Feb 052014

Collaborative media skills are used extensively by learners on TECH1002 Social Media & Technology, TECH2002 Social Media Production, TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production, with the potential to be used in many other modules within the Leicester Media School. These modules focus primarily on the use and critical development of digital literacies, promoting active participation in social media production communities. Underpinning the pedagogic practice of the modules is a recognition that “In an information age… it becomes essential to prepare students for… new literacies because they are central to the use of information and the acquisition of knowledge. Traditional definitions of literacy and literacy instruction will be insufficient if we seek to provide students with the futures they deserve” (Donald J. Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, & Cammack, 2004).

In supporting this learners are encouraged to avoid the ‘banking’ model of learning, and instead approach their use of online or digital media as a participant in a community of practice. As Jones & Hafner suggest “the five main changes that we see as most relevant to the kinds of literacy practices that will be required in the ‘new work order’. They are: 1) a shift away from manufacturing work to ‘knowledge work’, 2) the distribution of work across large geographic distances, 3) a de-emphasis on the ‘workplace’ as a place where people work, 4) a flattening of hierarchies within organisation, and 5) a weakening of the relationships between employers and employees” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 175). In emphasising collaborative knowledge and production techniques and relationships there is a need for learners, therefore, to reflexively analyse their own status as a participant in a network of co-learners and collaborators.

In embracing these techniques, as Rheingold argues, it is important to not that with the “proliferation of literacies and divides that accompany them are a real problem. It isn’t easy to maintain a high level of basic reading and writing literacy, and the percentage of the population that can afford the time and money to learn additional multiple literacies is undoubtedly going to remain small, but that doesn’t mean it has to be an elite. The multiliterate can be a public – a networked public” (Rheingold, 2012, p. 253). None of which can be done, however, without testing the framing within which digital and social media literacies are enabled. Incorporated in these forms of practice and reflection, therefore, is an emphasis on critical questions and responses to the dominant and mainstream use of media. Using Belshaw’s elements of digital literacy learners are asked to self-evaluate their own practices and review each of the critical elements that are closest to their experience of  ‘media literacy’. According to Belshaw “Questions relevant here include: who is the audience? who is included? who is excluded? what are the assumptions behind this text? and so on’” (Belshaw, 2013, p. 53).

The use and practice of the DMU Commons is structured around the following themes:

  • Principles of Collaboration – how media production is increasingly co-developed and co-produced.
  • Critical Encounters with Media – encourage learners to reflect on how they define, access, understand, evaluate, create, and communicate using digital and social media.
  • Strategic Analysis: learners are expected to show awareness of the cultural, cognitive, constructive,  and communicative practices that the undertake, so that they can reflect on their effectiveness in and confidence in producing creative work that has a civic usefulness founded in critical reflection.
  • Employability Skills: many production companies now use collaborative and social media tools to support production, encourage innovation and to open the process of intellectual practice and knowledge work as a collaborative practice. This recognises the shift away from block audiences, linear production management techniques, and the enhanced status of networks and non-linear knowledge management skills.
  • Practice and Experience: These skills are most effectively taught through forms of practice that make use of shared resources, collective knowledge development, real-time information management, decentralised moderation, peer and network interactions.

DMU Commons Blogs:


wpid-Future-Media-001-2014-02-5-14-191.jpgExperiential Learning: allows learners to showcase their work, build an online persona, collaborate in a web-document, integrate and embed other social media tools, reflexively evaluate their social media use, face outwards into wider media production and social media communities.

Literacies Acquired: blog development, reflexive writing, still and moving image appreciation and use, persona development through reflexive practice, social media networking skills networking, WordPress shortcodes,


Blackboard Wiki:

wpid-Blackboard-Wiki-001-2014-02-5-14-191.jpgThis is a limited tool that does not reflect general practice in the real-world. Learners produce content only for themselves and their tutors, limiting their expectations that the wiki entries that they make have the potential to be found, linked-to, quoted and challenged on the World Wide Web. Ring-fenced media practice opportunities delay learning as they give learners a false sense of security, a limited expectation and ambition to innovate and experiment, and a limited desire to ‘bank’ their knowledge with their tutor, rather than exchange it in a wider knowledge economy of which they are legitimate and responsible practitioners.

Media Wiki:


wpid-Media-Wiki-001-2014-02-5-14-191.jpgAccording to Schneider, Beneto & Ruchat “Mediawiki, the technology developed for Wikipedia, has interesting affordances for supporting a range of teaching and other scholarly activities” (Schneider, Benetos, & Ruchat, 2013). They argue that Mediawikis facilitate the integration of diverse academic activities, the combination of learning management with knowledge management, and do so at a reasonable cost. Media Wiki is a standard format for wikis, as the platform that supports Wikipedia, the worlds largest and most accessed wiki, it has a strong founding in open-source development, not-for-profit knowledge exchange, reliability, cost-effective resource use, collaborative moderation of content and usability (with some simple instruction). It is not ‘coding’ or ‘programming’ heavy to use, it has a very robust discussion and moderation capability, and it offers increased integration with many content management systems and social media applications.


