Seminar: Collaborative learning, collaborative journalism: 6th of June 2013 (Birmingham)

Whilst I was at Birmingham City University I was involved in a research project called “Stories and Streams” which explored ways in which to encounter challenges to media pedagogy and unpick critical ways of teaching media practice subjects such as journalism and alternative media within changing education contexts (read: dirty filthy tories)

The research team (Jon HickmanPaul Bradshaw and myself) produced several academic presentations and publication over the last year – as well as Paul carrying on the process into a second year and completing an e-book on teaching journalism using peer-to-peer learning approaches.

We were lucky to be funded through internal monies from BCU last year to pursue the research – and BCU recently gained some follow-on money  from the Higher Education Academy to work with us (David McGillivray and myself) at UWS to host a seminar along similar themes a year on, building further on university-led collaborative journalism projects in and outside the classroom and using the stories and stream approach to actually host the workshops within the seminar.

It is a free event and can be booked using the HEA’s booking form available for download here and returned to

Collaborative learning, collaborative journalism

  • Date: 6 Jun 2013
  • Start Time: 10:00 am
  • Location/venue: Birmingham School of Media, Birmingham City University, City North Campus Franchise Street Perry Barr Birmingham , England, B42 2SU

Journalism is no longer a privileged domain. As the barriers between audience and media worker have broken down, the role of the professional, paid, journalist has changed. What does this mean for teaching and learning methods? This seminar addresses the use of collaborative learning and the teaching of collaborative journalism.

Collaborative methods are being increasingly used within the news industry, from Paul Lewis’s investigative work at The Guardian to Neal Mann’s field reporting for Sky, the Farmers’ Weekly team’s coverage of foot and mouth, and Andy Carvin’s coverage of the Arab Spring at NPR. They are also used within alternative media to generate more extensive community coverage, for example during the 2012 London Olympic summer the #media2012 movement used the olympic lens to encourage new community media hubs, best demonstrated by the #citizenrelay project.

This seminar builds upon previous work undertaken by the Birmingham School of Media and the University of the West of Scotland into the uses of peer learning and collaborative learning as a pedagocial approach to the teaching of collaborative journalism within professional and community media contexts.

As a part of this work we published an ebook resource for teaching collaborative journalism, using collaborative and peer learning as a central part of the pedagogic design. This resource offered journalism educators a model based on our own pilot project ‘stories & streams’. In this seminar three invited speakers will present talks on:

• collaborative journalism in a news industry context;

• collaborative journalism in a community media context;

• collaborative learning and teaching approaches – beyond journalism.

These talks are offered as an impetus for a collaborative afternoon session. During the working lunch delegates will suggest ideas for workshop streams that they will find valuable, and some will volunteer to facilitate learning sessions. In the afternoon a series of parallel streams will run based on the most popular topics. This format echoes the structure of the Stories & Streams methodology and so the exercise in itself informs the theme of the day.

It is hoped that this seminar will be a platform for further development of ideas and pedagogic experimentation and research.

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Presentation: Stories and Streams at the University of the West of Scotland Learning & Teaching Conference.

Stories and Streams was a project that I have blogged a lot about last semester whilst at Birmingham City University, where I have taught new media theory, alternative media and web production for the last 3 years. We (Jon Hickman, Paul Bradshaw and myself) were funded by the centre of excellent in learning and teaching within BCU to evaluate and transform the pedagogy of teaching media practice modules (such as online journalism, alternative media and web production) and to develop modules that reflect on the nature of the topic, rather than replicating traditional learning structures of classrooms, lectures and workshops. We also managed to hire some student research assistants to blog and capture the classroom activity. That’s the bit I particularly like.

Here is a (nitty gritty urban) video of me chatting about the project with David McGillivray:

Last week I was drafted in to the University of the West of Scotland Annual Learning and Teaching Conference to talk about this project. It has already toured to Winchester University’s Exploring Collaborative Approaches in Media Studies event in April with more outputs to be produced in the coming months for the Higher Education Academy and Media Education publications. Already, we are plotting the next year’s activity, where I am now living in Glasgow (and not able to work in Birmingham anymore) so we are giving up my teaching fee to be managed and spent by the students. Because as they say, students are customers and they obviously know more about what they think they need to know about media practice than me right?

I jest.

but I think it is important to think about what is going to happen in September with the fee regime changing and we are talking serious money/debt to do a degree. And the purpose and point of a university in this space. And all of that in the context of Scottish HE as well now. More to follow.

