By Warren Tenney
A small team of filmmakers, computer experts, educators and scientists at the University of Arizona is convinced that many people – including young people – are eager to learn about serious and complex subjects of great importance.
The problem: Where to find accurate and current information in an engaging format. The usual sources – newspapers, news magazines and educational television – are having trouble adapting to the digital age and drawing younger audiences.
The solution: Develop a new and stimulating process that will entice people of all ages to seek and find accurate information on their own and then share it on social media.
The UA team set out to test its theory using the serious and complex subject of water, in particular water in Arizona and the Southwest. Team members built an easy-to-use interactive website called Beyond the Mirage that allows each user to create a documentary about water. Here’s how it works:
- The site contains more than 250 high-quality video clips about water, including interviews, graphics and landscapes.
- Some video clips offer general information, such as population growth. Others clips are related to topics, such as drought, pumping groundwater, irrigating crops or Colorado River supplies. Scientists have vetted each clip for accuracy.
- Users view the clips available on the website by topic, select the ones they want and string them together in any order they choose (this is called “stacking”) to create their documentary.
- Then users add a title and share their mini-documentaries on their websites and social media.
If the experiment works, Beyond the Mirage will create an accessible online library of clear, engaging, accurate documentaries that inform the people who create, view and share them. The Beyond the Mirage project also includes a full-length documentary that airs 10 p.m. May 16 on KAET 8.
The three-year effort cost about $300,000. Beyond the Mirage received $100,000 and a vote of confidence a year ago when it was chosen as the first recipient of the New Arizona Prize: Water Consciousness Challenge. The money made it possible for the team to introduce Beyond the Mirage to the public in March.
This month middle school students in five Phoenix Metropolitan area classrooms will give the Beyond the Mirage website a test run as a teaching tool. The students will expand their knowledge by becoming film directors. They will build mini-documentaries from the Beyond the Mirage website as part of UA’s Arizona Project WET’s water science curriculum. On April 22, Earth Day, students will judge each other’s creations. On May 6, the top two mini-docs from each school, a total of 10, will be posted on Arizona Project WET’s Facebook page. You can vote for your favorites by visiting APW’s Facebook page from May 9 – 11. Voting is open to everyone. Five “Oscar” awards will be presented in May.
Now it’s your turn to learn more about water creatively by building your own documentary. Beyond the Mirage is designed for the least tech-savvy among us. So start stacking to amaze your boss, your kids or your teachers. You may amaze yourself.
For 46 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.