StarBase Leicester is a Science Fiction and Fantasy group, who meet once a month, for a variety of events, run for members. Regular events include Superhero Night, creative writing night, Megazone, Roleplaying Games, Muchkin, Cinema trips, Console nights Starbase Leicester aims to encourage its members to contribute and run ideas of their own, make new friends and to enjoy everything scifi, fantasy and gaming related activities, amongst like-minded individuals. This group accepts anyone, as long as they are 16+ and prepared to have a little fun. I spoke with Hannah, Sam and Chris who told me about their roles and what they get out of being members of Starbase Leicester.
Over this spring and summer I’m going to be spending a lot of time writing for my PhD. I’m hoping to have a good chunk of a working draft competed by September. So it’s going to be head-down to the grindstone and a lot of sitting in one place trying desperately not to prevaricate and to avoid distractions.
Writing like this is always something of an isolated process, with a lot of time spent away from friends and colleagues, actively ignoring emails and messages. I’m thinking about suspending my Facebook profile for the duration and leaving Twitter alone for a while – though I doubt I’ll be able to withdraw myself for that long.
The alternative is to set a target to ration my access to social media, developing a strategy to reward myself with micro-bursts of online activity. My main concern is my ability to stay away from online news sites. I can easily waste a couple of hours reading newspaper columnists and stories. And then there is Netflix and Amazon Prime. The world of online movies and TV is too easy to engage with, and before you know it you’ve watched the entire set of The West Wing or Star Trek The Next Generation – again!
The hardest part is going to be ignoring friends. The pleasure of meeting for a coffee and passing the time, scheming, plotting and reflecting is so much more pleasant than sitting in a room struggling to find words that match the data I’m supposed to be analysing. But it has to be done. My plan is to limit social interaction to Monday evenings and the excellent St Martins Coffee quiz, and Saturdays, which is a good day to get out of Leicester and go and look at some exhibitions, or go for a walk.
Any organisations that I’m supporting or volunteering for is going to have to be put on hold until at least September. So no getting involved with committees or management groups, no meeting sponsors or funding bodies, no plotting to set anything up. Not until I’ve completed a good version of my document at least.
Then there is life at De Montfort University. For some time I’m going to be away from the office, trying to balance my marking with my research work. My leave is going to be largely dedicated to working this year – though some family commitments are pencilled in as a balance to the weeks that I will be spending at my desk.
If you don’t hear from me in the coming weeks, and you find I’m more difficult to get hold of, please don’t get vexed. I’ll be putting my out-of-office message on, but I’ll keep an eye on my emails all the same, just in case. Though I’ll probably limit the time I take to read and reply to first thing each morning.
Wish me luck over the coming months. I’m gearing up to ploughing on with this and submitting before the year is out.
Leicester Hackspace is a new venue for makers of digital, electronic, mechanical and creative projects that is about to open as part of the Makers Yard in Leicester. Set to open to members from 1st March 2014, I spoke with Sean Clarke, who told me how Leicester’s Hackers hope to build a community of practical and creative people and provide them with a place to pursue their projects, share techniques and concepts and learn new skills.
This week Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, suggested that British state schools should aspire to be more like private schools, and that they might, according to BBC News, consider emulating the private sector by trying out the “OECD’s international Pisa tests,” which prep-schools use to filter out students who are not academically oriented.
Underpinning much of Gove’s constant churning of the waters in schooling and education, is the belief that choice is the driver of standards and improvement in a child’s expected life chances. By extending the ability of parents to choose from a range of supposedly different models of education, Gove is following Tony Blair in suggesting that education can be packaged like a consumer product, and that in making our choices as consumers, we will naturally select the optimum model that suits us.
Choice might be great in a supermarket, but it has worrying effects in wider civic society. What’s the key affordance that we take advantage of as consumers? What’s the most essential thing that we can do that gives us the semblance of power and control over the things that we consume? Our right to withdraw our choice and to shop elsewhere if we are not happy is about the only thing that we can do if we want to disengage from the model of consumer choice that is put before us. If you don’t like a supermarket then you stop shopping there. If you don’t like a department store then use an alternative rival.
The consumer market thrives on the promotion of rivals, and the semblance of competition between different providers of services. In the consumer model we are free to leave and take our business elsewhere, safe from the consequence of withdrawing our support and our funding. It’s of no consequence to the consumer if we reject a business and it’s products and services. We are right and the business is wrong. It’s the law of the market, and the business that wants our trade has to do everything it can to keep us satisfied. (Now The Telegraph is reporting that private schools are discounting prices to appeal to a cash-strapped UK market to avoid private schools being dominated by rich foreigners).
