SkyRide Leicester, @citizeneye and #media2012 – take 2

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After attending and take part in last year’s skyride in Leicester as a media volunteer for Citizen’s Eye community media hube, I decided to come back as a cyclist this year. 

Unfortunately – thanks to East Midlands Trains deciding to put on a bus replacement service between Loughborough and Leicester, this wasn’t meant to be – you aren’t suppose to take a bike on the train without booking it (which is frustrating for a 10 minute journey at the best of time) and bikes not allowed on the bus, I had to leave mine at home, get the bus and contribute to the traffic on the road instead (boo!)

Nevertheless, I get to be a media volunteer again and help man the fort at the Phoenix Square where a media centre has been set up by citizen’s eye which aims to cover stories that the official sponsors, Sky, won’t. 

For more context about what the media centre does, check out the post I wrote last year, where it was the first of its kind for Citizen’s Eye – and all part of an experiment towards the London 2012 Olympic Games in running an independent media centre for two weeks during the games and as part of #media2012 – a national network of citizen journalists that I am helping to coordinate as part of my PhD.

What’s different from last year? 

Logistics

Apart from the awesome new Ride Leicester volunteer t-shirts, speaking to John Coster (the editor of Citizen’s Eye) and the volunteers who were here last year, the coordination between official event organisers and the media reporters has been practically seamless. Last year, it was all a bit experimental, what with the last minute change of route to go through the (at the time) under-used cultural quarter and past the Phoenix, nobody expected the amount of people to come through the doors of the centre. Logistically, this year they are much more prepared, with extra staff, food stalls outside and offering an event menu for people taking part – which has helped maintain a calmer atmosphere in the space (and definetely good for the Phoenix) – and something to consider next year for those who are taking part in a #media2012 event in a space with an ‘official’ event happening in the background.

Producing Media

Like last year, has been lots of meetings of volunteers ahead of this year’s skyride during the community media cafe that Citizen’s Eye runs on a Tuesday. This year, they’ve had the benefit of hindsight – where they have made the decision not upload everything that has been taken, but instead to select and edit the best of the content which has made everyone feel a lot more calmer and not as pressured to find a wifi connection or be chained to their computer for the entire day. Also, some of the volunteers have decided not to cycle so they can focus on capturing quality content, not just the most content. 

Raising awareness for Citizen’s Eye, Community Media Week/Centre and #media2012

I’ve spent a lot of time just promoting citizen’s eye and #media2012 and explaining *exactly* what community media is to the people who have came over to ask what we are doing. Doing this has been really interesting in itself, because I don’t think I’ve ever been in a position where I’ve just chatted to ‘the public’ (I’m careful to use that expression) about the stuff that I normally leave for the internet or for academia or for those who are already part of the thing. It’s funny when somebody asked me “what do you get out of doing this?” – as in, how do you know if it was a success, but actually, there could be two of us here and it would still be a fun and productive way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Gold Medals

Just lying around…

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I think there is loads to be learned from activities like this – and it is nice to be part of something that relys on people power to *do* stuff- not the corperate sponsors. I’m hoping that *next* year I will finally get to do the ride, even if it means bringing my bike down the night before and camping out. 

Edit: Some of the content from the Skyride

Youtube:

Flickr:

Ipadio:


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What I am working on: Four weeks in Greece, Blogging at IOA

Realised that I’ve been *really* busy on a couple of things but I haven’t blogged about anything in a while (the problem when you only seem to write up things that you’ve completed or attended) – I’m going to try and write some more “what I am working on” posts rather than simply waiting until the final product.

A few months ago, I wrote about how I had been given the opportunity to attend the International Olympic Academy for their 18th Postgraduate Session in Olympic Studies. The session is due to begin in just over a week’s time and I’ve been thinking about how I will go about documenting the trip and the lectures/activities on the schedule. Having done a bit of searching and realised that there is limited content from previous sessions, apart from the official proceedings of the events on the website, I’ve decided to try and capture it all in an attempt to raise awareness of what is actually being discussed in this space.

