Today’s class was the first week that it felt that the majority of the students had a clear understanding of their role in the group and how they are working as a class as a whole, with most of them having already published aspects of their investigation online, using a content management system and linking to distribution social media accounts (albeit a personal or investigation specific twitter or Facebook account)
There are three points of interest that have emerged on reflection of today:
Feedback and Evolving Streams
This allows us, as lecturers, to see and provide feedback on topic, style, presentation and format of the investigation and allow us to fine tune the future workshops and sessions to suit the needs and issues of the class as whole. The observation of practice is supported by student requests for workshops, working simply with post-it notes and selecting from most popular skill request (see below). A definite move away from defining and sticking to learning outcomes ahead of individual weeks and bringing the student’s negotiation of learning back into the dialogue around set curriculum of the modules.
24/7 Online Support
Often the most daunting question asked when I am discussing the use of social media in learning and teaching with other academics is the notion of 24/7 support, where the lecturer is expected to be “always-on” as part of their duty to the student and the module.
It is clear, if we believe the expectation that an academic role is similar to the 9-5, switching off when the clock hits 5pm, that a 24/7 online support module could be considered a threat to a particular way of working (especially if you are an hourly paid contract staff)-however- the process of working with the groups to get their investigation groups does require extensive interaction beyond the three hours of the class.
What remains and what is being replaced when you remove lectures and workshops out of the equation?
Well firstly, I already feel that I am much closer to the work that my students are researching and producing from day one, and I managed this (mentally and institutionally) in a way that allows me to see what their doing not as a student project that exists in a vacuum, that I will mark in May as part of my admin duties as a visiting lecturer, that will have no effect beyond the grade that they are given at the end.
Instead, I feel like each website and investigation is each as much a living breathing journalism project as any other that I follow on RSS, on twitter, on facebook (etc) and something that I can fold into my online media space in the same way that I can fold in any other news feed. This is partly one of the reasons as the module progresses that I can see myself engaging in their projects at anytime, not just set ‘teaching’ times.
Secondly, I have given students access and ‘permission’ to get in touch with me using my twitter account. This is not something that I’ve actively done before or in previous years, despite some students finding me and following me anyway. Not that I mind, often I have found it difficult to link what I am doing to what they are doing through pedagogy and/or influence I have in modules, this is the perfect opportunity to try.
I can understand the concerns about introducing a social media channel into official communications, it’s not something that you can switch off at 5pm and it is not something you can ignore as they can see clearly and publicly your replies to others.
There has to be an element of managing expectations. This year, because of the changing and evolving nature of the module, and where the students are in terms of researching, producing and displaying their work, it’s only fair and entirely unavoidable to not give them the opportunity to use me and my network to help them achieve the goals set.
Similarly, being able to tell the difference between communicating by email, communicating by module and communicating by twitter are important – and the fact that the students are being asked to communicate to others in different ways (such as pick up the phone) should give them an idea of what method works best for different requests through experience, not expectation.
Finally, If I am expect them to work as a functioning independent news room, producing quality and in-depth investigations in public, then I can’t put up a pretence that my own social media presence can exist separately from it. The case in point is the fact that I’m even blogging about the concerns of blogging, a module like this can only work if the theory is seen and worked through the practice on doing.
Therefore, I’m on and available through social media without a job role or a job title attached. I am me first online, then I fulfil the tasks I’ve been asked to do. And in this case, it is ensuring I can take my students through the process of learning -and if always-on social media/online contact is how I do that, and it can work, then there is a potential to explore that space further.
Web Production: what is it?
It has been a task over the last two years to define and present what the alternative media and web production module means as a concept. The word “web” is a clue, but often gets it mixed up with the expectation of web design and web development. The key words are “production” -and the key context is “alternative media.”
These are emphasised, because they are important.
Alternative media brings the politics. Alternative media brings the rhetoric -or the style- to the production -and alternative media brings the social and historical context, as what we are demonstrating and encouraging does not exist in a vacuum, devolved from politics, history and critique.
Production is the act of making something. It requires research, it requires creative and technical skills and it requires context provided in order to create something that has value to your and others experiences. Web production can be anything produced on the web, not just a web site.
So from week 4, I will be moving from the discussion and activity from producing a website and providing a technical support for the online journalists and setting new tasks for the alternative media and web production students, working as multimedia journalists.
The tasks will test them on the context of alternative media but also on their ability to illustrate and communicate a story for the web in a way that addresses issues provided by their other group members and is suitable for an audience/network of their choosing.
There are some themes that have emerged after three weeks of working on the stories and streams project. They are as follows:
- clarification of role: the purpose of the student, the expectation of the student and challenging and defining expectations in the classroom.
- learning outcomes: moving beyond rationalised, universal outcomes and using group work and individual roles to draw out key issues, skills and challenges in a way not previously possible through existing teaching methods in this area.
- definition of terms: drawing down the role of theory and production methods in new media studies. Embracing student expectations but also challenging them. Working out new and transforming ways to introduce key concepts without losing sight of political and social context of work.