Tag Archive for 'Teaching'

Planning Community Media Modules Over Coffee

I met with John Coster yesterday to discuss how we will be running the Community Media modules that are art of the BA Communication Arts course in Leicester Media School. It’s great to have John on board helping with the module as he brings years of experience running community media projects and working with community media groups in Leicester.

The learners are going to benefit from someone who has direct, first-hand experience of what it’s like to challenge mainstream media, and who has imagined an alternative way of producing media that is better suited to the lives of people who form vastly different communities in Leicester.

One of the changes I’m making to the running of the first year community media module this year, is to split the workshops back to a more traditional format. Last year I incorporated the lecture and the workshop in one session, but I felt that we never really covered enough background and contextual information in the process.

So John will be running the workshops and I will be developing the lectures. We want the workshops to feel very informal and relaxed, much like a community media café session is run. It’s surprising how much work you can get done, and how many questions get asked when there isn’t a strong agenda for the session.

Yeas, we’ve identified several things that we want to happen in each of the sessions, but if there’s something else more pressing that the learners want to explore, then we’ll cover that instead.

The themes of the lectures are going to identify the basics of community media, in terms of both thinking about why community media is different to mainstream media, but also how our sense of community has also changed as society has changed. Here I’m thinking of Robert Putnam and his analysis in Bowling Alone.

The aim of an introduction to community media is therefore twofold. One the one hand it is to help people to feel comfortable with the idea of self-produced media – what gets called citizen’s journalism or user generated content by media industry insiders. While on the other hand, it’s about developing an appreciation of why community media is different.

The simple premise of community media is expressed in the idea that it is people speaking for themselves, in ways that they and the other people in their community find meaningful. This might not be very business-like, professional or cutting edge, but it’s forms of media that emerge from the grassroots, and which have a strong focus on DIY.

So we’ll be encouraging learners to have a go at making basic media content, with no fancy production values, no sophisticated equipment, and no wider sense that we expect it to please anyone other than ourselves.

This way we can be free of the weight of expectation that media has to be planned for an audience, or that it has to serve a function. If we like it, and the students and volunteers like it, and make sense of it, then that’s all for the best.

I’m going to try and post a blog as often as I can that shows how we are getting on with these ideas. We’ll make a couple of podcasts and a few YouTube videos as well. After having fun with the media that we create is what this will be about.

This Year’s Teaching So Far…

I’ve escaped from Leicester for a couple of days to take a break over the weekend and recharge my batteries. Rather like Superman when he stands in the suns glare, I will head towards the River Mersey and stand at the Pier Head and take in the spray of salt water, the cold wind whipping off the Irish Sea, and contemplate the slate grey sky that forms the backdrop to the Liverpool seafront.

I’ve been enjoying running my modules this year, and have settled into the themes with more confidence, as I’ve been able to develop them and add content that is more to my liking and my tastes. It’s a challenge to run three modules simultaneously, and to refresh the content as I go along. ‘It’s doing the working and the thinking that tires a fellow out!’ Now where did I hear that?

One of the things I’ve introduced to my first year social media module is getting the students to play cards for the first twenty minutes. It’s been useful for a couple of reasons. Firstly it means that the learners are able to sit and chat and get to know one another more easily, as the groups vary each week, and they often teach each other different games. Some students have played cards with their families and friends for years, while others are new to them. What I hope they are gaining from having a couple of short hands of either Pontoon, Rummy, Blackjack or Bullshit, is a sense of sociability and a sense of collaboration while engaging in something that is playful and distracting.

I always introduce a topic of suggested conversation related to the lectures I’ve delivered, and as we’ve been finding our way into thinking about media and the process of mediation through bands like The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Roxy Music and The Art of Noise, then we’ve been discussing how art has often been closely associated with pop culture. So we’ve mentioned Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton, and Italian Futurists – anything that connects the world of popular music with the world of ideas, alternative ways of viewing the world. I’m hoping that by looking back on some music movements of the past, these students might be inspired to create something for themselves. I wonder if any of them will form a band, or write a manifesto?

Likewise, I’m developing an introductory module to Community Media, which is something that has emerged from the ongoing PhD work. It’s a bit like building the railway line as the train is moving down the tracks. There’s a lot of trying things out and looking for live wires that can be used as a contrasting example between mainstream media, and community media’s more DIY and alternative approach. The students have hit on the idea quite quickly that community media is about giving a platform and a space for people who would otherwise not have a voice to speak and be heard.

We are experimenting with a story about people cycling on the pavement, and looking at how mainstream media in Leicester have covered it, and how alternative and independent media might look at this as a story. We’ll write blogs about it, perhaps put a news article together based on what we find out, and record a podcast based on the ideas and responses that can be collected and found when we talk with our friends and neighbours.

I’ve also been developing the final year social media module, that has taken the excessive use of sugar in our diets as a campaign issue, and is looking at ways that social media might be used to change peoples attitudes to the processed foods that we over-consume as a society. Our efforts where given a good kick this week when Keith Vaz MP told Coca Cola that their Christmas lorry wasn’t welcome in Leicester. This is a story that has stirred up a lot of controversy and has generated loads of comments on social media, and is a great example of how embedded attitudes to a consumer product and brand can be difficult to shift and change.

We are only at the end of week five, and there is some considerable way to go with these modules, with lots of marking and assignments to come in. So I’m going to use the week six reading week as an opportunity to get some reading done myself, start some marking, and maybe get ahead in preparing some classes, while also seeing if I can work through some of my PhD chapters that need writing. So no rest then, but at least I’m not on the hamster wheel for a couple of days.