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The stunning story of a First World War Tank crew

Fig. 1 Episode 3 of ‘Our World War’

There are many reasons to watch this 45 minute drama made by BBC Documentaries:

1) It is a gripping piece of entertainment that incorporates modern music to help evoke the feelings and tone.

2) The sense of what it meant to take part in this conflict to Britain then, and today, is palpable

3) For a piece of screen writing I can think of little that is so sharp, so succinct, so remarkable …

4) You don’t think of it as a documentary. This isn’t docu-drama, so much as drama that seamlessly includes a few animated maps and subtitles as does many a movie or TV series these days

5) You too will be recommending that people watch it.

6) The series so far is excellent, this episode stands out as brilliant – I was left weeping in sadness and joy, while reflecting the violent conflict, though not on this scale, is still very much a contemporary issue.

7) You have this week to watch it. (What seems to happen then is that towards the end of the series it will be offered as a DVD)

The Weather Machine and the Threat of Ice – when in the 1970s a new ice age threatened!

Nigel Calder presented a ‘popular’ BBC series in the early 1970s which warned not of climate change … but of the threat of another ice age. The TV series was way over my head but took my interest in physical geography to another level – I did a school project on glaciation in the Eden Valley, Westmoreland (as then was) and studied the subject at university.Weather still fascinates. I would hope that a series like ‘The Frozen Planet’ informs and motivates another generation of geographers. Can we all pinpoint a person, book, TV series, event of movie that galvinized and sustained our interest? What are the ‘events’ that stimulate students in the 21st century? Avatar? Breaking Bad? How do ‘traditional’ methods of teaching compete? Should they? Ought the partnership between school and home, between students and parents, students and their immediate community be better developed? Ironic that we can be connected to someone across the globe, but not know a neighbour. Our connections some would argue are no greater – there’s a limited capacity on how many ‘friends’ we can have – they are just likely to spread further afield.

How long should a video be? A bit like saying should a book have one page or a thousand?

Fig. 1. Fighting for his life – part of a corporate training series aimed at the emergency services and utility companies to create greater understanding of the need to report incidents as they occur.

Some times 10 seconds is too long for a video – while ten hours doesn’t even start to do justice to the speaker or theme.

I wouldn’t give extreme views the time of day, on the other hand, I would listen to everything Mandela had to say for hours. Horses for courses.

Stats lie – they certainly require interpretation.

Is a minute or ten minutes of video too much or too little? When do people turn off or tune in to a piece of AV, whether a movie, TV show, video or slide show mocked-up in PowerPoint? ‘Death by PowerPoint start for me in this first second.

Research from the Open University shows that people decide whether to continue watching a piece of video in under 35 seconds. This is not the same as a 45 minute lecture from an expert that is required as part of a formal course – though there should always be a transcript. Personally I work between the two and replay if there is something important.

Who needs the research? You can tell intuitively if what you are about to see is of interest or not?

My 35 seconds video? A party balloon is blown up by someone with breathing difficulties. The words on the balloon gradually appear – ‘The Cost of Asthma’ – the professionally composed and performed music tugs at the heart strings and a professional broadcaster says some pithy words.

My 35 hour video?

Interviews with some if the greatest thinkers alive in the planet today. Vitally, especially online, as producers we offer what is a smorgasbord – the viewer decides what to put in their plate and whether to eat it – and whether to stuff it down or take it in bite-sized pieces.

You had might was well ask ‘how many pages should there be in a book?’ or ‘how many posts in a blog?’ It depends on many things: context, budget, goal, resources, subject matter, audience, platform, shelf-life …

Production Experience

As a Producer, Director and Writer working in corporate communications Jonathan has amassed substantial experience co-ordinating and leading all kinds of projects for Government and Blue Chip clients in the UK and France.