Host a DMU Commons Wiki that can be used as a shared network resource by students and staff at De Montfort University based on the Media Wiki platform. Promote the wiki as a knowledge-exchange community that brings learners, researchers and collaborators together to share information, ideas and academic best-practice. Media Wiki can be linked to the LDAP server so only enrolled students, researchers and staff at DMU will be able to access the wiki for editing and moderation purposes. Integrating Media Wiki skills in the taught module provision of the social media production modules, and encouraging other colleagues and learners to take-up the facility will generate usage and on-going monitoring of the system by a group of core users, with other moderators and users encouraged to participate through CELT.


Belshaw, D. (2013). Essential Elements of Digital Literacies   Retrieved from http://dougbelshaw.com/ebooks/digilit/

Donald J. Leu, J., Kinzer, C. K., Coiro, J. L., & Cammack, D. W. (2004). Toward a Theory of New Literacies Emerging From the Internet and Other Information and Communication Technologies. In R. B. Ruddell & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart – How to Thrive Online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Schneider, D. K., Benetos, K., & Ruchat, M. (2013). Mediawikis for Research, Teaching and Learning   Retrieved from http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Mediawikis_for_research,_teaching_and_learning


Nov 202013

How easy is it to start blogging? What’s it like to make the move from being a personal consumer of media to a personal producer of media? I’ve just sent feedback to my first year social media production students covering their first steps in the world of blogging.

There’s been a good mix of work, with some excellent examples of blogs beginning to filter into the Future Media blog site. There are a good number of bloggers studying on the module, who are making interesting comments about the media that they are passionate about.

The point it to try to develop the skills for this from the ground up, rather than imposing a rigid hierarchy of expectations from the top down. It’s about trying to find the small ideas that will give these budding bloggers a sense of validation about their posts, and to encourage them to keep blogging, and include lots of different types of media.

I’m hoping to see and share some useful experiments in media production, with self-produced videos, podcasts and photographs being shared on the blogs. We each have our own unique point of view on the world and what is happening in it. Blogs are a great way of sharing that view and encouraging other people to have empathy and sensitivity to those points of view.

I’m also keen to explore how this content becomes spreadable and generates a sense of social impact. Does a blog have to have impact? Not really. It might just be written as an amusement of the writer and for the amusement of the reader? Though if it gets to the heart of a more contentious and wider-reaching issue then it stands a greater chance of being spread and picked-up by other people.

At the heart of this style of blogging is the active sense of participation and community that bloggers develop, even if they are separated by thousands of miles and by some pretty steep cultural distances. We all aspire to have fun and to capture a sense of play through which creativity is born. This isn’t about getting things right or wrong, or meeting other people’s expectations. It’s about doing something valuable that we as individuals find meaning in, and which other people might also find valuable and useful, even if only for a moment.

Nov 022013

If community media is to be given proper credit and support it needs to be embedded within courses that allow for the examination of practice and principles. What are the key issues that need to be considered when developing courses and learning opportunities associated with community media?

I’m working with John Coster of Citizens Eye [http://citizenseye.org] as part of my research work, and we’ve been discussing and testing an idea to develop formal training opportunities in community media, both within formal education settings, and as part of informal social networks and communities.

I’m looking to float and test some of the ideas a little further, and specifically the development of a pair of undergraduate modules to be offered by the Leicester Media wpid-wpid-rwm_0068-2013-06-12-11-54-2013-06-12-11-54.jpgSchool, focussing on Community Media as a set of participant-led production practices and as a vehicle for personal, civic and community development.

I’ve attached a document that gives a thumbnail outline of two modules that I hope could be offered across the LMS, one at level five for 2014 and one at level six for 2015.

I would appreciate any feedback and thoughts about the scope of the proposals, the level that they are pitched, and what forms of collaborative development within DMU – and with external partners – we might pursue?

There’s a discussion thread on The Community Media Forum. Apply to join, and any comments can be shared with other community media activists.

If you want to get a sense of the community media projects I’ve been working with, my blog has some posts and podcasts that outline some of the activities I’ve been engaged with.


Level 5 Community Media Production – Principles & Practices [2014/15 Delivery]

Rationale: Community and collaborative media aim to promote and develop the voices, social presence and skills of ordinary people in grassroots and marginalised communities. As a third-tier of media, outside and distinct from commercial and public sector media, community media faces a number of challenges that would otherwise limit its measurable social impact, and which make sustainability in the sector hard to achieve. This module aims to account for and critically examine the principles and regimes of community media ideas and concepts, while giving learners the opportunity to experience and develop skills as practitioners of community and collaborative media through engagement with active community media organisations.

Outcomes: At the end of this module learners will be able to demonstrate:

• An ability to use and evaluate key terms and concepts associated with community and collaborative media, and to use these terms and concepts to undertake critical assessments and interventions in debates associated with of community media practices, organisation and policy.

• An ability to develop, produce and share – responsibly and ethically – content and media products within a community media group or network.

Prerequisite: It is essential to be able to demonstrate skills in media production, collaborative and social media and critical and contextual analysis at level four.

