ELVSS13 – State of Being

The ELVSS collaboration/community of practice is now in it’s 3rd year. Since #ELVSS12’s excursion into internationally collaborative mobile filmmaking on the topic of global sustainability, we’ve taken a different turn – and the community has extended as we’ve now welcomed the University of Bogota (Colombia) into the mix.

This year (#ELVSS13), over 100 learners from the UK (Salford), New Zealand, Colombia and France were brought together to further explore creative practice through mobile filmmaking.

Their brief?

To work in international teams in order to co-create the visual backdrop for Warwick Blair’s 8-act opera which was premiered at the Tete-a-Tete Festival at the Hammersmith Riverside in London:

“State of Being is an inspiring, sometimes harrowing, journey through the human psyche. The opera presents a powerful series of emotional states of being that depict an individual’s struggle for survival and redemption. The opera interpolates live and recorded music with video and theatre to produce a compelling synaesthetic experience.”

In order to produce the video element, the learners were divided into 8 teams, and once again had to negotiate not only time and space, but also a challenging creative brief. Each team was assigned an act and given the ‘soundtrack’ with a one-word descriptor (real right-brain stuff). They then had to produce the visual backdrop for their act, entirely filmed and edited on mobile devices.

This meant that learners from across disciplines and cultures had to negotiate not only the creative process, but also meaning, e.g. What is truth? How can we represent truth visually? As you can imagine, this is extremely challenging not only from a organisational/temporal perspective (as we had even more timezones to deal with this time around), but even more so from an aesthetic perspective.

As with #ELVSS12, the process was exhilarating, scary, frustrating and at times quite painful – but WE DID IT! Warwick Blair’s State of Being was premiered in August, accompanied by a stunning visual backdrop that had been co-created by over 100 students from across the globe. Congratulations to all involved!

You can see the final output here.

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#PLEconf Collaborative (un)Keynote

The PLE Conference, now in it’s 4th year and running simultaneously between Europe and Australia, is one of the most innovative conferences out there. I can’t think of any other conference that pushes the boundaries quite so much when it come to the keynotes – or in #PLEconf terms – UNkeynotes.

UNkeynotes are about interaction and audience participation, moving away from the idea of the ‘sage on the stage’ towards a model which is collaborative and energising, drawing on the knowledge of the room, not just the ‘main speaker’.

When I was invited to UNKeynote this year’s PLE, I was genuinely delighted – and also intrigued by the overall theme: Personal Learning Environments in the Cities of the Future, or ‘smart cities’ as they’re often termed. Having been working with colleagues across the globe for several years now on mobile filmmaking projects, I thought it would be pretty cool to do a collaborative keynote. After all, if we’re connecting learners across the globe, co-creating through mobiles and Google everything, what better way to demonstrate our global PLN/PLE than using a Google Hangout? What can possibly go wrong? Hehe…

So we did it. I’m still breathing. Just*

We started by exploring the range of smart city initiatives from the top-down, centralised initiatives led by the big beasts of IT through to bottom-up citizen-led, grassroots initiatives. Drawing on Dan Hill’s Manifesto for Smart Citizens (a city can only be as smart as it’s citizens, right?), we discussed the complexities and tensions between these ‘extremes’. Most importantly, we asked “what will the PLE of the future, in smart/future cities, look like? What about the idea of the whole city as a PLE?”

My co-presenters were Max Schleser and Dan Wagner, two awesomely creative people with whom I’ve been working for the past 3 years on a range of mobile/PLE-driven projects, bringing together students across the world to make short films on topics including global sustainability. Dan and Max are both based in New Zealand, although Max is from Germany originally and Dan is from LA. They are amazing to work with and they were amazing in the unkeynote – both joined via Google hangout and spoke about global collaborations such as 24 Frames 24 Hours (a constantly evolving film ethnography where participants across the globe contribute 2 minute mobile films representing their life/day/city), and ELVSS (which I wrote about here last year – and there’s more to come as this year’s project pushed the boundaries even more… yes, we ‘gone done’ a visual opera backdrop with over 100 students from New Zealand, France, Colombia and the UK), sharing their thoughts on mobile PLEs and the potential for connecting people across the world through co-creation.

We then invited the audience to contribute 15 second clips on THEIR ideas in relation to future PLEs using instagram along with the conference hashtag #PLEconf13films. Yes, we actually tried to make a film DURING a keynote (I’m still in the no man’s land between ‘never again’ and ‘I can’t wait to do that again’ i.e. slightly shellshocked). If you go to this URL http://web.stagram.com/tag/pleconf13film/?vm=grid you should be able to view the short videos as they come in. This is a living, connected, mobile film project. We have just over 24 hours to produce a short film composed of multiple clips from people across the globe – so we’re really hoping that our friends at the Australian #PLEconf will also contribute! We’re looking for either a) abstract shots relating to PLEs/future cities, or b) 15 second (max) talking head videos responding to the following question:

What do you think our learning environments will look like in the cities of the future? What will we use them for?

