Rob Watson

Apr 192016
 
The Sweet Truth Team

I’ve finished marking the coursework blogs for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production. The assignment focused on developing a social media campaign that engaged a group of participants in the debate about sugar and it’s role in the obesity and diabetes epidemic.

The idea was to develop a campaign that used social media to raise awareness of the role of sugar that the way that messages about processed food are embedded in our food culture. The impact that sugar and refined and processed foods have on people has become more prominent in recent years, with a lot of attention being paid to the issues in the press, and the government announcing plans for a Sugar Tax in the last budget.

Sweet Truth Logo

Sweet Truth Logo

The campaign that was developed by the learners on TECH3022 is described and explained in their collaborative wiki post on the DMU Commons Wiki. It gives a good overview of the shift in attitudes by the learners from thinking about media as something that is predominantly industrial and focused on mass entertainment, to something that is participative and based on DIY principles.

Given the seemingly unending increase in rates of obesity and diabetes in the UK, it’s essential that we use all forms of media to form communities that are equipped and empowered to make changes in their lives, to go back to the simple skills of family cooking, and to avoid the crap that is promoted by the major food manufacturers.

While this project is limited in its scale, we’ve identified some important lessons that will help to develop projects that are better equipped and funded. After all, prevention is always better than cure.

Apr 182016
 
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On Saturday I attended the Community Radio Networking event organised by Christine Slomkowska and Patrick McCracken from 103 The Eye in Melton Mowbray. This was the second year that the event took place, and it gave community radio station organisers and supporters the chance to come together to discuss issues of common concern and celebrate the achievements of the different stations.

Bill Best from the Community Media Association gave an overview of the recent work of the CMA and how it is representing community media from the point of view of the associations members’ interests. I’m a member of the CMA council.

Tony Smith from Angel Radio gave a lively talk about radio aimed at older people, and how fundraising at the station is encouraged through programme sponsorship and fun activities such as ballroom dancing takeovers in their local Tesco supermarket.

Martyn Introduced Community Radio Awards

Martyn Introduced Community Radio Awards

Martin Parry talked about the Community Radio Awards that he’s inaugurating this year. He’s long argued that community radio needs to be celebrated in an accessible and open way, and so a grassroots award ceremony is something he is passionate about.

It was great to catch-up with Christine, she is always so passionate about the role that 103 The Eye plays in Rutland and Melton, and the way that it gives people a chance to participate in the station and its programmes, and the role it plays in the life of the local community.

It was also great to hear about the work of Siobhan Stevenson and Neil Hollins from Birmingham City University about their work in community media supporting Scratch Radio, and the impact that community media has for the life chances of different students from some challenging backgrounds.

I always feel relaxed at community media events, because so many people are happy to share their experiences about community media and the difference that it makes to the communities that they are part of. It’s less about marching along to a corporate purpose, and more about developing social spaces that people can share and engage with one another.

Apr 102016
 
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Yesterday I went to London for a day out. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I didn’t really plan it, so I didn’t have a fixed idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted to mooch and wander about, and see if anything caught my attention. Sit in a café and watch the world go by.

It wasn’t the best start to the day when my train didn’t even get out of  Leicester station because it had a fault. Forty minutes later and I was tucking into my breakfast, but it should have been an omen for the rest of the day really.

Coffee Festival Queue

Coffee Festival Queue

First destination was Shoreditch, and it’s easy to get the Tube to Liverpool Street, and then a short walk through Spitalfields market. As it was early there was still a lot of setting-up being done. Lots of stalls, but to be honest, they were all selling things that can be bought any day. If you are into chain cafes and restaurants I suppose Spitalfields has some pull as a destination, but it’s become as much a generic shopping centre as any other.

London Coffee Festival

London Coffee Festival

Heading over to Brick Lane I wanted to pop into Rough Trade – I bought the new Parquet Courts album. Getting to Rough Trade meant walking past the queue to get in to the London Coffee Festival. It snaked down the street and around the block. So many people interested in coffee that has been regurgitated by gerbils!

Brick Lane Bagels

Brick Lane Bagels

Brick Lane has the feel that Camden Lock has, with standard food stalls, vintage market stalls and tat shops. It’s good but I did feel that I should have tweaked a moustache and brought a fixy-bike with me.

The next thing I wanted to do was visit Tate Modern, so I got the Tube to St Paul’s then walked over the Thames to the South Bank. It’s a pretty impressive approach and the views up and down the river are cool. The problem with the Tate is that it is so busy all the time that it’s almost impossible to make sense of what you’re looking at. The special exhibition fees are way too much as well. It’s like the art is given second billing to the numerous gift shops and cafes.

