May 122016
 
YouTube-002

This week I’ve been watching vlogs made by the learners on TECH1502 Introduction to Community Media. I’ve really enjoyed listening to the thoughts and ideas about what has been learnt over the year, and how learners have gained a different perspective on what community media is and why it is different from mainstream and commercial media. I need to do some of this vlogging stuff, everyone is so much better at it than me – I’ve got a lot to learn!

May 112016
 
YouTube-001

Over the last couple of days I’ve been watching vlogs made by learners on TECH1002 Social Media Technology. The aim was to talk for about three minutes about what each student has learnt over the year. This has been a great way for me to get direct and uninterrupted feedback from each of the learners, as they let their thoughts unfold about their experience of social media.

There’s a real openness and honesty to the videos that I really like, even in their most basic form vlogging is a great way to explore ideas and to explain how our thinking shifted and changed over time and as we dealt with the different challenges that had been set. It’s my favorite assignment to mark.

Here’s the YouTube playlist with a sample of the videos.

 

May 042016
 
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These are my notes for a presentation I’m giving at the University of Westminster, Media Engagement symposium.

The Problem with Media Studies

David Gauntlett & William Merrin – Media Studies 2.0. Focus on Media Production activity and DIY Media:

“The discipline… faces a choice. It has the potential to be one of the most important subject areas going into the 21st century, at the forefront of debates around digital technologies and their remaking of the world. But equally it has the possibility of being left behind, its focus on reception and content and broadcast forms and concepts condemning it to an increasing irrelevance for everyone but itself” (Merrin, 2014, p. 188).

“So media studies now is not so much about media content and is more about platforms – media as things you can do something with, and the platforms and supports that can be arranged to stimulate that. It’s about building creativity in society – and the thiungs that can get in the way of that. This means we are still engaged with institutions and organisations, and more generally with issues of social change and culture, learning, and power in society – but in a different way, with a more active role for creative individuals to make a difference” (Gauntlett, 2015, p. 188).

Henry Jenkins focuses on Participatory Culture, arguing that changes in expectations about participation in networks of media engagement require a rethinking of the concepts of consumption and assimilation that presently dominate the study of media (Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins, Ford, & Green, 2013).

This paper argues that the study of participation-based media must prioritise the pragmatic concept of community-through-conversation, thereby rejecting critical stances and models of media determination (Oakeshott, 1975; Rorty, 1982, 1989).

Pragmatic Approach
This pragmatic approach suggests that people who are active media participants and activists are faced with a series of translation issues that occur when agents are operating from different frames of symbolic reference. Of practical importance is the idea that it is difficult to achieve operational sustainability if these translation differences are ongoing.

“The notion of culture as a conversation rather than as a structure erected upon foundations fits well with the hermeneutical notion of knowledge, since getting into a conversation with strangers is like acquiring a new virtue or skill by imitating models” (Rorty, 2009, p. 319).

The point of the study of media, therefore, is to seek ways to resolve the incongruities faced by participants and agents in the different symbolic reference frameworks, as they are articulated and negotiated in practice by the different communities, organisations and agents.

According to Rorty by mapping out the commensurable and the incommensurable terms within our languages and social routines, we should be able to identify and distinguish what is new from what is old, what has changed from what remains the same, and what is useful from what is unnecessary.

This is a pragmatic approach in which the adage, that we can strip away anything that doesn’t make a difference applies at all times.

And while this might not seem to be particularly ‘deep’ or ‘critical’ set of aims or conclusions, when compared with other, more classically or critically oriented forms of social analysis, the degree to which this analysis provides insight as part of a wider discussion of emerging cultures of community and collaborative media, is significant.

The aim of pragmatic social thinking, according to Rorty, is to provide a space through which “commonsensical practical imperatives” can be validated against “the standard current theory about subjects” (Rorty, 2009 p.385).

As McCarthy and Wright affirm, “pragmatists theorising is a practical, consequential activity geared toward change, not representation” (McCarthy & Wright, 2004 p.20).

Hence, the task at hand is to link and validate the commonsensical practical imperatives of people who are working in communities and networks, with the standard ideas and concepts that are associated with the analysis of media, and then come up with some practical suggestions that might help in pursuing change on the ground – both in practice, and in the formulation of the prevailing ideas and concepts associated with the study of media (Forster, 2010).

As Etienne Wenger notes, the core of media practice is now based on the ideals of participation and direct experience, enabling those who take part, and who form their communities, to gain “radically new insights” as they “often arise at the boundaries between communities” (Etienne Wenger in Lesser, Fontaine, & Slusher, 2000, p. 12).

