Creating Media for Enhanced Learning.
The following is a rationale for the post that I currently hold at the University of Southampton. I am passionate about education and a champion of new technology. I have been in post since May 2014 managing the Enhanced Learning Production Team. Our aim is to support educators, researchers, students and partners to create engaging and successful content.
An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technology
My role within the Institute of Learning Innovation and Development is to lead the Media Development Team (ILIaD) and manage a small group of Learning Designers. ILIaD has been established to support the development of our staff. Within the Institute I work with colleagues on education development, supporting the university strategic objective to revolutionise education. Further activity with the Institute supports the professional development of researchers and professional services staff in terms of ensuring they have the skills and competencies to support learning, research and enterprise activity in the Institution.
There are a number of themes which emerge through the Education Innovation theme, these include Digital Literacies, Blended Learning and exploring a meaningful relationship between Research and Education.
Many of our activities centre around providing support for academic teams, researchers, students and professional services staff. The Media Development Team works to support academic teams in the creation of multimedia content for use in education and research. Specifically, our team develops digital objects which can be used either for teaching & learning, public engagement or staff development. In many cases the need for the production of these digital objects will have been fed by a strategic desire to ensure knowledge, learning, evidence and evaluation are accessible and available across a range of platforms.
My role is to bridge the expertise provided by Learning Design and Multimedia Development and look for projects that answer wider strategic objectives of ILIaD and the University, for example the increase in the number of modules that are being delivered through a blended or flipped model. There are a number of key drivers towards an increase in blended delivery and these are recognised as the following:
- To answer an increased need for delivery at scale and across distance.
- To better prepare students and researchers for an economy which is driven by new technology and globalisation.
- To open up new opportunities for learning and knowledge transfer which are accessible, richer and wider reaching.
Whilst in my career I have worked to support people as they adopt and implement new technologies, the scale of the task at University of Southampton is a great one. One of the key issues to address first is the nature and importance, the status of education in an institution which has built it’s reputation on research as a member of the Russell Group of Universities.
In the past year the university has acted to ensure that there are many more academics on balanced (education/research) pathways and are appraised as such. It was hoped that formal recognition of the contribution to education amongst the academic community will provide a basis for developing that side of their work, although it should be said that there are already a great many educators who understand the value of teaching in terms of their own research and see it as an essential part of their work. This approach should be encouraged and greater opportunities should be supported for creating a meaningful relationship between education and research.
Example 1. Creating Video for Teaching & Learning
The key technology that I would like to discuss is the creation and use of media, in particular the affordance that this technology offers which by its very nature is driven by the speed at which it updates, evolves and spreads. My experience at school was of a large television monitor rolled into the room and a pause whilst the teacher found the right place on the tape. In language lessons subtitles were hidden and revealed with a piece of card sellotaped to the screen. Audio was provided by ¼ inch reel to reel tape machines, stopped and started with the flick of a switch, voices slurred as it ran up to speed.
Although I gained an understanding of the process by which such media was created, in expensive studios with industrial technology, it is incredible to see how fast the tools have become smaller, accessible to many and easy to learn. The potential of creating media on mobile phones and handheld devices that seemed like so much science fiction is now a reality. The challenge is now to create media that is effective in answering its intended purpose and to better understand that purpose. It is only natural that we are excited by advances in this technology without better understanding its application. The many considerations should include inclusivity and accessibility.
It is important for instance for an educator to consider when video or other media is not appropriate for use. As stated elsewhere the teaching should serve the learning objectives and effectiveness judged on the outcomes. The University of Queensland¹ quotes the influential Salman Khan who states we should “use video to reinvent education”². Khan talks about the benefits of pausing, repeating the video and removing the one-size-fits all lecture in favour of something that students can take ownership of, that students start to understand the mechanics of their learning, identifying their own gaps in learning, being honest about their learning in a way they wouldn’t in the hide-and-survive nature of school learning. It’s important however to offer a more pragmatic view to Khan’s optimism, that online video learning experiences assume aspects of digital literacy, the students ability to concentrate on the right aspects of their learning and the need for students to work in collaboration on real-world problems and incorporate many different approaches to learning and blend learning in a meaningful and effective way.
