TECH1002 Social Media & Technology Planning

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Sep 162014

I’ve been busy the last couple of days putting together my exam and module packs for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology. This will be the second year that I’ve delivered this module and I’m looking forward to delivering it again this year to the new batch of first year BSc Media Production students.

Last year was something of an introduction for me after years of teaching radio production, so over the summer I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about the content of the module and ways that we can think about how we makes sense of social media and the networks that we interact through.

I’m planning to look at some good examples, and to get some ideas from my students of things that we can look at as we go. Let me know if you have any suggestions for interesting examples of social media and ways that people use social media to collaborate.

Each week I’m going to start with a track of the day for the lecture. Something related to the theme and ideas we’ll be thinking about. I also want to collect as many photographs as I can of the work that we are doing, and share them on our social media platforms .

If you want to read what the students will be writing about then in a couple of weeks their blogs will be set up and running a feed through It’s well worth reading some of the reviews and the comments that have been made by students for this and other modules.

So, time to get back to work, I think my desk needs tidying.

Choice in Education – The Illusion of Consumerism

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Feb 082014

This week Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, suggested that British state schools should aspire to be more like private schools, and that they might, according to BBC News, consider emulating the private sector by trying out the “OECD’s international Pisa tests,” which prep-schools use to filter out students who are not academically oriented.

Underpinning much of Gove’s constant churning of the waters in schooling and education, is the belief that choice is the driver of standards and improvement in a child’s expected life chances. By extending the ability of parents to choose from a range of supposedly different models of education, Gove is following Tony Blair in suggesting that education can be packaged like a consumer product, and that in making our choices as consumers, we will naturally select the optimum model that suits us.

Choice might be great in a supermarket, but it has worrying effects in wider civic society. What’s the key affordance that we take advantage of as consumers? What’s the most essential thing that we can do that gives us the semblance of power and control over the things that we consume? Our right to withdraw our choice and to shop elsewhere if we are not happy is about the only thing that we can do if we want to disengage from the model of consumer choice that is put before us. If you don’t like a supermarket then you stop shopping there. If you don’t like a department store then use an alternative rival.

The consumer market thrives on the promotion of rivals, and the semblance of competition between different providers of services. In the consumer model we are free to leave and take our business elsewhere, safe from the consequence of withdrawing our support and our funding. It’s of no consequence to the consumer if we reject a business and it’s products and services. We are right and the business is wrong. It’s the law of the market, and the business that wants our trade has to do everything it can to keep us satisfied. (Now The Telegraph is reporting that private schools are discounting prices to appeal to a cash-strapped UK market to avoid private schools being dominated by rich foreigners).

Is education and learning a consumer service in this way? What happens if we withdraw our support and our custom from a school, a college or a university? What happens if we stop taking an interest in the civic status of our learning establishments? Will others pop-up like magic to provide a better service? Will the market provide an alternative solution that will satisfy our desires and aspirations?

The question is, though, can we really wash our hands of our responsibilities in this way? At the moment the market works because it does what it can to enabling choice for a small number of peoples, those people who can easily benefit from it. The market also ignores those people who are not in a position to exercise choice because they are not in an economic position to do so?

Judging the state school sector by the private sector is therefore disingenuous, especially when the cost of access to a private school is prohibitive and out of the reach of the vast majority of the population. This is perverse.

So, Mr Gove, stop comparing state schools and private schools, it is invidious. It’s not a fair comparison. State schools cannot just pack-up or turn people away. They have to provide a service regardless of the circumstances and the conditions in which they find themselves. They can’t pander to the prejudices of an elite who by virtue of being able to afford to can walk away without a care.

It’s time we started comparing like with like, so lets stop talking about choice as if it is a self-contained idea, free from consequences in a marketplace of open-ended consumer choice. It isn’t. Lets shift the question to think about what our responsibilities are to one another in a civic and civilised society, and how we can best meet them by thinking once more about our mutual responsibilities and the extent to which we are accountable to one another.

