Celebrating Machinima

Last weekend, our SWIFT video saw it’s thousandth view. That’s not a lot in YouTube terms, but as a dissemination method for an academic project like SWIFT, it’s really quite impressive. Compare this to a conference presentation: a thousand people in the audience is virtually unheard of. A paper in a high-impact journal is good, but like a presentation only reaches an academic audience in that area. Nowadays, funders want a lot more interest generating for their money.

I first noticed the possibilities for videos filmed within virtual worlds like Second Life (known as “machinima”) when I saw the “Falling Woman Story”, an excellent insight into the reality that can inhabit a virtual world:

That was barely 18 months ago, yet things have moved on very quickly. Linden Labs (Second Life creators) now run a regular “Month of Machinima“, showcase. New techniques are being developed, new standards. Machinima is becoming a separate art form. Here’s an example from the first “Month of Machinima”:

It may be time to rethink ideas about project dissemination. There are now numerous technological ways to raise awareness of an academic project. They all have their place.

In my opinion, a website is a good “shop window” that people can be referred to as a “clearing house” for project information. A blog is about engaging people in dialogue within the project’s area, and needs to be used in conjunction with replying to other people’s blogs in the area. Twitter is good for generating interest in current activities – what’s going on NOW – or for sharing a kind of “stream of consciousness” about the project and its area. Facebook is good for creating and maintaining working relationships between individuals in an area. And video seems to be good for engaging people in the concept of a project, generating interest and getting people talking.

Oh, and it’s good to write some papers too…

Paul Rudman, BDRA

Disseminate from Day One

I recently attended the ALT-C conference “Into something rich and strange – making sense of the sea-change” (7-9 September in Nottingham). As usual, it was a really good conference; I felt that every session was packed full of information on good practice, experimentation, research, and innovation in learning technology. Although I heard a most inspiring keynote from Sugata Mitra on his life’s work beginning with the installation of ‘hole-in-the-wall’ computers for children in rural India, and although I heard the winning research paper about 5 years of data-gathering on students’ use and purchase of mobile devices, probably the most practical take-home message I received was from a ‘graveyard-shift’ session by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) on the importance of dissemination and sharing our findings. The HEA was asking us, “What else can we do to get the word out regarding some of the great work that is being done?” They pointed out that many funded projects treat dissemination as something done only at the end of the project, when a paper is written and presented at a conference. In fact, there is so much lost with that approach, so much discussion that is forfeited, so much networking and reflection which could enhance and improve and extend the reach of the study. Dissemination should be done from day one.

This resonates with the drip-drip theory of publicity — that if you often, even daily, put out little drips of information about a project or event, it is more effective than just a few big informational outputs.

I’ve had opportunity to discuss these issues with postgraduate students, especially those working on PhDs.  I often hear them say that they don’t think they should talk about their work at all with anyone outside their team. I can understand not wanting to reveal one’s research secrets in advance of publication. However, I think this reticence denies them valuable opportunities to bounce ideas off other experts and receive support from others.

I for one left ALT-C realising that I need to approach each of my projects with the willingness to ‘disseminate from day one.’ We at Beyond Distance are pretty good at disseminating our findings, with this blog and blogs for each of our research projects as well as workshops and other activities, but we can always improve. I need to be much more faithful in my blogging. A little bit, and more often is better than stressing over fewer, bigger communications. Twitter, of which I am already an avid user (I am tbirdcymru and the Beyond Distance Media Zoo is BDMediaZoo), is built for exactly this. Because the bottom line is: if we do great work but don’t effectively communicate it, have we actually completed the great work?

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and Assistant Media ZooKeeper

Beyond Distance Research Alliance

Knowledge sharing

Some time ago David Hawkridge wisely suggested a centrally held, easily accessible resource for BDRA, containing a well-indexed set of academic references that colleagues can use in their writing. Today we have a growing RefWorks database covering many of the areas that are central to our research.

As has been reported in this blog before, the Friday morning Writing Group provides a forum for BDRA colleagues to run their drafts past their peers in a safe, informal and constructively critical environment. Last week, however, we altered the usual Writing Group session and conducted a structured three-hour knowledge-sharing seminar instead. Its aim was to to share the key lessons that individuals or groups of colleagues have learnt from recent conferences and other activities, enabling the rest of the team to benefit from them. It was a very good opportunity to revisit and debate the main ideas and concepts.

Topics included:

  • BDRA’s collaboration with the RAF
  • ‘Shock of the Old’ conference, Oxford
  • Occupational Psychology Course Conference at Leicester (DUCKLING project)
  • JISC Curriculum Delivery meeting, Birmingham (DUCKLING project)
  • Considerations from 2 timely reports: ‘The sustainability of learning and teaching in English higher education’ and ‘Thematic enquiries into concerns about academic quality and standards in higher education in England’.
  • Work-based curriculum delivery and assessment
  • CABLE (from the HE Academy CABLE-Carpe Diem event held on 5 May)
  • A range of salient issues from many other recent national and international conferences

The session, which was attended by all BDRA staff, was very informative, interactive and enjoyable. We are now considering ways to maximise the impact of our lessons learned on the team, beyond the occasional F2F knowledge-sharing sessions that we will continue to organise. Not surprisingly, we are discussing ways in which technology can help.

Alejandro Armellini
17 May 2009

BDRA’s Knowledge Store

I was pleased to find that the Writing Group liked and endorsed my proposal of a BDRA Bibliography, and that Ale will seek some advice on how best to set it up.

Let me go further, in the hope that the Bibliography might be the first step towards setting up BDRA’s Knowledge Store. ‘Store’ in both senses. First, the Store as a place to pile up the knowledge products that BDRA is constantly and rapidly generating, in a variety of electronic formats ranging from project reports to conference papers to workshop outlines to podcasts and so on. Second, the Store as a ‘one stop shop’ that UoL staff (maybe students too) and those beyond UoL could turn to when they want advice on teaching and learning. In the latter case, the products will need to be on ‘shelves’, catalogued in an accessible way, so that the Store will be more like a supermarket or iTunes than a village corner shop.

I gather that the London Knowledge Lab has something along these lines, and at the OU there’s the Knowledge Network. It would be worth BDRA’s while to study how these two are organised. I know that the Network has gone through several iterations but is used substantially now by staff via the OU Intranet, including me.

As I mentioned at the Writing Group, anything along the lines of an archive does need effort to set up and maintain, but the Store could pay handsomely in terms of value to staff and in further establishing BDRA’s reputation as an outward-facing group that is a real help to hard-pressed academics and others. It shouldn’t replicate what’s elsewhere (e.g., at HEA or JISC) but could have links to those ‘repositories’ (they sound like furniture warehouses).

I think the Store would build on BDRA successes, multiplying their effects.

What do you say? Worth thinking about and discussing soon?


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