More on Stories and Streams:

Slides from UWS.
Link to project website
Audioboo with Cameron King about the presentation at UWS

Media2012 West Midlands, 29th-30th June (event born from Luke Seager (a student on the program) assessment brief)

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Week 9: I’m not going to class tomorrow, and I’m the teacher…

I’m in Scotland at the moment for other-work-related things. Which means I can’t be in class for teaching commitments tomorrow. But taking a page out of the Jon Hickman school of teaching, I am not going to be around either. Which should be bad, I should arrange something for the 2nd years in the same way I am for the 1st years, who are getting one of those online classroom discussions via our VLE, moodle. All the technological sophistication of a chatroom in the early 1990s. But that’s e-learning for you. But it’s 10.50pm on a Monday night (at the time of writing) and I’m still working, working on preparing teaching that I won’t even be around to witness. Who said teaching ever had to be in a classroom?

So, here is a sneak peak of my teaching brief for tomorrow, that Paul Bradshaw will hand out to the alternative media students at the start of the class (which they share with his online journalists) – they are going to do something that pulls together *everything* we have talked about and experienced through a 3rd party in the last 9 weeks. Look forward to receiving the invitation.

Welcome to Week 9

We are going to hold an event.

And you are going to plan it. And then host it after Easter.

But don’t be worried, I’ll help you.

So far, every #media2012 hub (there are 6, maybe 7 now across the country) has held an event, reflected in the style and the approaches of the partners involved – usually an educational, arts and community partner involved. Some are high profile, like the launch event in Manchester in October 2010 as part of the Abandon Normal Devices Festival, others have been low-key, but important networking opportunities, like the first meeting in the South West at the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol – and some are part of larger, community events, showcasing local talent like the Citizen’s Eye Olympic-inspired launch during Community Media week 2011. Some events have budgets, budgets (and audiences) connected to the Cultural Olympiad, others have none, working with partnerships instead to provide space to debate and discuss related issues (such as the recent launch of the #citizenrelay project in Scotland, funded by Creative Scotland but part of a no-budget festival called @UWSInteractive) But they are all connected to each other through the #media2012 network, and allow important opportunities for people who would usually connect online using social media, to meet face to face and discuss the opportunities and challenges of running a citizen-media network for an event as big as the Olympic Games.

Your task this week is to research, plan and pitch an event idea that you will go on to organise over Easter and deliver in the weeks when we return. You will find a venue (using partners such as or the University), invite core partners and design the content and approach to the intervention. You are the event organisers, you dictate the process. You will not have a budget, but you do have my network and contacts through other projects that are occurring as part of #media2012 – you just have to identify them.

By the end of tomorrow, I would like you to decide what you will be doing, delegate roles and responsibilities and to pitch the idea as a short youtube video that can be shared to the #media2012 network as an invitation to the West Midlands. You will also be expected to carry on with your existing roles in the group (so there is also a workshop to be delivered tomorrow and content to be found and uploaded), working to your strengths and promoting the production and the delivery of the event online. I will be available online @jennifermjones or can be called 07738865651 (between 11-1) to advise on specific points.

The video pitch/invitation needs to be uploaded to by end of tomorrow (5pm).


  • Have a look at unconference formats, here is a post to get you started.
  • Think about your objectives, you are in the position where you are curating and forming a network that needs to be in place for during games time – beyond the timescale of the assignment. Who do you need to be there? Stakeholders? Potential Volunteers? Partners? Other hub members?
  • Look at other projects which are part of #media2012, what are they doing and how are they doing it?
  • Can you involve others from the class in return for skill sharing?
  • Will your event allow for you to generate online alternative media content? This could be a good opportunity to move from attending and covering other peoples event to getting others to cover yours.
  • Is there possibilities to find funding/sponsorship either internally/externally? It is always worth looking at funding streams but also pitching the importance of your event to the right people. Funding doesn’t always come directly as spending money, sometimes you can gain support through people’s time, useful partnerships and collaboration. Can you provide a platform for others in return for getting the tea and coffee paid for?

Look forward to seeing what you come up with.

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Project: Stories and Streams, week 8: #media2012 as an assignment brief revisited

After the classroom restructuring in the previous session, this week was used to define the #media2012 west midlands brief for the remaining alternative media and web production (AM and WP) students to take them through the processes to complete their final 100 percent portfolio task due in May.

The brief

The AM&WP cohort will now be working together as a group (rather than part of an online journalism investigation) and will form the basis of the #media2012 west midlands hub for during the Olympics and Paralympic Games.