The Affordances of Media
One of the main strategies in working with academic staff has been to encourage the move from “telling” i.e recording a lecture or talking head; to “showing”, i.e creating imagery to visualise, display and demonstrate the subject of the film. Often the conversation that pre-empts this is in identifying the key messages and audiences for theses films. I ask “Why is this a film, rather than a podcast or website?” The answer should be that video is the single best way to illustrate a particular concept, the images should lead us through the idea.
Video is able to provide us with many types of image, from diagrams and technical drawings, take us outside the classroom to experience places, locations. It should offer opportunities to talk to experts and contributors from outside, perhaps rarely spoken to and under-represented.
Effective video employs the tools of good storytelling, providing us with a narrative and an intimacy that reflects our own in watching. We crave the immediacy of seeing something close-up, in detail, in a way we haven’t experienced before. Framing and editing give us access to better storytelling, we can control the way the film is seen. I think that it’s important to recognise craft, video is seldom seen in this way throughout education, information is often prioritised over emotion and immediacy. It’s important that this is challenged.
Learning on screen can still be storytelling, we can see a subject through the people who work in this area, we need to understand the arguments, debates, counter-arguments that form a persuasive story.
It is also important to understand some of the challenges in creating video for learning, whether they are around production costs and the need for specialist expertise, resources that not all educational institutions can afford. It is also important to recognise issues around accessibility, whilst video may be helpful to dyslexic students, there needs to be consideration for hearing or visually impaired students. The production of video is complex and important, it is a medium that is led by technology and demand from changing audiences and constantly in flux.
These are all discussed in the specialist area.
Why would an educator choose to create multimedia for teaching & learning?
Whilst I’ve talked about the role of the team and the direction that I provide as manager, it is important to discuss what I do as an individual, my personal approach and my own objectives. I’m compelled to address this question around multimedia creation, I want to understand why an educator would choose to create a video, podcast or animation? I’m interested in why some learning objects are effective and why some are less so, and even how we might measure effectiveness?
Over the course of this portfolio I will address some of these questions and reflect on my own progress through my own interventions and those of my team. In particular it’s important to think about the student perspective and the benefits to the learner. Whilst media objects are frequently requested and seen as a sign of a certain sophistication in delivery, this does not mean that they are always the most effective means to delivery a learning outcome.
My view is that the use of multimedia for teaching & learning reflects its increasing use in industry and other areas of society. My belief is that educators need to tap into the channels that learners regularly communicate with for the benefit of learning.
Technical knowledge and ability in the use of learning technology
One of the areas which academics see the benefit of the relationship is in the adoption of new technology and the creation of multimedia both for teaching, for disseminating and evaluating research. In this area I have encouraged the use of online portfolios, multimedia creation and use of online tools.
The opportunities to capture evidence and create content have exploded with the use of smart phones and other mobile devices such as tablets and iPads. In my talks to students, educators and researchers we explore ways in which smart devices can be used in an effective way to record experiments and evidence results in order to be used in reflective practice. Forms of digital creation, from video to podcast, animation, survey, demonstration and blog provide a wider range of opportunities to assess learning and receive feedback.
For the purposes of this submission I will address the specific needs of educators, however the caveat that should be maintained is that academics are encouraged to adopt a dual view with the idea that what is good for the delivery of teaching and learning is good for their research projects. Indeed in many instances I have encouraged the development and creation of teaching materials as an direct output from research as a way to disseminate ideas and discoveries and engage with undergraduate students. The development of a course makes for an excellent public engagement project.
The Media Development Team are made up of two Video Producers, a Rapid Developer and a Quality Assurance officer. All our specialist in working with academic teams and have an understanding of the audiences for the material that is being produced. The Learning Designers have a role to play in ensuring the pedagogic integrity of the digital object that is being produced, having worked closely with the academic to understand the learning aims and the outcomes that need to be generated. In many cases academics request support for creating a film, knowing intuitively that multimedia will be effective in answering a particular aim, the experience of the Learning Designer is to ensure that the object is effective and sits well within the module or course. In many cases commissioning a learning object is the first step in re-shaping or re-positioning their module for blended delivery.
The move to blended delivery is heralded by the development of learning technologies. ILIaD has a role to play in the deployment of learning technologies either for planning and design, delivery of learning materials and providing assessment and feedback. It is important to ensure a holistic approach and provide support for the educator throughout the process of planning, delivering and assessing a course. I have encouraged the educator to reflect and use same tools for their own development as they are using to engage with their cohort. As mentioned before, pathways for academics are much more supportive in terms of the contribution to education and reflective practice is key an understanding of their own development.
