Project: Stories and Streams, week 5. “The module is not what I expected.”

A couple of days ago, I reflected on the move towards a student -led curriculum on the alternative media and web production course that I am running at BCU. Since the change of class structure this year to a ‘stories and streams’ format, some of the common issues that I have faced has been questions relating to the expectations of what the module might look like – and importantly, what it might cover.

I’ve skirted around the issues in a few of the previous posts, but I think today was a real break through in terms of how I take the management and integration of my students with the online journalism cohort in the coming weeks. Next week is a ‘directed study’ week -no classes but an expectation to work throughout.

Where are the students?

So far I have 8 students working as multimedia journalists as part of online journalism teams working on investigations around the Olympics and Education. Half of my students are competent web designers, especially in using WordPress, and have ended up in a content management role and/or a technical person to fix or answer questions relating to content. They work together well and tend to spend the class working on content management roles.

The rest are more focused on online media production, albeit videos, audio, design and bring different qualities to the group dynamics, perhaps in a contextual position or providing the ‘alternative’ to the story. In a rough way, I have some who would find sessions in technical aspects useful and some who would find it elementary. This happened last year as well, with the stronger developers powering ‘ahead’ and those who are focusing on different areas assuming they had to ‘catch up’ in the same way.

The assignment is individual so you are marked on the 120 hours of work that you contribute to the module – and as long as its related to the themes and the purpose of the module, then it is fair game in terms of demonstrating and making up those hours. Sometimes being the in-house technical person isn’t always the strongest position to be if you are only fixing other people’s mistakes.

Open learning, open curriculum

My concern after the reading week is to keep the web developers engaged in the bigger project and not getting trapped in another stereotypical role based in their or other people’s expectations. This is not just about web design, it is about understanding the concept of alternative media and where web media might fit in spaces such as development but also other media contexts as well.

We increasingly as expected to work in vacuums, but actually, being able to take on multiple roles can be much beneficial in terms of how you find and complete work. For instance, for @UWSInteractive festival plans, I’ve not only had to arrange a festival, it’s space and people, I’ve built the website, arranged press coverage, wrote press releases, communicate internally and externally, help recruit interns, run sessions on topics i cant find people for and manage the admin and other related opportunities that an event can throw at you. If I was to stick to my specialism, web and new media production, I still would be waiting to hear back from the room bookers, let alone be in a position to launch on Monday. Specialisms can be helpful but they can also be a distraction.

Towards student as producer. By stealth.

The irony of the alternative media is that it is informed by critical theory, even though it isn’t being directly delivered as such. Therefore, what the students end up doing could be set by a target framework that we wrote before we met them, or it can be guided by their own interpretation of the module. The module, as it’s stands, is my interpretation of a module that was designed by Jon Hickman that was passed to Jon through Prof. Tim Wall etc.

Each time a new person is passed a topic or a theme, they pass it through their own understanding of the subject area. I’m not offended when a student declares that the subject area is irrelevant to them- how could I be?- I think it has more to do with their own way of interpreting the subject area, and they tend to wrestle with that earliest definition throughout the whole course.

It is the coat hook to hang their understanding on. It can be tough to challenge that, especially as production being ‘practical’ therefore ‘good’ – because of how related graduate employment and experience and university education is linked these days, but that doesn’t mean it should be challenged.

Next steps, peer to peer learning.

I’ve set four of my students the task of running and deciding on the content being taught on the multimedia production ‘stream’ after the directed study week. That is 4 weeks of 20-30 mins sessions delivered around aspects of technical delivery on the web that they feel the other students should know, namely around the frequent requests for obvious technical support. They will produce a series of workshops around video, WordPress, audio and basic HTML for formatting. Funnily enough, somebody asked ‘how do you teach WordPress?’ – a question I’ve yet to work it myself if I am to avoid those god awful lab sessions that feel like you are teaching Microsoft word en masse.

Their own exposure to pedagogy of teaching digital media (or teaching/engaging itself) might be a good way to see the role of the alternative media facilitator come to life.

In turn, I will give them a separated session on more advanced uses of the web, to challenge them beyond the basics, and gives me time to support those who are probably not as interested in the technical side as much as the others.

I look forward to seeing what they come up with and helping them promote their sessions more widely. Who says they need to keep it in the classroom, or even in the university? ;-)