Of course, I wouldn’t exactly consider my work as being in the same arena as Olympic studies and education (there is a *whole* shadow thesis that can be written about this and its critique) but at least for the intense ‘four weeks’ of study and research, I can put it all somewhere its its ‘raw’ format to return to at a later date. I’ve found this has been useful in the past (such as when we were in Vancouver last year.) Finally, I’ll be giving a paper on new media and the Olympic industry – drawing attention to alternative backchannels and citizen media, which could be controversial in relation to the traditional ways of looking at the games.

In short, there is a dominant narrative of the study of the industry (I say industry because of the sheer nature of corporate interest and motivations), normally played out through televised coverage of sporting heros and uncritical descriptions of ‘what happened’ in the arena, limiting focus and blocking alternative/competing narratives that other institutions of its nature would be subjected to. Through blogging and capturing the lectures/seminars in the frame of my own thesis, being at IOA will be incredibly useful in terms of understanding the critical approaches to a mega-event that comes with its own philosophy and academic discipline.

I’m intrigued already to find out if there is a pressure to ‘champion’ the Olympic movement as the default political position at the IOA. From discussions, I believe that because it is a separate entity from (although supported by) the International Olympic Committee, there is still a level of autonomy in terms of what is discussed and who is invited to speak outside of the IOC’s dominant ideas of what those representing their ‘product’ should be. Nevertheless, the trip will be steeped in history and research, that I can’t really ignore in my writing, even if my position on mega events is more to the ‘anti’ than the pro (if it is as simple as a sliding scale – more inclined to question *everything*). This is the part where the struggle between activist and academic voice comes into play.

You’ve kind of got to be ‘in, against and beyond’ with these things – as I wouldn’t know about the Olympics in this way if I hadn’t agreed to undertake a PhD about it (in the context of new media), but in the same breath, I’ve learnt so much about the differing contexts that lies under a brand some globally and historically recognised symbol and infrastructure. I think it kind of helps that I don’t really like competitive sport at all – and something that can reduce the media to uncritical suspense can seriously open up the cracks in the system in terms of dominant ideologies at play.

I wonder how I will feel after four weeks.

I’ll blogging the entire things over at posterous from the 1st of September, Four Weeks in Greece.

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What I’ve been working on: #dgsocialmedia explained

Realised that I’ve been *really* busy on a couple of things but I haven’t blogged about anything in a while (the problem when you only seem to write up things that you’ve completed or attended) – I’m going to try and write some more “what I am working on” posts rather than simply waiting until the final product. 

At the end of July I began a new role as a research assistant at the university where I am registered for my PhD (UWS). I will be ‘in post’ until Summer 2012. Already, this has been my most ‘virtual’ of research contracts, where most of the activities will be undertaken at home (here in Loughborough) in preparation for project delivery over the winter and spring months (in the South of Scotland). It helps that I’m very familiar with UWS (and Scotland!) and already have worked with the team behind it in different capacities, but it certainly a new lesson in personal project management – where I manage my own time sheets, meet via skype and set my own perimeters for complete each stage of the project.

#dgsocialmedia is the pet name that we’ve given the project – ‘dg’ standing for Dumfries and Galloway. UWS has recently has been funded by the South of Scotland Business Solutions to provide research knowledge exchange to small independent businesses located in the South of Scotland (Dumfries and Galloway) as part of the Skillset Media Academy. UWS have a campus in Dumfries, which is over 50 miles away from the other campuses, so the subsequent aim of the project is to help build stronger relationships with the university and those who live in the area.

I had a role in the bid development (which has proven to be a very useful experience in terms of what I will need to do post-PhD) and was very excited when the development agency had agreed to fund us fully for the role.

The project has several stages – all of which I am heavily involved in delivering alongside David McGillivray. The first is to design and develop a web portal that contains resources and training materials for those participants who wish to take part. From this, we will manage a series of social media surgeries and workshops for existing business networks across the south of scotland who have had some previous experience with social media training and/or using the internet in this way. Our aim is to enhance existing relationships but also build on some of the things that they have already done – rather than ‘social media 101′ and walking away – it’s something a bit more.

It is hoped that the pedagogical techniques that come from working as a university/research project, rather than a commercial entity, will allow for the creation of materials and supporting learning with a combination of one to one sessions, group workshops and online platforms. I think it is important to remember that we are a university – and instead of simply copying what is out there, instead looking at innovative ways in which to incorporate research into creative practice. Therefore, the project’s working title incorporates “Creative Futures” – the name of the research centre that my PhD supervisor, Andy Miah set up this year – and reflects much of theory/practice that our school wishes to champion.

