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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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Hacking Contemporary Screen Acting: Pedagogy of “doing stuff” #uwsltas

This is the second year that Stuart Hepburn has asked me to guest lecture as part of his Contemporary Screen Acting (CSA) degree at University of the West of Scotland. CSA is different from say, a general acting qualification, because it asks the students to see beyond simply doing a vocational course in becoming an actor. It is designed by Stuart, to provide a well-round introduction to media production industry, whilst empowering students to take control of their own careers, rather than assuming that a degree in acting is enough, they learn how to put themselves out there.

They do this by learning the different crew roles of putting together films – they are not only actors, but capable of basic film making, editing, script writing, ‘reccying’ and legal side, storytelling and critical creative practice – knowing when they can do and knowing when they need to work with others.

They also get the chance to learn about how the web can be used as a device for promotion and reflective, and my role both years has been to introduce blogging and social media into the mix. This time, I’ve been given two sessions, the first (very similar to this one) I delivered a month ago and gave them a broad introduction to the context of the web and why it is important for them to care. The second session, a workshop that I kept deliberately vague would compliment what Stuart has been doing over the past month.

Little known fact about me is that I actually specialised in film making  when I was at university (and even though all my placements were with indie studios, I never really did anything with it, I ended up focusing on the production side of thing (code for being able to do anything and everything – averagely.) so it wasn’t until I was in Istanbul (and working with actual proper filmmaker Maria Gabriella Ruben from Little Star Productions) that I realised how important the skills that I picked up at university were. Being able to do and understand the roles (even if it isn’t the best that it can be) means that you can do your own ‘job’  whilst supporting others. Being able to get the narrative onto film, edited and online – whilst pleasing clients & being in ‘real-time’ and present is a tough, intense job, and it is something that is going to be expected in the future. We have these creative media tools at our fingertips, we need to harness the hell out of them.

So today, I had the students looks at two films that Little Star had made for future everything festival. The first was an interview to camera, the second was a interpretation of the interview through other means. They then were given access to cogdog’s web 2.0 storytelling wiki and given some time to sketch out a character who would be acted out by one of their team and interviewed that day. They had been asked to bring an object with them (one brought a my little pony, another a empty jar etc) and they were to construct a narrative around the object and the character.

By the end of the day they had shot footage of their interview, as well as uploaded it onto the machines for the first time, extracted audio and been given the task to produce a different, personal interpretation of piece through editing. Bearing in mind they have never edited before – and never really produced a piece of work in this way, the exercise (I think) was designed to get them to learn the technical stuff behind their industry through the act of doing, not for me to chalk-and-talk the finite points of editing software. I’m no expert, I’m just good at googling.

The footage will be uploaded next week – with 4-8 videos edited by 4 groups, all using the same base-line audio & their own interpretation of footage of a character that they created themselves. This in turn will be uploaded onto their posterous accounts (they created on week 2 with me) & submission for coursework will be addressed through the medium of tweeting the link using the hashtag #uwscsa – this is hope we’ve managed to link acting, to social media, to understanding production and back again. Hacking pedagogy.

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What the hell is #mc539? (Week 1-9)

We’ve now hit week 9 of mc539 (the 2nd year web and alternative media module I teach at Birmingham City University), the last week before the end of term and the class go off to fulfil their project manifestos over the coming weeks. The entire course is available online and in public under creative commons. Here is a recap for those who are interested in the little world of #mc539, but may have missed it:

Course introduction:

“Alternative media is not new, but the web has provided an increased opportunity for alternative-ness. This course addresses alternative media practices, and explore how the web provides opportunities for alternative production in the context of the forthcoming London 2012 Olympic Games. The module explores a range of alternative media opportunities, including the cultural programme, media structures and the process of developing citizen media outputs.

Traditional media events such as the Olympic Games (the most watched television spectacle in the world) can provide a local and timely context in which to access the phenomena of alternative media. Beyond the sport events, the Olympics is a domain where geopolitical issues are played out by competing narratives between the Olympic movement, media institutions, politicians and the public – positioning the tension of alternative discourse as part of the Olympic experience.” (More here)

Week 1: An introduction to the theories of alternative media. A social media 101 (the (critical) basics) using social media platforms from both a technical infrastructure and a social context, exploring tools which can be used to help facilitate, support and enable alternative media.

Week 2: The second week introduced the #media2012 context (working towards a BCU media hub for the London 2012 Olympic Games), introducing themes of culture & art, resistance and protest and ceremony and spectacle to the mix. We ran a workshop on mixed media web production (audio in class, video for homework.)

Week 3: The 3rd week introduced the “client” and helped the students understand who their audience is and how that audience can drive a community project around it. The workshop looked at alternative media case studies and used virtual enthography methods to carry out  alternative media background research.

Week 4: The 4th week looked more specifically at promoting causes and focused on the case study of #purpos/ed as a social media campaign. The workshop focussed on the position of the alternative media worker and how it shapes a project manifesto.

Week 5: This week looked at networked power (introducing concepts of labour, history of work practice), with a focus on network analysis theory and network analysis tools. We also looked at production ethics for the alternative media workers and came up with a set of guidelines for the class.

Week 6 was a reading week – the students were working on their first assignment, a manifesto for an alternative media project.

Week 7: The class were given 3 hours to write, prepare and deliver an alternative media campaign of their own. my reflections of the projects are here.

Week 8: Last week we looked at the notion of sustainability from a variety of contexts, with an introduction to Zizek’s critique of cultural capital and concept of ephermal direct action and reaction to the spectacle. We also reflected on the activism project from the week before.

Week 9: An excellent guest workshop from John Coster of Citizen’s Eye – the videos are here.

The next 3-4 weeks will be student-led and used to carry out a full web project around a theme relating to #media2012. When they return after the Easter break, we will be spending time on critical writing, reflection and project write-ups. So far so good. For me, this has been an incredibly rewarding experience which has inspired me greatly to work on further teaching projects which explore radical/student-led techniques in education. That’s all for now!

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