Nov 282016
 
Play

This is our Round the Counter podcast discussion for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production, in which we talk about gaming and the association with energy drinks. There’s a good article by Duncan Aird from way back in 2010 that explains this phenomenon, and from which I’ve used one of Duncan’s pictures.

Aug 252016
 

I’ve come to Liverpool for a couple of days to use the last of my annual leave before I get back to work next Tuesday. I’m spending the day mooching around the galleries in Liverpool, and checking out some of the exhibitions for the 2016 Liverpool Biennial.

IMG_4588It’s always good to come check out art in Liverpool, places like FACT, the Bluecoat and the Walker Art Gallery always have thought provoking works to take on-board and absorb. Each time I see something and I have a reaction to it, I notice a subtle shift in my sensibilities that helps me to view the world around me in different ways. The effect might wear off when I get back on the bus, but it’s something I have to keep doing once in a while to recharge my batteries and get me thinking again.

Two stand-out pieces that have had an impact with me this time have both been video based, which I normally avoid. At FACT, Lucy Beech’s film Pharmakon is really engrossing. The immersive sound design and the rich cinematography is captivating. I would be really keen to see more work from Lucy and to experience the set-up that FACT has put together to show it – a wall-to-wall screen with wrap-around sound in a darkened room.

The other artist that caught my attention is Richie Moment. Again I know nothing about this artist, but his work comprises videos displayed on smart-pads on the wall of the Bluecoat Gallery. They have a neon-YouTube aesthetic that relentlessly pushes ideas and images out to the viewer. Watching them in-passing in a gallery doesn’t do them justice.

One of the other reasons for my visit to Liverpool is to sit in some cafes and start to plan my teaching for the coming year. I’ve had a good break over the summer, with some useful reading under my belt. So I’m feeling relaxed and chilled and coming up with some good ideas for the work that I will be undertaking with learners on the modules I look after.

There are two strands to the modules I run, social media and community media. There is a useful connection between the two, but they are quite different. I can sum up each in a couple of phrases. For the community media modules, it’s about helping people to find their own voice in their community and representing that to their neighbours.

For the social media modules, it’s about looking at what difference it makes when we approach media from a social point of view, rather than from a mass media mind-set. Thinking about how we share meaningful media experiences is now more useful to us than simply thinking of audiences and mass media consumption. Its more personal, more individual and less easy to predict.

So in planning for the learning experiences of the coming year I’m thinking of focussing on projects that are about collaborations, problem solving and shared experiences, rather than the wider structural and industrial systems or political discourses that have typically been associated with the study of media.

This is about finding-out and understanding how people interact in a meaningful way, how they use media to express themselves, and how they connect in a social network or a community to act accomplish things in their worlds? This means that we can look at media as a participative experience, and as a moving and developmental experience. Things can change, they are in flux, meanings shift and are negotiated, rather than being fixed and inherent in their stylistic forms.

I’ll be drawing on the tradition of Symbolic Interactionism to help provide a methodological base for these studies, which is the approach that I arrived at with my PhD research, and which I feel gives a wide sense of flexibility to study, allowing us to think about how people interact with each other in meaningful ways, as a living experience.

So, for the first year social media learners I’m going to be asking them to work on a social project that they can’t otherwise do using media technology – such as playing cards, or trying out make-up, or urban ghost walks. This worked really well when I did it last year, and I’ going to extend the idea this year. Learners will write and produce blogs, social media posts, YouTube videos and anything else they can think of that allows them to interact with other people in a social way.

It’s DIY and has a focus on finding fun and easy ways to interact with people, using the affordances of the media technology that we have to hand, and as a way of generating and sustaining an entertaining and connected social experience.

For the final year social media students, I’m thinking that we should focus more than we did last year. So instead of thinking about sugar consumption more generally in our diets, and the food literacy skills that are associated with processed food culture, I’m thinking that we should focus on a specific group or subcultural community: electronic gamers and their consumption of sugary energy drinks.

I thought we’d do this by making a group video documentary that explains how people in the electronic games community see the sugar-based energy drinks that are marketed at them, and what drives the culture of their consumption.

For the community media modules, John Coster is coming on board to help deliver the modules and to help develop them. This means that we can tap into John’s extensive experience running community media workshops and groups.

The first years will learn how to be community reporters, and to use social and other forms of media to discuss issues that are important to different communities around Leicester. We will tap into the DMU Local expertise to help with this.

The second year community media module will explore how community media’s purpose is to support community development, and to think about how community media can improve the life experiences of people who are otherwise bypassed by mainstream media, and who don’t feel that they have a voice.

I’m going to try and blog as I go along about what I’m doing with these modules. If anyone has any suggestions or ideas that they think will help, then please get in touch – either on social media or using the DMU Commons Wiki. There is lots of work to do, and I’m looking forward to planning it out and putting something engaging in place.

Apr 192016
 

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.