Leonidas Donskis suggests that by “radically changing everyone’s field of reference and system of concepts would make it easier to take away the dimensions of the past” (Donkis in Bauman & Donskis, 2013, p. 134).

Therefore, if we shift our perspective about media and consumer transactionalism, to that of community and collaborative media, based on a sense of participation and agency, then we might be able to open-up some opportunities for some innovative thinking about the future development of our social engagements.

Contingencies & Transience
Richard Rorty suggests that instead of looking for fixed and immovable accounts of social experience, we should instead be seeking out those things that are historically contingent, that can be described in their transience, and which can be theoretically revised.

With its heightened emphasis on collaboration and shared techniques of production, that are not expected of more conventional forms of media, participatory media, or forms of community and collaborative media, occupy a territory that is distinctive and challenging.

This distinction is characterised as a set of working and conceptual practices that are grounded in a real-world environment, in which individual and collaborative knowledge is blurred and indeterminate.

Our understanding of the importance of the every-day practices and experiences of the participants who volunteer in participatory media situations can therefore be usefully explained, on the one hand, as a form of social knowledge that is exchanged within a ‘societas,’ that is a group of people who share their corresponding life experiences together; or alternatively, as a set of social arrangements that takes the form of a ‘universitas’, in which there is a mutual self-interest between a group of people who want to achieve a particular goal or outcome (Oakeshott, 1975).

As Richard Rorty explains:

“Epistemology views the participants [of a community] as united in what Oakeshott calls an universitas – a group united by mutual interests in achieving a common end. Hermeneutics views them as united in what he calls a societas – persons whose path through life have fallen together, united by civility rather than by a common goal, much less by common ground” (Rorty, 2009 p.318).

Communities of Interest
It is possible to establish the basis on which participants in these communities of interest, identity and practice are able to understand their role, their identity and their accomplishments.

Furthermore, identifying the extent to which these communities of interest and correspondence are able to reflexively understand themselves in a way that can be described usefully as either a universitas or as a societas, or a blending of both.

The aim of our studies, therefore, should be to develop a pragmatic picture of the casual correspondence and contingent relationships that ‘fall together’ within fieldsites of community and collaborative media, with the assumption that this picture would open-up space for further discussion about the basis on which collaborative purpose is arrived at in accommodating communities.

In attempting to locate this presumed sense of common purpose, either as a society based on shared goals that are sometimes articulated in radical dreams of critical emancipation and utilitarian efficiency; or alternatively, as a society of correspondence, in which people just rub-along together. It is necessary to focus on the practical tasks that were useful as a wider example to people undertaking similar tasks or study.

These include: “predicting the behaviour of inhabitants” of the unfamiliar cultures of community media groups, learning to talk with different agents within overlapping community media groups,  despite the “incommensurability of [their] language” (Rorty, 2009 p.350); and the development of practical models that participants, students and supporters of community media can reflect on to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their ethical and practical operations.

As Rorty argues,

“The notion of culture as a conversation rather than as a structure erected upon foundations fits well with the hermeneutical notion of knowledge, since getting into a conversation with strangers is like acquiring a new virtue or skill by imitating models” (Rorty, 2009, p. 319).

According to Rorty, moreover, by mapping out the commensurable and the incommensurable terms within our languages and social routines, we should be able to identify and distinguish what is new from what is old, what has changed from what remains the same, and what is useful from what is unnecessary.

This is a pragmatic approach in which the adage, that we can strip away anything that doesn’t make a difference applies at all times. And while this might not seem to be particularly ‘deep’ or ‘critical’ set of aims or conclusions, when compared with other, more classically or critically oriented forms of social analysis, the degree to which this analysis provides insight as part of a wider discussion of emerging cultures of community and collaborative media, is significant.

The aim of pragmatic social thinking, according to Rorty, is to provide a space through which “commonsensical practical imperatives” can be validated against “the standard current theory about subjects” (Rorty, 2009 p.385).

By extension, therefore, if we shift our perspective about media and consumer transactionalism, to that of community and collaborative media, based on a sense of participation and agency, then we might be able to open-up some opportunities for some innovative thinking about the future development of our social engagements.

Put simply, it is not what academics and theorists say in their studies of media that matter, but what people living in different communities and lifeworlds achieve and accomplish with media that is important.

Symbolic Interaction
Therefore, it is in reintroducing Symbolic Interaction to the study of media that we will be able to make sense of how human beings act and achieve things on the basis of the meanings that they negotiate, and the potential lines of action that these meanings open up (Blumer, 1969; Prus, 1996).