Theme 1: Community Media Principles
Participation; community representation; civic activism, representation; grassroots organisation; alternative media; co-operative and membership association; collaborative networks; alternative voices; history of community media activism; legislative agendas; funding regimes & economic models.

Theme 2: Community Media Practices
Citizen media; sourcing stories;, hyperlocalism; communities of interest; ethical practice; staying safe; open source & free media; creative commons media; staying on the right side of the law, NCTJ diploma.

Theme 3: Community Media Case Studies
Local Media – Citizens Eye, Leicester People’s Photographic Gallery, EavaFM, Takeover Radio…
National Media – ResonanceFM, Community Media Association, Radio Regen…

Theme 4: Community Media Social Impact
Alternative voices; civic empowerment; working with marginalised people; social gain; local political activism; community regeneration.

Delivery: A combination of lectures, practical workshops and project work, utilising e-learning, collaborative media and network tools.

Level 6 Community Media Production – Development & Impact [2015/16 Delivery]

Rationale: Community and collaborative media have a global significance, being championed and promoted in many parts of the world as development platforms for the enhancement and building of personal, social and civic literacies and skills within grassroots and marginalised communities. As a third-tier of media, outside and distinct from commercial and public sector media, community media organisations can be non-governmental, ad-hoc and anti-corporate, and therefore face a number of challenges in achieving long-term sustainability. This module aims to critically examine the national and transnational policy discourse of international community media development, and will give learners the opportunity to explore how the management and organisational structures and interactions of community media can be used to promote the social gain objectives of collaborative, grassroots and networked volunteers and participants.

Outcome: At the end of this module learners will be able to demonstrate:
• An ability to use and evaluate key terms and concepts associated with international community and collaborative media development and to use these terms and concepts to undertake critical assessments and interventions in debates associated with of international community media practices, organisation and policy.

• An ability to develop, produce and share – responsibly and ethically – content and media products within an international community media group or network.

Prerequisite: It is essential to have undertaken the previous level five community media production module, unless significant acquired prior learning or experience can be demonstrated.

Theme 1: Community Media Partnerships
Working with the third-sector, local authorities, education providers, professional bodies, regulators and trusts. Networking with activist, faith & community interest groups. Challenging stereotypes & barriers between organisations, communities & people(s).

Theme 2: Community Media Volunteering & Participation
Hearing all voices; communication for volunteering; project management for voluntary groups; recognising and rewarding volunteers; hosting & moderating discussion; managing realistic expectations; building capabilities and literacies.

Theme 3: Community Media Funding & Development
Making partnerships work; forms of organisation – cooperatives and members associations; sources of mainstream & alternative income; applying for awards; ITC infrastructure development; financial management & accountability; community regeneration.

Theme 4: Community Media Global Perspectives
International networks of community media practice, research & public policy; international development goals & bodies; development challenges – building capabilities & literacies; intra- & extra-community communication; case-studies of supporting organisations – i.e. Media Trust, Unesco, European Community, BBC World Service Trust, etc.

Delivery: A combination of lectures, practical workshops and project work, utilising e-learning, collaborative media and network tools.

Feb 192013

This morning I recorded an interview with Deborah Cartmell, Professor of English at the Centre of Adaptation at DMU about next weeks visit by Andrew Davies as part of the Cultural Exchanges Festival. I really enjoyed doing the interview, although listing back to myself I was tongue-tied and kept ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’. I just couldn’t get a simple question out. Luckily Deborah is very eloquent explains why Andrew’s work is so relevant. I’ve booked my ticket to go and listen to his talk. I’m expecting it to be busy. You can listen to the interview here: Prof Deborah Cartmell on Andrew Davies.

Sep 272012

There are three strands that support learning on my modules this year. The first is experiential-based learning that is founded on the belief that learning can be accelerated if it takes place in an environment that is as true-to-life and critical as possible. This involves a lot of problem solving, reflective analysis and producing media that goes out to an actual audience. This is combined with a detailed analysis of the production issues that students are engaging with using Project Management systems and techniques to promote collaboration, team-building and a systematic approach to the development of radio and media content for DemonFM. The third strand is the use of blogging for reflexive assessment. This is based on the DMU Commons blogging system which I trailed in my classes last year, but which I now want to step-up and really promote as a tool for effective learning.


Radio Blogging

The great thing about the DMU Commons system is that it is Open Source, and is therefore supported by a community of like-minded developers who see it as their priority to enhance a wide range of skills and capabilities, rather than locking things into a narrow and expensive proprietory system. The DMU Commons system uses WordPress, and enables students and staff from across DMU to set-up and manage their own blog site. This can be customised and stylised in many different ways. Users get to choose from a number of different themes so that the can include personalised pictures, backgrounds and formatting to. I’m trying to encourage learners to take ownership of their blogs and to make them as personal to themselves as possible, and even to use them as a way to present themselves as industry professionals.