Teachers Lack a Respect for Authority – The Challenge of Collaboration in Learning

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Nov 082013

The Independent is reporting today that “Too many teachers have no respect for authority and are hampering schools’ attempts to improve standards”. Chief schools inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, warned that “head teachers are being ‘undermined by a pervasive resentment of all things managerial’ by some of their teaching staff’, and that “some teachers simply will not accept that a school isn’t a collective but an organisation with clear hierarchies and separate duties.”

So it’s back to the days of the manager knows best and has the absolute right to manage! This pervasive culture of executive management has effectively taken over our public services during the last thirty years and has brought about an intense level of corporate instrumentalism in the delivery of learning and other public provision. No longer are teachers, parents and children allowed to have their own independent view of the world and the relationships that govern it. Instead their thoughts and concerns have to be subsumed to the corporate and brand imperatives that self-serving cadres of executive management regard as being de facto requirements for running a modern organisation – instrumentalism, transactionalism, cultural-reductionism and collective amnesia.

So any sense of collegiality, cooperation, collaboration and innovation gets tossed away in the interest of the corporate brand, the Whitehall dictat and the cult of the leader. Instilling a healthy disrespect for authority and for hierarchy is essential for good teaching. The expectation that we should Think for Ourselves is what fuelled innovation and progress in Western society since the Enlightenment. Why should independent thinking be stymied now, just as information and communication technology is changing the way that share and spark debate and knowledgeability, giving us new ways to appropriate and exercise ideas, information and creative thinking.

Contemporary teachers are exposed to the routines of scientific management and Taylorism like never before, and yet we don’t seem to be reaping any kind of reward in the underlying status of our culture. The UK still lags behind our competitors in performance indicators for basic literacy and numeracy skills. Perhaps if people like Sir Michael Wilshaw spent their time challenging the absurd and increasing inequalities in British society, in which a smaller and smaller social elite gain the rewards, and an even smaller global elite live in obscene opulence, then we wouldn’t need to condemn or berate teachers for wishing to exercise their conscience and practice a more collaborative, collegiate and cooperative approach to learning.

Resisting the Marketisation of Learning

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Apr 012013

Teacher Basher Gove

It was good to hear some pithy and active voices at the NUT conference in Liverpool this weekend, with calls for the head of Ofstead, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to resign because Ofsted is a “not an inspectorate but a politically motivated surveillance operation”. Hearing about how teachers are increasingly frustrated at the bellicose Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, and his insistence of a narrow curriculum and a focus on so-called ‘standards’, is merely the start of what will prove to be a long and drawn-out war of attrition between the teaching profession and the government.

Underpinning much of this anxiety is the unspoken desire on the part of the neo-liberal Tories, like Michael Gove, to privatise the schools system in England. By forcing schools to become academies, regardless of the case for alternatives, Gove is pushing through a market system in education. A market that will see schools pitted against each other, operating in an increasingly commercial manner and treating children as customers.

The experience of this push to the market has been felt in Higher Education for the last two years, with the tripling of fees to £9,000 per-year. My experience tells me that when you introduce market mechanisms to education in this way, the bond of trust between the learner and the teacher is broken. Instead, what emerges is a transactional relationship in which the learner expects to be given certain functional skills that will qualify them and automatically allow them to move into their chosen profession.

I have a growing feeling that students that I interact with want me to provide them with a check-list of activities that they can work through as they move step-by-step into their chosen profession. It has become harder to foster and encourage individual thinking. Challenging ideas are subsumed by the ‘skills factory’ mentality that puts in place an escalator that merely has to be ridden before the learner is able to take-up their rightful place in the jobs market – with their dutifully acquired 2:1.

It becomes much harder, then, under these circumstances, to offer a more liberal and open-minded view of education. One that sees education as a holistic experience in which the skills that the individual develops are supplemented with a critical approach that checks the sustainable status of the industry or activity that is being studied. Rather than preparing learners for the world as it is today, Higher Education has, more importantly, to be able to prepare learners for the world of the future. A future that has not yet been invented.