Is education and learning a consumer service in this way? What happens if we withdraw our support and our custom from a school, a college or a university? What happens if we stop taking an interest in the civic status of our learning establishments? Will others pop-up like magic to provide a better service? Will the market provide an alternative solution that will satisfy our desires and aspirations?
The question is, though, can we really wash our hands of our responsibilities in this way? At the moment the market works because it does what it can to enabling choice for a small number of peoples, those people who can easily benefit from it. The market also ignores those people who are not in a position to exercise choice because they are not in an economic position to do so?
Judging the state school sector by the private sector is therefore disingenuous, especially when the cost of access to a private school is prohibitive and out of the reach of the vast majority of the population. This is perverse.
So, Mr Gove, stop comparing state schools and private schools, it is invidious. It’s not a fair comparison. State schools cannot just pack-up or turn people away. They have to provide a service regardless of the circumstances and the conditions in which they find themselves. They can’t pander to the prejudices of an elite who by virtue of being able to afford to can walk away without a care.
It’s time we started comparing like with like, so lets stop talking about choice as if it is a self-contained idea, free from consequences in a marketplace of open-ended consumer choice. It isn’t. Lets shift the question to think about what our responsibilities are to one another in a civic and civilised society, and how we can best meet them by thinking once more about our mutual responsibilities and the extent to which we are accountable to one another.
Collaborative media skills are used extensively by learners on TECH1002 Social Media & Technology, TECH2002 Social Media Production, TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production, with the potential to be used in many other modules within the Leicester Media School. These modules focus primarily on the use and critical development of digital literacies, promoting active participation in social media production communities. Underpinning the pedagogic practice of the modules is a recognition that “In an information age… it becomes essential to prepare students for… new literacies because they are central to the use of information and the acquisition of knowledge. Traditional definitions of literacy and literacy instruction will be insufficient if we seek to provide students with the futures they deserve” (Donald J. Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, & Cammack, 2004).
In supporting this learners are encouraged to avoid the ‘banking’ model of learning, and instead approach their use of online or digital media as a participant in a community of practice. As Jones & Hafner suggest “the five main changes that we see as most relevant to the kinds of literacy practices that will be required in the ‘new work order’. They are: 1) a shift away from manufacturing work to ‘knowledge work’, 2) the distribution of work across large geographic distances, 3) a de-emphasis on the ‘workplace’ as a place where people work, 4) a flattening of hierarchies within organisation, and 5) a weakening of the relationships between employers and employees” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 175). In emphasising collaborative knowledge and production techniques and relationships there is a need for learners, therefore, to reflexively analyse their own status as a participant in a network of co-learners and collaborators.
In embracing these techniques, as Rheingold argues, it is important to not that with the “proliferation of literacies and divides that accompany them are a real problem. It isn’t easy to maintain a high level of basic reading and writing literacy, and the percentage of the population that can afford the time and money to learn additional multiple literacies is undoubtedly going to remain small, but that doesn’t mean it has to be an elite. The multiliterate can be a public – a networked public” (Rheingold, 2012, p. 253). None of which can be done, however, without testing the framing within which digital and social media literacies are enabled. Incorporated in these forms of practice and reflection, therefore, is an emphasis on critical questions and responses to the dominant and mainstream use of media. Using Belshaw’s elements of digital literacy learners are asked to self-evaluate their own practices and review each of the critical elements that are closest to their experience of ‘media literacy’. According to Belshaw “Questions relevant here include: who is the audience? who is included? who is excluded? what are the assumptions behind this text? and so on’” (Belshaw, 2013, p. 53).
The use and practice of the DMU Commons is structured around the following themes:
- Principles of Collaboration – how media production is increasingly co-developed and co-produced.
- Critical Encounters with Media – encourage learners to reflect on how they define, access, understand, evaluate, create, and communicate using digital and social media.
- Strategic Analysis: learners are expected to show awareness of the cultural, cognitive, constructive, and communicative practices that the undertake, so that they can reflect on their effectiveness in and confidence in producing creative work that has a civic usefulness founded in critical reflection.
- Employability Skills: many production companies now use collaborative and social media tools to support production, encourage innovation and to open the process of intellectual practice and knowledge work as a collaborative practice. This recognises the shift away from block audiences, linear production management techniques, and the enhanced status of networks and non-linear knowledge management skills.
- Practice and Experience: These skills are most effectively taught through forms of practice that make use of shared resources, collective knowledge development, real-time information management, decentralised moderation, peer and network interactions.
DMU Commons Blogs:
Experiential Learning: allows learners to showcase their work, build an online persona, collaborate in a web-document, integrate and embed other social media tools, reflexively evaluate their social media use, face outwards into wider media production and social media communities.
