Millennial Masters – Flippin over Knowledge Transfer
The BBC executives were full of praise.
‘That was good that’, said Richard Deveril, controller of BBC children’s and head of news interactive, posing with students and a BBC producer Asha Oberoi whos is now a senior figure in ITN.
Ten students, Masters and undergraduates, from the University of Westminster, had just spent an hour at the BBC in White City presenting their vision of the future of media called New Futures. Developed over eight months, six projects attempted to describe the future through the:
- ‘i3, a multi-platform publishing interface.
- My World, an interactive news map for children.
- Mobnews -project exploring the impact of moblogging below.
At a time when the iPhone had yet to be conceived or social networking was a phrase academia associated with Thomas Hobbes’ social contract, the collective student work supervised by Asha and myself glimpsed the future. The type pad for the phone was a separate unit based on the folded unit of the Pallm iii, seen below. Inherently, the students’ work is also a display, as well as and support of the the theory of intextuality.
That is, the ability to think of new technology, texts, film etc. is often predicated on antecedents. Paradigm shifts are rare. That makes the iPhone a paradigm shift in design, or does it?
10 years on
Last month marked a decade from the Future of News and so presented a welcome opportunity to look at its significance. Knowledge about the project would have been lost in perpetuity, had I not at the time managed to push a press release, which was picked up by journalism.co.uk and Jemima Kiss. Kiss is now the Editor of Technology of the Guardian.
At the time she wrote:
The students predict that the mobile phone will become an increasingly essential tool for journalists, with moblogging replacing digital video footage and blogging on increasingly sophisticated content management systems.
Prescient? Contrary to the article, the project started in-house at the university where I recruited 12 students willing students from across various disciplines and then sold the idea to the BBC.
The press release gave the BBC fulsome credit, and why not? It was a small price to pay to to ensure news outlets took a bite out of the press release. So 10 years on what can be surmised?
- That the need for interdisciplinary learning among students, based on real-life projects, is paramount. This provides the student and supervisory team room to innovate. As I write this, my email has just pinged, with the message, google glass are inviting me to be one of the limited first to get hold of glass from their UK programme. Oh how I could use the opportunity to explore pedagogy with students, but first, must find a way to buy the unit.
- That documenting these wins is important. They provide historical texts to learn from. Over the last few years starting with this group, I have created exit interviews, and creative programmes like this one below called: IF (2006). Listen to what Daniel Coffee from Ghana says. It foregrounds social media.
- That there’s nothing intrinsically special about this, as many universities would claim they collaborate in schemes with professional outfits. But how many match long form projects with industrial outputs with industry mentoring and the provision of think tank artefacts along the way. At the Southbank Centre where I am an Artist in Residence, the director Jude Kelly MBE calls it ‘Collisions’. It is a unique artistic practice of discovery that engenders creativity and allows for exhaustive, but also fun exchange of knowledge.
- That long-lead projects are necessary, as it allows students the room to firstly indulge in more discursive in-depth projects that cannot be easily replicated by professionals working on the day. In a sense, there is a gap between the undergraduate-Masters and PhD, which could be explored. More on this, but firstly the mobile program is worth looking at in more detail.
MobNews, the project
The concept was that the phone allowed the user to take pictures and video, edit on the phone and upload to the web. Today pinnacle studio and VD trim are two of many phone apps that facilitate editing. The concept asked whether the phone could be a substitute for viewing on television and whether download speeds would be quick enough to simulate uninterrupted viewing, and envisioned a hard drive of 16g.
Today, as back then, the project raises issues about pedagogy. For instance the idea of interdisciplinary work, and how digital has impacted on academia. Whilst News Futures highlighted technological processes, conceptualising and a determinism, what it did not grapple with was the influence of technology on media substrates, such as narrative and story structure.
This is where the the confluence of evolving media theories, taking their cues from practised-based subjects play their hand, and provide fertile ground for theorists such as Henry Jenkins. Jenkins, was one of more than a hundred experts interviewed for my thesis. He is one of the foremost authorities on convergence culture, also the title of his book, and says cultural and societal habits amongst the young precedes the technology that is devised to aid them.
David interviewing Henry Jenkins at SXSW as part of his thesis.
In the movie, Social Network, Zuckerberg’s character realises where the technology should go when he states frats want to interact with sororities as a matter of scopophilia, and share. Culture, according to Professor Brian Winston is the supervening necessity behind technology.
As institutional media has been attempting to shed its skin to keep with the times, a more pressing issue, and a cause of much sole searching, has also arisen. What’s in a name, as phrases like multimedia, transmedia and interdisciplinary get sprinkled around gatherings.