If Higher Education merely works exclusively to the immediate horizon and fails to engage in creating an open and divergent intellectual landscape, then we will lose the benefit of innovation and creative thinking. Sticking within the narrow remit of the skills and employability agenda, the so-called student experience, and the things that we already know, will ensure only that our thoughts are allowed to converge and retrench around approaches that have been long-established. This consolidation will not allow us to promote and develop new forms of thinking, new techniques and technologies, or make new advances in practice and process.

I wonder how long it will be before Higher Education is swamped by an external inspectorate, like Ofstead, who checks a national curriculum that is designed to meet the supposed economic needs of the customer? The commercialised mindset is already in place, with the drive to the ‘student experience’ as the model for assessing and valuing the role of Higher Education. But what happens when individuals want to challenge the status quo or want to develop new ways of thinking and acting? Will the market provide the freedoms that are required by dissident and enquiring minds, who want to test the ethical and sustainable basis of the marketplace, or will academics and teachers be reduced to playing and gaming the system for commercial advantage alone?

The NUT seems to finally be waking-up to this challenge, and providing a platform for dissent and debate, I wonder how long it will take the unions in Higher Education to start voicing these concerns?

Ground Rules for Interaction with Students?

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Mar 212013

I’ve been thinking about how to make improvements to academic standards, while at the same time, balance the general drift towards being merely a service department in the delivery of the so-called ‘student experience’. Here are are some ground rules that I will start to apply and bring into operation for the start of the new academic year.

Here’s my draft ten-point plan that I will give to students at the start of each academic year. Can you make any suggestions that will improve it – without going past ten points?

  1. I am not your friend.
  2. I will not interact with you using social media. I do not want to be familiar and develop a personal relationship with you.
  3. We will arrange formal meetings using email. These emails will be written with proper grammar and punctuation.
  4. At our meetings you will bring a notebook, a study plan and a pen. I will read the study plan and make comments if it is sent to me forty-eight hours before the meeting.
  5. I will be available for general contact only during normal office hours. We have timetabled lecture and workshop sessions, in which time will be given to the discussion of relevant learning issues. Come prepared to those sessions.
  6. I will allocate fixed office hours each week so that we can meet to discuss general learning issues.
  7. I will not give instant replies to requests to complete forms or questions that you have. I produce an extensive module handbook, with an extensive reading list. Look at them. Questions will take me approximately seven days to respond to, unless the email is clearly marked as urgent, and proves to be urgent. Your emergency and lack of planning is not my priority.
  8. Do not send me anything that has not been proof-read and checked in advance for spelling, grammar and punctuation. If a file will not open, or it has become corrupted, that is not my problem.
  9. If an online collaborative space is required to meet the learning outcomes of a module, then a facility will be provided that will have a strict code of conduct of mutual respect.
  10. I will help you learn – all the rest is distraction.

Development Community or Skills Factory?

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Feb 102013

Factory Learning?

There is considerable pressure for the education sector in the United Kingdom to return to a model of learning that originated with the factory production era. While ‘investigation’ and ‘knowledge management’, ‘hypothesis testing’ and ‘case building’ are seen as significant virtues at the upper-echelons of the educational establishment, for example lawyers, doctors and politicians, they are not considered to be appropriate for the rest of the population. Instead, the so-called ‘mass-market’ end of the educational spectrum is asked to learn by rote, memorise the names and dates of historical events, and think about how they can place dubious former monarchs names into an uncritical account of the process of empire building. Thanks Michael Gove.

All of which is retrograde and a huge step-backwards at a time of great technological, cultural and international change. At a time when thinking skills and the independent ability to learn and think should be given priority, we are heading back, instead, to the comfort zone of recall, memory and useless recitation. Pleasure in learning is being denied as the ’skills’ and ‘employability’ agenda’s are prioritised. Seldom a week goes by without some sort of initiative or event taking place that aims to make our young people more capable of dealing with the world of work, of acquiring the right skills to the workplace, and having the right disposition to show that they can get out of bed every day – just to suit the nine-to-five mindset of the begrudging already employed. The question is, does this enhance learning and the love of learning, or not?