Symbolic interaction proposes that the meanings that humans hold are themselves borne from social interaction, and that these interactions are modified and negotiated in an interpretative process as reflective agents interact with one another.

The social world is a world of social experiences that have been created in the process of interaction, and the meanings that individual agents hold are themselves shaped by their interactions and self-reflections.

“Any human event can be understood as the result of the people involved (keeping in mind that that might be a very large number) continually adjusting what they do in the light of what others do, so that each individual’s line of action ‘fits’ into what others do. That can only happen if human beings typically act in a non-automatic fashion, and instead construct a line of action by taking account of the meaning of what others do in response to their earlier actions. Human beings can only act in this way if they can incorporate the responses into their own act and thus anticipate what will probably happen, in the process creating a ‘self’ in the Meadian sense. (This emphasis on the way people construct the meaning of others’ acts is where the ‘symbolic’ in the ‘symbolic interaction’ comes from). If anyone can and does do that, complex joint action can occur” (Becker & McCall, 1990, p. 3).

This study has been able to demonstrate that the value of the ethnographic model lies in its ability to reflexively identify information from within complex, dynamic and transient social activities (Schensul, Schensul, & LeCompte, 1999).

While quantitative research methodologies are able to distinguish and characterise large-scale social issues, through a process of calculation and statistical analysis, what is not readily identified when using these techniques is the process by which social actors find meaning in their activities (Sim, 1999).

As a qualitative form of research, ethnography aims to narrate how social groups negotiate and allocate legitimacy for the meanings that they build-up in practical usage.

Moreover, ethnography is primarily concerned with the process of accumulated meaning as derived through social practice and experience. Ethnographic study puts a particular emphasis on how these meanings accord to contingent relationships, between different actors in temporary social groups, and how this changes and shifts as social norms change and shift.

This means that ethnographic study is able to ask questions about social relationships, such as how perceptions of on-going social and symbolic status are founded and regulated through, for example, power-related discourses of domination or subordination.

Or, what happens when new technologies are introduced to a social environment that changes the productive and cognitive capabilities of different participants of emergent communities?

In short, “ethnography tries to understand practices, relationships, and cultures from the inside” (McCarthy & Wright, 2004 p.34), with the provision that qualitative research, as Uwe Flick notes, does not seek to study “artificial situations in the laboratory, but the practices and interactions of everyday life” (Flick, 2009 p.15).

Symbolic Interactionism & Media Studies
Symbolic interaction, however, is not commonly taught as an orthodox research method in British media and cultural studies, although it is in many ways related and shares many common ideas and preconceptions.

The approach of media studies in the United Kingdom rests largely on political, industrial, economic, cultural, content, textual, discursive or archival analysis (Cobley, 1996; During, 1999; Hartley, 2011; Lievrouw & Livingstone, 2002; Livingstone, 2006; Long & Wall, 2009; Thornham, Bassett, & Marris, 2009). David Gauntlett suggests that “for a couple of decades, from the 1980s, media studies had settled into a reasonably stable cluster of subject areas, such as ‘institutions’, ‘production,’ ‘audiences’ and ‘texts’ (Gauntlett, 2015, p. 1).

Gauntlett argues, there are few opportunities to develop practice-based forms of media analysis grounded in the day-to-day experience of people, especially in the way that they use, create and experience media. Consequently, there is a clear lack of commitment to the training and schooling that is required when undertaking forms of investigation that can encompass the newer forms of participation and experimental media.

However, there is a useful affinity with the cultural studies tradition. Norman Denzin describes how Stuart Hall’s view of the cultural subject is “in part symbolic interactionist,” because people are defined as being able to work out the conditions in which they operate for themselves. According to Denzin, Hall explores how

“The meanings [a] subject brings to his or her situation are shaped by the larger ideological forces in the culture, for consciousness is ‘always infused with ideological elements, and any analysis of social frameworks of understanding must take account of the elements of ‘misrecognition’ which are involved’” (Hall quoted in Denzin, 1992, p. 118).

The pragmatist challenge to this notion of ideology as an extrinsic or determining force should be clear by now, but it is worth noting the significant differences that remain between the approach taken by Hall (hegemony) and that suggested by Rorty (interpretivism).

Communities of Practice
More recently, however, audience studies have gained currency in media studies approaches, combined with the expansion of the study of virtual communities and with the shift toward participative forms of ICT and social media.

Configurations of communities of practice and fan communities have shifted the focus of media studies away from the singularly textual approach, to the participative and experiential.

Therefore, is a contribution to the developing field of participative enactment that argues that it is not what academics and theorists say in their studies of media that matter, but what people living in different communities and lifeworlds achieve and accomplish with media that is important.