We also have a Google doc set up here http://bit.ly/11B92HM for crowdsourcing general thoughts and ideas, so if anybody would rather contribute to that (or even, as well as a video clip) then please do so! We’d love to end the conference with a manifesto of sorts – alongside a really cool short film starring YOU!

So thanks again #PLEconf for giving us the opportunity to experiment with a connected, collaborative, (un)keynote idea that was technically challenging, chaotic, and slightly scary at times – it was rather ambitious, but I’m hoping that tomorrow we’ll (and when I say WE, I mean ALL OF US!) look at the outputs and think ‘damn, we managed to produce something pretty special’. Judging by the contributions so far, I think we stand a good chance…

#PLEconf? We’re ALL the PLE Conference! Let’s make it happen 🙂

 

*a few unanticipated technical glitches 😉

alt.media : Create to Engage

Today I presented an Open Media/Creative Activism seminar at the University of Coventry. It was great to finally meet the team behind some of the most intriguing and innovative open courses in the UK, including #phonar, #creativeact, and #picbod.

Here are the slides/abstract for the talk:

ABSTRACT: “I will describe the use of alt.media to create learning experiences for undergraduate and postgraduate cohorts in a transdisciplinary context. Exploring themes around identity, creativity, engagement, remix culture, spreadable media and curiosity, I will present a series of projects which centre on open educational practices where formal education and informal learning practices collide, subverting traditional methods through folk creativity, identity play, performance and transmedia intertextuality. Following Jenkins et. al. (2013) in their critique of the notion of ‘virality’, and developing ideas around ‘spreadability’, I will highlight our use and exploration of memes and remix culture through open production practices and crowdsourced research. I will also present an experiment in Alternate Reality Gaming to introduce mystery and intrigue into the curriculum, raising questions around produsage, identity play, and hoaxes online. Through highlighting a range of practices, many of which resonate strongly with open media and creative activism, I will encourage participants to consider everyday creativity, audience engagement and media production, consumption and critique.”

Thanks to everybody for coming along, and also to Dave Kernohan (JISC) for making the initial introductions last year. It’s always a pleasure to connect with kindred spirits in an increasingly chaotic space – and we’re already thinking about ways to connect Coventry/Salford students for some creative excursions into digital cultures… should be fun!

Aaron Koblin: Artfully visualizing our humanity

“An interface can be a powerful narrative device. And as we collect more and more personally and socially relevant data, we have an opportunity, and maybe even an obligation, to maintain [our] humanity and tell some amazing stories.” (Aaron Koblin)

Not sure how I managed to miss this when it came online back in May 2011 – but thankfully came across it this weekend: a brilliant presentation from the artist Aaron Koblin, who specialises in data and digital technologies, using real-world and community-generated data. You may be familiar with his work from The Johnny Cash Project and the Wilderness Downtown music video. In this talk, he presents these along with other projects – all stunning examples of crowdsourcing, collaboration and visualisation. If you haven’t seen it already, it’s definitely worth checking out.

A new academic year: global, connected, creative – and not (quite) a MOOC

So, teaching starts next week – and yes, I’m excited. Been working on a new MSc module that will essentially be more of a class research project looking based around Spreadable Media (challenging the notion of ‘virality’ following Henry Jenkins et. al.). I think it could be a great way to be both hands-on creative and scholarly in approach, and for learners to develop a really deep understanding of networks, audience, culture – and of course, the social web.

However, semester 2 is going to be full-on in terms of teaching. I’ll have around 100 students on the Social Tech module, and there are so many things I want to do, amazing connections and projects to pursue – old and new – and it’s really exciting but also rather overwhelming. Having to wave goodbye to the possibility of being able to regularly engage with, and comment on, student blogs is quite a wrench (although in all honesty, following 70+ last semester really stretched me to the max…).

SO, I want to carry on developing our current model-which-has-no-name. I’m not sure what it is – it’s not a MOOC, but it’s certainly pretty open, multi-disciplinary, multi-level and networked, and builds on existing communities of practice and the mentoring that has emerged over the past 6 years (staff and ex-students -> current students). Most importantly, it’s creative, occasionally anarchic and relatively ad hoc (it would be wrong to not give a shout out to #ds106 at this point – #DS106!) – which is probably the best way to describe the way things work with our Social Tech modules…

For the past couple of years I’ve been working with @thomcochrane @mediendidaktik @marett @MaxMobile and a whole host of other people around the globe in a community of practice where we’ve had our students working together on creative social tech projects that cross disciplines, levels, time and space. I wrote about one of them here. However, to work on several international collaborations (which are essentially modules in themselves) at one time with 100 learners – hmm. Quite the challenge, unless I change the way I do things…

One of the difficulties when working on these types of projects is not so much navigating the timezones (although very early-morning/late-night hangouts when working on a few of these projects at a time does lead to a sensation of permanent jetlag…), but the staggered semester dates. However, we’ve decided to re-frame this, and so we’re now looking at the ‘tag-team model’ of education: the projects never end, as there is always a cohort to carry on, and lead into the next group, and when they overlap that’s great – that’s where the genuine collaboration happens.