‘I dunno what that word multimedia means anymore’, says Brian Storm, founder of one of the world’s respected media agencies, mediastorm. It’s a bit like ‘awesome’. What’s emerged is a distinction and assignment of its understanding to, often a range of ill-suited practices. What is multimedia to some, is a sticky-plaster attempt at bringing together different media, for others. In effect it is Foucault’s discursive formation, at work again.
Rationalised in my own recently submitted PhD thesis, an interdisciplinary approach to creative programming is not about assembling units of media that knit together. To a degree the News Future team epitomised that, but that the coalescing of disciplines results in a hack, a mash-up, an attempt to break from the conventions of mass media and yield something new.
No more so is this realised in the revisionist understanding of videojournalism. Whilst to the industry at large videojournalism signifies traditional news making, my thesis shows it to a more complex form, based on the understanding of several media types. As this blog post in 2008 states
If you could combine the skill of radio, the art of motion graphics, the eye of photography, the mis en scene and arcing of cinema with the compositional language of television, newspapers and blogs provocativeness, and behaviour of online, I believe we’d be closer to understanding Video Journalism.
Videojournalism, is not just journalism – get over it!
Several academic texts today cite some of the theories I have uncovered related to videojournalism as much more of an artistic tool.
One of the UK’s first videojournalists and now a BAFTA award winning filmmaker Dimitri Doganis encapsulates the theory underpinning videojournalism’s ethos as follows:
I would say the distinctions between what is news, features, journalism and documentary, however you want to describe it are utter rubbish and the really interesting thing happens when you are absolutely disrespectful of those distinctions.
This statement however sticks in the craw of traditionalists who view media entities as fixed structures with fixed meaning. Media is made in a certain way because, it always has, is the riposte. Sometimes the purists forget that all media is a human construct, and that as I write about journalism in alternative broadcast styles news story telling could have gone either way in the 1940s.
Today the drive to create new forms continues apace in parallel with structured methods, but for how long?
Last year, I introduced a US start up, Touch cast to a senior executive friend at the BBC. Touch cast allows users to create hyper video, encouraging the creation of meta narratives. The relationship is under wraps, but it’s soon to become a major part of the BBC.
The Economist featured hyper video in an tech article, and interviewed me about its potential. And in discussion with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, I shared the idea that reality is broken, with people becoming the brand. Twitter surfaced a year later.
Type in ‘University model broken’ in google and the returns tell you something. Many an educationists acknowledge the university model and system of knowledge transfer has not changed since the renaissance, so does digital offer a solution to reform?
The Neo learners
In the age of digital, no one as yet has a monopoly on best practices. Firstly, that’s because there are several disparate methods. Secondly, the bible for newer media is still a work in progress. Critical feedback from students has yielded some intelligence ranging from the positive to complaints over the volume of work, which often involves several death marches.
In the heady days of dotcom mania in Soho, death marches were a pre-requesite. That is locking yourself in a room for several days living of pizza and soft drinks.
As Creeber writes in Digital Cultures,
…digital media requires some form of physical device and… digital media has inherited legacies from previous generations of media like the typewriter and the television.
In settling down to your morning fix of Game of Thrones on the iPad commuting to work, or the Guardian newspapers, both media are still produced from the rich heritage of old media. We’ve yet to truly find a new narrative, though Magazine’s such as Wired are having ago, with animated photos.
Millennial students nowadays tend to engage in flip-style university practices. Students boost their knowledge from lectures with ‘how-to’ online YouTube videos giving more scope to tutors to interrogate their understanding of production and the relationship between the user and content – which can be contradictory.
This new behaviour is a more supportive process to revolutionary online university pedagogy and contradicts growing perceived wisdom stated in Wired’s report: University Just Got Flipped, by Steven Leckart and Tom Cheshire. The pair examine exclusive online tutoring via YouTube videos as the future of education.
Video didn’t kill the radio star, and it’s highly unlikely online will kill of human interactive contact. That is not until it reaches a cost effective form of teleportation when you can beam participants into your surroundings virtually.
From China, ideas about future interacting. The mother and child are speaking to the boy’s grandparents who are virtual images emerging from web. I took this photo at their Shanghai Expo.
The potential weakness in delivering newer media is highlighted in John Caldwell’s New Media who disputes that analogue philosophies play no part in digital creations, when cognitive thinking demonstrates antecedent forms play strong roles. So how do you decouple yourself from analogue? Should you be reaching for the future, with nothing more than a squint at past media practices, and how do we continue to leverage creativity?
The knowledge Transfer Exchange
Author’s presentation spot, 30 mins before session.
The digital era has not only infected technology, but the process in which we workflow and disseminate knowledge. That’s a given for media, but what about academia?
Tradition was that the lecturer/presenter delivered tablets of etched information. The contents was uncontested, stable, and even when challenged during open discussions, the rehearsed conclusion stacked up.