St Pauls

St Pauls

Tate Print Shop

Tate Print Shop

I ended up thinking it will be just as easy to read an exhibition catalogue than wander about trying to get some appreciation of the otherwise iconic works.

I then wandered over to the West End, through Covent Garden over to Foyles, where I got a copy of Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire and a book of essays by Michael Oakeshott. What I wanted to do was sit somewhere and relax for a couple of hours, but obviously this being Soho it was massively intense and every café seemed to be busy.

Tate Art Demo

Tate Art Demo

The problem is that I hate chain cafes and restaurants. Anything that has a ‘brand’ is just dreadful, and London is dominated by corporate brands. I used to look forward to finding small, independent cafes and restaurants, but they seem to have vanished from the West End. Indicative is the chain The Breakfast Club. London used to be serviced by proper cafes. Now people queue in the street to get into The Breakfast Club for a bacon cob!

I can’t complain entirely, the French House still resists the corporate onslaught and offers a more traditional environment of association with no music, no theme, just people sitting drinking and chatting without being instructed in how they should feel about themselves, which is too often a priority of the ‘we-are-all-so-wonderful-and-amazing’ types. It’s rare to find a space that isn’t dominated by a surfeit of ego and self-entitlement.

Blackfriars Bridge Steps

Blackfriars Bridge Steps

I think the problem is that London has stopped being a city and has instead become a destination. What was once a place that people congregated, cheek-by-jowl to do their business and live their lives, has now become a corporate enterprise that has to be managed and homogenised so that the maximum efficiency can be squeezed out of the place.

The problem is it is so boring. The West End bustles, there are millions of people wandering about, but the script has been laid-out for them. Go see a show. Have a dinning experience. See the iconic landmarks. Visit the galleries and stare at the picture postcard exhibitions. Shop in the same stores you get in the rest of the country. Travel efficiently between well laid out points of the map. Have the ‘London Experience.’

I have to say by the end of the day I was thoroughly bored and couldn’t wait to get on the train back to Leicester. It’s going to be a while before I go back to London for Leisure. It’s just not worth it. I couldn’t even buy any interesting postcards. They were all the same as well.

Apr 052016
 
Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 13.15.45

Over the Easter break I’ve been marking coursework assignment from the learners on TECH1002 Social Media and Technology. The assignment was to work collaboratively to create and develop a learning package that would help people to get together and to take part in a social activity. This meant getting together and forming a group and undertaking regular tasks that help people to learn new practical skills, interact and work collaboratively through social media to do things in the real world.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 13.19.15Examples included making bread, going for afternoon tea, using craft skills to make memes, extreme ironing, watching Friends, playing stand-along electronic games, and so on. The idea was to do something in the real world that can’t really be done in the online world. So groups were formed around playing cards and make-up, vintage clothes and car-meets.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 13.17.11As a first-year assignment, the approach is fairly straightforward, whatever could be written about the experience in the form of a blog would provide the evidence of what each person had been able to accomplish. I know my students usually hate coursework, so this meant I was able to mark each of them independently. It did mean that that I had to read over one hundred blog portfolios, which took quite a log time. I made this easier, though, by having learners post links to their relevant blogs on the DMU Commons wiki profile page. Easy to update and easy to read.

The blogs get shared via the DIY-DMU blog site that I set up on the DMU Commons. It’s fed by RSS feeds taken from the learner’s individual blog, and allows everyone to read each others posts and get a sense of what is being made by other learners. Being able to share content makes a big difference to the sense of accomplishments that’s needed for social media, making contributions visible makes a big difference.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 13.17.52The submissions scored highly when each of the groups provided plenty of information about each of the projects, so that someone who doesn’t know about it would be able to have their questions asked, and know what would be involved if they tried to join.

They also scored well if they where clearly using their media production skills by sharing photos, videos, graphics and so on. These didn’t have to be anything sophisticated, just sharing media from phone is enough these days. We had some great examples – Extreme Ironing, Make-Up and Snooker all shared videos that had that social media style we wanted.

Overall, I enjoyed working on this assignment because it was creative and extended the idea of social media as a DIY platform, rather than simply relying on corporate media styles and conventions.

 

Mar 042016
 
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I’ve never set a piece of coursework like the project that my first year social media students are presently working on. Learners have been asked to set-up a social group that meets to do something as a shared social activity. Something that they can’t do online. Like playing cards, making bread, designing button badges, using Go-Pro cameras, and so on.