The plan to tour various parts of the South of Scotland (rather than asking them to meet in larger towns or in Glasgow) will allow for us (as a university) to engage with local communities better and to understand the rich and differing contexts of that part of the world. The first set of ‘face to face’ activities are to begin in November (which means several trips up north and visiting the places that we used to go on holiday when I was younger.) The launch of the web portal is due in mid-September and I’ll update here with more details nearer the time.

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Notes on @thirduniversity Rabble for the @poddelusion Live in Leicester, 16th August 2011

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[Disclaimers: These are the work-in-process notes that I've prepared for a *five-to-seven* minute stint as part of a live-recording of Pod Delusion at Leicester's Skeptic in the Pub meet last Tuesday (16th August, 2011). In their own words The Pod Delusion "is a weekly news magazine podcast about interesting things. From politics, to science to culture and philosophy, it's commentary from a secular, rationalist, skeptical, somewhat lefty-liberal, sort of perspective." I probably won't use this all - and I don't want to constantly repeat myself and I what I *really* want to talk about is what the third university is planning come the revolution *cough* 9th of November.]

Yesterday, the UK’s longest running student occupation in recent history, Glasgow’s Free Hetherington, declared victory as their occupation of the ex-postgraduate club of Glasgow University, comes to an end. Those involved in the 6 month protest against the Principal’s plans for cuts, compulsory redundancies and the closure of courses and departments at the University, managed to exert pressure to get the institution’s management to reconsider their decision and agree to halt such proceedings. The full details of which are still being negotiated (in detail) between the students and those in charge. This is an important, but  under-reported development of the student movement against the future self-destruction of the higher education system – as we know it. 

In the shadow of last week’s troubles, where the tories confusingly called for the ‘education’ of young people, but in the same breath supporting the rise in tuition fees and limiting access to post-16 institutions, we have to take a moment to understand what we mean when we are talking about eduation, indeed the purpose of a University come the illustrious 2012/2013 9k term. The focus on employability and the need for ‘employability skills’ (such as the ability for me to teach my students to have ‘self-belief’, networking skills and ‘creativity’ if I want to keep a position in the UK higher education sector) has been increased since the publication of the Browne Review in October 2010, where the relationship between increased undergraduate fees and future income were explicitly linked for the first time (Browne Report, 2010: 35). The expectations of future acceptors, who once used to choose a university based on the love of a subject area or the quality of the course content, may instead only seek to attend universities that can guaranteed successful career prospects (BCU Acceptance Survey, 2009) Can you blame them – when the average debt predicted for the first 9k cohorters is set to average of £60,000 – the pressure to earn and ‘pay back’ that cost, as well as maintain an appropriate standard of living, becomes forefronted as a priority. Essentially, the government is contributing a new set of educational tools for society; a pedagogy of debt. 

Come September this year, we are looking at the last generation of students to enter the university system at the current cost of £3920+ a year. In three years time, when those students graduate, the system will be supported by the new collatoral of the accepting, ever obdient 27k 18-21 year old at its heart. What we know of the education that we enjoyed, albeit at a cost beyond what the majority of those in power experienced, will have been wiped out in favour of Lord Browne’s decisions. The collective memory and the collective purpose of the university can be wiped as quickly as the effects of a riot on the anger of the phone hacking scandal – it is almost as if the school terms are designed in such a way to neutralise radicalism before action can take hold and spread. Already, we are being to see the shutters come down on the next generation of students and with cuts to research funding – the next generation of PhD students and therefore, the next generation of critical thinkers who could pose a challenge and alternative to those in positions of power. What are the alternatives for those brought up to believe that the only route after complusary education is one of the University? 