If each blog is set with a category RSS feed for Radio, then the blogs that the learners produce and tag with this category will be aggregated into the Radio Production blog site. This then gives us a central point for learners to read about what other team members are doing, and for the module team to be able to promote this work with the wider world. Blogging is a very useful way of developing reflexive skills and to present oneself as a professional and capable producer. This, so the theory goes, is a way of accelerating the learning process so that graduates are able to exhibit a level of skill and capability that gets them started straight away in the radio or media industries.

DMU Commons is an inspired approach to de-centered learning. It encourages collaboration, participation, reflection and – most importantly – action in a real environment.

Sep 172012

For some time now a small group of people who are passionate about Leicester’s cultural scene have been working to launch a show on DemonFM that tells the story of what’s going on each week. Presented by Kirsty Monroe with contributions from Nathan Human and myself.

We have been gearing up to launch the show for a few weeks now. The team, so far consists of Kirsty, Nathan and myself, each with a different experience of the Leicester cultural scene, and with different approaches to the way that we tell the story of what’s going on in Leicester.

So I’ve taken the role of producer at this point. Assembling the material that Kirsty and Nathan have gathered and putting it into a running order. Kirsty and Nathan have been out and about meeting people and recording quick interviews with them. What’s amazing is that the interviews are recorded on mobile phones and then uploaded onto Soundcloud and sent to me to download and edit. It works amazingly well, there were very few issues with the recordings, just a couple of tweaks that needed to be made.

I set myself the challenge of producing the ‘Charity Shop Challenge’, with the aim of going to a local charity shop and finding three interesting things that we can turn into performed pieces. My first trawl brought up a Japanese film Tony Takitani, a CD of John Barry film scores and a book of poems. I put them together as three separate sequences and they gave a nice interlude to the show, a creative reading.

Charity Shop Challenge – Sounds Good Sequence

We had a brainwave on the day when we met to put the show together. With all the fuss last week about the potential unearthing of Richard III’s bones, we thought it would be great to put in a reading from Shakespeare’s Richard III. Mike Leo Brown very ably delivered the reading. I hope we’ll be getting Mike in each week to do a different reading as it’s lovely to hear a reading given by a decent performer.

Shakespeare’s Richard III – read by Mike Leo Brown

Now to start planning the next show.

Aug 192012

The emergence of new models of delivery and production for media and communications means that academic and learning communities are having to redefine, re-imagine and re-conceptualise their approaches to the programmes of study that they offer. It is not as simple as saying ‘out with the old and in with the new’, but there is clearly a gathering sense of momentum that the status quo no longer holds. Lets’ be clear, while many think that media production and media studies, as taught subjects in many universities, are ‘bubble’ subjects that are waiting to burst, nothing can be further from the truth. According to NESTA by 2020 the number of media enabled, web connected personal devices is going to increase by up to one trillion globally. Each of these devices will take the form of a multipurpose web enabled tool that will act as both a personal communications device and a media production tool. The trick, at this point, then, is to capture and harness the energy that comes from this expansion and to invest in training and skills development for both users and the producers of new forms of media content. Digital literacy, digital capability and digital sustainability are the new priorities.

My assertion is this – should we wish to take advantage of the coming global information and communication revolution, then we have to get ready for it. So far, it seems to me, we have merely been listening to the rumbles of the battle being fought in the distant foothills. Soon the storm will be with us proper, and we can either profit by it, or we can spend the rest of our lives wondering how we can adjust to a new, diminished reality that has passed us by. So, what would the starting points be? The first thing that we need to do is audit the stock of intellectual and conceptual resources that we have at hand and that we most commonly use in our teaching and learning practice. We have placed great faith in the past on a small number of our established thinking tools, but we may have to accept that many of these existing resources may be found to be next to useless when it comes to applying them to the changed media environment. Others, conversely, that we have often overlooked and undervalued, will prove to be essential. No doubt we will have to invent and re-purpose many of the conceptual resources that we will need as we go along, and certainly we will make mistakes, especially as we attempt to grapple with the things that at this point seem so uncertain. But lets be clear, there are a lot of intellectual resources and techniques that we can rightly put our faith in, and depend on, that will serve us well in the future. Here are my five key attributes, then, for surviving and perhaps prospering the global media revolution.

Trust: My experience running a radio production course and community radio station, and introducing learners to the benefits of social media, has highlighted in my mind that it will be our young people who will carry the torch forward. But they will require our trust and patience as they develop the skills that they need to work successfully as independent, resourceful communicators and producers. We only have to shine-a-light on their work, provide them with a platform through which they can express themselves, and allow them the space to develop the resourceful and collaborative techniques that they will find beneficial. If we set up the environment in a way that they find nurturing, and then help to celebrate their achievements, then the productive capability of our young people will astound us. Our young people often lack confidence, and no wonder given the negative messages that come from many parts of the media and politicians. Some may consider that the confidence that many do display is misplaced. Confidence in the transient rather than the resilient. It is the role of academic teams, therefore, to guide young learners and to boost their confidence in their learning abilities. This is why I have been a champion of peer-learning and user-generated media production experiences, as a foundation for learning, combined with the use of experienced-based problem solving tools for encouraging independence and self-sufficiency. It is all very well learning from a textbook, but these skills have to be put into practice at as early a point as possible. The role of the tutor, I have found, is not to act as a font of knowledge, but to act as a coach who supports and encourages learners, sets them demanding targets that are engaged with the outside world, and who allows learners to profit from their achievements through raised esteem and shared endorsements.