Summary of specialist media tools and software
There are a great many skills which I have developed over the years in terms of media creation, project management, communication and education technology. Early on in my education I was able to use a computer to create art and design, moving to an Apple Mac which became the centre of my creative practice. A grant from the British Council to support a residency project provided me with my first Apple Mac, a lime-green iMac with Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, iMovie and later Final Cut Pro, also QuarkExpress and later Adobe Indesign. Here are some of the key tools I currently use:
- Trello – a project management website and mobile app based around a series of boards and cards. Working particularly well with Agile Project Management, it provides a space to keep track of current projects, share updates and progress and manage resource deployment.
- Adobe Creative Suite – This unparalleled suite of creative tools, including Illustrator, Photoshop and Indesign to name but a few heralded a revolution in graphic design. I worked as a designer for many years in both commercial and public sector. The skills I developed in typography, layout, photographic and illustrative work I still use on a weekly basis. Lately I’ve also been using Canva, an online graphic design tool, mostly because I think it would be useful for colleagues needing to create posters and imagery for the web. It’s almost impossible to create something unbalanced and inaccessible on Canva if you follow the guides provided.I produced both pieces below to promote ILIaD events and activities, piece A was produced in Photoshop and piece B in Canva. Both were simple to construct, however the learning required to gain confidence in the use of Photoshop was acquired over many years and with only a few steps I was able to create the poster in Canva. I have encouraged colleagues to use Canva and have been able to share templates with them that they can re-use. It’s important to note the design principles that guide the layout, including establishing a hierarchy of elements and titles, consistent use of typography and colour.
- Slack – is my new favourite tool, this app although similar to other IRC or messaging services, uses channels to host conversations and talk 1:1. One of its key features is the ability to integrate with other services such as Trello, providing updates straight into a channel and helping to keep everyone up to date with activity. I find Slack much less intrusive than email and it’s use has significantly reduced the wear on my inbox. By removing much of the protocol around email, it is easy to have quick conversations, talk to groups of people, share and upload documents. There is much written about Slack as an email killer although is some debate as to whether it contributes to greater productivity or simply adds to weight of technological process that slows us down.
I should also mention the use of Office 360 which carries Outlook Exchange, Word and Excel, these tools are getting much better and Microsoft are much more user-centred than before, with much more consideration to design and usability.
Design skills are at the core of my practice, I utilise many principles of design not only in multi-media creation but in the dissemination and publication of this work. Learning objects are still design products that should adhere to design principles – every aspect should be considered and revised to ensure engagement, effectiveness and delight in using it.
One of the first pieces that I shot and edited at Southampton was this short piece about artist Pearl John. Her work was exhibited at the Special Collections Archive at the Hartley Library. After some time spent away from the camera I felt it was important to return to a shoot and hone up my interview skills. Almost two years on there is much I would do differently and although I have been called in as an extra pair of hands when required, it has been rewarding to manage the production aspect of our team and adopt a role of producer and writer.
Supporting the deployment of learning technologies
In the course of my work as a member of the Education Innovation team, we have been able to add a huge amount of value to the student experience in supporting educators to deliver courses that exploit the exciting opportunities afforded by the research portfolio of the university.
There are a number of initiatives throughout the university, led by strategic groups and committees and individuals with portfolio across education. Each year an education theme is supported throughout the institution, with recent themes including feedback and TEL.
Examples of deployment of Learning Technologies
Some aspects of the deployment of learning technologies and their use in projects that I am working with and developing are explored in detail across this portfolio, however it is important to highlight and identify them here. Central to all three of these uses of technology is a move towards blended learning.
- Use of Student Online Portfolio for reflective practice
- Creating video for teaching and learning using mobile technologies
- Using H5P to create online learning objects
There are number of ways in which ILIaD engage with educators and ways in which educators are introduced to learning technologies. Experienced educators who are confident in the use of technology to enhance learning often require technical support to ensure that the intervention or adoption of a particular technology will work within the university setting and be manageable with regards to their own setup. The university provides a virtual learning environment (VLE) in Blackboard which is pre-populated with courses and modules, providing a space for resources, lessons and lectures which have been captured via Panopto, and an opportunity for students to submit work and receive feedback. Confident educators are often keen to push the boundaries of what can be provided to the student and the BB site is often supplemented with a wordpress blog or social media channel. Technical support is provided by our iSolutions MLE (Managed Learning Environments) Team and pedagogic support is provided by the Learning Designers, who have conducted entire reviews of an area’s use of Blackboard as well as advice on how to best manage their site.