Skills & experience embrace video, interactive CD & DVD, live TV and Live events, websites, webinars and social media. Jonathan has cast and directed actors, reconstructed bank robberies and car accidents, shot multi-camera in studios and live on location, even from helicopters, inside the Sheer Cave of a nuclear power plant and at Paris Fashion shows. He has moderated and developed substantial social media networks too. He has attended and spoken at global events, including the World Education Market, while pitching projects at Cannes & NABS.

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Productions include short film ‘Listening in’ which was bought by Channel 4.

Jonathan has produced, written &/or directed projects for production houses and agencies, Jacaranda, Talkback, TVL, BBS, 2Cs, Complete Communications, Chancery Communications, The Post Office Film Unit, Final Touch, Imagicians, Robson Brown and the Open University.

In the Financial Sector (for city PR companies, the FT, investment banks, clearing banks and city lawyers).

Celebrating 25 years in video production

 

How I presented myself to clients in France when I was working for French news agencies, animation houses, broadcasters and corporate producers. Once again actively seeking to blend video production with communications and learning.

The medium is the message – Marshall McLuhan

I struggle with McLuhan‘s point of view  because it can be argued in many ways: is he saying that the message is controlled by the affordances of the medium or by the people running the shows? Or both?

And in plenty of country’s the medium was/is state controlled.

While in the US it is controlled by the advertisers. TV lends itself to a certain form of expression; historically there have been and are producers who create TV magic and get the format right, though there are plenty of experiments too that kick against what is possible and an audience will tolerate.

A shift to YouTube is fascinating.

I watched the Japanese Disaster‘s play out live, first on BBC 24hr News, then CNN, then best of all Japanese TV with English voice over NHK all on Freeview. I thought, having sat through IRA bombs and 9/11 that these feeds were the best source … the closes to being there. My son was getting this on YouTube directly from people’s SmartPhones ‘on the ground’. For the Libyan crisis I am taking Twitter Feeds and watching Al Jexera.

The point I feel is that each medium offers different possibilities: print, radio, TV and now online.

Everyone is their own producer/director if uploading from a Flip camera or SmartPhone. However, artists will come through. Within the communities that we become a part of there will be someone who is more informed, better at expressing themselves or exploiting the platform. Watching a documentary on Japan my son curses the amateur video producers for not keeping the camera still as vast quantities of water smash into buildings and boats. Not meaning to be flippant but he’s probably learning why locked off shots, from a tripod, work better.

From a learning point of view we are ‘there,’ the internet to a greater degree than print, radio or TV ‘puts us on the spot.

Is this not closer to reality, to being physically present, which is how historically (35,000 of human kind) we have learnt? By observation, participation and collaboration? Through mistakes and successes?

 

The message is the word, never the Medium

Marshall McLuhan was talking twaddle in the 1970s (just as we know now that everything Freud said about dreams was wrong

I disagree with the premise that  ‘The medium is the message’ or ever was.

The Word wasn’t the book … but the work, to think of it in terms of Bibles being printed 500 years ago. We have an inclination to hyperbole, today was we go all Internet, just as McLuhan did over TV. And every generation does whether its the train, car, telegraph, telephone or TV, pages, video-games or Smart-phones. Perhaps it is human-nature to crave and celebrate ‘advancement’ and ‘invention.’

The typo of message as ‘massage’ is apocryphal surely?

It was a time of social confusion … because everyone of McLuhan generation and cohort were taking LSD weren’t they?.

McLuhan is an elusive character best understood for the thoughts he provoked rather than as the source of a consistent and coherent body of ideas. He sound likes Marc Prensky of ‘Digital Natives’ infamy or Douglas Coupland and ‘Generation X’ now reborn as ‘Generation Y’ which I’d like to call ‘Generation Why not?’

‘The surge towards the future‘ (a hackneyed phrase) is not just associated with new digital technologies, such as Web 2.0. The ocean analogies continue with the ‘wave of analogue mass communications symbolised by television and the shrinking of the world into what McLuhan named ‘the global village’.’ Indeed, though more so than the 1970s the events of the last few days surely make us feel like a global village. I’ve switched from CNN to NHK a Japanese Channel that has a simultaneous feed in English … it could be local news. It is local news if we are thinking in terms of a global village. It has taken forty years to come about. TV takes the images from SmartPhones … though the Internet is getting much of this too.

