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.

Apr 012015

The past year has been one of curriculum development, in which I have primarily focused on the leadership and delivery of the modules TECH1002 and TECH3022, supervising project students, and supervising the delivery of TECH3026. This involved:

  • TECH1002 Social Media & Technology – this year I have further developed lectures, workshops and assessment activities to support learners understanding of digital mediation, network culture, digital identity and collaborative media. This year I introduced the DMU Commons Wiki as part of the module activities in order to promote and test collaborative learning practices and skills. I have further developed the use of blogs as part of the role of a social media practitioner that learners are modelling. I have strengthened the approach to the examination and the expected requirements for associated reading.
  • TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production – this year I have introduced and developed a focus on digital capabilities, digital activism, digital literacies, and digital sociology (netnogtaphy). Engagement with social media has centred on a campaign to raise awareness about processed food, sugar and carbohydrate rich diets. Learners participated in a social media project to support a campaign directed through the site. Learners worked collaboratively using the DMU Commons Wiki and other social media tools.
  • TECH3026 Creative Media Entrepreneurship – while I failed to win support for the continuation of Seed Creativity Ltd running this module, I am satisfied that the operation and standard of delivery of this module will produce satisfactory learner engagement and progression.
  • TECH3010 Project Supervision – there has been a low turn-out from learners at the regular supervision sessions I held.

In addition to the above teaching duties I have contributed to the validation of the BA Communication Arts course, by writing three templates for modules based on Community Media. I have continued to build my external academic profile, both in terms of research, teaching & learning and support for external community media. I am an active blogger and social media user. I am an external examiner at Liverpool John Mores University. I am a council member of the Community Media Association. I have asked for an extension to my PhD registration so I can continue to collate and write material. My submission deadline is now expected to be the end of September 2015. Following advice from the (now former) Deputy Dean I have continued to refraining from engaging in administrative initiatives and management activities in order to focus on academic work and the completion of my PhD, and to maintain a satisfactory and work-life balance.

Three priorities have emerged that I wish to take forward in both my learning and teaching activities, and in the support I can offer to colleagues in the Leicester Media School. All are associated with the idea of Social Learning.

Firstly, I wish to reinforce the practice of verbal instruction and note taking with undergraduate learners. There is a low sense of expectation demonstrated by new learners on TECH1002 that they are required to take notes in lectures and workshops. Many learners seem to have only a limited sense that they are expected to attend lectures and workshop sessions, and that when they do they are required to make notes. Subsequently, learners who do not attend, and who do not make note, are often the ones who struggle to perform at the required level, and often find it difficult to complete assignments independently. While this can be expected as part of the process of orientation and enculturation to different learning styles at Level Four, the speed at which learners make this change can be uneven, and for some, problematic. I will therefore trial the Social Learning approach, and test through the use of small-group discussions and ‘talk-aoke’ sessions, if learners can be encouraged to engage with informal discussion of the reading material associated with the weekly taught sessions. I will be looking for them to use appropriate academic language and concepts in these discussions, and to exhibit some fluency for the concepts that are considered. Learners will be given clear expectations that evidence of reading and discussion ought to be reflected in their blog and wiki posts. In addition, and as a fundamental principle of delivery, I will primarily engage in face-to-face interaction with learners. This face-to-face interaction will be clearly signposted as an alternative to email, Blackboard and other forms of electronic communication, and will stress the benefits of learning how to interact with tutors directly. The lab arrangements for the delivery of the social media modules are at present far from satisfactory, with no regular activity-base to work from that is dedicated to the development of a social-learning approach (i.e. café style seating, comfortable sofas, round table displays). It is a common occurrence for many learners from other courses to use the same rooms (often being the only place that the can access bespoke software), which puts additional stress on the learning sessions being developed here, and provides an inappropriate justification for a significant number of learners to consider being absent – i.e., that the room is full and they won’t be missed.

My second priority is to support colleagues in the Leicester Media School to develop the capability and use of social learning tools, and collaborative development/production tools. Often the general approach to communication within the Faculty of Technology is to cascade emails. This is a failing approach that doesn’t build knowledge communities based on collegiality, mutual engagement or transparency. Email and hierarchical management practices don’t allow for the shared and de-centred approach to learning, curriculum development and professional practice. By identifying and testing different models of social collaboration, learning and peer-based project work, it should be possible to iron-out many of the communication issues that are prevalent in a large organisation such as the LMS. With the aim to reduce operational log-jams, improve two-way communication, facilitate longer-term planning, allow for a more inclusive set of decision-making practices, and to build an identity around the core practices of the community of learners that make up the LMS. These peer-based learning and professional practice approaches are difficult to integrate within standard daily routines, but when established they will help to foster a ‘community of practice’ type approach and support a shared and collective intelligence ethos among colleagues that might otherwise go unrecognised, unreported and unsupported.

The third priority I wish to continue to support, is the work I have started in TECH3022, looking at social media as an advocacy tool for digital activists, ethnographic researchers and campaigners. Working with issues associated with the Obesity and Diabetes epidemic gives learners an opportunity to develop social media skills related to a platform of action and awareness raising that satisfies a clear social need; questions established social values, and, allows learners to practice creative forms of social media production. By questioning the prevailing culture of processed food and carbohydrate-rich food-like-substances, and by advocating the Low Carb ethos, learners have to demonstrate their ability to research, comprehend and situate a complex and controversial set of issues. Learners also have to be able to reflect on their own experience of food consumption, and generate insights that are relevant to the wider social discussion about obesity and diabetes, particularly as issues of weight carry a significant social stigma. As well as practicing creative approaches to producing engaging content that resonates with an audience of engaged participants, the social learning approach adopted here also allows for the clear demonstration of the impact of practical literacies, skills and know how (in this case food but with a reference to digital media), and how media/digital literacies might similarly be adopted and sustained on a grassroots and participant-led basis. There is considerable scope to develop a research platform within this topic area and subject, that can be linked with credible public services and advocacy bodies, as well as the LMS being seen to take a lead on a debate of significant public interest. [Prof Richard Hall has cited this as an example of good practice on his blog posted on The DMU Centre for Pedagogic Research]

I am aiming to submit my PhD thesis for September 2015, and hope to continue to be associated with the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility afterwards. I will be submitting a separate IRP outlining this. Upon completion of my PhD I want to aim for Readership so that I can develop my research and publication paper output in issues around collaborative and community media. This will involve developing research projects that support community-based organisations who seek to build and sustain capabilities, skills, resources and awareness in the use of digital tools for social media production, social learning and social network development, either as communities of interest, identity, practice or locality. I aim to do this within the CCSR’s remit as a learning community that accounts for the use and deployment of computer mediated communication practices and their ethical and social consequences. I believe that this will support the aims of the Media, Design & Production Subject Group, as a community of practice itself, and the wider Leicester Media School, by fostering collaboration and engagement with partners in other academic communities.