Learning Technology jottings at Goldsmiths

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The Welcome Project – improved induction at Goldsmiths

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Induction in higher education has traditionally been front-loaded at the beginning of the first year when we bombard students with information over one short week, after which they’re expected to know all they need to participate fully in their course and in student life. It’s been a class mistake of confusing being told things with knowing those things.

Consequently academic and academic support colleagues at Goldsmiths successfully proposed a project on induction as part of the Higher Education Academy’s Enhancement Academy Programme, and completed ‘The Welcome Project’ to design a new form of holistic induction which extends from the point of a students’ first inquiry well into their courses, anticipating needs, joining up the work of the different stakeholders at Goldsmiths, and diversifying communication modes.

Watch a video in which the people involved talk about the aims and outcomes of Goldsmiths’ Enhancement Academy project. The induction conference mentioned towards the end happened in September 2010, and you can see the presentations archived on Goldsmiths Learning Enhancement Unit site.

See other institutions’ Enhancement Academy Projects on different aspects of higher learning and teaching.


Written by Mira Vogel

December 1, 2010 at 12:26

How to organise a children’s party

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Is that Dave Snowden, of Cognitive Edge, himself, in this video analogy-cum-parody How to Organise a Children’s Party?

Hat tip: somebody in the chat room of George Siemens’ presentation, Day 1 of the Open University’s 2010 Conference, Learning in an Open World. (And on this scythe-through-the-artery of a Budget Day, I should mention that it’s free, online, highly interactive, and very thought-provoking indeed.)

Written by Mira Vogel

June 22, 2010 at 17:41

Posted in event, video

The VLE is Dead debate at ALT-C 2009

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ALT-C (the Association of Learning Technologists Conference 2009) is ongoing at the moment. They’ve been streaming the invited speakers on the Elluminate video conferencing platform. I’m not there but I just logged onto what I understand was an unofficial stream set up by the presenters independently of the organisers, to look at a debate titled The VLE is Dead.

I really enjoyed watching, listening and reading the asides in the Chat pane (and adding my own 2ps). You have to work hard to follow the speaker and do that, but in fact I (speaking personally and anecdotally) find this quite helpful. Otherwise sometimes I emerge from a micro-daydream having missed a crucial clause of an argument. Passive listening – just hearing, really – is my bete noir. What I do get quite anxious about is not being able to take notes, but to tell the truth, I’m not sure how my notes help me anyway. If it’s a matter of process, maybe the act of participating in a side discussion – on Twitter, say, which in this context is a bit like whispering in a lecture – fulfils the same function as tapping out notes and consequent questions. My track record on revisiting notes tells me that they rapidly become fossils after the event, anyway.

I felt surprisingly dislocated and desolate when the sound feed died. But while it lasted I thought it was a great arrangement – the camera was close to the speakers and at a good angle given the constraints, the pacey and slightly breathless debate format was very engaging, and there was a lot of humour. John and I were laughing out loud – I even clapped at one point, I was so sucked in.

To respond to the bit of the debate I heard (and a Chat participant tells us the whole thing has been recorded and will be made available in due course – update: it is now; scroll down for the vid) the panellists who object to a VLE do so, in my view, on shaky grounds. I don’t subscribe to the argument that VLE is merely an expression of our current era of institutional managerialism and commodification. The first speaker’s analogy between the users of third party social software and Agincourt’s nimble, unencumbered and ultimately triumphant British archers left me wondering who the analogous enemy is, and concluding that it must be not French students but our institutions. Certainly, institutions are deeply frustrating places, if you take the good things about them for granted. But unless we expect academic teachers of the future to be freelance, and academic pursuits to become something very different indeed, then academic institutions are something to defend.

And, given that those of us who are not radical constructivists accept a substantial difference in roles between teachers and learners which mainly resides in experience, insight and expertise (a sort of ignorance-wisdom continuum), if our support for Personal Learning Environments is so unequivocal (which it should be) then shouldn’t we also give some consideration to Personal Teaching Environments? When I think about what they might look like, they begin to take on the form of a VLE.  The ‘Learning’ part of the term ‘Virtual Learning Environment’ was always PR – that’s not news.

Unrelatedly, the alternative to an institutionalised, supported environment is (most readily, anyway) free-at-the-point-of-use, commercially-financed social software. But doesn’t advertising exascerbate climate change? And doesn’t it represent the sort of instrusion of market forces into Higher Education matters which we would like to avoid?

Accountability, data protection, intellectual property, obscene or taboo subject matters – not sure if these were addressed by the contra-VLE speakers.

