Futures of Entertainment 2012 – #FoE6

audiences : culture : curation : spread : content : creation : innovation : activism : slactivism : remix : production : storytelling : engagement : copyright : collaboration

These are the words that I highlighted on the programme for this year’s Futures of Entertainment conference at MIT, from which I’ve just returned. I actually did this on the outbound flight, using a pen, on a paper programme. Obviously these would have been hashtags had there been wifi on the flight (and no, I’m not complaining).

Looking back at these tags now, I can safely say it more than lived up to expectations. Launched 6 years ago through the Convergence Culture Consortium and Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT, Futures of Entertainment brings together leading media scholars and industry practitioners for an intensive 2-day programme of panels and debates focused on media and audiences. The blend of academics and digital media types is invigorating – not interdisciplinary in the strictest sense, but the mix in background/focus certainly leads to a uniquely rich and inspirational event. Always a stellar line-up, Futures of Entertainment is a real melting pot of digital media/audience/fandom/participatory culture researchers and practitioners.

This was the first time I’ve attended, although as I’ve followed past proceedings online I knew it would be a great experience. The reason I had to attend this year is that I’m working with both undergrad and postgrad students on a series of projects based around ‘spreadable media’. ‘Spreadability’ was the buzz-concept of FoE5, and I think it’s a brilliant and welcome challenge to the tired and misleading ‘viral’ metaphor. From a pedagogical perspective it’s incredibly rich as not only is there potential for all kinds of creativity in terms of learners producing artefacts, but also there’s real scope for critical thinking and theoretical developments around content, audiences, agency and networks. Gold dust as far as digital media literacies are concerned, therefore this was pure personal learning/development rather than a speaking gig – a welcome respite as I was able to immerse myself in everybody else’s thoughts and words rather than worrying too much about my own. I do believe that it’s crucial to keep abreast of what’s happening ‘out there’ in order to keep developing relevant, transmedia pedagogies, and I often find that I get the most of out conferences that aren’t necessarily focused on learning as it encourages me to contemplate, and frame, things differently.

Anyway, on to the conference… the standout sessions (for me) were:

Maria Popova and Joshua Green in a brilliant one-to-one conversation around The Ethics and Politics of Curation in a Spreadable Media World. This was an energetic and passionate discussion much of which focused on the definition of curation and the role of the curator i.e. semantics and power relations. Being a fan of brainpickings.org I knew this would be interesting, but both Maria and Joshua were so incredibly incisive in the way that they challenged one another and this was one of those sessions where one hour feels like ten minutes. Seriously good stuff.

Another standout session was Curing the Shiny New Object Syndrome: Strategy Vs. Hype When Using New Technologies. The panellists were Todd Cunningham, Jason Falls, Eden Medina, David Polinchock, Mansi Poddar, and it was brilliantly moderated by Ben Malbon from Google Creative Lab. The discussion was a great mix of laughs, scholarly musings and industry insights on innovation and I loved how @edenmedina brought a more academic slant to proceedings. While there was much talk of SNOS (Shiny New Object Syndrome), they also explored the fetishisation of failure and the problems of assuming that what works in one culture can be easily transported elsewhere – which led to the important point that for all our talk of the importance of being able to fail and not fearing failure, that failure is indeed a privilege.

I also loved the session From Participatory Culture to Political Participation. The panellists here were Sasha Costanza-Chock, Dorian Electra (new to me, and I was instantly blown away by her Economics music videos on YouTube), Lauren Bird from the Harry Potter Alliance (was already a fan of Lauren’s as I’ve known about her work for a while, and Bassam Tariq, the co-creator of 30 Mosques in 30 Days. Again the moderation was excellent thanks to Sangita Shresthova. This session was fascinating due to the conversation around activism and using fandom and fan practices to highlight issues, awareness and encourage action. However, what I found most interesting was the reluctance of the three (Dorian, Lauren and Bassam) to define themselves as political or as activist, leading the audience to question whether there was some kind of generational shift (very mixed views from the crowd as to whether their reluctance to define themselves as political or as activist was a help or a hindrance).

Finally, another session which remains deeply embedded in my mind (although not for the same reasons) was the panel on Rethinking Copyright, with T Bone Burnett, Henry Jenkins and Jonathan Taplin. Burnett and Taplin put forward the classic ‘music industry’ viewpoint, which wasn’t shared by the audience. This would be an interesting session to relive through both the first and second screen. Voices were raised and tensions were rising (although Henry stayed calm and reasonable throughout). The Twitter backchannel was going crazy, but kudos to Sasha Costanza-Chock for standing up on several occasions to offer well-informed perspectives on alternative revenue/licensing models – and also to the guy who stood up to admit that he was the one who closed down Napster. This was a pretty intense session, to say the least…

I’ve just chosen a few highlights here, but I urge you to watch the all the videos on www.convergenceculture.org when they become available. Rachel Clarke did a brilliant job of live blogging each session, while @huey pulled together tweets in Storify which also offer a neat perspective. My usual low-grade instagram pics are here, while there are much better pictures here.

