Mar 092017
 

It’s getting close to the end of the lecture series for my social media and my community media modules. It’s been a fascinating process to work through this year, as I’ve made some changes to the approach that I’ve brought to the learning opportunities. I’ve shifted from a ‘teaching’ style approach, to a ‘mentoring’ style. The main difference is that I’ve been using more reflexive and developmental approaches that emphasis self-directed learning and engagement, which give learners the opportunity to discover and explore new ideas and opportunities for social media practice.

We still seem to be dominated by ‘instruction’ as the main form of learning practice, especially when it comes to learning how to use media technologies and applications. This limits the focus of learning, in my experience to a ‘transactional’ approach that only recognises what people are able to undertake given the right instructions, whereas we might be serving the learners better if we can offer them opportunities to discover something about themselves in the process of learning?

This is a more open-ended approach, and it requires a less bounded and fixed view of the subject and the steps that might be involved for learners to gain mastery over that subject content. I’ve long thought of myself as a guide for learning, or a learning partner, who has a modicum of experience, but who in engaged in the same process of discovery and emergence that the less experienced learners are. This approach has its risks, in that learners can often feel that they are working in an unstructured process, however, if the process is well explained and is clearly recognisable, then learners can make the connections for themselves quite easily.

Playing Cards at the Start of Term

Last year I started off the first-year social media module by getting learners to play cards together in small groups. This had the advantage of learners being able to get to know each other, it took them away from the computer screens that they would otherwise be sitting at, and it gave them an opportunity to learn from each other’s experience. The simple process of learning to play cards is an incredibly effective way to impart knowledge and a sense of understanding of the rules of a game. Most learners pick card games up instinctively without giving it a second thought.

What I’ve tried to bring out in the module is a sense of social collaboration, so the coursework projects are designed around the idea that learners will form a social group who will undertake a social project, something that they can’t do virtually, but have to meet-up and interact with other people if it is to be successful. So there is a cake making group, a five-a-side football group, a film podcast group, a pub games group, and so on. The blogs that learners write about these activities are posted to the DIY-DMU site on the DMU Commons.

DIY-DMU Bloggs

Underpinning this activity is a layer of reflection using blogs and social media posts that learners can use to explain and identify what works in their social activities and what they have learnt. This is a process of development in which learners are expected to post content as they go along, so that they can incorporate their experiences and the comments and feedback that they are receiving from other learners on the module. As this is a social activity learners can look at each other’s blogs and are able to make improvements and changes to their style of blogging based on what they have seen that other people are writing. It’s a very social way of learning that doesn’t require a heavy-handed teacher to be pushing learners to do thing in a specific way and in line with a set of regulations.

Reflexive Blogs

As part of the process of reflection I’ve asked learners to include a reflective video blog, lasting about two minutes, in which they tell me what they have learnt. A couple of weeks ago we spent some time in the workshop looking at how these kind of video blogs work, and how they are understood by people watching them. Things like body language, eye movement and relating an extended set of thoughts emerged as fascinating things to watch out for, and to learn from. I got this idea from the videos that I’ve been making myself to introduce and summarise the topics that are being discussed in the lectures each week. This is part of the DMU Universal Design for Learning scheme, which seeks to make learning as accessible as possible for learners.

It was a revelation to me that I gained and learnt from making these videos, as it’s almost impossible to get feedback from colleagues as to the suitability of the lecture content I’m producing. We are all pressed for time, and the informal reflexive conversations that we used to hold over a cup of tea are less likely to happen. So checking-in with myself by recording these videos each week has been a great help. Hopefully learners will find the techniques of video-blogging to be equally as useful and an effective way to enhance their self-directed learning.

It’s also been interesting to experiment with different sensory-based techniques of learning, such as the Talkaoke session that we held, and the play-dough session. The dominant mode of information delivery in most learning sessions tends to be auditory and visual. What has been interesting has been the introduction of kinaesthetic, modelling, schematic and discursive forms of learning that go beyond the simple and well-tired techniques of ‘chalk-and-talk’.

At the end of the day, what I’m trying to achieve is confidence in extended thinking. This is why I’m still a fan of hand-written exams, because it’s an opportunity to engage the hand and the brain in a different kind of thought process, one that brings out a deeper form of thinking that can’t be deflected so easily by interactive media, the cut-and-paste mentality of writing, and the always-on media consumption that is encouraged these days. Sitting and contemplating is a difficult thing to do, but if we learn how to do it well, then we gain maturity and become something more authentic in the process. People who can look at a situation, evaluate it and develop an analysis, rather than just accepting it at face value.

I’ve got some ideas of how I want to develop these forms of learning practice, so I’ll keep posting blogs and videos that explain how these might work and be incorporate into the modules in the future.

Sep 222016
 

Here’s my introduction video for TECH1502 Introduction to Community Media

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.

Nov 222015
 

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
 

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.

May 142015
 

I caused some consternation earlier this year when I told my students that I did not want them to email me unless it was an emergency. At the start of the academic year I made an announcement in one of my lectures and labs that I would not answer any emails unless the senders arms or legs where falling off – yeah, a genuine emergency.

This caused something of a rumpus, because it seems students are expecting, or have grown used to the idea, that a lot of their contact with their tutors will be done by email. When they have a question or need to solve a problem, often the first thing that students expect is to be able to email their tutor.