Sep 102015
 

Who does Jamie Oliver think that he is? Is he some messiah figure who has come to save us from the perils of eating too much sugar? Or is he a self-aggrandising minor TV celebrity who is very good as convincing the people around him that things are his idea in the first place?

I’ve watched two films today about the dangers of sugar in our diets. The first was That Sugar Film with Damon Gameau. The second was Jamie’s Sugar Rush on Channel Four. Both have a very worthwhile message about the use and consequences, not only of excess sugar in our diets, but also the daily use of sugar as a staple of modern industrialised cooking.

But where That Sugar Film attempts to explain the issues in an entertaining, visual and personally engaging way, Jamie Oliver just comes across as being a quick leap onto the passing bandwagon.

Yes, Oliver’s name and record has a bit of pulling power in terms of getting the issue talked about, but when he comes across as the first person to have discovered the crisis of obesity and diabetes, then his film loses credibility.

Where That Sugar Film demonstrates the effects of sugar consumption on an otherwise healthy person, Damon Gameau himself, Jamie’s Sugar Rush just comes across as an indignant lurch that offers only a knee-jerk response from Jamie and his multimillionaire friends who run the chain-restaurants in the UK.

Both films have heart-wrenching moments that everyone should see, and I certainly don’t doubt the sincerity of Oliver’s response. I’m just a bit cynical, perhaps, that the real answer lies elsewhere, and that challenging the food giants to stop killing people with their food-like products, and their aggressive marketing techniques, is a bit like standing in front of an army of tanks and waving your shopping bag at them, screaming ‘no sugar in my bag!’

Sep 092015
 

I don’t know if it is just me, but is the quality and availability of decent greengrocers and market stalls selling fruit and vegetables in decline? I’ve largely stopped buying my fruit and vegetables from supermarkets, because the produce is too uniform, too expensive and over-packaged.

So I try to shop at independent stores and Leicester Market as much as I can. I enjoy shopping at a market rather than in the clinical space of a supermarket. It’s a bit more haphazard, but I tend to get a wider range of food at a much cheaper price.

Leicester Market has a proud history selling fresh food, and the re-vamped indoor market has given the meat, fish and dairy side of the market a massive boost. No doubt the planned redevelopment of the outdoor market will do the same.

At least I hope it will? Because is it only me but is the standard of intendent greengrocers dropping like a stone? Not only is the range and selection of produce becoming more uniform, but the quality is dropping massively as well.

Yeah, I know, Leicester Market is renowned for being as cheap-as-chips, with its bowls of banana for a pound, and its wide range of international foods. But I can’t help but feel that the availability, the number of stalls and the quality of a lot of the fresh food is heading in the wrong direction.

Quite why Leicester Market has stalls dedicated to selling accessories to stoners I don’t know, but is this sending out the wrong set of signals and reinforcing the idea that markets are a no-go area?

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in putting my money where my mouth is, so I will continue to shop at Leicester Market. But I was wondering what the general state of fresh food shops is in the UK, and how much of this is a barometer for the ailing health of the nation?

We seem to be good at opening bars, bookies, coffee shops and charity shops, but butchers or greengrocers are an endangered occurrence these days, and I’m getting worried that its gone too far.

Mar 162015
 

You might think that as I teach about using social media that I would want to interact with my students using Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, in order to give them feedback about their work. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, and the more that I teach about social media, the more I am reminded of the value of face-to-face discussions.

It’s become all too easy to suggest to learners on my modules that they can catch-up with the notes from each of the lecture sessions by reading the PDF documents that I post on my website. In a way this get me off a massive hook. I can assume that my teaching responsibilities have been exercised because I have sent out an email pointing learners in the direction of the notes.

Likewise I can safely assume that everything that is written in the notes is understandable and legible, and that any reasonable person – in my mind at least – would be able to figure them out.

But this isn’t really the case, and the more that I interact with learners on my modules, the more I have a growing sense that all of the digital forms of communication we have available to us are actually leading to lower levels of understanding.

When I sit with a learner, and we discuss the issues that have been covered in the lectures, or that crop-up in the reading, I can only really get a good sense of what is being understood by reading their face, looking at their eyes, and giving them time to think through the ideas that we are contemplating.

The stress of modern learning delivery is all focussed on delivery by technology and what’s being squashed is the one-on-one learning, in which a student sits with a tutor and they ask each other questions about the tasks or the issues to be discussed. I can’t do this very well with social media. Yes, it’s possible to give feedback using Skype or other visual and audio forms of social media, but this doesn’t get anywhere close to sitting and chatting.

One thing I would like to develop in my modules, then, are more sessions where we sit and chat with each other about the topics and the ideas we are covering. A café-style room would be ideal. Small tables that three of four learners can sit around and participate in discussions. I’d even suggest that we order tea or coffee every now and again, and really settle in to a vibrant discussion.

Those learners who are able to sit with me, I hope are well adjusted to the extended process of learning at university, rather than just being people who process information and regurgitate so-called knowledge.