Liveblog notes from IET Technology Coffee Morning on Podstars, presented by Martin Weller and Ross Allen (also included Anna Page, Dave Perry).

(An interesting presentation for me given my background skepticism about the value of video.)

Recruitment via Deans, some people ‘volunteered’ without knowing what they’d signed up for, others who heard about it and really wanted in.

Thirteen people, from across faculties. Got people together, gave them Flip cameras and showed them how to use them and the software. Set up an external Wetpaint wiki and an email list. Ran over 3 months; had half-way meeting and a final one. Have all but one back. There were pre-questionnaires about previous experience; very mixed.

About half of the audience have used Flip cameras – they’re very easy to use.

picture of pods
(cc) árticotropical on Flickr

Weren’t really trying to produce ‘stars’, but trying to get people producing video as a by-product of usual activities – and to explore what people did.

It was very open-ended: come to us, discuss ideas. It’s not formal training in being a presenter (we have those); not intense AV support. It was a safe, supportive space to encourage people to be creative.

Ideas: regular reviews, series of features, book analysis, interviews, vid journalism/event coverage, slidecast, music videos.

Cautions: be careful of rights clearance (CC music – CC Mixter), permission to film (especially events), being controversial, going on a bit (danger for academics – talk for an hour), being drunk.

Examples presented here. Simple catchphrase, interview people with it. D’Arcy Norman’s question – how do you connect to people online? Martin’s own music video about Twitter, and his interview with himself from the future. Slidecasts too – record an audio file, and sync it with the slidecast. Almost frictionless byproduct – record the audio as you go; sync afterwards is a bit of work but not much. Then famous ‘Web 2.0 The Machine is Us/ing Us’ – 11m views. Martin’s ‘future me’ video got 469 views. Then up to semi-professional production – Discussing open education with Martin Bean.

Low quality is an invitation to participate. But next level up isn’t hugely difficult to do. Technical level of quality is one dimension – some wanted to move beyond that. But it’s more about being comfortable, speaking about something you’ve thought through, and being passionate.

Important practical tip: Got over the first technical can-you-do-it hurdle in the initial meeting – they left with a basic capability.

Reasons for volunteering: producing stuff to use in teaching, on a low-effort, quick turnaround basis. Or a specific project – one person going on a field trip. Or people with blogs who wanted to jazz them up.

What they produced is on http://podstars.wetpaint.com. Also suggested XtraNormal as a video creation tool. Very interesting range of different videos used.

Nespresso pods
(cc) Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr

Feedback was pretty possible. Keen on it being outside OU production systems – doesn’t take months or years to do.

Lessons learned: legitimisation of ‘playing’; need space to do it, be part of a project that says it’s Ok to fiddle around with this. The switch from consumer to producer is a huge leap; it’s a threshold. Different formats – YouTube, Animoto, Slideshare, Xtranormal – and it’s about what suits you. It’s very easy to do. Especially true at the OU where we have the ‘big production’ model in our heads. Context and framing is important – if put it on YouTube and Facebook, they got comments from their friends, not anything educational. YouTube comments in particular are notorious for not being high-quality academic discussion. Perhaps a role for the OU to frame comments and discussion on video better? This wasn’t a traditional project – more unpredictable, loose, not top-down. Telling everyone to produce YouTube videos wouldn’t work; needed to be more open-ended. Hard to say whether it was worth the return on investment.

Finally: being creative is fun! Easy to get ground down in OU course production process. But academics are creative people, important to give an outlet to that.

Next steps: an IET only version Oct-Jan, then another round of recruitment Jan-Apr next year. Along the same lines.

Questions outstanding: Is this scaleable? And what’s the product, and where does the it go? Can it be used in teaching and research? Perhaps more useful as extra, motivational, exciting stuff rather than the hard-work course content; or if students create their own. Also – what if copyright infringement troubles, something offensive, a runaway meme? Also boundary between personal and corporate is tough.

The wiki itself became a bit of a barrier to participation; may be a group blog next time to allow structure.


