Wednesday, 1 May 2013

6 Week Media: What have we learned?

Back in February, Pete blogged about the launch of the 6 Week Media Course, which was devised and led by the Creative Media Team in CiCS, and Charlotte Watts, who is student intern working at the Information Commons.

The course was a new experience for us all; we had a good idea of what (we thought) the content should be, but in terms of administering, delivering and managing a programme like this we were starting from scratch. It's fair to say the administrative tasks of the course took longer than expected, but this is a learning technology blog so I'm not going to bore you with the minutiae of attendance monitoring.

One of the ideas we had was to create a dual purpose Google Site, which would be used extensively during the course. Our plan was to create a repository of information about the course, so timetables, additional resources and session recordings would be hosted here. We used to make the site easily memorable and accessible during sessions.

However, we also wanted students to contribute to the site. Students would use the Google Site to blog (using the 'Announcements' page template) about their experiences on the course, and also embed their completed media artefacts. In the first introductory session, students were split into pairs, and assigned a University of Sheffield building to research. Throughout the 6 weeks, students would research and produce media about their assigned buildings.  Students had free reign to tackle any topic they were interested in; subjects included the perceived lack of social space in Jessop West, to uncovering the story behind the Paternoster lift in the Arts Tower.

The introductory session also allowed students to create their own YouTube & Soundcloud accounts. We chose YouTube for video hosting because all University of Sheffield students have a Google Apps account, which makes it very easy to create a channel and start using YouTube. Students and staff who are interested in uploading videos to YouTube can follow the information on this CiCS page. In terms of audio hosting, Soundcloud was used because it's very easy to embed Soundcloud content into a Google Site. Soundcloud has a simple registration procedure (students could sign in with Facebook or Twitter if they wanted too), and it has a 2 hour upload limit - which was plenty for the scope of this course.

There are some gaps in the blog entries on the Google Site, and there are various reasons for that. Unfortunately, some of the students had to drop out of the course. Others had IT issues in the audio editing session, which meant students were not able to successfully edit, upload and embed their finished audio pieces. I am not going to discuss every week here, but you can read Charlotte's evaluation of those specific IT issues, as well as every other session over on the Information Commons blog.

So, what have we learned? Well, there is clearly a demand from students for these type of media production skills. The course was oversubscribed within 4 hours of details being announced, and we had a waiting list. Unfortunately, a significant proportion of students (almost half) were unable to finish the course because they couldn't attend all of the sessions. This highlights the problems when trying to schedule a course that is designed to appeal to all undergraduate students from all faculties; it is nigh on impossible to identify a realistic timetable slot which will suit everyone.

Another factor we had to consider was that the course was part of the Sheffield Graduate Award, and we had to ensure students attended 10 hours of workshops. This would be very easy to manage on a more traditional course, but meant we had to factor in filming / audio recording into our workshop sessions. All of the students managed to do the practical work in the allotted session time, but the course feedback almost unanimously said that students would have preferred more time to do these tasks. This time limitation also means the quality of the finished work isn't as high as we might have hoped for.

One interesting point that came up from our feedback was that students appreciated learning about different aspects of media production, such as copyright regulations and audio editing. I think before the course started, we felt the students would be really keen to learn about video production, but perhaps less enthusiastic about other elements. This was clearly not true, and in fact lots of the students said they would have liked to know about image manipulation and graphic design. This was beyond the scope of this pilot course, but is certainly interesting to consider if this type of course were to be run again.

If we were to run the course again, it would be great to maximise the amount of students we could reach, without dramatically increasing the amount of staff time required. One way of achieving this would be to offer the theoretical elements of the course online, and require the practical work to be done outside of a formal session, in much the same way that a MOOC is structured. This would mean the course wouldn't be able to be part of the Sheffield Graduate Award, as it would be impossible to audit attendance hours.

Additionally, the Google Site would have to be re-evaluated. It may be that for a larger number of participants, another hosting / blog platform may be more suitable. Thinking aloud, the admin time in creating different page level permissions in a single site for a large cohort would be considerable ....

We will let you know what is decided about the future of the course, if you have any experience of running something similar I would love to hear them!


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