This places the use and development of symbolic interaction in a contested but central position. If symbolic interaction and participant observation are approaches that can be usefully applied to the study of people using media, then they need to be embedded in the mainstream media studies curricula. Symbolic interaction is a well-established methodology and field of study in its own right.

One that is time-honoured and proven to give meaningful insights into the operation of cultural and social activities.

Symbolic interaction, moreover, has the advantage that it recognises agency and diminishes ideology in its founding principles, and that these principles are expected to be enacted on the basis of pragmatic practicality. Norman Denzin summarises the predicament faced by the symbolic interactionist, however, when he explains that

“Of course, there are no real biographical subjects, independent of the stories told about them, and even these texts, in the telling, displace the teller. We can never get back to raw biographical experience. The closest we can ever get is when a subject, in an epiphanal moment, moves from one social world to another. In these instances the subject is between interpretative frameworks. When this happens, experience is described in words that are yet to be contaminated by the cultural understandings of a new group” (Denzin, 1992, p. 19).

The challenge then, is to define a set of tools and approach that can look at practices of media participation, engagement and the contingent, localised meanings that are articulated and accomplished within the lifeworlds and communities of people as they engage with media on a day-to-day basis.

Media & Ethnographic Study
At its most basic level, then, ethnography emerges from a series of anthropological and sociological investigative traditions, and can be thought of as a disciplined form of social enquiry that seeks-out accountable and practical approaches to the study of culture.

As Boellstorff et al suggest,

“Cultures, as shared systems of meaning and practice, shape our hopes and beliefs; our ideas about family, identity, and society; our deepest assumptions about being a person in this world” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 1)

It is therefore incumbent on ethnographic investigators to continue to “attempt to develop an understanding of how a culture works” (Bell, 2005, p. 17), and to describe and explain the many factors and historical movements that shape our cultural and social interactions. Put simply, “ethnography is a method for understanding culture” (Hine, 2005, p. 8).

An understanding that is founded in a shared affinity with the people being studied, and a sense of responsibility toward the use that those studies might be applied.

As Boellstorff et al specify, in ethnographic investigation

The goal is to grasp everyday perspectives by participating in daily life, rather than to subject people to experimental stimuli or decontextualized interviews. Ethnographers often speak of their work as ‘holistic’. Rather than slicing up social life according to variables chosen for their contribution to variance in a statistically drawn sample, ethnographers attend to how cultural domains constitute and influence each other (Boellstorff et al., 2012, p. 3).

If the mediatisation process has shifted to incorporate the practices and accomplishments of people, then the study of media must mark this with a shift to its focus of inquiry and exploration. This is about looking at what people ‘do’ with media all over again.

References
Bauman, Z., & Donskis, L. (2013). Moral Blindness – The Loss of Sensitivity in Liquid Modernity. London: Polity Press.
Becker, H. S., & McCall, M. M. (Eds.). (1990). Symbolic Interaction and Cultural Studies. Chicargo: University of Chicargo Press.
Bell, J. (2005). Doing Your Research Project (4th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic Interactionism. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.
Boellstorff, T., Nardi, B., Pearce, C., & Taylor, T. L. (2012). Ethnography and Virtual Worlds. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Cobley, P. (Ed.) (1996). The Communication Theory Reader. London: Routledge.
Denzin, N. K. (1992). Symbolic Interactionism and Cultural Studies. Malden, MA: Blckwell.
During, S. (Ed.) (1999). The Cultural Studies Reader (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
Flick, U. (2009). An Introduction to Qualitative Research Design. London: Sage.
Forster, M. N. (2010). Hermeneutics. Retrieved from http://philosophy.uchicago.edu/faculty/forster.html
Gauntlett, D. (2015). Making Media Studies: The Creativity Turn in Media and Communications Studies. Oxford: Peter Lang Publishing.
Hartley, J. (2011). Communication, Cultural and Media Studies: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge.
Hine, C. (Ed.) (2005). Virtual Methods – Issues in social Research on the Internet. Oxford: Berg.
Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture – Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable Media. New York: New York University Press.
Lesser, E. L., Fontaine, M. A., & Slusher, J. A. (Eds.). (2000). Knowledge and Communities. Boston: Butterworth Heinemann.
Lievrouw, L. A., & Livingstone, S. (Eds.). (2002). The Handebook of New Media. London: Sage.
Livingstone, S. (2006). Introduction to the updated student edition. In S. Livingstone & L. A. Lievrouw (Eds.), Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Consequences of ICTs. London: Sage. Retrieved from http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/21502/.
Long, P., & Wall, T. (2009). Media Studies: Texts, Production and Context. Harlow: Pearson Education.
McCarthy, J., & Wright, P. (2004). Technology as Experience. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
Merrin, W. (2014). Media Studies 2.0. London: Routledge.
Oakeshott, M. (1975). On Human Conduct. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Prus, R. (1996). Symbolic Interactionism and Ethnographic Research. New York: State University of New York Press.
Rorty, R. (1982). The Consequences of Pragmatism. Brighton: Harverster Press.
Rorty, R. (1989). Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rorty, R. (2009). Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (30th Aniversary Edition ed.). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Schensul, S. L., Schensul, J. J., & LeCompte, M. D. (1999). Essential Ethnographic Methods: Observations, Interviews, and Questionnaires. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press.
Sim, S. E. (1999). Evaluating the Evidence: Lessons from Ethnography. Paper presented at the Workshop on Empirical Studies of Software Maintenence, Oxford, England.
Thornham, S., Bassett, C., & Marris, P. (2009). Media Studies: A Reader (3rd ed.). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Apr 192016
 