20160226_155705337_iOSThe aim is to use social media to bring a wider group together who have a hobby or who are interested in doing something they enjoy. In the process they teach other people who might want to join the group what it is about. Social media is used to share interest in things like makeup, cars, sport, and to show examples of what the group gets up to. So there’s lots of using Instagram and Twitter, lots of YouTube videos, and plenty of Snapchatting.

20160202_153500000_iOSThe reaction has been great, with loads of spontaneous meetings, lots of images and social media posts being shared, and blogs being written. We have developed an expression when working out how to explain the use of social media. We are ‘lowering the bar of expectation!’ This is because we’ve learnt that social media has to be accessible, playful and inclusive. The daftest and cheesiest images seem to be the ones that get shared and reposted the most.

The amazing thing is that this doesn’t feel like hard work, it’s just something that each of the groups get on with. They connect with one another, and the ideas and exchanges seem to flow. Each group has to put together a wiki page on the DMU Commons Wiki, that they work on collaboratively, and which acts as a central point for information about the group and the activities that they undertake.

Learners are demonstrating a wide range of media production skills in the process, such as the Extreme Ironing group’s video. The Snooker Club’s video, The Friends group and the blog promoted by the Sweet Style blogs. It’s the best piece of coursework I’ve set in ages. I’m looking forward to marking the blogs that are being written about the experience over Easter. If you want to read more head over to DIY-DMU.

Dec 112015
 
Sam Writing His Blogs

For TECH1002 Social Media Technology and TECH1502 Introduction to Community Media we’ve been actively using the DMU Commons Wiki and Blogs. So far we’ve made good progress in creating blogs and adding multimedia content. Each blog been set with a unique URL and learners are adding and embedding original content that they are writing and producing. Many of the learners are adapting and changing the themes by designing their own banners, backgrounds and adding feeds to their side-bar widgets.

001-DSCF0111I’ve set-up a blog DIY-DMU that will pull-in an RSS feed from each of the individual blogs, should they wish to share their posts. I need to add all the learners to the syndication feed and to update the visuals and the Twitter feed so that it better reflects the ethos of DIY media that I’ve been discussing in lectures and labs.

Each learner has a profile on the DMU Commons Wiki that they are adding to as they go along. They are using this profile to list their blog submissions for me to mark for their coursework assignment.

I have been encouraging learners to take an active look at each others blogs and wiki profiles so that they get a sense of what other learners are achieving.

001-DSCF0112There are a couple of features that we’d like to see added to the next update to the systems, so we’ve started a snags and suggestions page on the Wiki. The main feedback so far indicates that some learners want a wider range of themes, particularly themes that they can adapt and develop more by editing CSS.

 

 

 

Dec 072015
 
Christmas Decorations in Leicester

For our workshop today we went on a photowalk around Leicester. We wanted to look at the city center as the shops are geared up for Christmas, and what the flip-side might be as we moved away from the main shopping streets. After walking around and taking some photos we headed to the LCB Depot, but there was a power cut that affected a large part of the city center, including Phoenix Arts. We then walked back to the DMU campus and called in to Leicester Cathedral. The overall opinion is that Leicester doesn’t feel very festive, but we enjoyed the chance to get out and about and to observe the range of people who live in the city.

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Nov 222015
 
Distraction or Attention Adjustment?

I have a nagging sense of anxiety that someone is going to tap me on the shoulder and ask me why, when my students are paying £9k fees, that I should be asking them to play cards at the beginning of their workshop sessions for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology?

So this week when we were playing a quick hand at the start of the workshop session, I spent some time chatting and asking what learners thought about starting the workshop sessions with game of Rummy, or Chase the Ace?

I got some useful feedback, and while a small number of students would rather just get stuck in to the tasks specified for the workshop session, most told me that they are happy to have the option to keep playing for the following reasons.

Most told me that they feel that by playing cards they have spoken with a wider range of people than they would have if they had just come in to the computer lab to work. The normal practice is to sit at a computer, stare at the screen and follow the instructions that are dictated and explained by the tutor.

By allocating the students into random groups they told me that they have been able to chat with people that they would never have spoken with before, and that they have a wider sense of who is on their course because they have been able to introduce themselves informally as they learn and play different games.

There’s also a belief that the twenty minutes or so that we play cards, gives learners time to wake-up and adjust to the attention requirements of the workshop.

Some learners come straight from an intense lecture or workshop session for another module, so this short break allows them to readjust their mind and ease into the style of thinking that we are exploring as part of this module. After all, it is social media!