Although there is some training on the technical side of the VLE, there is little training in terms of best practice for VLE use and only recently have educators been steered towards a minimum specification for what they need to make available to students. Whilst I am agnostic towards the many VLE platforms which are commercially available, I am keen to ensure there is consistent adoption of good practice and an understanding about the value of VLE use for students and supporting blended delivery. For example, I would encourage VLE’s to reflect the shape and design of courses and avoid using the site to simply upload handouts and link to references. The VLE should not be seen as extra reading or a repository of lesson plans and lesson captures, instead the VLE should provide opportunities for activities, engagement, reflection and meaningful feedback. In some instances educators have moved to blogs or online portfolios in search of a tool that addresses this need in a holistic way.
Educators who are slow to adopt new technologies often have a good reason for this, whether they feel that the combination of practical and theoretic sessions delivered in the first person, accompanied by reading lists and references are sufficient to address the stated learning aims, or that students should be able to learn with the same tools which served similar students some decades ago. It is important however that the learning environment reflect advances that have been adopted in the workplace, changes in the way we communicate, project manage, record and reflect. The university needs to prepare students for jobs that have not yet been invented, working for companies that are racing to adopt new technologies that give them a competitive advantage over their rivals. Today’s work environment is one that seeks to offer opportunities to learn, develop and balance work and life.
*Following section moved from Core 2 to support Implementation of technology.
Example: Science Communication for students in Biological Sciences
BIOL3060 is a module designed to encourage students to become good communicators, science speakers, storytellers and to understand theories and practices of Public Engagement.
My role is to teach students how to create short videos around a variety of Biological and Medical Sciences themes or concepts. Specifically the students are asked to focus on the work of a researcher or team working in the Institute for Life Sciences at the University of Southampton.
There have been three cohorts who have attended workshops on how to make a video, we look at the process, from writing and development of ideas, scripts and storyboards, pre-production planning, shooting, editing and other post-production processes. Technology enables students to complete this assignment using easy to access and cheap to use mobile technology. The focus for the student is in making clear and effective decisions – where to film, how to line up the shot, what shots tell the story, how to get good audio, what questions to ask their interviewees etc. By making better decisions we can add real production value to our films.
Technology plays its part in all aspects of video production, from use of smart devices to capture and edit, software and apps such as Windows Movie Maker or iMovie and even sites like Powtoon, Adobe Spark Video (Former Voice), all contribute to effective and engaging video.
The success of the project has been due in a large part to the enthusiasm and creativity of the students who enjoyed doing something normally not expected in a Biological Sciences Course, as well as working together and managing all aspects of production, the project has been key to understanding the importance of the quality of the content produced for public engagement. One of the highlights of the project was a screening of the work before their peers, tutors and friends, and listening to the comments that came back. There were many questions about engaging the right audiences, ensuring the scientific integrity of a piece of media and therefore its effectiveness in communicating concepts and ideas.
In many ways, the drive to adopt new technologies and the move to blended learning reflect a need to move to an “active learning” model whereby the students are not simply passive consumers of learning but constructors of their own learning through play, participation, co-design and collaboration. A much heard piece of advice as a trainee teacher was to ensure “I wasn’t the busiest person in the room”, that the model for a teacher was as a facilitator of learning. In my short time at Southampton I have only encountered a few instances of this type of delivery, with the majority of lectures being delivered as talks and in some cases no opportunity for any interaction, questioning or participation from the student. The challenge as a content-producer and online learning specialist is to ensure that the passive act of watching isn’t simply mirrored through media production, with video replacing lecture in the same way.
Staff throughout ILIaD are keen to support staff at whatever stage they are at in their adoption of new technologies. The rate of change is fast, as a colleague once said to me, “Dinosaurs are getting younger…” It is important that there is a central university service to support the implementation of learning technologies and that educators have someone to whom they can call upon and discuss ideas.