On the whole, the school, college and university systems in the United Kingdom have been used repeatedly as places designed to simply churn-out skilled workers, as you would in a sausage factory. For those workers who are able to be clearly differentiated in this supposed meritocratic order, they will be. Some lucky people get to be chosen and will have a say in which buttons will be pressed. But the vast majority of people are merely expected to know their place and do the bidding of their masters. Since the 1990s, government education policy has largely been about addressing the skills shortage, rather than creating jobs, so the hysteria about the skills shortage has grown increasingly shrill. As Paul Krugman is fond of reminding his readers, there was no skills shortage during World War Two. People skilled-up very quickly once the work was there.

So, what is this supposedly unassailable divide between investment in learning and investment in skills based on? Russell Ackoff is famous for his critique of the American Business School system. Ackoff argued that business schools have repeatedly churned out an uncritical and unimaginative cadre of business managers, fit for nothing more than the cemetery. These managers have been schooled in the idea that they are entitled to act as an independent class of executive operators, who merely need to give a command to exercise control. Indeed, their proficiency is judged by how well they hold the reigns in the command and control system, rather than in the outcomes that they deliver for society in general. Ackoff’s alternative was to think of business operations holistically, and to design inclusive and democratic processes that are suited to problem solving and innovation in an organisation. According to Ackoff, an organisation has to be capable of looking “beyond simple metrics and calculations” that can only be understood as “idealised options”. Instead, Ackoff wanted decision-making to be taken in the real world, by people who had been grounded in the practice of implementation through experience, and not simply well versed in the theory of systems management.

The recent report on failings in the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust highlights the dangers of maintaining an unaccountable organisation that exclusively promotes executive management and executive governance. The culture of executive management that has driven these public organisations, means that ordinary patients, staff and supporters alike, can be bullied, and their independent views suppressed. Employees live in perpetual fear for their jobs, and service users live with the threat of an axe being taken to their beloved local services if they dare to speak out. If there is even a hint that an alternative voice might be expressed, then a way is found for it to be snuffed-out. Usually as soon as someone is remind that they might be ‘bringing their employer into disrepute’. As a consequence, mistakes get hidden and people die. Executive managers, however, seldom suffer, and more often get promoted because they have demonstrated that they can make tough choices – whatever that means.

The usual prescription for a dysfunctional organisation in these circumstances, ironically, is that the executive management systems that repeatedly led to these calamities are only in need of being reinforced and renewed. Managers are encouraged to do more ‘listening’. They set-up focus groups and bring in so-called independent consultants to talk openly and transparently with staff, service users and stakeholders. Eventually the executive team will produce a statement pointing out that ‘you said’ and ‘we did’.

The BBC’s executive management, according to The Guardian, is happy with the anti-bullying processes that are in place at the BBC. Though it looks like staff on-the-ground have said something different when they have been able to express themselves anonymously. According to The Independent “More than 850 BBC employees have come forward to raise their concerns about bullying and sexual harassment at the corporation, fuelling fears about the broadcaster’s culture.”

Atul Gawande, in his book, “The Checklist Manifesto” describes how successful emergency surgical teams do what they can to promote a ‘learning culture’. Rather than brining out the firing-squad every time there is a problem, the successful team will allow team members to openly discuss and analyse how mistakes happen. They are expected to evaluate their own performance and make recommendations about how to respond to mistakes. Gawande argues that “we need a different strategy for overcoming failure, one that builds on experience and takes advantage of the knowledge people have, but somehow also makes up for our inevitable human inadequacies.” Clearly there are limits to our individual capability, and a team has to be made of the best people for the job, but Gawande’s thesis is that in employing the firing-squad we are more likely to hide our mistakes than learn from them. In a surgical team hiding mistakes costs lives.