Speaking Freely, hosted by Edwin Newman4 January 1971 by PBS-TV in the USA.

Transcript

People suddenly want to be involved in more dynamic patterns.

If this was what was felt in 1971, why is it still the mantra today? It is wishful thinking. Of course people want things packaged. They want to be spoon fed, from several sources. They are greedy for the choices of packages …

I disagree, consumers were being empowered, whether they were influenced by advertising or not (they were), they were not the less making choices.

Intriguing that we want the audience to be the producer, but only in so much as the producer interprets what they want then package it as a TV show.

Instant replay isn’t participation.

It is editing, then playing back in slow motion. This any other trick is firmly at the fingertips of the producer and in 1971 that of the Gallery Vision Mixer.

Commentators cannot help but reflect publicly on what so many quickly accept as the norm, the younger the audience, the more likely they are to consider it the normal modus operandi.

I thought watching CNN coverage 24/7 of the Japanese earthquake had me ‘there.’

I kept inviting my 12 year old son who was watching better footage free of the CNN ads on YouTube. Different generations, different means of consumption.

Old World, New World; His World, My World.

Watching how CNN collated the edited the material looking for the highlights was interesting. How they pimped it up into the mother of all trailers for news on the event touched on the distasteful, treating the event like a series of events from the American Football Series along with graphics, EFX and music. The events in Japan constantly interlaced with adverts … many of them tourist destinations such as Turkey. Incongruent.

If the medium is the message then I’m tired of the message that comes from TV if news like the Japanese earthquakes has to be packaged with such incensitivity and commercialisation. Shame on CNN.

I’d no longer think of editing TV as an artistic process as putting the car into gear at the traffic lights.

In the US they allowed the sponsors to alter their Football game, an idea that never caught on in the old world. A soccer game of four quarters? It isn’t water-polo.

Hints at what we have with SmartPhones, though people are as likely to be watching the news, a cartoon series, a movie or their favourite music.

I simply don’t accept, as someone at school in the 1970s, that at any stage students thought they were gaining control or wanted to participation in the production of learning process.

Things are packaged by those who know better for a reason – they know better, they are supposed to be the teachers, supposed to be the subject matter experts, supposed to be, and can be the only ones who know their audience, their class and can respond accordingly.

Sesame Street does show ‘the entire learning process in action and in the best advertising style’. Advertising works, or they wouldn’t do it. People are persuaded … and people can be persuaded to learn. I wonder what Marshall McLuhan would make of ‘In the Night Garden’ and the ‘Teletubbies’ – learning as entertainment, that is engaging and vicarious rather than the teachery/evangelically and now very dated Sesame Street.

We like to listen, laugh at or be taken in by commentators like Marshall McLuhan, with have our own generation, who get themselves known, on TV, publishing books. I even help them by mentioning their names, from Malcolm Galdwell to Marc Prensky, they are the Athenian Oracle. We should learn to dismiss what they have to say, rather than accept it, to look at the facts … and if there aren’t any to go and do some research so we understand what is actually happening, not what we would like to happen or think is happening.

 

Could Africa take the lead in learner-centred pedagogies using SmartPhones?

Looking at the development of e-learning in developing countries it is not surprising to find issues regarding traditional, conservative approaches to teaching and technological/cost issues regarding the introduction of ICT based learning. Having looked at examples from around the world, in Europe (Denmark, France, UK), Africa (Malawi), the Middle-east (Kuwait) and beyond (Nepal, Bhutan) I ask myself why isn’t the middle ground being considered.