This seems reasonable on the face of things, but as Cary Cooper points out in an excellent article in The Guardian, we are in danger of allowing email to become an “unending electronic overload” that damages our work-life balance, and therefore our mental health.

I explained to my students that I would not be sitting at home checking my emails while I watch Strictly Come Dancing (not that I do). Nor would I be issuing guidance and instructions for the completion of assignments as I sit in bed with my novel before I go to sleep.

Instead, I suggested that we do what every other generation of scholars have done, and that any questions anyone might have gets written into a notebook, and then the questions are asked in our workshop sessions, either as part of our group discussion or in an individual basis. Or, if that wasn’t felt to be appropriate, students could come and see me at one of my three office-hour sessions I had available each week.

I can’t blame my students for their reaction, because like most workplaces and universities, email has become the default form of communication. The problem is that it has reached the level of absurdity, with thousands of emails being sent, complex instructions being issued, and a general lack of face-to-face contact as a result. As Gary Cooper makes clear

“Email and social media have served a very important purpose in the workplace, and have been an enabler in communications and virtual work relationships. The downsides, however, now outweigh the benefits, and these include: unmanageable workloads (when faced with an excessive email inbox), the loss of face-to-face relationships with colleagues; and the misuse of emails to avoid having face-to-face discussions about difficult work-related issues. As Einstein once wrote: ‘I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction, the world will then have a generation of idiots.’”

In ditching email as a primary form of contact with my learners, however, I’ve been able to focus on the direct, face-to-face interaction. This works so much better. Being able to speak directly with one another, being able to look in each other’s eyes, questioning and double-checking what’s being said, rather than assuming that we have understood each other in the flurry of electronic messages.

There is a very important lesson for us all in recognising that remote-control learning and email management doesn’t work, and so I will be pursuing this approach in the scholarship experiences that I design for next year’s learners. Lets get people talking directly to one another, then our learning will be less overloading and we can, most importantly, directly acknowledge our personal successes.

Feb 132015
 

While the modules I’ve been running this year have been based on the way that we use media to socialise our experience through social networks, I’ve come to realise just how much I value the face-to-face contact that comes from interacting with students in the workshops.

It’s one thing to circulate and share ideas on social media platforms, but its so much better to be able to talk with people directly on a one-to-one basis in a workshop session. Rather than assuming that learners are going to immediately understand the concepts that we are using in the module, it’s important instead, to read people’s faces and their eyes to see what’s going on inside their heads as they process the ideas we are using.

This face-to-face interaction tells me so much more about what learners are actually able to process and make sense of than any electronic survey or report could ever do. Those who have completed a tasks and feel that they have learnt something show the pleasure and joy on their faces. Those who think they have dodged a bullet find it harder to obfuscate and divert my attention when they clearly haven’t done the work that was expected of them.

There’s a danger that we instrumentalise the learning experience in our modules by including too many electronic check-boxes, too many feedback and survey points, and too many remote systems for monitoring learners access with the online information that we post.

I’ve come to value, once again, the traditional interaction of sitting and talking with learners. With playing with ideas in a conversation, and taking our time to think about things that at first don’t make sense to us, but which change in our minds as we process them through chat.

If there is an underlying approach to the scholarship in my teaching, it is the socialisation of learning has to be diverted away from the banking model of learning, in which privatised consumers of knowledge store-up their expertise, skills and capabilities in order to complete a future assessment. Instead, I’m much more interested in the socialisation of learning and using our learning as it happens in a flow of reciprocal interaction that challenges the assumptions that we hold about phenomenon in the social media world.

Nov 212014
 

I think I need some help to learn how to take selfies. I’m rubbish. My glasses are wonky, the light is reflecting in them, I can’t smile naturally, and getting the angle right is a pain. Who would have thought that taking selfies requires so much skill in self-presentation, camera work and photo-editing? Perhaps I can sign-up for a course?

Sep 262014
 

This is a sample of videos produced by learners on TECH1002 last year, and how they described their learning on the module.








Sep 162014
 

I’ve been putting together my module handbooks for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production, and working out what we will be doing for the coming academic year. I want the social media project to be something of a surprise, so I’m not going to reveal anything until the start of term. I think it’s got a lot of potential as a project and there is certainly a real need for the issues I want to look at to be more widely published and discussed.

I’ve written the exam and have passed it to my colleague for moderation. I don’t mind talking about what the format will be because I want to get a lot of reading done over the year to prepare for it. There’s three questions. The first question that all students will have to answer will be about Netnography, or Online Ethnography. We’re not going to undertake the project I’ve got in mind without a good sense of a data collection and evaluation technique. I want my students to be aware of the principles of ethnographic work and the kind of social processes that they might find useful when putting together a research specification for media they produce in the future.

It’s then a choice of two questions. Students can either answer a question about Digital Literacies and the concepts that are associated with the skills and capabilities that we need to thrive online, or they can answer a question about collaborative forms of social media production, and how cooperative and non-hierarchical techniques of development can help them to produce better media products and to talk with fellow collaborate more effectively.

The main thrust of the module is what makes social media meaningful, so looking at the technology, the techniques, the know-how and the social capital that participants bring to a social media network is going to be important. Hopefully along the way we can have some fun with social media as well.