While FoE brings together media scholars and industry practitioners who share the same passions around content, audience and participation, the diverse perspectives on topics such as copyright or activism (and the generational, political, or financial motivations) meant that this conference couldn’t be anything but thought-provoking and invigorating. At times, I found myself nodding vigorously at speakers who used particular terminologies/frame of reference, while I’d have an equally visceral (negative) reaction towards the few who spoke in marketing language and yet they were talking about the same phenomena. Terminology and meaning, ontologies and epistemologies… it was fascinating to reflect on what was being said from different perspectives, and what our choice of language says about us. The great thing about Futures of Entertainment is that it’s the kind of environment where you can say “oh, I’d say xxxxxxx to describe that” and there’s no jostling for position of battles of ownership, just insightful and positive dialogue. However, while we all might have been talking about the same things, jargon does matter. As @henryjenkins tweeted during a particularly lively debate: “it is NEVER just jargon!”.

Thank you, Futures of Entertainment 2012.

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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?

How to (IT) support a Pedagogy of Chaos?

Into the Wild: Embracing the Anarchy

View more presentations from Helen Keegan

I’m delighted to be here to present today’s closing plenary at the UCISA Support Services Conference ‘Great Expectations’, which this year is held at the stunning Crewe Hall. In all honesty I was surprised (and very honoured) to be invited, as I’m basically an IT Support person’s worst nightmare (well at least, that’s what I’ve been told 😉 ). However, it’s been great to meet people who are doing brilliant things and working tirelessly to support students and staff in the use of technologies – even if some of the terminology (e.g. delivering services to customers) sends a shiver down my spine. I’m pretty sure some of the stuff I’ll be talking about will make people feel equally uncomfortable.

Preparing for this, and learning about the views of the IT support community, have made me realise that I’m gradually developing a pedagogy of chaos. It’s gone from learning through paranoia, through to learning through frustration… and now this. Having spent time away from my like-minded PLN I’m reflecting on my practice from an IT support POV and realising that in many ways it’s completely unmanaged and unmanageable. We often don’t know what’s happening from one week to the next, what devices/platforms we’ll use – they’re often learner-driven and/or negotiated… along with the curriculum and the assessment. Students are pretty much free to use whatever they want, as long as they take responsibility for that particular tool/platform/programming language.

As an example, in a recent project we had students from the UK, ES, NZ and DE working across levels, disciplines and timezones to produce transmedia reports for one another. Not only was it just-in-time learning, it was just-in-time curriculum planning with the respective tutors meeting up via Google hangouts the night before classes to plan activities which would work for everybody. Each country/group of learners used different sets of tools, and none of us knew every tool. I probably only mastered around 6 or 7 – they used approx. 40 in total. Students found tools they thought looked interesting and learnt about them and presented them to one another. This meant that there was always a resident expert in whatever tool. Nobody complained because the tutors didn’t know all the tools. They produced creative reports which spanned multiple platforms, and we all learnt from one another in a global Community of Practice.

As lecturers, we have the luxury of being able to engage in daily/weekly dialogue with our learners. We can talk honestly and openly, levelling out the power relationship, becoming co-learners alongside our students, the result being that when we don’t know how to use a certain tool they’re pretty cool about it. We’re working from the ground up.

For IT services staff, it’s largely driven from the top-down, with increasing pressure to ‘deliver enhanced services’. However, IT support staff can’t be expected to learn/support every tool/platform/app that appears – most of them don’t stay around for more than a couple of years before they either a) collapse, or b) something better comes along. We can’t expect IT services staff to support everything – but what I HAVE found is that learners love to share their expertise with one another, and there’s generally at least 1 ‘expert’ user of any tool in an institution.

At the risk of sound all ‘Big Society’ (shoot me now…), I do think there’s a place for resident student IT/app experts – in whatever platform comes along this week/month (and dies as quickly) – alongside centralised IT support for the ‘big stuff’. Some kind of accreditation would be great for students, along the lines of Mozilla Badges perhaps? Anything which shows that they’ve shared their knowledge with the wider community.

So that’s it really. I’ll be interested to hear from the UCISA crowd, see what they think about this. It’s something I’d definitely like to see happening at Salford – random, ad hoc, user support groups as devices and platforms emerge. It often happens informally already through Twitter, Facebook etc. – but by recognising/rewarding, there would be less pressure on IT services, more kudos to learners and their interests/skills.

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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Running a module as an ARG a.k.a. The Rufi Franzen Mystery

So the secret’s out. We’ve had the Big Reveal.

#psvtam (otherwise know as the BSc Professional Sound and Video Technology, Advanced Multimedia module) was a game – an alternate reality game.

A game that took so many unanticipated twists and turns that I’m still trying to process everything. For the past 48 hours I’ve been replaying the past 3 months in my mind, thinking about every clue, red-herring, reaction… wow. Continue reading