I’ve not read anywhere a call for BOTH systems, to mix and match traditional teacher-centred, top-down learning with, the l ‘must haves’ from a state/society point of view with the learner-centric learning that engenders greater buy in. Nor do I see enough about the different psychological maturity of students as they come up through secondary and tertiary education. Surely it is a case of ‘freeing up’ the choice for ‘learner-centred’ learning as the individual matures? What is more, it is clear, certainly in Africa, that the adoption of the mobile phone has leap-frogged over wiring in networks and desktops. However, teaching in text is not the same as a 3G SmartPhone, though potentially even e-reader functionality with Open Educational Resources would overcome many of the most significant, current problems.

In brief, I’ve looked at Bhutan and Nepal in comparison to the enlightening and encouraging successes in Malawi.

BHUTAN

The Royal University of Bhutan has been established for 2 years. In some respect it is like the University of the Highlands in the UK, but students have to relocate so that they can study their chosen subject as they have no online technology beyond email exchange.

The issues in relation to introducing new teaching methods and technology include:

• sceptical of distance learning
• not used to the Western values of :
• +curiosity
• +rationality
• +creative approaches to learning.

The response to this should be to:

• Experiment with web-based solutions and wireless Internet.
• Nurture progressive and open education within the limits of the technology.

NEPAL

95% students attend Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu which has been established for 50 years. 89% of the population lives in villages with only 2% attending higher education.

Like Bhutan teaching methods are conservative with memorisation and exams. (Instructivist) and they:

• Can’t see worth of the degree.
• Scepticism
• Poor internet.

The response to this has been to:

Experimenting with video links and wireless Internet.

In contrast, in Africa, the University of Malawi has tackled the inherent problems of geography, demand, traditional teaching methods and poor resourcing with a willingness to try new things, championed by the Vice Principal (even if some of the rest of the senior management are negative). The result has seen a successfully adaption of more learner-centred approaches to teaching mid-wifery and agriculture, with more use of CDRom than unreliable internet and digitised Open Educational Resources to overcome copyright issues and handling/storing/lending textbooks.

The University of Malawi UNIMA was established on independence in (1964). It has four colleges and a polytechnic. Demand for places has grown whilst access to physical and human resources is fixed for example, in 2009, 5,600 sat the exam for 1,152 places,

PROBLEMS INCLUDE

• A quota for spatial diversity (and its legal validity/value)
• Inadequate supply of copyrighted textbook leading to demand on reserve section of libraries and old books being rebound many times

RESPONSE

• Use of Open Education Resources
(OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or released under a copyright licence that permits their use and or re-purposing by others).

‘To include full courses, course readings, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge’. (The Use of Open Education Resources at the University of Malawi (UNIMA)p2

• train staff so they can exploit e-learning strategies
• overcome problems related to large class size
• provide students access to affordable, quality learning resources. (ibid p2)

COLLEGE OF NURSING

Develop a course that would move students away from having a purely theoretical knowledge to being able to apply their skills and knowledge clinically.

• Aim for one third theory and two thirds practical skills
• Incorporate a problem-based learning (PBL) approach.

OVERCOMING PROBLEMS

• Support to teach in a different way.
• Minimised any dependency on connectivity by using CDROMs

KEY CHANGE IN PEDAGOGY

‘The final product included an orientation section, which introduced the PBL methodology and spelled out how student involvement was different from traditional learning methods’. (ibid p6)

PROBLEMS WITH CHANGE

Piloted in February 2010, the midwifery learning environment generated a high level of interest among students.

Uptake in using the materials was slow as staff and students had to adapt to a different methodology of teaching and learning. However, a second piloting of the course occurred between June and August 2010 with a group of midwifery diploma students.

‘Integrating the PBL methodology might take some time, but there is growing consensus at KCN that using OER is a cost-effective way of creating high quality teaching and learning materials’. (ibid p6)

However, problems with Internet connectivity often made access difficult. (ibid p7)

BUNDA COLLEGE OFAGRICULTURE

• A series of writing workshops facilitated by OER Africa/IADP assisted
• BCA staff to source, analyse, and adapt a variety of existing
• OER to help craft the textbook.