In this task, each member of the group is given a title and expected to define a role based on the existing roles used in the previous investigations and linked to the core themes of alternative media production. They will develop a web presence and strategy to curate, cover and amplify Olympic and Paralympic related events in the West Midlands.

Expected roles include the Editor, Researcher, Web Developer, #media2012 network coordinator, events and community manager and training and development officer. The students are expected to define the expectations of the role and to negotiate a position with myself (who will be their academic mentor, rather than lecturer) about how they will fulfil these expectations over the coming weeks.

They will work as a team to construct a plan for the west midlands hub, identifying communities, networks and events that they can connect to now, beyond and during the games time, whilst signing up community reporters and facilitating training and workshops in alternative media and web production, allowing for the curation of a sustaining citizen-led news wire during the London 2012 olympiad.

Academic mentor: wills and wonts

This brief will inform the last assignment before the students begin in their final year, so it is expected that it will be student-led, rather than tutor-led in its approach. This does not mean I will be absent, far from it, but below I’ve outlined my own expectations for the activity.

What I will do:

  • Mentoring around the mega events and media activist context
  • Provide support and administration access to all the national #media2012 online assets.
  • Where possible, connect the group to individuals and groups who I have personally encountered through my own research or as the #media2012 national coordinator.
  • Encourage and facilitate ‘events based learning’ – supporting students to attend events as #media2012 reporters in person, capturing and producing content throughout.
  • Implementing their strategy and findings during games time, seeking support to encourage them to take the project beyond the classroom.
  • Where possible, be available and accessible online.

What I will not do:

  • Prompt or chase up work, this will be treated like a professional working brief (because it is, #media2012 is a legitimate organisation that requires organisation and support in the West Midlands)
  • Provide information that can be found through research or enquiry.
  • “spoon-feed”

The Online Journalism context.

The AM&WP module is still embedded within the larger Online Journalism cohort, completing a different assignments and focusing on alternative perspectives. Just because they are not integrated with the the OJs in their investigation/brief groups for this section of the module, there is a subsequent aim embedded within mine and their roles.

I will be mentoring two groups of online journalists who are working on Olympic related investigations; Cultural Olympiad and corporate sponsorship. Additionally, I will be providing support where I can for the remaining groups who are working on issues such as student prostitution, G4S and the mayoral elections in Birmingham.

In turn, my students will be access the remaining workshop streams relating to their new roles (such as community managers, network journalists and the editor roles) – as well as being expected to work closely with the Olympic groups to knowledge/resource share and to promote relevant content on their networks.

Finally, with the focus across both modules to attend events and to gather expert interviews and supporting multimedia content, we will be encouraging students to collaborate across investigations, if it means that AM&WP students can gain more experience in multimedia production by supporting journalists on location or using investigative skills to ask better interview questions for the #media2012 brief.

Next week

Like the activism project week last year, I will setting the group a self-directed task to be carried out over the 3 hours and to be completed over 8 hours of directed study time. I will not be present in class, following a similar structure that Jon Hickman has spoken about in his blog from earlier in the semester, where sometimes leaving the room is the best way to teach, ask Stuart Hepburn and his recent hack-day approach.

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Project: Stories and Streams, Week 7: Events-based learning: the west midlands #media2012 hub

When I started working on the Alternative Media and Web Production (AM&WP) module late-2010, it was with the intention of working towards embedding citizen journalism and the Olympic Games as a priority topic and theme for the module. It begin with #mc539, which then evolved into #MED5008, a course within another – online journalism. The first 6 weeks, my AM&WP students worked within groups of online journalists as multimedia producers that supported the ongoing investigations around the Olympics or Education areas. The first investigations were as follows:

After a directed study week where there were no classes, and the online journalists had to submit an assignment snapshot (AM&WP didn’t) the groups were reshuffled and given new editors (based on our observations and recommendation) and there was an ‘golden bunnies’ award ceremony for the class to showcase and peer-review the best work –which Paul blogs about here around morale and momentum. The groups were then divided up by role and we (Paul, Caroline and myself) took them away to discuss next steps in terms of investigation, new groups and new roles.

The thing is… it just wasn’t working for the AM&WP students. I have a grand total of 7 – and only 4 were present, meaning that anything that I deliver specifically to them, has to be repeated to nearly half of the cohort if and when they do attend class. It isn’t fair on those who are consistent in work and attendance – and it’s not fair to assume that what they do is the same as the online journalists, despite being part of the class giving them additional skills, context and briefs to work around that would be be possible in a classroom of 7 students on their own.