Andy Lane: Good stuff. Experimental space is important. Experiment without expectation to produce something that is deliverable. We need that, this is one of many. Bit like LabSpace of OpenLearn. Great. Even if have it as an experimental space, does there become a more formal version? Interested to hear from participants how they think about their educational practices. Especially open educational practices. With the technologies, and the openly-available content – how does that change our practices of teaching? Designing, constructing things for student use, or community engagement. How do the primary users – students – see this?

Martin: Interesting. Nobody said it’s led them to rethink their teaching to do it openly. But might be a seed planted. Cultural and political issues trail in the wake. E.g. if they won’t let me do this, I’ll just go and do it.

Andy: That’s an extreme; at a more mundane level, put together a course, write stuff yourself, find stuff already produced (with their rights) – now there’s openly-licensed stuff. Putting a course together is a mix of one or all of those. The open stuff changes the dynamic.

Martin: Introduce them to Creative Commons; also turning people in to producers changes their perception of other sites; host of stuff comes with it.

Dominic Newbould: Universities utterly conventional, slow to change. Easy to get bogged down. Unpredictability, experimental nature of this is vital. I’d love to see the Openings team use this medium of expression in what they’re doing. And see what students do with it. Instead of getting a conventional 2000-word assignment, you got a video back.

Martin: Can of worms opened up. In terms of teaching students general skills, video is increasingly important.

Dominic: Confidence from using it, and not assumption that there’s just one way to get a message across. Students not just dumped on.

Martin: Any course has limited real estate – teaching YouTube would take up space. But nearly everyone with the kit – or even without (XtraNormal) – are amazed with how easy it is to do. Multimedia presentations. Assessment is the nub of it – change that and change lots of things.

Giles Clark: Interested in e-textbooks. Put some OpenLearn material on to the iPad, mixed text and podcasts. Tremendously exciting for future of textbook and authors. Also in publishing context. Context very important; any of your projects mixed text/podcast?

Martin: No. Writing a book at the moment, they want these sort of outputs to go with it.

Mariano Rico: How much information do you have about the effort they had to put in to doing e.g. scripting?

Martin: It varied. One person fell back on BBC training, 2d to script 1 min video. Others got up and started talking straight away.

Ross: Classics confidential just sat down and did it, but also created website around it, took a lot of time getting to grips with it. We were expecting bigger tech support load, but some individuals spent a lot of time trying to do more sophisticated things.

Martin: Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus – interviewed by TV show, explained about Wikipedia, they said ‘where do people find the time?’ – you know where, it’s from watching TV. Now we have to tools to release that. It’s creative, a form of expression, fits in between bits of your life. Learning curve – initial investment, but not – e.g. – he can create slidecasts very easily. Practices presentation beforehand, that creates the MP3, only extra effort is syncing it.

Andrew Brasher: Any sense that the process changed the direction? With some there was a definite output.

Martin: Not always clear, sometimes very loose ambitions. Came away with appreciation that it’s possible. Rise of being open to that. Switch from consumer to producer is key. Opens your eyes to the possibilities – might be e.g. more inclined to use a YouTube video in their course. Separate anecdote – someone produced a video trailer for a course, said to course team should do more, but was laughed at.

Andrew: Do you have follow-up interviews?

Martin: Yeah, would be good.

Someone: People have an initial barrier, but if do it for a course, or project, or have a blog, already have a platform to show it or use it. If they don’t, they need the knowledge to get the platform too. Only putting it on YouTube doesn’t really do the trick.

Martin: Point about context and framing is important. A video in isolation is only part of the story. Stuff we’re producing here isn’t of the quality to go on OpenLearn or OU-branded YouTube. But a space flagged as exploratory, put in right framing where people understand – would also get an audience.

Mariano: Do you have a sense of this step of going from private to public? How easy is it to overcome?

Martin: Good point. One person put a YouTube thing up privately, invited people to see, but didn’t really work, forced to go public. A few participants were surprised how not bothered about that they were. Obscurity is one thing. But also that shift – it wasn’t as big a barrier as he thought. Did think of doing a password-protected wiki, but couldn’t embed YouTube that way.

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Author: dougclow

Academic in the Institute of Educational Technology, the Open University, UK. Interested in technology-enhanced learning and learning analytics.