Project: Stories and Streams, week 4, handing over curriculum control to the students.

As there are only two weeks left of the first level of investigations for the online journalism, alternative media and web production students, we are now starting to prepare them for the directed study week (week 6) assignment, a tool used by the institution as a check point snap shot of the module, filing in the gaps and the student’s individuals outputs so far.

Assignment Context.

Initially we wanted to only have one assignment, 100% of the coursework, to be handed in at the end of the course in May -acting as an individual portfolio of work reflecting the student’s interest, research skills, production skills and professional capacity (that can be read in different ways) around the projects they have been working on for 14 weeks.

Instead, we had to split the assignment due to the way that the university terms and structure play across the board. This is fine, but obviously something that is an external factor in what we can experiment with and how the layout of the module looks like. Nevertheless, the fact that we are beginning to experiment in alternative methods of delivery is something to be celebrated in itself.

Curriculum, you chose?

On paper, I was looking to take my students to a point where they would begin to start asking for sessions that they felt they needed, rather than expecting me to set the agendas of the classroom. This was never going to happen over night, so I prepared 4 sessions in advance that I thought might have contextualised alternative media and the role of web production in this space.

It just wasn’t working as well as it could, and by week four, I wasn’t that another set of predefined knowledge outcomes was what was going to work in that transition between experimenting with space and topics and preparing for an assignment. Furthermore, some of my students had encountered critique of their original stories from people who were inhabiting the spaces they needed to be in.

Case study: Olympic Legacy critique

For instance, Olympic related investigations do not exist a vacuum. In stream sessions have been emphasising heavily on the alternative viewpoints of the Olympic Games, yet, it is often difficult to understand how ‘radical’ those viewpoints are (on either side, if we are talking sides) until you encounter a challenging view point.

Previously, students may not think that their ‘practical’ (or indeed ‘theoretical’) assignments have impact on the world around them, and I guess, if we asked them to set up social media accounts to promote their work, they might want to stay safe in terms of expressing views in public.

When the identity of the student is flipped on its head, rather a student studying media, they are media workers studying at university, there are opportunities to give their group projects legitimacy. And in turn, legitimacy can not only spark confidence but also genuine critique from others. Including critique of myself as a tutor.

Being accused of teaching churnalism, for instance, was quite funny, no matter how much I try and articulate or attempt to understand the politics at play within the media. The real time nature of the web means that the reaction is based on the now, not on your longer term impact – but can often provide more realistic feedback (that as a tutor you can contextualise) rather than simply marking the assessment activity against a universal, institutional criteria. Similarly, I can’t force nor want to force my students to think a particular way about the world, I would prefer to help equip them with the skills to make those decisions themselves.

Move towards a student led curriculum.

When you try new things in the classroom, especially with students who have had at least a year of formalised higher education under their belt, it is difficult to predict the reaction to change. Some, outwardly speak of how the course is nothing like it was marketed (what ever that may mean) and some find themselves adapting and moving into the roles that suit them, not what they were initially given at the start.

This means that in two weeks, we might decide to move people from their roles and allow them to ‘job swap’ based on their own experiences. (see more details about the roles ‘available’ here.) this might move my alternative media students into journalist roles, but it also might require them to think about how they take on the notion of web production and challenge their own expectations of it. Something that seems to always be problematic because some thing it is another web design module and others, perhaps those not as technically skilled, see it as something else.

Mind mapping future sessions.

I’ve tried to ask the students to define what training they might need in the future. I’ve used post it notes, to anonymously contribute an idea, where the suggestions could range from pragmatic suggestions about research skills or manipulating a google spreadsheet, to more abstract concepts such as ‘inquiry’ and ‘critical thinking’ – something that may not be as straight forward as a tick boxed exercise of ‘training.’

So, based on the experiences of the previous week and the response to student work online, I decided to revisit the Olympic context head on and to construct a mind-map based on what the students might already know, not what I am telling them. I recorded this so we can use it to inform the streams in the forthcoming sessions.

Stories and Streams: Mindmapping the Olympics from Jennifer Jones on Vimeo.

What next?

Ideally we would like to be at the stage where the students are leading on what the topic of the break out sessions might be, with the aspirations that some will actually take the lead and give their own sessions. I get the impression that we will be able to get a fuller picture on this once we have ‘formally’ marked their personal work as it stands as elements of their research and production work included reflective practice. Using a combination of set workshops, the post-it notes, the mindmaps and the student’s private responses, we will be able take forward the next few weeks as being the start of a co-production of theĀ curriculum.