At the same time, I was given an opportunity through #media2012 and other networks through contacts such as Matt Lee from BBC West Midlands to allow a team of students to attend a local cultural olympiad event that same morning. I could have decided to remove the AM&WP students from the rest of the group and return to traditional format of lectures and workshops, using the reshuffle as an excuse to return them to normal in order to complete the class – or I could have used the flexibility that the format affords the space (being a working newsroom after all) to embed the students in their own project, working together as AM&WP students but still within and together with the OJ students in their roles. The event gave me a kernel of an idea – and space to come up with a solution that didn’t involve the AM&WP students getting stuck or pushed into the technical-only roles that they were encountering in the first half of the module. Furthermore, there is no excuse for any online journalist to not try out that role as a web developer and multimedia producer as it is as much as core skill for the trade as any other that they are being exposed to for the this first on this course.

Events-based learning

After identifying two OJ and two AM&WP students who were able to cover the launch of the West Midlands Cultural Olympiad Festival 2012 launch, I contacted the press officer on their behalf and managed to get them in as student journalists, simply to observe the event. I briefed them with details of what the cultural olympiad is and what the launch might entail, but also linked it to #media2012, a citizen media news environment where the content and curation may lead to the first citizen journalism legacy project of an Olympic Games.

I’ve already presented this heavily in class (this year and last), using powerpoints and other exercises to explain the alternative media context in this light. But actually, it is almost impossible to convey how powerful it can be until you attend your first event under the guise of a community/alternative media organisation. It is mainly to do with confidence, it can feel intimidating if you are trying to think like a journalist without an organisation or a title behind you (same as academia really) so #media2012, the organisation, can provide a identity and a purpose for writing/documenting/working towards.

For instance, I was told on the phone that it would be nearly impossible for the students to interview the main speaker, Jonathan Edwards, because of time restrictions on media access. Then this happened…

From a tweet late the night before, to getting students into an event, to capturing interviews and media content for the web in a way that I could have never imagined ever getting access too. After Vancouver, I learn that it was often not worth chasing the sport and the athletes because that’s where access was hard, but through the cultural olympiad, there is space to widen the cracks and ask different questions that often the mainstream, ’employed’ journalists aren’t able to. This is equally important as one of the new investigations that the OJs will be leading on is around following the money associated with the Cultural Olympiad, with a mentor from Arts Professional magazine. There is every chance that the students could produce important findings around impact and legacy that are not currently being discussed thoroughly by the mainstream media.

For me, this has became a real break-through in blending practice with theory – especially when topics such as the cultural olympiad and the arts council can seem incredibly complex to anybody outside of the spaces that it works within.

Next Steps

Student-led curriculum?

Last time I blogged about the student-led curriculum, and as I know there is at least one AM&WP student who wants the opportunity to build teaching experience, I will let them lead on preparing workshops around the technical aspects of the multimedia production. The problem is trust and reliability, not ability, and unless that I can trust that those sessions are going to happen, I can’t accept that they are going to happen, so will also have to prepare my own sessions of this nature. You can lead a student to become a producer, but you can’t make them produce.  Especially when you are constantly fighting the tide of consumer-demands.

#media2012 West Midlands as an Alternative Media project

The AM&WP students will not be part of any current investigation being held by that OJ students. Instead they will be working as a group, bringing together the knowledge and information that they learned from the first 6 weeks as working as a newsroom team to manage, produce content and attend and cover events on behalf of #media2012. They will essentially become the West Midlands hub for #media2012 and by the end of the module, should be produced a complete events guide for the area, attended and live blogged as many Olympic and Paralympic related events and interventions (both official and ‘unofficial’) as #media2012 citizen journalists and helped contribute to the website and multimedia productions for youtube, podcasts and liveblogging.

They will also liase with the other groups who are working on Olympic related investigations and work to push their findings and reports to wider audiences through the #media2012 and connected networks. They will need to get to grips with the #media2012 charter and understand the connected arts, education and community based organisations who are partnered in the scheme, as well as making attempts to formulate a strategy for the summer to ensure that there is a network of individuals/volunteers who will connect to the West Midlands hub once the module ends and the assignments are in. This could include visiting local community groups to offer training and support in using alternative media – or it could be to arrange a build a sustainable newsroom for the time during the Olympics.

This connects to the projects that were delivered by last year’s AM&WP students through #mc539, but also to the first year Olympic production event that is happening on the 10th of May. They will need to work hard to turn this kernel into a viable alternative media and web based project, that already has a history and a network, but its up to them how they take that forward as a opportunity to build on.

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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? ;-)

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