Rob Watson

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.

Nov 062015
 
Music For Misfits BBC Four

Occasionally a television programme comes along that frames a discussion I’ve had going on in my head and allows me to give my students a wider view of the ideas I’m trying to convey. So when I say Music For Misfits – The Story of Indie on BBC Four, I nearly fell off my chair.

It’s difficult to convey a sense of connection and correspondence about a social and cultural movement when it is happening, so being able to look back at different periods of popular culture and make sense of them both retrospectively and from a broader viewpoint is incredibly useful.

Music For Misfits covers the story of independent music and the DIY approach to promoting media by people who are outside of the mainstream music industry. Bands like The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, Big in Japan and Orange Juice are all given a good airing. What’s fascinating is the way that these forms of media are all pre-digital, pre-Photoshop and pre-ProTools.

Bill Drummond Explaining Zoo Records

Bill Drummond Explaining Zoo Records

This was a form of media that was discovered rather than planned. There where no conferences about how to succeed in the music and media industries in the late seventies and early eighties. You couldn’t go and sign up for a course in digital photography, or live performance management combined with digital composition. This was a period when the rules and the conventions where created by a small group of chancers who tried something that felt good to them, but which wasn’t expected to make them into multi-millionaires.

I’m hoping that the students on TECH1002 Social Media & Technology gain a sense that the media tools and distribution systems that we have now put them in a privileged position whereby they can express themselves and make media so easily and consistently. Looking back at the pioneers, allowing for some distance and breadth of view may hopefully inspire some to push their own ideas, their own concepts more, rather than simply thinking that they are on an escalator into the creative industries – because it doesn’t work like that.

Nov 052015
 
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As a way of developing a greater sense of sociability, I’ve been starting my workshop sessions for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology by getting my students to play cards. It’s been an interesting experience each week as the term has progressed, as students sit in small groups and share their knowledge of different types of games, such as Rummy, Pontoon, Bullshit and other games.

There’s an interesting dynamic as different groups take on different kinds of approaches. There is the serious group who look like they are sitting in a late-night poker session psyching each other out, then there is the fun group who want to play Irish Snap, with it’s loud interventions and calls. What’s certain though, is that each of the groups get talking and discussing the games, learning from each other and helping each other out to improve the games.

Based on the lecture that takes place in the middle of the week, I’ve been asking my students to discuss an idea while they play cards. This week, after talking about how ZTT Records based their notion of pop culture on the Futurist Manifesto, I wanted to know what they would include in their own manifesto of intent that they would use to guide how they produce media for themselves.

When we get back after the enhancement week, I’m going to ask if we should continue to play cards at the beginning of each session, and in what ways we can develop the use of cards as a quick way to relax and think about the topics we are covering in the module.

Oct 192015
 
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 16.49.50

I’ve been updating my profile on the DMU Commons Wiki. I usually detest doing these things, writing in the third-person about myself, but somehow putting my professional information into a wiki is a lot easier and looks a lot smarter than I thought it would look. Although I’ve only just started to add information and links, it made me realise just how much work I’ve been doing over the last couple of years, and what an interesting and innovative academic base it stems from. As I write more and give more examples of the work I’ve done, I’ll keep posting them on the wiki.