Pragmatism: There is a simple adage that I try and follow (with due respect to John Dewey) – ‘look for the difference that makes the difference’. In learning and teaching communities there is often a considerable amount of subliminal ceremony and tradition that is associated with the learning process. Especially in the areas of media production and communication. Learners are often given thresholds tests to pass before they move on to work of a supposedly more demanding nature. As learning organisations we too often stick to a nine-to-five timetable because course administrators believe this might prepare learners for an imagined world of work – and quite where that imagined nine-to-five world of work is I don’t know. And we give learners deadlines that are generally for the convenience of programme administration systems, rather than for the benefit of the learning experience of the individual. Some of these elements are there for a good reason, but with the new Higher Education settlement, in which our resources are tighter and the expectations of the learner will be raised, we have to be bold, and strip away those things that don’t make a difference to learning. Our focus should be on demonstrable output and outcomes, rather than process, abstraction and solely in-principle expectations. If we strip the learning process down to its core components and identify, in partnership with the learners themselves, those things that do make the difference, then we can accelerate the learning process and at the same time find it easier to adapt to the changes that they and we are facing.

A good example of a pragmatic approach that can prosper in this climate is the development of media and journalistic ethics in the news gathering process. The guiding principles of accountability and journalistic integrity can be separated out from the techniques and mechanisms of the production process. Does it matter if a story is for print, broadcast or social media? What does matter is that the story is accurate, balanced and aware of the potential consequences that may follow from its publication. Therefore, it is more important in the new media economy that we promote the values of journalistic integrity and accountability to a wider audience of producers and consumers, regardless of the media that facilitates it. Transparency and the veracity of sources will matter even more as the web offers up a plethora of feeds, channels and media brands. With a vast web of co-creators of news and news-gatherers to additionally take into account. It is ironic that News International is receiving so much attention about its journalistic integrity at the point in which the model for news and information has shifted underneath the whole print media industry. The challenge of social and citizen media, therefore, is to not see this a threat but to see it as an opportunity.

Accountability: In developing a team-learning approach it is essential to think about how we overcome our mistakes and move forward when things go wrong. There is an increased pressure during any economic downturn for a business to threaten and admonish staff when things occasionally go wrong. This hire-and-fire culture of business often seems inescapable. But we should always question the long-term sustainability of this approach. If it is too dominant for too long what is lost? When a team is simply admonished or threatened what happens to the intangible awareness and institutional knowledge that the team collectively holds at that point? This delicate balance can be easily be destabilised in a blame and shame culture, and when it takes hold it stops otherwise talented people working as a team. Instead they start to blame one another, and seek to hide their mistakes. Media producers and practitioners in the emerging creative economy will need a high degree of competence and experience at working collaboratively, in which ideas are allowed to flourish and new models of post-professional practice will be developed and applied.

The focus in this future media economy has to be on continuing improvement, independent learning, self-analysis, self-diagnostics, problem solving and smart decision-making. Learners have to be introduced to the model of capability building. This is a model that is based on intelligent performance criteria, with a laser focus on outcomes. A useful model for this is sports coaching, in which achievement is raised incrementally based on a holistic examination of the wider capability of teams and individuals. Traditional linear learning models still play a significant role, but the application of learning has to be based, in this new environment, in practices that reinforce ideas and a sense of inquisitiveness. This poses a challenge to ‘critical’ models of learning, which are often based in abstract analysis alone, rather than the specific mental tools that are needed to undertake a defined task. There is a suitable balance to be achieved between ‘critical’ and ‘pragmatic’ learning models, but the shift has to be towards building the capability of learners to continue to learn in an environment where information and the means of distribution has shifted from scarcity to abundance.

Sustainability: Learning that comes in fits-and-starts is not sustainable. Likewise, a career that is focussed on occasional headline achievements wont be sustainable or sufficiently rewarding. The X-Factor model, in which people are plucked from obscurity and showered with praise, is a dangerous myth generating charade that belies the hard work and effort that successful people have to put in to achieve what they do. The media producers of the future have to balance, therefore, careers that are less secure, that will move rapidly between projects, and which will be far less certain and stable than working patterns allowed for in the past. Preparing and enabling producers and communicators of the future will require a much long-term view of what is sustainable and what is not. The models of sustainability that we build have to be both ethical and entrepreneurial. The need to maintain co-developed relationships and social networks, of like-minded producers and potential clients, is going to be a major priority in the emerging media economy. One day producers might be working for the BBC, the next they might be producing content for a hyper-local community website. The economic model of sustainability in this post-professional age will need to be worked out and tested, but it is clear that collaboration and on-going skills development will play a major role. While status has been a key driver in the traditional media organisation in the past, esteem will become more important as a method for encouraging collaboration and team-based approaches.