I was recently most heartened to read about Anne Balsamo’s new DOCC: (Distributed Online Collaborative Course) – a project that ‘uses technology to enable interdisciplinary and international conversation while privileging situated diversity and networked agency.’ I’m a huge fan of Anne’s work (reviewed her book ‘Designing Culture’ last year, and have been recommending it to anybody with ANY kind of interest in interdisciplinarity ever since). This is the kind of model that I’m moving towards – globally connected, but with each cohort grounded with their respective institution (accreditation, QA, etc. etc.)

Alongside this, one of the (many) magical moments of 2012 was when some students who weren’t involved in ELVSS (the international mobile film collaborations) approached me at the end of July (yes, the SUMMER HOLIDAYS) with a brilliant idea for a film which required them to be paired up with ELVSS students in New Zealand – they set up a Google Doc, threw ideas around, and filming will start soon. Bear in mind, this is purely interest/passion-driven, nothing to do with an assessed module, but a genuine desire to create with people across the globe. This is the way I want things to go.

Traditionally, we deliver modules/courses, neatly chunked into 12 weeks, with units of assessment, leading to grades etc. and that’s the way things are (generally) done. I’m not saying scrap all of that, but I do think that modules are best served as springboards to other things. Increasingly, students are connecting across levels and cohorts through Twitter and now we have ex-students getting together with current students, undergrads coming to postgrad classes (and vice versa) as they’ve connected online and have a genuine interest in getting involved in other groups/further curricula outside of their taught modules (must give another shout-out to @ugfl and @watersidestudio at this point!). Obviously hashtags play a huge role in developing connections in this learning ecosystem, but it’s this move towards interest-driven projects, facilitated by network connections that really excites me.

So, the final – possibly serendipitous – piece of jigsaw (time will tell) was tonight’s Google Hangout with @courosa, @cogdog and others to talk about the #etmooc that Alec wants to set-up/explore. This was an initial meeting where we threw ideas around, and I must say it was great meeting Lenandlar Singh, who is a MOOC aficionado (as a student) and getting his perspective, alongside Valeria Lopes and @seani – always great to meet new people ☺.

Whether or not this goes anywhere (i’m sure Alec will make it work – he’s the ultimate networked teacher – i’m just not sure i’ll be able to be involved long-term due to all these other projects), it was a great convo, and I went away feeling excited by the possibilities of developing MOOC-like initiatives that aren’t really MOOCs – which is when we started talking about ‘un-moocs’. Alec went straight off and registered several ‘unmooc’ domains, and it all feels rather exciting…

Increasingly, educators are connecting; networks grow and overlap; we’re connecting diverse groups of students across the globe through both ad-hoc informal projects, and more formal approaches where they are assessed/accredited by their own institutions while working together on a common brief. It’s exciting and potentially rather messy.

I’d really love to know what you think – is it practical? How to cope with multiple projects where (for example) G+ hangouts at all hours of day and night are integral to the experience? Should we set up an informal ‘swap shop’ where our students can take courses from elsewhere, but are assessed from their home institution? For instance, I can easily imagine some kind of ‘virtual exchange’ with #ds106. But the burning question for me is: what the hell is this, and does it even need to have a name?

MIT Media Lab: The Principles

Loved this morning’s energetic and inspiring keynote from Joichi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab at the NMC Conference (see the blur in this pic? that’s energy, right there… hehe):
Here's @Joi in action at #nmc12

You can watch the whole thing here on iTunesU. Here are THE PRINCIPLES that got us all fired up and will no doubt appeal to anybody with a rebellious streak 😉

RESILIENCE instead of strength

PULL instead of push

RISK instead of safety

SYSTEMS instead of objects

COMPASSES instead of maps

PRACTICE instead of theory

DISOBEDIENCE instead of compliance

CROWDS instead of experts

LEARNING instead of education

Learning through frustration – ELVSS12

We bring you… Entertainment Lab for the Very Small Screen

I love this project. I feel very lucky to be part of a committed team, working on something that is not funded – a genuine Community of Practice where our passion for mobile filmmaking has brought us together in an international collaboration which spans disciplines, levels… and timezones.

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