Sep 012016
 

I met with John Coster yesterday to discuss how we will be running the Community Media modules that are art of the BA Communication Arts course in Leicester Media School. It’s great to have John on board helping with the module as he brings years of experience running community media projects and working with community media groups in Leicester.

The learners are going to benefit from someone who has direct, first-hand experience of what it’s like to challenge mainstream media, and who has imagined an alternative way of producing media that is better suited to the lives of people who form vastly different communities in Leicester.

One of the changes I’m making to the running of the first year community media module this year, is to split the workshops back to a more traditional format. Last year I incorporated the lecture and the workshop in one session, but I felt that we never really covered enough background and contextual information in the process.

So John will be running the workshops and I will be developing the lectures. We want the workshops to feel very informal and relaxed, much like a community media café session is run. It’s surprising how much work you can get done, and how many questions get asked when there isn’t a strong agenda for the session.

Yeas, we’ve identified several things that we want to happen in each of the sessions, but if there’s something else more pressing that the learners want to explore, then we’ll cover that instead.

The themes of the lectures are going to identify the basics of community media, in terms of both thinking about why community media is different to mainstream media, but also how our sense of community has also changed as society has changed. Here I’m thinking of Robert Putnam and his analysis in Bowling Alone.

The aim of an introduction to community media is therefore twofold. One the one hand it is to help people to feel comfortable with the idea of self-produced media – what gets called citizen’s journalism or user generated content by media industry insiders. While on the other hand, it’s about developing an appreciation of why community media is different.

The simple premise of community media is expressed in the idea that it is people speaking for themselves, in ways that they and the other people in their community find meaningful. This might not be very business-like, professional or cutting edge, but it’s forms of media that emerge from the grassroots, and which have a strong focus on DIY.

So we’ll be encouraging learners to have a go at making basic media content, with no fancy production values, no sophisticated equipment, and no wider sense that we expect it to please anyone other than ourselves.

This way we can be free of the weight of expectation that media has to be planned for an audience, or that it has to serve a function. If we like it, and the students and volunteers like it, and make sense of it, then that’s all for the best.

I’m going to try and post a blog as often as I can that shows how we are getting on with these ideas. We’ll make a couple of podcasts and a few YouTube videos as well. After having fun with the media that we create is what this will be about.

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.

Dec 072015
 

Last week on TECH1002 Introduction to Community Media we started to record and edit a short podcast feature. I took some photos as we worked and recorded some interviews.

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