Literacies Acquired: blog development, reflexive writing, still and moving image appreciation and use, persona development through reflexive practice, social media networking skills networking, WordPress shortcodes,
This is a limited tool that does not reflect general practice in the real-world. Learners produce content only for themselves and their tutors, limiting their expectations that the wiki entries that they make have the potential to be found, linked-to, quoted and challenged on the World Wide Web. Ring-fenced media practice opportunities delay learning as they give learners a false sense of security, a limited expectation and ambition to innovate and experiment, and a limited desire to ‘bank’ their knowledge with their tutor, rather than exchange it in a wider knowledge economy of which they are legitimate and responsible practitioners.
According to Schneider, Beneto & Ruchat “Mediawiki, the technology developed for Wikipedia, has interesting affordances for supporting a range of teaching and other scholarly activities” (Schneider, Benetos, & Ruchat, 2013). They argue that Mediawikis facilitate the integration of diverse academic activities, the combination of learning management with knowledge management, and do so at a reasonable cost. Media Wiki is a standard format for wikis, as the platform that supports Wikipedia, the worlds largest and most accessed wiki, it has a strong founding in open-source development, not-for-profit knowledge exchange, reliability, cost-effective resource use, collaborative moderation of content and usability (with some simple instruction). It is not ‘coding’ or ‘programming’ heavy to use, it has a very robust discussion and moderation capability, and it offers increased integration with many content management systems and social media applications.
Host a DMU Commons Wiki that can be used as a shared network resource by students and staff at De Montfort University based on the Media Wiki platform. Promote the wiki as a knowledge-exchange community that brings learners, researchers and collaborators together to share information, ideas and academic best-practice. Media Wiki can be linked to the LDAP server so only enrolled students, researchers and staff at DMU will be able to access the wiki for editing and moderation purposes. Integrating Media Wiki skills in the taught module provision of the social media production modules, and encouraging other colleagues and learners to take-up the facility will generate usage and on-going monitoring of the system by a group of core users, with other moderators and users encouraged to participate through CELT.
Belshaw, D. (2013). Essential Elements of Digital Literacies Retrieved from http://dougbelshaw.com/ebooks/digilit/
Donald J. Leu, J., Kinzer, C. K., Coiro, J. L., & Cammack, D. W. (2004). Toward a Theory of New Literacies Emerging From the Internet and Other Information and Communication Technologies. In R. B. Ruddell & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart – How to Thrive Online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Schneider, D. K., Benetos, K., & Ruchat, M. (2013). Mediawikis for Research, Teaching and Learning Retrieved from http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Mediawikis_for_research,_teaching_and_learning
At today’s community media hub I spoke with Matthew Hulbert and Sally Crossfield about their plans to set up Barwell Events Link, an online community news site and newsletter for the village. Listen to the podcast as Matthew and Sally explain what they hope to achieve with the site and how they will encourage volunteers to get involved.
Here’s some shots from today’s Citizens Eye Community Media Hub that takes place the first Tuesday of the month at BBC Leicester.
On Tuesday I went to an event at Phoenix Arts in Leicester that Creative Leicestershire organised in which six creative and talented people presented a Pecha Kucha. It was really good fun, with a real sense of participation and creativity. I really like the Pecha Kucha style and I’ve been asking my students to do them as part of their social media coursework. The need for Pecha Kucha’s came from the need for creative people to be able to communicate clearly without talking for a long time. So if you want to be more creative, the secret is to shut up. This was the first Pecha Kucha event I’ve sat through, though, which let me come up with six rules that will help to make a Pecha Kucha more engaging.
Rule 1: Don’t talk to the slides – the habit of waiting for the twenty-second transition is distracting, keep your back turned to the slides and don’t worry about them, they will tell your story in the background. It’s your words and the speed that you speak that your audience will focus on.
Rule 2: Produce the images yourself, don’t use stock images. The last thing that you want is a text-based, PowerPoint style slide. Use images from your Facebook profile, or from the shoebox under the bed. Using standard images found on the web or in a stock archive aren’t as interesting as the images you make or take yourself.
Rule 3: Try to explain an idea. Rather than listing a series of events, or relating a journey, start by asking your audience to think about a concept, and then use the images and the evidence that you talk about to illustrate the idea.
Rule 4: Use LOL Cats. Actually, you can use any form of meme or cartoon image to provide a break in the chain of associations. Your audience can think about different things at the same time, but they will always appreciate some relief.
Rule 5: Wear a funny hat. This is an optional thing to do, but it certainly made me laugh.
Rule 6: Be honest, be yourself. Don’t try to over-project your idea, who you are, or what your experience has been. Keep it real and grounded in your experience. It’s you we’ve come to listen to, not a self-help book in a railway station newsagents.
I’m sure we can add more ideas to this list. What suggestions do you have?