But the forces of digital and burgeoning social network theory have changed that. In truth, this revolution, is not strictly a digitally-driven technological one. If post structuralism has taught us anything, it has been the shift in the philosophy of meaning making that destabilised an institutional hegemony of knowledge.
Film scholars were privy to a fundamental change in the 1970s when film theory, writes academic David Bordwell, was being established in literary departments, thus ending journalism’s banal exegesis.
The learning environment has had to adapt too. On the one hand, lecturing has turned part performance, part curator, as students critically judge the quality of the knowledge.
Presenters such as Al Gore in an Inconvenient Truth skilfully navigate their data with a mix of pathos, jokes and cinema. In a digital era, the seamlessness of an interesting presentation belies the work underneath to present it in a modular fashion, allowing for easily available access points during the talk.
Five years ago speaking at a conference, I presented this film, as an example of future pedagogy.
On the other hand, the digital student has morphed. Information is readily accessible, though its presence or even absence on the web doesn’t not guarantee versimiltude. Just because it’s not on the web, does not mean it didn’t happen, and just because it’s on the web doesn’t make it true.
An equally interesting phenomenon, is the propensity to flatten information to a one size fits all. What’s good for the Times is good for the Guardian in digital; what’s good for Columbia University is great too for Cardiff. But this ignores the heterogeneity of both outfit’s cultural and sociological make up.
In Arts and Physics Leonard Shlain explains cultural differences in space and time and thus why rhetorically cinema, painting and literature, and for that matter videojournalism-as-cinema are different in other locales.
He says, in the East, empty space is a living entity, a 3d object in origami. In the West, space is designed to be filled. In eastern countries the future arrives from the past. In the West, they couldn’t give a monkeys. The past is that old thing.
Academia’s internal revolution also sometimes appears constipated. In the past it was mass media communications earmarked for mass take-up. While digital has infiltrated the market and seemingly shattered it, the evidence from researchers at Goldsmith’s is how Mass media still reigns.
In 2014, it is an unwise cleric who would throw the bible away because digital offered new access points into spirituality. The tussle then is a dynamic one between old and new, analogue and digital.
In the University Just Got Flipped, Steven Leckart and Tom Cheshire challenge orthodoxies in a feature length article for Wired. New tools facilitate flip teaching - online learning via videos and intervention from the tutor, when practical problems are posed to the students.
Technology has always impacted different learning habits, spurring online videos – they work. Outfits like the Khan Academy and Lynda.com serve a community of technologists subscribing to the ‘out of the box- to do approach’. So where does that leave the sentient teachers?
In their book History as Art, Art as History, the authors, all educators, note methods that ‘allow students to make connection between skills and concepts across subject areas and disciplines, and ideas more generally’.
Dipti Desail and his colleagues Jessica Hamlin and Rachel Mattson say: ‘placing the work of contemporary artists next to the sources and methods of professional historians, we find new epistemological and pedagogical possibilities. By physically tracing the work of contemporary artists and linking them with antecedents, this presents leads the students to investigate history.
Applied to media of the 21st century, trying to understand videojournalism-as-cinema, requires not only locating various sources but drilling along the sociological, technological and cultural mines that make videojournalism-as-cinema possible. Contemporary video essay accrete added value when situated against the work of Chris Marker, Godard and Jonas Menkas.
Desail et al search for an innovative excursion into the minds of the young emerges from a widely acknowledged maxim of the 21st Cs. Its foremost philosophers Nicholas Mirzoff says: ‘Human experience is now more visual and visualized than ever before from satellite picture to medical pictures of the human body’.
The modularity of learning appears to give way to a more stratified approach; not so much as open ended learning as creating different communication experiences around artefacts – film, code, music, & design. Success, said Churchill was going from failure to failure, with no loss of enthusiasm.
Innovation is being bold with ideas that stakeholders have proven has currency.
David Dunkley Gyimah is a senior lecturer and knowledge Transfer academic at the University of Westminster. His PhD examines the future of media (videojournalism). In June 2014 he presented at the BFI to UK teachers about creativity and media, sharing a platform with Samira Shah ( BBC Radio 4) and Dorothy Byrne, head of current affairs and news at Channel 4. He is an artist in residence at the Southbank Centre and chair of Jury of the UK’s RTS Broadcast Innovation Awards. A multiple award winner in innovation and media, David’s work has been profiled on Apple, Journalism.co.uk, and The Economist. He is passionate about the media, and continues to create storyforms, which can be viewed on his award winning wite www.viewmagaziine.tv
This from the BFI organiser in June 2014
We were so delighted to include you on the Re-thinking News panel – enthusiastically booked up and participated in – and have had nothing but positive feedback; the teachers really appreciated how you approached describing your work and were able to respond to their questions in a way that was not only so enjoyable but also could feed straight back into their teaching. Am glad to know that you enjoyed it, too!
BFI Media Conference