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Teaching and Learning with Web 2.0

March 17th, 2008 by Graham Attwell


A lot of projects seem to involve case studies. Sometimes I think it is just an excuse because educational researchers do not know how to do anything else. But done well, case studies can produce a lot of useful knowledge. Being interested personally in pedagogy and changing pedagogies, I get a little frustrated at how case studies so often fail to capture pedagogic processes. We find out everything else – except for about teaching and learning processes.

As part of a project called b-learning aiming at the development of a handbook for practitioners in designing blended learning programmes, I have to undertake a couple of case studies and I am doing my best to focus on teachi9ng and learning processes. In the last issue of Sounds of the Bazaar I featured an interview with Helen Keegan who has re-designed and implemented a new course module called ‘Advanced Multimedia’ as part of the University of Salford’s BSc (Hons) degree in Professional Sound and Video Technology.

The podcast was a (very) edited version of a forty minute interview. I have now re-edited the interview to provide a text transcript as part of the case study. I think there is much of interest in this interview – especially about approaches to using Web 2.0 tools and sites for teaching and learning. Many, many thanks to Helen Keegan for all her time.
Question: Can you tell me about the new course you have set up?
Anwer: The students are final year students on a professional sounds and video degree. The module is called advanced multi-media.
I have noticed with these students or students like these that they all have MySpace sites and do great work in terms of the audio and video they have produced. However, scrolling down their sites you see really inappropriate comments from their friends. I was thinking about this because you read that so many employers today Google potential applicants. Few of the students had any real awareness of how they are presenting themselves on the internet.