Lastly, isn’t this debate about the VLE being dead still hung up with the technology rather than the ideas and creations which animate it? There’s a built-in assumption that the VLE is a shackle, linked to another assumption that the VLE is a (conservative) expression of a bad approach. But although VLEs are certainly not pedagogically neutral, nor can they be pinned down and limited to a set of values. They can be subverted, or simply used creatively – that depends on their inhabitants (this much I know from researching designing for learning in VLEs for JISC). So I think a better question to ask is why those islands of vibrant VLE / technology-use which do exist, succeed, and (to avoid bias) also search out precedents for cooption of social software within the VLE, or abandonment of the VLE in favour of freer environments beyond the institution (although you may have to undertake to disguise their identities to get them to speak to you). Is it the case that academic teachers who are not using the VLE today have leap-frogged over it in favour of third party social software – PLEs? I’m kind of thinking that rumours of the VLE’s death should start from these kinds of findings, rather than from an ideological standpoint. One pro-VLE speaker said as much.

Time to stop. I missed a lot of what was said, so I avoided naming any speakers. But these arguments against VLEs aren’t unfamiliar, so it’s probably OK to address them in themselves.

There’s a bunch of links and a vid trailer for the debate on Cloudworks, the Open University’s social environment for discussing ideas.

Update: via James Clay’s blog, here’s the recording of the debate.

Written by Mira Vogel

September 8, 2009 at 15:04

DIY video – Steve Hull at DIVERSE 09

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Kris Rogers, learning technologist at LSE (I think of LSE as a kind of nature reserve for learning technologists – they are supported, enabled to experiment, and they get a lot done) blogged his experience at the 9th annual DIVERSE conference in Aberystwyth last month.

Lots of links out and – naturally – on the conference site you can get video, audio and slides for any of the presentations captured, with questions, via the Echo360 system, including a screen-reader version.

Kris recommends:

“… today’s most entertaining presentation was by Steve Hull from JISC Digital Media who gave a talk on the basics of producing good quality films using basic equipment, such as a Flip camera.”

Hull’s talk was titled ‘Improving the quality of visual media in education, or anyone can make a movie‘. Aided by some amusing examples of not-so-great practice (these aren’t quite optimised for Echo), he deals with technical, practical and theoretical aspects of DIY video, including: making the speaker stand out against the background; a bit of mise en scène, techniques for steadying the camera without a tripod); interviewing techniques, eg eradicating the ‘barnyard sounds’ of the interviewer through the development of non-verbal acknowledgement e.g. smiling and nodding; simple editing on freely-available software or, at a pinch, in-camera .

(Tangentially, this is DIY but is it edupunk? I can’t imagine a self-respecting punk would have been caught dead in a discussion about developing the quality of their self-expression. Maybe I’m too literal…)

JISC Digital Media is an advisory service and well worth a look – it’s FREE, FREE, FREE (and there is consultancy, with a view to embedding skills, which you can submit a proposal to get).

Written by Mira Vogel

July 9, 2009 at 11:17

Pocket film – making movies on your phone

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Wired has a piece on Masaki Fujihata’s Pocket Film Festival.

“A good pocket film means recording personal happenings, or someone’s personal way of observing the world,” he says. “Normally people try to imitate the big Hollywood films but to make a really good short pocket film make sure [you] start collecting many images. A month or so later you can start to edit them and see what you did.”

Fujihata invited two winners from the 2007 festival, Daisuke Kobayashi and Toru Oyama, along to show me the techniques. I brought along an INQ1 from 3 – a phone whose USP is that it’s wired specifically for uploading content straight onto the internet.

BankArt NYK, an art space on Yokohama’s quayside, is their chosen set. The only limitations they are given are to keep the scenes in the shoot to no more than five. Simplicity is key. It is that method that helped them claim the Grand Prix for their street film 720/24 – as in 720 minutes in 24 hours – two years ago.

They use time as the theme for this masterclass too. “It is now 12.08,” Toru declares as Daisuke, bedecked in fur flying hat and goatee beard, pinches the cameraphone between thumb and forefinger and spins it about like the hands on a clock. As each minute passes, the camera will turn to signify the passing of time. This method, using images from their native Tokyo and showing council estates, playgrounds, subway stations and other urban imagery, is what won them the big prize.

In BankArt NYK they home in on the minutiae of the concrete mausoleum. Pieces of art, the LED lift indicator, the lift doors closing and even a bus parked on the dockside for variety.

They never shoot anything more than a few metres away. That range is the camera’s best operating environment. “The good point of making a movie with a mobile phone is that the people making it and the people watching it are very near each other,” they advise. “Normally, if you’re using a regular camera then the distance between the viewers and the cameraman is very far away.” They make the most of each other’s movement and Daisuke includes Toru in his clips.

Toru gives me another tip: keep the clips short and simple. Some pocket film-makers shoot with the phones only for the imagery to be viewed on a cinema screen. Not these guys. What they see through the phone’s screen is exactly how and what they want their audience to see.

Written by Mira Vogel

April 16, 2009 at 12:09