This week I’ve been encouraging learners to take up blogging on the DMU Commons, which is a WordPress based system that is being developed at DMU, along with other universities in order to enhance the reflexive learning experience by providing a direct way for learners to communicate about their activities in an individual and personal way. The challenge is to empower learners so that they feel confident about being able to present themselves as creative, inventive and dedicated media practitioners, rather than as novices who need to be moderated, controlled and approved before they can venture into to wide world of communication.
Watching the reaction of learners has been interesting, because of the different levels of engagement and commitment that is shown. Some are advanced in their ability to write and discuss issues that matter to themselves in a blog, others are more cautious and don’t immediately think that they have much to offer or opinions that are worth expressing. Faced with a blank page it’s always a challenge to think what are we going to be able to write about? My personal starting point is to take a photograph or a screen-grab and use that to trigger some thoughts about an experience that I then go on to describe and discuss in more detail.
Most important, though, is building the sense that these blogs form part of a community and a network of similarly minded communicators. Learners on the courses in the Creative Media Technology subject area have already taken the plunge and have committed themselves to being media producers of one form or another. It might be music, it might be TV, it might be video, it might be radio, photography or multimedia. The decision has already been made, and so the next step is to build confidence that the opinions that learners want to express are recognised, acknowledged and celebrated. We all have to start somewhere and we all want to show clear signs of improvement in our writing, so why not take the first steps and see what difference it makes.
This process is leading me to think about the importance of the community or social media model, versus the corporate media model. Many of our learners have aspirations to work in large media companies at some point in their career, however, many more will work in more ad-hoc and de-centred networks of informal, entrepreneurial production. What skills will producers of the future need in order to engage with this new production environment? How will learners of today integrate and shape this non-corporate environment? Is the corporate media model increasingly limited and doomed to irrelevance? Are audiences (and we have to think of audiences in terms of multiples now, rather than an homogenous whole) able to by-pass the restricted and dominant channels of communication that are set in place in order to push-out single messages, brands and ‘communication strategies’?
Is community and social media about to be hijacked by the corporate, global corporations because they are the only ones who have the muscle to pay for the R&D, to attract the biggest stars or build a loyal following around a ‘brand’? The advantage that community and social media has is that it is in the hands of the people using it, and if we follow an Open Source model, can be run effectively and cheaply without having to pay money to the mega-corporations that dominate the software and computing industries? Over the coming weeks I’m going to be encouraging learners to develop content for their blogs that can be shared and gifted in social networks of collaborators and producers, it will be interesting to see what kind of style and identity comes out of it.