Products and Outcomes

While it initially proved difficult to wean the writing team off their familiar copyrighted texts, the BCA team felt afterwards that there is a role for OER in the production of university texts.

ISSUES

• Time to search for and developed OER
• Bandwidth at the college inadequate
• Lack of senior management buy in
• Lack of funding

SUCCESS DUE TO:

• Champion for ICT in Dr Emmanuel Fabiano
• Willingness to experiment and build on lessons learned
• Project funders OSISA, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Ford Foundation.

REFERENCE:

The Use of Open Education Resources at the University of Malawi (UNIMA) 2009
Author/researcher: Andrew Moore & Donna Preston. Editor: Neil Butcher & Lindsay Barnes

Eating three kinds of humble pie regarding reading lists, dated reports and participation online (and the use of cliched corporate expressions)

Eating humble pie


At various times over the last 12 months I have knocked the MAODE because of the amount of reading required, particularly in H808 ‘Innovations in e-learning’, where it rankled to read reports that felt out of date or books of the last century, and across the modules for the lack of examples of ‘innovations in e-learning,’, as if the MAODE should exploit the students by sending through the online hoops the equivalent of a performance in a Cirque du Soleil show.

I take it back:

I eat humble pie for and offer three reasons:

1. Reading works

2. The earliest investigations on things we now consider common place and highly revealing

3. Bells and whistles may have no tune Reading works, though it is unnecessary to have the books in your hand, or to print of the reports.

I’ve done both, starting the MAODE or ODL as it was called in 2001, I had a box of books delivered to the door (I have many of these still).

Picking it up again in 2010 with H807 ‘Innovations in e-learning’ for want of an e-reader or adequate computer I found myself printing everything off – it unnecessarily fills eight large arch-level files (where if kept for a decade, they may remain).

There is value in printing things off

Whilst some links and too many follow up references from books and reports read in H807 were broken, I have the links and reports I downloaded and printed off in 2001.

One of these, exactly the kind of document I would have rejected in 2010 as dated, was written in 1992.

What is more, this paper addresses something that one would imagine would need a modern perspective to be of interest, the subject is the value of networking – what we’d call online collaboration or participation today.

The earliest investigations reveal the inspiration at a time when there were few options.

One the one hand I can go to the OU Library and type in ‘participation’ and ‘e-learning’ and be invited to read as PDFs a number of reports published in the last few months, on the other, I can go and see some of the earliest efforts to understand the possibilities and overcome the technical issues in order to try and recreate for distance learners what campus based students had all the time – the opportunity to meet and share ideas, the tutor group online, as it were.

See below

Computer Networking for Development of Distance Education Courses (1).

In my teens and helping out on video-based corporate training films I recall some advice from the Training Director of FIH PLC, Ron Ellis. It’s one of those irritating corporate communications acronyms:

‘Keep it Simple, Stupid’

(as it was, though as some now prefer)

‘Keep it short and simple’.

It’s a fascinating story and remarkably for Wikipedia were entries are often anything but, it is short and straightforward.

The points I am making are straight forward too.

1. Reading

2. Research and References

3. Simplicity

An e-reader is simple

The process is enhanced and highly tailored once the content you need to consume is in a device that is slimmer than a slim novella. The affordances of the e-reader mean you can do away with pen and paper (though not a power or USB cable).

My passion for reading, where the ‘Content is King’, which perhaps unnecessarily brings me back to Wikipedia.

What you read, and the fact that you read, matters more than its being in paper form, whether chained to a shelf in the Duke Humphrey’s Library, Oxford (Bodleian), or bubble-wrapped from Amazon, let alone printed off on reams of 80sgm from WHSmith, holes punched and the thing filed for delayed consumption.

Reading too, I realise, is the purest form of self-directed learning

Vygostky would approve.

