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.

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.

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.

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 http://futuremedia.our.dmu.ac.uk/. 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.

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.