Creativity: The challenge for anyone contemplating the future is to keep an open outlook and to drive change through a process of innovation and creativity. Encouraging media producers to develop a creative outlook will enable them to deal with the challenges and vicissitudes of a productive career. Being able to manage the creative process through the use of divergent thinking techniques, sequential with convergent thinking techniques, will be a core and fundamental skill for media producers. Especially as organisations seek to meet the challenges of the future. It is a mistake to see creativity as simply the deployment of random and spontaneous thinking, though randomness and spontaneity may be useful techniques to deploy. Instead, creativity has to be defined as a process that is marshalled through advanced project management and planning techniques. Defining and testing these techniques on an individual and on a collective basis plays, therefore, a key part in how we build the capability of media producers themselves.

My overriding expectation, then, is that the development of a successful learning platform for the media industries is entirely about capability building. To use a sporting analogy, while the individual sports man and woman has to perform on the field of competition on the day, there is no way that they could even contemplate entering into that competition if they have not received the investment and support of many people beforehand. The people who build the stadia, the people who train alongside them, the people who raise funds for them, the people who give up their time to bus them around, the people who support and follow the sport, and so on. These all have to be invested in. This is not only an investment in resources and facilities, but also in a common sense of purpose, and in the shared collaboration that hopefully leads to celebration. It is difficult to justify investment that is on-going and sustained, but it is necessary. Would we have had an industrial revolution if someone hadn’t come up with the idea that damning a river and harnessing its power? Someone else thought it was a good idea to invest in, and so the idea caught on and led to many more industrial advances that have left us where we are today. The hard part is putting in that initial investment in time, money and creativity.

Finding the right tools to do the job, building on success incrementally, giving a laser-like focus on sustained improvement and outcomes, all require a holistic approach that challenges many of the traditional models of learning, but which achieves more over a longer sustained period. The challenge of building any media or training organisation from now on, is that it must be able to deal with change, to react quickly while also securing the core values and virtues that give it its distinctiveness in the first place. Media consumers and audiences are absorbing and bringing about change in increasingly quick cycles and waves. To not adapt to that change would be foolhardy. Building our capabilities as both individuals and as organisations, so that we meet these repeated waves of change, will ensure that we are in a position to capitalise on them. This requires a strong sense of will, self-confidence and self-determination. It is a sense of will that celebrates the talent and ambitions of our young people as they shape and define these new realities for themselves Not as observers and innocent bystanders, but fully fledged participants and change-makers.

Jul 212012

One of the great things about running media courses in a Faculty of Technology, is that you get to look at the delivery of learning opportunities from an engineering perspective. I’m not an engineer myself, my background is humanities and media studies. But I enjoy working with engineers, technologist and designers because they have a very specific way of looking at the world. Rather than seeing the world as an opposing set of political forces, or as a set of signs leading to deeper rooted meanings waiting to be unravelled, engineers tend to see the world for what it is – a space to be occupied, with problems to be solved. There is nothing that an engineer would like to do, in my experience, than to make the occupation of the social and physical space we occupy more tolerable, sustainable and efficient.

Engineering doesn’t just stop at maintaining a degree of comfort. Engineers seem to have a drive to want to occupy more space in more interesting ways. Engineers are transfixed on getting from a-to-b and places that are further away in some degree of comfort. They want to build things that are bigger, stronger and faster than before, and do this in a way that is less resource intensive, more efficient and using a minimum of forces to achieve what they desire. In the twelve years I’ve worked in a Faculty of Technology at De Montfort University I’ve come to know that engineers are chiefly pragmatic and practical people.

Engineers don’t see their mission in grand, metaphysical or historical terms. Instead they look at the myriad of problems that shift and change as we interact with the physical world and attempt to come-up with solutions that can help us master them. The world is full of big and small problems that need constant attention and which require innovative design and technology solutions. The challenge of engineering, so I’ve seen, isn’t to explain things about our lives, but to do things with our lives. Engineering is about using and deploying resources effectively for clearly recognised gains at the end of a pragmatically managed process. A good engineer looks for simple and elegant solutions that keep the chosen process as well integrated as possible. A pragmatic engineer, however, will be prepared to change and adapt these solutions as circumstances require.

Complexity isn’t a problem per-se, but an experienced engineer will work on the assumption that there is always a trade-off between efficiency, technical capability and the minimum requirement that it takes to get a cost-effective solution into general usage. This approach was brilliantly exemplified in the latest edition of Material World on BBC Radio Four. Reporting from the Farnborough Air Show, the focus was on how airports are looked at as a design and engineering problem. The complexity of moving physical objects, information, power and people through a building in a rapid yet seamless flow was brought to life in vivid terms.

Ove Arup, the British engineering firm that builds airports around the world, talked through their approach to modern airport design. From heating and lighting, to check-in and immigration; from shopping and retail, to noise management and acoustics. What was interesting was the focus that was given to the experience of the passenger. This is ‘experience engineering’ on a grand scale. Not content with merely bolting-on the solutions to an otherwise already established systems approach, the engineers at Ove Arup want to start from the ground-up, making all the technological interventions that they manage fundamentally integrated into the infrastructure of the airport experience itself.