I suggested that cards are a great way to do this because playing a card game doesn’t require our full attention, only part of it, while we chat and discuss issues that are relevant, or even just catch up.

I try to give a subject of conversation each week, such as who their favorite artists might be, or how they share their music. It seems like these conversations are becoming more focused and the learners make adjustments to their awareness of the ideas that are being presented to them in the lectures.

The other useful thing about playing cards is that while some learners have played cards a lot in the past, with their friends and family on a regular basis, many have not. So it’s been a process of collaborative learning, as new games are explored and the rules to different games are shared.

It looks like I’ll have to buy some new card sets because the ones that we have been using are getting worn out.

Overall I’m glad I introduced this technique this year, because for me it feels less of a battle of wills to achieve a sense of focus and engagement with the subjects the module is covering.

It also seems that attendance is holding up as well, as the loosening of the task-orientation that I’ve employed previously, has given learners a greater sense of social identity that is more agreeable to them than just expecting them to get on with their work.

Obviously they are getting on with their work, and the greater sense of trust between the learners and myself is helping to make this a process one that is self-motivated rather than directed with a heavy hand by me.

So, while I’m still anxious, I’m more confident I can explain why this has been a positive learning experience for both the learners and myself.

Nov 072015
 
Grabbing a Coffee Before Heading to Liverpool

I’ve escaped from Leicester for a couple of days to take a break over the weekend and recharge my batteries. Rather like Superman when he stands in the suns glare, I will head towards the River Mersey and stand at the Pier Head and take in the spray of salt water, the cold wind whipping off the Irish Sea, and contemplate the slate grey sky that forms the backdrop to the Liverpool seafront.

I’ve been enjoying running my modules this year, and have settled into the themes with more confidence, as I’ve been able to develop them and add content that is more to my liking and my tastes. It’s a challenge to run three modules simultaneously, and to refresh the content as I go along. ‘It’s doing the working and the thinking that tires a fellow out!’ Now where did I hear that?

One of the things I’ve introduced to my first year social media module is getting the students to play cards for the first twenty minutes. It’s been useful for a couple of reasons. Firstly it means that the learners are able to sit and chat and get to know one another more easily, as the groups vary each week, and they often teach each other different games. Some students have played cards with their families and friends for years, while others are new to them. What I hope they are gaining from having a couple of short hands of either Pontoon, Rummy, Blackjack or Bullshit, is a sense of sociability and a sense of collaboration while engaging in something that is playful and distracting.

I always introduce a topic of suggested conversation related to the lectures I’ve delivered, and as we’ve been finding our way into thinking about media and the process of mediation through bands like The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Roxy Music and The Art of Noise, then we’ve been discussing how art has often been closely associated with pop culture. So we’ve mentioned Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton, and Italian Futurists – anything that connects the world of popular music with the world of ideas, alternative ways of viewing the world. I’m hoping that by looking back on some music movements of the past, these students might be inspired to create something for themselves. I wonder if any of them will form a band, or write a manifesto?

Likewise, I’m developing an introductory module to Community Media, which is something that has emerged from the ongoing PhD work. It’s a bit like building the railway line as the train is moving down the tracks. There’s a lot of trying things out and looking for live wires that can be used as a contrasting example between mainstream media, and community media’s more DIY and alternative approach. The students have hit on the idea quite quickly that community media is about giving a platform and a space for people who would otherwise not have a voice to speak and be heard.

We are experimenting with a story about people cycling on the pavement, and looking at how mainstream media in Leicester have covered it, and how alternative and independent media might look at this as a story. We’ll write blogs about it, perhaps put a news article together based on what we find out, and record a podcast based on the ideas and responses that can be collected and found when we talk with our friends and neighbours.

I’ve also been developing the final year social media module, that has taken the excessive use of sugar in our diets as a campaign issue, and is looking at ways that social media might be used to change peoples attitudes to the processed foods that we over-consume as a society. Our efforts where given a good kick this week when Keith Vaz MP told Coca Cola that their Christmas lorry wasn’t welcome in Leicester. This is a story that has stirred up a lot of controversy and has generated loads of comments on social media, and is a great example of how embedded attitudes to a consumer product and brand can be difficult to shift and change.

We are only at the end of week five, and there is some considerable way to go with these modules, with lots of marking and assignments to come in. So I’m going to use the week six reading week as an opportunity to get some reading done myself, start some marking, and maybe get ahead in preparing some classes, while also seeing if I can work through some of my PhD chapters that need writing. So no rest then, but at least I’m not on the hamster wheel for a couple of days.