The Sweet Truth Team

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.

Apr 182016
 
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On Saturday I attended the Community Radio Networking event organised by Christine Slomkowska and Patrick McCracken from 103 The Eye in Melton Mowbray. This was the second year that the event took place, and it gave community radio station organisers and supporters the chance to come together to discuss issues of common concern and celebrate the achievements of the different stations.

Bill Best from the Community Media Association gave an overview of the recent work of the CMA and how it is representing community media from the point of view of the associations members’ interests. I’m a member of the CMA council.

Tony Smith from Angel Radio gave a lively talk about radio aimed at older people, and how fundraising at the station is encouraged through programme sponsorship and fun activities such as ballroom dancing takeovers in their local Tesco supermarket.

Martyn Introduced Community Radio Awards

Martyn Introduced Community Radio Awards

Martin Parry talked about the Community Radio Awards that he’s inaugurating this year. He’s long argued that community radio needs to be celebrated in an accessible and open way, and so a grassroots award ceremony is something he is passionate about.

It was great to catch-up with Christine, she is always so passionate about the role that 103 The Eye plays in Rutland and Melton, and the way that it gives people a chance to participate in the station and its programmes, and the role it plays in the life of the local community.

It was also great to hear about the work of Siobhan Stevenson and Neil Hollins from Birmingham City University about their work in community media supporting Scratch Radio, and the impact that community media has for the life chances of different students from some challenging backgrounds.

I always feel relaxed at community media events, because so many people are happy to share their experiences about community media and the difference that it makes to the communities that they are part of. It’s less about marching along to a corporate purpose, and more about developing social spaces that people can share and engage with one another.

Mar 042016
 
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I’ve never set a piece of coursework like the project that my first year social media students are presently working on. Learners have been asked to set-up a social group that meets to do something as a shared social activity. Something that they can’t do online. Like playing cards, making bread, designing button badges, using Go-Pro cameras, and so on.

20160226_155705337_iOSThe aim is to use social media to bring a wider group together who have a hobby or who are interested in doing something they enjoy. In the process they teach other people who might want to join the group what it is about. Social media is used to share interest in things like makeup, cars, sport, and to show examples of what the group gets up to. So there’s lots of using Instagram and Twitter, lots of YouTube videos, and plenty of Snapchatting.

20160202_153500000_iOSThe reaction has been great, with loads of spontaneous meetings, lots of images and social media posts being shared, and blogs being written. We have developed an expression when working out how to explain the use of social media. We are ‘lowering the bar of expectation!’ This is because we’ve learnt that social media has to be accessible, playful and inclusive. The daftest and cheesiest images seem to be the ones that get shared and reposted the most.

The amazing thing is that this doesn’t feel like hard work, it’s just something that each of the groups get on with. They connect with one another, and the ideas and exchanges seem to flow. Each group has to put together a wiki page on the DMU Commons Wiki, that they work on collaboratively, and which acts as a central point for information about the group and the activities that they undertake.

Learners are demonstrating a wide range of media production skills in the process, such as the Extreme Ironing group’s video. The Snooker Club’s video, The Friends group and the blog promoted by the Sweet Style blogs. It’s the best piece of coursework I’ve set in ages. I’m looking forward to marking the blogs that are being written about the experience over Easter. If you want to read more head over to DIY-DMU.

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.

001-DSCF0079 001-DSCF0089 001-DSCF0092 001-DSCF0095 001-DSCF0103 001-DSCF0105

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.