Interesting things started to happen after the Browne review decision last winter. There was resistance and there were protests – and it was the a-typical, until then generically posed as a-political student cohort. They were the first to act. We watched, as police kettled young people in the cold of November, as they protested for the future of education, knowing that most of them would have graduated beyond that system by the time changes were implimented. At the same time, over 30 universities across the UK went into occupation, reclaiming spaces within the university campus and using for places of learning. Out of the student occupations, many groups and collectives began to form in order to challenge, question and reimagine what a university might look like. Some examples include Leed’s “Really Open University“, the University of Utopia and the University of Strategic Optimism. Other happenings saw groups running learning spaces, where individuals could volunteer and contribute skills and sessions where others could take part and learn from each other. These include the “Really Free School” in London, the Glasgow Open School, the Free University of Liverpool and the Third University here in Leicester. Some, such as the Social Science Centre in Lincoln, are taking on the responsibility to run an organisation that will offer the equivelent of degrees to participants, working as a cooperative to create a geniunely workable and sustainable alternative to a degree paid for by debt. However, this list of places is not limited, where I find that the more I speak and write about these occurances, the more I find out other projects and similar acts of community-led education systems. These are reasons to be excited, in a world where you can’t predict the social, political – and dare I say, economical impact of what the government’s austerity measures may have on us in the coming weeks, months and years. For me, the glimmer of hope that these spaces and the people I’ve met through my very quick introduction to radical politics and media, has been a power antidote to the neo-liberal rhetoric of the mainstream and dominant narratives of 2011. 

So what can be done in Leicester? I’ve already mentioned the Third University, content on being Leicester’s 3rd best, which was set up on the day of the first set of UCU (Univesities and College Union) strikes back in March. Like many good idea, it was dreamt up in a boozer, after many discussions about what the strikes could do and what they represented in terms of the larger picture of resistance against changes to education. We asked ourself what it meant to defend a building and if there was indeed, uncontested space in which these critical ideas of what a university means could be discussed. Through the process of several ‘happenings’ (because we can’t/won’t call them meetings or committees) we discovered that, actually, the third university was an idea to learn things from each other (especially people who are passionate about their favourite things) and to help provide space in order to do that. It doesn’t have a set of demands, but it does have a customer charter, it doesn’t have a governance structure, but it does want you to get involved in anyway you feel that you can. 

So as I conclude, I think about what will happen come September as the students begin again and what can be done to share stories, knowledge and keep the history and understanding of what happened last year alive whilst the system attempted to neutralise it. The battle of ideas – and the battle of knowledge and understanding are key here. These stories of action – especially when they result in positive outcomes, when the media prefer to report on their own agendas- are worthy of being heard and being shared. For me, I see the links between alternative media, citizen reporting and viable alternatives to the corperate and business-like approaches that is being to dominate educational mission statements. It is important that not only are these alternative heard about, they are also shared, passed on and encouraged to grow for as long as they are required. As we have seen from the Free Hetherington, it is possible to make a stand and to make a change against what is happening – and although we cannot predict what will happen in response to the promised demands, we know that there are people out there who are commited to re/defend our education system and those of us who are in, against and beyond the university as it stands. 

The third university is working closely with Leicester’s community media network Citizen Eye, running sessions alongside other events and workshops. We will be running a week of activities/lessons and things during community media week in November, a week leading up to the 9th of November national demonstration in London.

 

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Camscanner: Helping use your time in the library a little bit better. #phdchat

Just a quick one…

Over the past 2 years, I’ve managed to get away with spending quite a lot of time working on my PhD from home. It is quite possible to access the bulk of the literature that you need from your library’s subscription service, google books and asking people you know to share subscriptions if they are not available. There are times though when I do still need to go to the library – especially when there are specific books that I can’t find online, that are too expensive to buy or are not available in other libraries. 

Not one for accumulating too much paper, I find that time in the library can often be counter productive, especially if you have a long list of books and not much time to read through them and take down the notes that you need for your chapter. Not only that, living at a distance from my university, I usually have to go to the nearest one (which is Loughborough) if I want to be able to fit it into my schedule. 

