore who is taking the class in an effort to gain a greater appreciation for the classic films. “The genre is so important to the history of film and film-making, and I hope to understand the depth and origins of these classics we’re going to explore.”

Software allows students to instantly interact

The course features unique technology developed by Richard Edwards, executive director of Ball State’s iLearn Research, and Chris Turvey, an iLearn developer.

The software allows students to leave comments or ask questions about a film in real time, while others in the class can respond in kind.

"It adds an incredible personal touch ... and helps the conversation move beyond the film. I’m eager to dive in."

Tania Hussain,
Ball State sophomore and class participant

The software, dubbed OTTO3, is a bit like Pop-Up Video meets YouTube meets old-fashioned textbook highlighting. Users can insert a question or remark at any point during a piece—in the case of the summer course, the classic noir films. The messages are then available to other individuals watching the film simultaneously, or stored for later viewing.

Hussain said OTTO was a big reason she signed up for a non-credit course during her time off school.

“OTTO (allows) students and lovers of film to share the conversation of how and why films make us feel the way they do,” she said. “It adds an incredible personal touch ... and helps the conversation move beyond the film. I’m eager to dive in.”

New platform for online discussions

“OTTO changes how videos and films are incorporated into a course, because the technology easily captures multiple users’ questions or thoughts, at the exact moment those users want to share them,” said Edwards.

What’s more, he said, it allows an instructor to seamlessly review the comments to determine what common themes are emerging relative to questions on various topics or in terms of what students comprehend.

The software was developed in 2013, when Edwards and Turvey reviewed existing technology and were disappointed that it didn’t offer the flexibility, or ability to group comments, that they desired.

OTTO3 is an enhanced version of the original technology, offering increased flexibility to users as well as to the instructor by coordinating and disseminating multiple conversation threads that may crop up from a single idea expressed in a piece. And that’s key, Turvey said.

“What becomes the bigger part of this is the ability for the video to essentially fade back and the focus coming to settle on the discussions that have arisen because of the annotation,” Turvey said. “That demonstrates students’ understanding and growth.”

Partnership opens opportunities

TCM executives initiated the partnership who to help the network strengthen ties with an already-robust fan base.

“We are excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Ball State,” said Jennifer Dorian, general manager for Turner Classic Movies. “TCM at its core is about context, curation and connections. By working with Ball State, we are able to engage with our passionate audience in another exciting and new way.”

Sign Up for the Course

Registration for TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir runs through the first week of July.

Learn More

That sense of community fellowship lured newly minted alumna Julia Ricci, ’15, back to class.

“The OTTO software will be a great way to engage in the course and make it a communal experience,” she said. “When I heard about the course, I immediately signed up because I’m excited about the opportunity to learn more about this genre, and celebrate film with movie lovers around the world.”

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