You are offered a list of suggested titles and off you go.

Parameters help

It is too easy to read the irrelevant if your only guide is Google and it is just as easy to purchase or download a book that has the title, but whose author could at best be described as ‘popular’.

It may fell archaic and arcane to be presented with a reading list, but I recognise their value, if only as the maelstrom of digital information spins across your eyes you can focus.

It may require effort to skim read the abstracts and contents of 33 books and papers in order to extract three or four to read over a two week period (as required to do in May 2001 on the then ODL), but the method works:you get an overview of the topic, a sense of who the authors and institutions your ‘school’ considers of interest, and then motivated by making some choices yourself, you read.

This in itself is one reason to avoid Wikipedia

if everyone reads the same content, everyone is likely to draw the same conclusions.

In any case, my issue with Wikipedia is three-fold, entries are either too short, or too long and there is no sense of the reader, the audience, for whom they are written; at times it is childish, at others like reading a doctoral thesis.

Or am I missing the point?

it isn’t a book, not a set of encyclopedias, but a library, communal built, an organic thing where those motivated to contribute and who believe they have something to say, do so; though all the corporate PR pap should be firewalled out.

Either way, my ambition is for WikiTVia, in which the entire content of Wikipedia is put in front of the camera and shot as chunkable video clips.

Anyone fancy giving it a go?

I digress, which is apt.

If you have a reading list you are less likely to get lost

What is more, you will have something to say in common with your fellow pupils when you’re online.

It matters for a niche conversation to be ‘singing from the same hymn’ sheet which is NOT the same as singing the same tune.

(Aren’t I the one full of cliché and aphorisms this morning).

Which brings us to point three, and a theme for Week 2 of H800 ‘Technology-enhanced learning: practice and debates.’

A title I have just typed out for the first time and I initially read as ‘Technology-enhanced debates’ which could be the right way to think of it given an initial taste of Elluminate.

It doesn’t work and there seems to be little desire or interest to fix it.

Google take over please.

I’d liken my first Elluminate session to my first attempt (indeed all my attempts) to learn to row.

Think of the Isis, early November morning, eight Balliol Men kicked out of bed by 3rd year student Miss Cressida Dick to cycle down to the boathouse.

We varied in shape and size like the cast of a James Bond movie:

Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton, Jaws and Odd-Job, Scaramanger and Ros Klebb, Goldfinger and Dr. No.

Despite our coach Dick’s best intentions everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

Later that term on in our only race we were promptly ‘bumped’ and were out.

I wonder if the joint experience of Elluminate will find us bumping along discontentedly for the next few months?

My suggestion would to disembark to something simple, that works (as we did in H808)

Elluminate to Skype with Sync.in or Google.docs is the difference between crossing the English Channel on Pedalos, or sharing a compartment on the Eurostar.

Had this been a business meeting I may have said let’s email then pick up the phone and do a conference call that way.

If it had mattered and the journey was a matter of hours I may have said, hold it, let’s meet in a couple of hours.

What matters is achieving the outcome rather than trying to clamber on board a beach-side round-about on which the bells and whistles are falling off.

Reading, referencing and simplicity brings me to a paper we were expected to read in 2001.

Computer Networking for Development of Distance Education Courses (1) Tony Kaye.

Institute of Educational Technology

Downloaded 15/05/2001 http://www.icdl.open.ac.uk/mindewave/kaye.html

(Link broken and my searches thus far have not located a copy of this paper)


It was written in 1992.

(Until this week I baulked at reading anything pre Google, Facebook or Twitter. What, frankly is the point if none of these highly versatile, immediate forms of collaboration and communication online are not covered?)

This report is as relevant to synchronous and asynchronous collaborative online learning in 2011 as the earliest books coaching rowing.

The basic issues remain the same: the problem to solve, the goal and outcomes.

It’s relevance is like starting any conversation about the Internet with Tim Berners-Lee and CEARN.