The point is, therefore, that rather than thinking about education simply as a depository for knowledge, or as a factory for the development of employability skills, we would do better to remind ourselves that we are a development community. A community that is composed of co-learners and co-teachers. This should be a community in which our learning is shared and respected, regardless of the individual roles either as an experienced learner, or if you are just starting out on your learning journey. If we merely use our educational spaces as a point of social replication, rather than as a place of invention and transformation, then we will continue to undermine the potential that we have to be innovative, creative and relevant. The world is moving very quickly on from the factory systems of the past, and there is no assurance that Western Europe can maintain it’s inherited advantage of investment in knowledge? Unless we are willing, that is, to let go of the past and think about new ways of co-developing knowledge and expertise. Without letting go of the past then it will be highly unlikely that we will be able to do the essential task, which is to pull the future from the air.

RadioLab Lecture #3 Steve Parkinson MD Bauer London

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Jan 272012

According to Steve Parkinson, MD for Bauer Radio in London, radio is best when it is about passion – either passion for the place that you live, or passion for the things that fill your life with. Steve was the latest professional guest lecturer for De Montfort Universities RadioLab lecture series. Speaking about his time in the commercial radio industry, Steve gave an overview of the commercial radio sector to students and volunteers who run DemonFM, and who want to break into the industry themselves.

Steve’s experience as a senior producer with EMAP, and now the MD of Bauer London, means that he is well placed to comment on the state of the commercial radio sector in the UK. Steve talked about the joys of developing radio services in an age where audiences expect to be able access the programmes they are passionate about on any platform and at any time – and usually for no charge.

Steve shared his thoughts about the approach to programming that Bauer Media take, with their stations Kiss, Magic, LBC, and a whole host of successful regional stations around the United Kingdom. Bauer haven’t gone down the same path as Global Radio and networking all of their output. Instead, Bauer, according to Steve, are committed to local programming through their locally branded heritage stations. Steve argues, that they would change these well known stations at their ‘peril’. So, radio stations like Key103 in Manchester and Radio City in Liverpool, continue to have a strong local following, with programming coming from those cities, and no national music play-listing shaping the sound of each station from the sales team in London.

According to Steve we are experiencing an unprecedented amount of change in the media industries, with substantial consolidation of the major commercial services. However, as Steve points out, at the same time there is an explosion in the diversity of the platforms that media services have to provide. There is no longer a guarantee that broadcast services can support a commercial operation through advertising alone, so media companies are rapidly looking to diversify and extend the contact and number of ways that they reach consumers. The push at the moment in commercial radio is in to non-traditional revenue streams, through social media, audio-visual platforms and more extended digital services.

Bauer station Kiss is sponsored by Blackberry because of their access to a youth market that has driven sales for a telecoms company that was otherwise thought of as a business tool. So stations become more reliant on sponsorship and partnership agreements, and are chasing the ‘transactional’ revenue streams that services like iTunes have successfully cornered. Where Bauer Radio is different from other commercial media operators, suggests Steve, is in the relationship with their proprietors. Bauer Media is wholly owned by the Bauer family, who promise to give a hands-off and more long-term approach to the development of their many international media holdings. According to Steve, as long as the radio stations are generating profits then they have a free hand to get on and manage them in the way that is right for them.

The advantage of being part of a larger media group also means that stations in the Bauer Media group can work with each other, in the same way that the BBC promotes it’s services across different platforms. The nineteen million consumers who access Bauer products each week gives the Bauer radio stations an advantage to cross promote across fifty-three magazines, forty-two radio stations, forty-eight online brands and seven digital stations.

Crafting and shaping the radio services that each of these platforms gives is based on a simple principle, either you are passionate about the place that you live, or you are passionate about the things that you enjoy in your life. So Bauer radio stations have a strong local identity, or alternatively, they have a strong brand identity – Q Radio, Kerrang! or Heat are tied in with popular magazines that have a more specialist appeal and readership, and so can focus on the more passionate aspects of popular culture that people take on board and share with their friends.

The mantra for all Bauer radio producers, according to Steve, is “hear it, see it, share it”. Kiss have only recently recruited a Social Media Manager to the station because audience interaction is becoming so integral to the extended relationship that a radio station has with it’s listeners, that a social media approach to programming has to be incorporated into the planning and development of all the stations shows. Each programme team now has to take what they do on-air and transform it to the stations website almost immediately. This means employing people who have video production skills, who can take photographs and use photoshop, who can do in-house sound design and station identity, who can post material across different social media platforms, who can organise and plan events, and who can work with the technology that makes all these things connect.

