May 242011

Intermission Show on DemonFM

I’ve been working through my marking today for TECH2005 Radio Production. Learners have been working on the Intermission Show, which was broadcast live on DemonFM every day between 12 & 2pm during the academic year. Mainly talk based, the programme gave students studying TECH2005 the chance to report on and discus a couple of issues that where grouped into daily themes. We started with Community Enrichment, moved on to Ghia and Environment, then looked at Technology, before thinking about DIY Style and then Well Being. The aim of using such a wide range of subjects was to encourage learners to think about topics that they would not normally consider, and thus experience the joy of telling other people via the power of broadcasting about something they themselves had discovered. Well that was the theory.

After listening to many showreels today I’ve come to realise that the process of orienting and supporting learners as they discover the joy of radio and it’s ability to communicate directly, needs a lot more work. While there have been some very good programmes broadcast during the Intermission Show on DemonFM, there have also been some stinkers. Basic things like getting microphones turned on, making sure that phone interviews can be heard on dodgy lines, and ensuring that there aren’t too many people sitting in the studio, each seemingly making a random contribution.

So things are going to be tightened up for next year. The first thing that we have built in to the module is that all learners are producing a report that explains how they have gone about producing their programmes this year. Next year these reports will be shared with a new group of learners, who will be able to mine these reports for essential information. I’m keen for learners to learn from each other and to stand on each others shoulders.

This year particular emphasis has been placed on learners figuring out as much as possible for themselves, based on regular feedback from tutors, who simply encourage learners to experiment, research and reflect on their experience in the studio. It’s not been the tutors job to instruct, only to guide. There is some instruction, but this largely takes place in the first six weeks, then it is up to the individual learner to collaborate and manage their own programme development needs. Feedback is then given in an individual, detailed written report that emphasises the positive contribution and gives clear next steps for the learner to move forward.


Learner Activity Structure

In order for learners to demonstrate that they are becoming more expert at producing programmes, then, they have been asked to complete this production report of four thousand words. This report is expected to focus on three key areas: the format of a report, the gathering of evidence and the analysis of performance. In doing this, it is hoped that learners become more individually responsible for their work, undertake a greater degree of reflexive practice, and have a rich store of material from which they can base their analysis. Two out of three isn’t bad for a first attempt then.

Report Format: in forcing learners to structure their reflections in a schematic and process focussed report they have been able to develop a more mature standard of reporting. At the beginning of this process the reports are mainly written in a subjective and personalised manner, based on individual experience. I forget the number of times that I have asked learners in their feedback not to write a journal or travelogue, but to consider that their reader isn’t interested in their unique personal experiences, but wants to consider a set of facts objectively. What learners then move very quickly on to is the need to accrue those facts and to reflect on their purpose and their use.

Gathering of Evidence: This is now where the process is perhaps falling down a little. Learners who are careful about the evidence that they gather as they undertake this work are usually able to produce a good report. The idea of gathering evidence as learners progress, however, is not an easy concept for many to accept, nor to implement. Busy lives, distracted minds and a desire to use experience as the guiding tool for learning often contribute to a reluctance to take thorough and ongoing notes. Usually note books are poorly kept, reflexive journals lack detail, and subsidiary information is difficult to collate. I’ve tried to encourage the taking of photographs in the studios, the scanning of documents and screen-grabbing of online discussions, as well as the inclusion of clips and short segments from their shows. Without evidence, it is plainly impossible to produce a coherent narrative of past actions and potential improvements.

Analysis of Performance: So, because of the limitations of the previous mode of engagement this next stage becomes more difficult to undertake. On the one hand they can make general comments based on their experience and trail and error, but when it come to tackling more complex and more integrated production scenarios we quickly arrive at the limits of their analysis. Rather than using methodical and verifiable analysis techniques, reflection can veer towards the subjective, self-opinionated and circular. I’ve spent a lot of time emphasising the use of schematic, process based diagrams, the use of tables as a data analysis tools, and the development of visualisation techniques for the presentation of complex situations, relationships and concepts. This has been a very rewarding process, and while it has not yet been embedded fully, I feel that I’m making solid progress in turning their expectations that learning is more than me, me, me!

So, how so I break this cycle? Firstly by using the same techniques that I am asking learners to use. Problem solving, project analysis and creative thinking. There are some simple things that can be implemented about the way that learners build and accelerate their learning. Over the coming weeks I’m going to produce some models and schematic accounts of the process and relationships that will support learning in an environment of self-actualisation and monitoring.

One important resource that I am going to push, though, is the us of Our.DMU and the blogging service that it provides. If learners can write daily or weekly blogs about their work on TECH2005, then they will have a lot of the job done. If they can link these blogs with other peoples blogs, they will get a sense of situation and collaborative potential that will enable them to wander around more freely and experiment with more production styles and programming techniques.

Lastly, for now, there will be a change to the structure of the programme that is being produced. Rather than a two hour magazine show, based around topics, the Intermission Show will focus on a geographic area of Leicester – as part of the DMU Square Mile project. The show will be cut down to one hour, and will be talk and feature based only. The most important lesson I want learners to take away from the module next year is that radio is at its most powerful when it empathises with other people, allows them to speak directly, and tells stories that go beyond the bubble of our own personal experience, but relates the world back to us through the power of words, testament and sound.

I’m going to continue to update this blog over the next couple of days – there is so much I want to write about.

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