In the paper, expert discuss the potential for computer support through local and wide-area networks for ‘work groups engaged in collaborative authoring tasks.’

You see, this, to keep it simple, is all we were trying to achieve on Elluminate, a ‘work group engaged in collaborative authoring tasks.’

Today we can hear and see each other, though the voice will do – and despite being so anachronistic, we can, presumable, all type on a QWERTY keyboard.

Courtesy of Cloud computing any other shared tool, from word, to spreadsheets, presentations, art pads and photo manipulation, we could choose to use from a plethora of readily available free choices.

‘it takes as a basic premise the need for a progressive co-evolution of roles, organisational structures, and technologies (Englebart and Lehtman, 1988), if technology is to be successfully used for group work.’

‘A summary of some of the main findings from studies of traditional (i.e. non technology-supported) course team activities is presented’.

This I consider important as it re-roots us in the very process we are trying to recreate online, a meeting between people, like or not-alike minds, with a common theme and goal.

This report was written for and about teams planning and writing distance teaching materials, however, as it points out,

‘many of the issues raised are relevant to other group collaboration and authoring tasks, such as planning and writing reports, research studies and books.’ Kaye (1992:01)

It makes fascinating reading, not least the comprehensive list of items that would have to be co-ordinate to create a distance learning ‘package,’ resplendent with diskette and C90 audio cassettes, 16 hours of TV and a 300 page course Reader.

Have things moved on?

Where’s our TV in MAODE?

I actually believed in 2001 I’d be getting up in the middle of the night to view lectures.

We don’t have lectures in the MAODE, why not?

It should not be a dying form.

The detail of designing, developing and producing a distance education package, though interesting in itself, is not what I’m looking for in this report, so much as how the teams used the then available technology in order to work together collaboratively online.

They had a task to undertake, a goal.

There were clear, agreed stages.

The emphasis on this report (or book chapter as it is sometimes referred to) are the ‘human factors’.


A wry smile crosses my face as I read about some of the problems that can arise (it sounds familiar):

  • Lack of consensus
  • Differing expectations Nature of roles and tasks ‘differences in the perceived trustworthiness of different colleagues’ [sic]
  • Different working patterns “Varying preferences in use of technology (which in this case include academics who use word-processors and who ‘draft in manuscript prior to word-processing by secretary” [sic]

Then some apt quotes regarding the process from this disparate group of individuals:

‘working by mutual adjustment rather than unitary consensus, bending and battering the system until it more or less fits’ (Martin, 1979)

‘If some course teams work smoothly, some collapse completely; if some deliver the goods on time, some are hopelessly late. Course teams can be likened to families/ Happy families do exist, but others fall apart when rebellious children leave home or when parents separate; most survive, but not without varying elements of antagonism and resentment.’ (Crick, 1980)

There is more

In microcosm it’s just the same on the MAODE.

I come to this conclusion after four or five ‘collaborative’ efforts with fellow students.

We’re human

We work together best of all face-to-face, with a real task, tight deadlines and defined roles, preferably after a meal together, and by way of example, putting on a university play would be an example of this.

Recreating much or any of this online, with a collections of heterogeneous strangers, with highly varied lives not just beyond the ’campus’ but possibly on the other side of the planet, is not unexpectedly therefore primed to fail.

This said, in H808, one collaborative experience I was involved with, between six, with one in New Zealand, was a text book success.

Why?

As I put it then, ‘we kept the ball rolling,’ in this case the time zones may have helped (and my own insomnia that suggests I am based in Hong Kong not Lewes, East Sussex).

It also helped to have a Training Manager from the Navy, and a Training Manager (or two) from Medicine.

There was professional discipline that students and academics seem to lack.

Indeed, as academics often say themselves, they don’t have proper jobs.

Isn’t it about time that they behaved like the professional world, indeed, took lessons from corporate communications instead of getting things wrong all the time?

I read this from the 1992 report and wonder if when it comes to the people involved much has changed inside academic institutions.