There have been times where I have photocopied chapters out of books so that I can read them when I get home – I’ve also found myself sitting for hours scanning heavily requested books into my laptop so I access them when I need them, not during times that they are available. The first means that although you have the copy of the chapter for you to read later, it is another piece of paper that can be ignored or lost – and the second still requires to you to take the book home with you, only to be returned at a later date – taking up time that you don’t probably have (if I know PhD students and their excuses for things. ;-))

Paul Kitchin pointed out Camscanner for me, an app for your mobile that allows you to convert images from your phone’s camera to .pdf files. It also converts those images into a format that can be easily read (the way a computer scanner might) and the paid version allows for you to merge as many documents as you would like. Once you have scanned the chapter (or the 5% of book that you are allowed to copy under current copyright laws ;-)) you can send it easily to dropbox or google docs to view on your computer. Like a scan, you can edit your .pdfs using software of choice. This can then be sent to reference management software, kindles, ipads, whatever – to read at a time where you can actually read and annotate properly (and slot it directly into your literature reivew.) 

That being said – I love the library. It is a great place to work, it helps remind me that I am still part of a university (even when I can’t be there all the time) and constantly amazes me about how little I actually know about stuff. I just want to make sure that when I can get here, the time spend is doing something that I wouldn’t be able to do when I am at home (actually get access the huge amount of books on my reading list that I need to be getting as soon as possible.) Also, I’m about to head to Greece for a month, so anything that can help me write and keep working whilst I’m on the move, the better.

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Guardian Higher Education Panel: The Impact of New Technologies on Academic Research

Last Friday I broke my holiday up to take part as an invited panelist for a 3 hour Guardian Higher Education Panel about the impact of new technologies on academic research. The structure of Guardian live panels canbe a little clunky as they are situated in the comment thread of an article (think comment is free on crack) but overall, there was an interesting discussion at play. You can read the five pages of comments over here.

There are several points that I took away from the discussion and I wish to note when we are discussing ‘new’ technology in the context of academic research (or education in general – as the panel did touch on this):

- It is very different to have a discussion about ‘technology’ without simply listing tools to fulfil a particular task – especially when the format of discussion is in a non-threaded way. I’ve noticed this happen in several dedicated discussions (such as #phdchat or more specifically, conference presentations relating to education & technology). This is all very well, and I am happy to offer technical advice on what platforms that I have used in particular circumstances, but often the technical supersedes what it means to introduce a new technology into a space and fails to offer the political and social implementations of promoting such a tool in a neutral and objective way. Therefore, although I cannot ignore the ‘training’ and the ‘technical’, and it won’t be ignored because the discussion happily defaulted to this way, but I’m kind of interested in “why?” that happens. For instance, what does it mean to offer a list of tools (which are essentially brand names, commercial businesses) in a way that implies is a ‘new’ (innovative? progressive?) technology, when technology means simply a social media platform or piece of software.

- In the same breath, I’m also glad that that the discussion touched on the restrictions of the university (or institution) in what it allows students and its employees to use when on their on the infrastructure. There seems to be a lack of trust (reflected in what is allowed to be installed on a computer – or what devices can be connected to a wifi network, for instance) but in same light, those making the decisions (much like any authority) are made by people who do not understand nor require to use it. How can, if it can, ‘new’ (and when I say new, I am thinking things that aren’t yet installed or used widely) be ever introduced apart from when an individual purchases their own equipment and works in a way that is on the periphery of the institution. And what does it mean when they do that?

- Similarly, I got asked a question about social media policy and university marketing and what this meant in terms of promoting work and constructing an academic online identity. It’s a difficult one for me – as I work in many places, often on short contracts, with a reduction in workers rights but with a greater element of autonomy if I was to represent only one place. Perhaps again, my position on the periphery allows me to be more critical of educational marketing departments, who have their own agendas when it comes to staying ‘on message.”

- Finally, we touched on the idea of training and workshops for technology for research. As I begin my second year of teaching PhD students about social media for research, I’ve thought long and hard about the best way in which I can offer them an introduction to the technology – but also the social context, keep them engaged through a face to face session – but also offer support beyond that session so that they simply don’t see it as a tick-box exercise. It is hard to give support when you are paid only for the hours that you are in the classroom, but I have seen interesting ways in which this can be done that is a little more than digital chalk and talk. For me, it is about challenging expectations and not accepting that there is a standardised approach to thinking about technology within this context. In this case, it makes me  have to work a little harder to carry these ideas through (because it is much easier to take on the ‘technical’, ‘training’ as an interpretation of this idea) by making sure that the wider discussions are there.

The full discussion is available here – you can read more articles on the Guardian Higher Education Network here.

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