The skillset that is expected of people entering into the radio industry has changed in a short couple of years. According to Steve:

  • Don’t think radio, think audio.
  • Don’t think audio, think audio-visual.
  • When you think content, think audio-visual.
  • When you think audio-visual, think technology.

Steve went on to outline how the demands of multi-skilling that are required in the radio industry have reached new hights, with producers and programme teams expected to be both curious, resilient and relentless, while showing a solid attention to detail and a punctuality that meets the demands of live radio production. Steve finished off his talk by assuring students that there is a great future career to be had in radio, and that with the right open-minded approach a new generation of programme makers who are passionate about where they live and what they share can be part of it too.

RadioLab Lecture No2# Dave Walters – Global Radio Broadcast Technology Operations Manager

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Nov 252011

wpid-wpid-wpid-wpid-dave-walters-001-2011-11-25-18-13-2011-11-25-18-13-2011-11-25-19-13-2011-11-25-19-13.jpgThe second of the DMU RadioLab lectures was given this week by Dave Walters, head of technology and operations for the Global Radio group. Dave travelled up from London to talk to sixty students from DemonFM and the media courses at DMU. Dave delivered a concentrated and detailed overview of the the commercial radio sector in the UK, and explained how consolidation has meant that there has been a concentration of ownership from many hundreds of stations, a radio economy that is now dominated by three large commercial networks.

Dave talked about his time working in the industry and some of the changes that he has witnessed and lived through. Dave was trained as an Electrical Engineer, so his natural interest is focused on the platforms and technologies that have evolved to make radio what it is today. From the earliest days of broadcasting with the valve was the biggest technological innovation, to the microprocessor, when many millions of electronic switches are built into to a chip the size of a fingernail. What once filled an entire building can now be squeezed into a hand-held device.

Dave’s passion for technology and the way that it is used to service the production of radio programming clearly runs deep, and while the route into automation might not please everyone, the challenge working through of the technological demands of running a networked commercial radio service was something of a wonder. The best example of this challenge that Dave gave was the Smart Radio Studios that run ClassicFM. While the station has a single studio it feeds-out into a layered network of transmitters and alternative media platforms that must all do things at the same time and in the same way, despite sending different commercial messages out to each of them. It’s a bit like landing a jumbo jet in eight different airports at the same time from a remote control base in the middle of London.

Dave is convinced that radio has a great future, but it’s going to have to work hard to differentiate itself from the online and multimedia industries that are now dominating the web and mobile media. The rise of Facebook offers a new challenge – personalised advertising that is bespoke to the individual user based on the expression of their interests. Will radio be able to cope with the shift from broadcasting to narrowcasting? One thing that radio has in its armoury however, according to Dave, is the ability to cover live events and react to what is happening in the world. Sports events are likely to become more important to radio as no one ever listens to a recording of a football commentary.

Afterwards, in the pub, Dave and I chatted about the recruitment requirements of the technical teams coming in to the radio industry, and he was keen to emphasis that anyone who wants to consider a broadcast engineering or technical development role in radio should have experienced radio by getting involved in a student, hospital or community radio station. Experience and a sense of the priority of ‘liveness’ is what drives radio. With music production, there is always the chance to take a recording way and polish it, or to remix it. With radio, according to Dave, the challenge is to ensure that the broadcast systems and the production management systems all work together to ensure that the listener gets an experience of radio that is of-the-moment’ and immediate, while also being an increasingly high-quality audio experience. What passed for good quality audio in the past today sounds thin and weak in comparison. Things move on, and our expectations about the quality of audio moves with it.

I’m hoping that we can work more closely in the future to develop the technology, multimedia and production management skills that DMU radio students get, as well as making great content for DemonFM.

Oh, and when I explained to Dave that BSc Radio Production & Technology is accredited with the IET he said ‘Cool!’