‘There is evidence to suggest that course team processes can become pathological if the factors listed by Riley(1983) (particularly, it could be argued, the ‘private’ factors) are not properly addressed.’ Kaye, (1992:08).

‘One experienced course team chairman (Drake, 1979) goes so far as to say that …


“the course team is a menace to the academic output and reputation of the Open University,” [sic/ibid]

‘because it provides a framework for protracted (and exciting) academic discussions about possible options for course content and structure, but that when the real deadlines are imminent, many academic are unable to come to define decisions and produce satisfactory material.’

!!!


If academics at the OU can’t (or couldn’t) work together what hope to do mature postgraduates have?

Our maturity and NOT being academics probably

‘problems can arise in the relationship between academic staff and radio or television producers’ Nicodemus (1984) points out that the resultant anxieties can cause “ … a lot of flight behaviour which simply delays and dramatises the eventual confrontations.’

I have an idea for a soap-opera set on the campus of the OU; this report provides the material

I’m not going to quote it all, but there is some social science behind it. Hopefully this paper or chapter is traceable.

Brooks (1982) has observed that when complex tasks are shared amongst individuals or small working groups, the extra burdens of coordination and communication often counteract the productivity gains expected from division of labour.

Problems arise from social psychological processes:

for example, pressures to confirm in a group might cause people to behave less effectively than if they were working alone, and diffusion of responsibility and lack of ownership of a group product can lead to group members contributing less effort to a group task tan they would to a personal, individual, project.

However, we are left on a positive note by this report

“ … the cycle of integration-disintegration is, after all, also known to be important in creativity.” (Nicodemus, 1984)

In the case of distributed course teams (eg those working on interdisciplinary, or co-produced courses) where, a priori, a strong case might be made for networked computer support for collaboration, it would seem important to pay even more attention to the underlying dynamics within a team.

Enough, enough, enough … I am only half way through this report.

Let’s skip to a conclusion, which is as pertinent today as it was in 1992.

‘The social, psychological, and institutional factors influencing the processes and outcomes of academic teamwork were stressed in the first part of this chapter (see above, this is as far as I got), because these factors are probably of greater overall importance in determining successes than is the nature of any technology support which might be made available to a course team’. Kaye (1992:17)

REFERENCES

Brooks, F 91982) The mythical man-month: Essays on software engineering. Reading. MA.: Addison-Wesley.

Crick, M (1980) ‘Course teams: myth and actuality’, Distance Education engineering, Reading, MA.: Addison-Wesley.

Drake, M. (1979) ‘The curse of the course team’, Teaching at a distance, 16, 50-53.

Kaye, A.R. (1992) ‘Computer Conferencing and Mass Distance Education’, in Waggoner, M (ed) Empowering Networks: Computer Conferencing in Education, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Educational Technology Publications.

Martin, J. (1979) ‘Out of this world – is this the real OU?” Open Line, 21, 8.

Nicodemus, R (1984) ‘Lessons from a course team’, Teaching at a distance, 25, pp 33-39

Riley, J (1983) The Preparation of Teaching in Higher Education: a study of the preparation of teaching materials at the Open University, PhD Thesis, University of Sussex.

Post script

In the course of writing this I discovered (courtesy of Wikipedia) that Leonardo da Vinci may have coined the phrase, or a version of ‘Keep it simple, stupid’ and also invented the pedalo. The mind boggles, or is Leonardo still alive and contributing ? (his fans certainly are).

The mistake risk takers make is to take too few risks

The dot com or e-learning mistake is to have only one ball in the air.

Like Cirque du Soleil they should juggle a dozen items, who even notices if one drops to the ground and breaks, there’s enough going on to amaze.

TV production companies, docs and drama, film companies too, have to have many ideas in development if any are to succeed; when will web producers take the same approach?

28 projects on the go I understand is the figure

I’ve got four ideas, so seven other people with four ideas each and we’re in business as imagicians.

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