This means that Ove Arup engineers have to analyse data about the movement of people, airplanes, luggage, provisions, power, fuel and many more products and services that are the blood in a massive circulation and respiratory system. At the same time the engineers have to model and plan for different eventualities. How will the designs that they advocate cope in different circumstances? What happens if there is a terrorist incident? What happens in poor weather? How do you make ordinary passengers feel as comfortable as visiting dignitaries? How can the retail operations capture passengers for longer so that they spend more money?

From a purely systems point of view many of these problems can be solved quite easily, but the challenge is to make the airport feel human, intimate and exciting. This architectural approach to design has to give a sense of progress and advancement. The acoustic design has to maintain the balance between isolation and comfort in the passenger areas, and a sense of being within the centre of a major international transport hub. Likewise, security has to be efficient yet unobtrusive. All of which mean that the engineers, designers and architects are facing significant design challenges in their own right, at each stage of the process, and in the context of the expectations of the clients.

The Material World gave a well balanced sense of wonder at the smart solutions that contemporary engineers are dealing with and the need to be sceptical that these solutions are there to serve not only the business operation but not the people who use these airports. The fact that people can so confidently ‘engineer experience’ in this way is a testament to the future, and is something that I will consider worth developing in whatever field I find myself working. Courses in Creative Media Technology can definitely benefit from the approach I’m sure.

Jul 202012

DMU Technology Graduates 2012

Yesterday was the first De Montfort University Graduation Ceremony that I’ve been to at the Curve Theatre in Leicester. It was a great opportunity to celebrate the achievements and commitment of the graduates from the Faculty of Technology. The venue was packed and the theatrical nature of the event was great. There was a real sense of occasion and a willingness to encourage the graduates and their families to show their support for one another. This wasn’t stuffy in any way. It was easy to follow, and each student got their opportunity to shake the hand of the Pro-Vice Chancellor, Professor Andy Downton. It was clearly well designed to lay down a marker showing the progression of a whole group of talented and enthusiastic people who are no longer students, but graduates.


Simon Walsh Gowned-UP

It’s always a good opportunity to spend time with colleagues, who like me seem to enjoy the dressing-up.

Afterwards, Simon Walsh had organised a chance for a drink with some of our graduates and their families in the Font Bar, which is just on the DMU campus. In years gone past the campus was always empty during graduation week, but now that the DMU car parks are being used by the graduates and their families, it is great to see so many people about in their robes and their suits. The campus really feels alive for graduation.

So having a drink gave Simon and I an opportunity to catch-up, connect with people we’d heard about but never met. It was great to see so many people relaxing and chatting, and it gave me a good chance to talk to the parents, siblings, grandparents and friends of the students I’ve been working with for the last three or four years. It’s only when we sat and chatted like this that I felt the force of the pride and backing that our students have received from their families. Everyone who I spoke with was really proud of the personal achievements of everyone, the chances that they had, and the memories they are moving onward with.


Ryan Reflecting on Three Years

Indeed, it made me realise how much I and my colleagues have to raise our game in the future and deliver an even better service. One that goes beyond the traditional approach to learning, skills and personal development and sees each individual as someone with potential and a fair chance to do well in life based on merit. What I realised when I was sat chatting is that it is all about promoting a sense of community, identity and belonging. Our students and their families really care and have a strong sense of esteem tied with what they do.

It’s great to be able to share that pride and to show in return how proud I’ve been of the work that our students have done. It’s not an even road, and we do have zig-zags along the way, but I can really say that the graduates from BSc Radio Production & Technology are clearly stepping up to the mark. The focus for the future that this group of gradates is now concentrating on is about finding meaningful work in the media industry. The growing sense of confidence and entitlement that this is even possible, and not just a vague dream, is humbling. It’s been my dream for some years now that our graduates are able to easily make these first steps in to a life that they will find rewarding, and it’s great to see it coming on in such a unified way.


Elle’s Award for Best Media Technology Project

The group mindset of these graduates is that they believe they are capable and entitled to work as professionals in the media industries. The level of professionalism and engagement, based on a mindset that is about innovation and discovery is really exciting – and these guys have it. This batch of graduates clearly get the idea that they have defined and sought after skills that will enable them to produce compelling and interesting radio and audio content. At the same time they are able to do this with a strong grasp of the process and practical realities of the media professions. They know that they have to be entrepreneurial, and they know that the have to embrace new technology, new ways of working and new ways of thinking in order to be successful.

I’m certain that the foundation of skills and knowledge that they have acquired during their time at DMU will help to take them on a journey that will be very different from many gradates of other media courses. When I was asked what the job prospects are like for these graduates, I can honestly reply that I think they are very strong – even in the midst of a recession. This is a generation who are going to figure things out their own way, and who only need the space, encouragement and support to do so. Of course, there is no automatic stepping-stone into the media industries, but if you want a clear example of graduates who are capable of getting meaningful and rewarding jobs, then this is a year to look at.