They were all well versed in the use of different applications and they all knew how to produce and download – albeit illegal – audio and video but after talking to them they had little real knowledge of what happens in between being a producer and a consumer. They are all theoretically going to be producers in the video and audio industries. These industries are changing dramatic ally because of new technologies and I thought these issues were something important to tackle.
Question: So there is a gap between their knowledge as producers and as consumers and a gap between knowledge their theoretical knowledge of being a producer and their occupational practice?
Answer: Yes and they do not understand about blogging and how that can be important in getting an authentic voice and for distributing your work
Question: Is there also a gap in their knowledge between the formal theoretical computing side and about web 2.0?
Answer: They are all on MySpace and they listen to music on my space but they were not thinking about how this could work for them and about things like the long tail, the democratisation of the internet, the read-write web – these were things that they need to know.
It is about having a deep understanding about things going on. Naturally teaching people computer applications is quite instructivist and once you have learnt a few applications it is easy to learn more – we had already done applications. The need now is for the students to become professional. As final year students I wanted to get them really clued up as to what is going on out there in the net and how that will impact on them as video and audio professionals. They needed to learn about things like content mash ups and copyright and licensing and Creative Commons. They all go and look at YouTube and download things but they do not really engage with how they am going to feel as a professional if someone downloads my work.
Question: So that gave you the idea of the module you wanted to develop. You developed an overall philosophy and outline of content. What was the next step?
Answer: Then I had to develop the structure of the course. The first half of the module was largely based on individual work and the second half on group work. The first half focused on web 1.0 and web 2.0 and the idea of the digital self. The digital self is similar to the idea of an e-portfolio but there are some important semantic differences.
The main aim of the first half of the course was professionalisation. This included looking at the students’ on line presence and supporting them in designing their own web sites, web site headers, and business cards. The first two weeks was focused on design principles and the process of design. We then moved on to blogging using a wordpress platform and then delved quite deeply into the presentation of the self in a digital environment, digital identities and – on a practical level – what happens when you Google yourself.
The students learnt that maintaining a blog and putting some pictures on their Flicker account provides them with an authoritative and positive professional identity through their web presence. Moreover this identity will be included in the first few pages of a Google search
Question: What learning materials did you use?
Answer: Many of the learning materials were case studies from the news that week. We also used the students own on-line presence. In the following part of the programme we looked at digital CV production. At the end of this process each student had developed a matching CV, web site, and a web based showcase on MySpace. We also looked at YouTube and examined the technical side of on-line video production. Despite them being final year video and audio students they had not covered technical production for such an environment. YouTube is not a traditional broadcast media. However, YouTube is extremely important for anyone wishing to work in the music and video industry. It is the major outlet for new music video releases today.
The final part of the first half of the course focused on developing and using content mash ups. We used real life examples from the internet to discuss issues like copyright, content licensing and re-use.
Question: What sort of assignments did you set for the students to do?
Answer: The first assignment was to write a reflective critique of an article called ‘The new web’. For the second assignment I gave them two articles about web 2.0 in the broadcast industries, one pro Web 2.0 and the other anti, and then I gave them a Guardian editorial which was talking about the deal which have been struck between Last FM and Sony BG to distribute the content. Basically I gave them a very pro and very anti stance and something which was showing how things could come together in the middle. I asked them to blog about the articles. It was interesting because the first time I asked them to blog the first question they came back with was ‘how do we write it’, the they went on to ask ‘what style do we use’, ‘is it a report or is it an essay’? My reply was that there was no set format – is was their voice and they should relish this – you do not get many opportunities to write from the heart unless you are doing an English literature degree or something like that and certainly not in the sciences. I was really impressed by the standard of their work and really impressed by how they expressed themselves when they were given the freedom to do it.
In the second half of the module we moved over to group work. Although I had developed the framework or the structure of the module in place, when it came to the groupwork it was very leaner centred.
In the first week of the module I asked the students to fill in a detailed questionnaire on who they were, what were their prior experiences in audio and video, what did they want to do in the future with the internet, how might they use Web 2.0 technologies, and what mobile devices did they use. I got a really good picture of the directions they wanted to go in and this was used to inform the second half of the module. The students split into groups and they worked on research projects using wikis for collaborative research and we also did some podcasting and developed rss feeds.
The group work on wikis was very successful. I set a word limit of 3500 words for their group reports on the wiki. This is a very low word count for final year students but I wanted them to think about it as a wiki and not repeat what people have said before but rather use external hyperlinks. I wanted them to experience the web 2 ethos by not just regurgitating what is already out there but bringing it in and developing their own angle on it.
Question: What platforms did you use?
Answer: I adopted a platform neutral approach for the whole module – we would use one platform in class for demonstrations but they were really free to use what they wanted. They seemed to appreciate having that level of autonomy. One of the groups decided to do their work directly in wikipedia.
The last couple of weeks of the module were spent looking at video conferencing, both the technical side in general and the netiquett involved. Rather than the traditional presentation of their projects through Powerpoint we got them to do a web conference. At first they were uncomfortable with this but they warmed to it quickly. In the final week they were split across different rooms with a radio mike and an amplifier and they broadcast across to the other rooms. The students ran this session themselves and asked questions to the different groups. In this way they learnt from each other’s research projects and I think they definitely learnt much more than they would have done if they had just watched powerpoint presentations.
Question: What would be your initial evaluation of the module?
Answer: First I have to say I have only run the module with one group and it is a very early stage in the course development. But the results have been absolutely fantastic – we had an evaluation session and focus groups afterwards and the feedback has been very good. I even had three students contact me for information over Christmas after the course had finished. The students don’t want to stop; they are carrying on developing their web sites and their blogs despite not being assessed. One of the students is releasing an album. He is working on the album at the moment and he is using his site in a real web 2.0 sense to get people to give their opinions on the tracks and on the mix. He has built a community going around his album on the wordpress platform and again, he wasn’t asked to do that.
I think the success of the course is down to loosening control, giving the students autonomy, not dictating what platforms they should use, adopting a very user centred approach and involving them in defining their own curriculum. It is very interesting, taking away the control and watching how people flourish.
Question: This is blended learning but perhaps not in the traditional sense. The design of blended learning has often been based on instructional design based sequencing material, choosing the materials and checking the mix is right. To what extent did you follow an instructional design process?
Answer: I followed the instructional design process in terms of designing the framework but not in terms of what goes in the framework. Before I could do that I needed to know my students and that was a big part of the first half of the course.
Question: How did you decide on the structure of activities?
Answer: One of the structuring factors was the time slot – we met between 9 and 11 on a Monday morning. Bearing in mind that about half of this group are DJs or they work in studios, they tend to go to bed rather late. Nine on a Monday mounding is not a good time for them. I made a rule for myself – which I didn’t tell the students – called my twenty minute rule. I would not do anything for more than twenty minutes. I used a lot of Youtube videos– one or two a session – just to break things up and liven things up. We would start with a Youtube video and then go into a discussion. In depth discussions developed without the students even realising it. It was a mixed up, mashed up approach.
Question: So your blended approach is mico blending – it is a learning mash up?
Answer: Yes, totally.
Question: Obviously this approach was very successful with this group but you have been using web 2.0 technologies to teach people about web 2.0. How much of what you have done is transferable to other subjects or topics which might not be about web 2.0 or even about media?.
Answer: I think there are elements which could be transferable across many subjects. I am currently redesigning our entrepreneurial management workshops for a cohorts of about 160 students and I am taking a very web 2.0 approach. I am thinking about how we can use YouTube. I have remodelled the modules so each week I have one or two trigger videos which are on YouTube. One advantage is that the students can watch the videos when they wish. I am also asking the students to watch the related videos and critically appraise them. Not only are they critically appraising entrepreneurial theories but they are learning about digital literacy. There are very good materials on sites like YouTube but there is also a great deal of rubbish. The key is to get students thinking and talking about the materials and evaluating them themselves..
Question: What to teachers need to learn in order to be able to use Web 2.0 for teaching
Answer: The main thing about teaching teachers to use web 2.0 is contextualising things, it is about situatedness and authenticity.
Away from the actual content and delivery one of my big passions in terms of teaching and learning is motivation – motivation and emotion. Why are the learners here? Why do they want to learn? If you give your learners a case they are interested in to back up an example and it has appeared in the news in the last few days they perk up immediately. It is as simple as that. Half way though the course the course Radiohead released their latest album and said that it was optional to pay for it – that was brilliant – so using these kinds of examples instead of standing up there talking about the history and the legality of video which is so dry I could bring in something they could relate to> We went on to talk about artists who have been discovered on MySpace – these are all things which strike a chord with them and as a motivator cannot be underestimated
In terms of the disciplinary culture in a science faculty the tradition is mainly positivist so our approach is quite unusual. We are dealing with messy or ambiguous ideas and the students can find it quite hard to think in that way. It has been interesting getting them to think about the grey areas rather than the rights and wrongs and absolutes.

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