Sam Harris Celebrating

Both Simon, myself and my colleagues in the Faculty of Technology don’t want the journey through DMU for these graduates to end at this point. W are very keen to keep in contact. We could never do this easily before, in the direct way, but now it’s possible and easy with Facebook and other forms of social media. We definitely need to be getting on with making plans for some alumni events. Then I’m very keen to organise more family and supporters events as well. Graduation has proven to be a great opportunity to talk with so many people and hear them express their pride in what they have achieved and their believe and confidence as they face the new discoveries of the future.

Jul 162012

Media News Hub

How well equipped do you feel to take on the challenges of producing and sharing your own media content? How confident do you feel that you have sufficient skills to record or edit a piece of video or audio, so that it clearly represents your ideas, and sounds and looks fantastic? Can you interact with this piece of media? Are you getting a buzz from people sharing and talking about it? And, are you making any money from your media endeavors?

In the Department of Media Technology at De Montfort University, I’ve been working with colleagues for over ten years to establish courses that answer the questions above – and more. We’ve pioneered the development of technology and production focused media courses that allow our graduates to say yes to all of the above. Which we have done by establishing an approach to media technology that, I believe, has been ahead of the game. Pioneering even.


Creative Technology Studios

From music technology to digital imaging. From electronics for audio production, to television production and 3D imaging. From multimedia technology and radio production, to social media and interactive media. The pace of development and change of our courses has been breathtaking. We’ve pushed the boundaries and broken new ground because we have stuck to our passion for technology. Particularly this is a passion for the power of technology when it is at its most effective – in peoples own hands. “You are what you make” says David Gauntlet, who reminds us that the real potential of new media technologies is clearly to be found in its transformational potential, as a catalyst for new personal and shared experiences. A couple of recent articles in the national press, then, have really stood-out to me in the last couple of days. They have given me a growing sense that other people are now starting to get what we do, and are starting to get in on the act.

Take for example the daily run of stories in the Media Guardian about the latest developments to hit the news industry. The latest new-media push is, of course, in the area of smart phones, tablets and news aggregation. Profiling the NEWS360 app, the Guardian describes how the app has been developed to take advantages of the shift away from an exclusively curated news service, to one that is increasingly based on the aggregation of multiple news sources. The story of the the app described this as a “device for intelligent people who want to read the news and be informed citizens, but who don’t have the time or energy to put a lot of work into it.” Accordingly the main problem that this app sets out to solve is “content overload”, making it possible by using the NEWS360 app “to follow everything [the users] want to follow.”

It’s curious then, that this is process of technological change in the news industry is simultaneously being brought to life in Aaron Sorkin’s latest TV series, The Newsroom. Billed as a look behind-the-scenes at the events at fictional Cable News channel, the series brings to life many of the challenges that a traditional broadcaster is facing in the teeth of a revolution. This revolution started some time ago, but it continues to be felt in the way that we access information via the internet, allowing us to interact with our news makers, and thus to use these new technologies to bring people stories that matter to them, individually. Indeed, The Guardian is running it’s own interactive discussion group about The Newsroom to encourage viewers of the show to discuss the issues it presents. A case of dog-biting-dog perhaps?

The prescience of the moment of change has also been encapsulated for me in another Guardian article by Antonia Senior, who asks a somewhat taboo question – who will survive the media revolution? According to Senior “while humanities graduates squabble over dwindling media jobs, those with technological skills hold the controls to creativity”. Senior outlines how “modern media [is] dogged by a “two cultures” mentality. On one side are the traditional bastions of media – humanities graduates who tell the stories in newspapers, on billboards, in adverts and books. On the other side are the tech crew: the developers who provide the increasingly complex and flexible infrastructure by which those stories can be told.”

Indeed, it has only been a couple of weeks since the BBC Academy announced that they will be developing their own digital media apprenticeships. Caroline Thomson of BBC Academy recently gave a speech to the Apprenticeships Conference where she said “We, the broadcasters, need to produce great content that resonates with the lives of ALL the people we’re trying to reach. So while of course we need people who are bright academically, we need more than that. We need people who bring with them a variety of life experiences and attitudes that reflect those of everyone, whoever or wherever they are.” To do this Thomson suggests that The BBC has a “big issue we’ve got to crack” in the form of “some pretty challenging skills gaps”.

According to Thomson these skills gaps have been made more problematic “by the extraordinary pace of change in technology.” The BBC, Thomson explains, is now all about how they can “support different digital platforms and digital workflows”. These workflows have the “huge potential to bring together technical and creative innovation to encourage an explosion of brilliant new ideas… and we all need those!” says Thomson. Thomson also rightly points out that “ninety years ago when the BBC was founded the second most important person after the Director-General was the Chief Engineer. In the modern media world we are moving back to this territory. Without great creative software engineers and technicians we cannot remain competitive.”

I cannot say that I know where things are going to be heading over the next couple of years, and to what extent things will turn out. But I do know that if we stick to our passion for technology and the user experience that it enables, then we won’t be far off the mark.