July 17, 2024

25 Years of OU: 2010 – podstars

Author: mweller
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I became interested in the implications of new technology on academic practice towards the end of the 00s. This would later come under the digital scholarship term, and I’d write a book about it in 2012. At the OU I was promoting the idea of using free, low-entry tools to disseminate research, or add pieces into learning content.

I ran a small project at this time called ‘Podstars‘ which sought to progress this approach. In this I got a number of volunteers from across the university. At the time smart phones weren’t a thing, so we loaned them all Flip video cameras (I loved a Flip). I got them together for an initial meeting, showed them the basic video editing software, talked through what they wanted to do and showed some good examples of videos and tools they might use (now most of these have gone, but it was web 2.0 days). We then had a mid-project meeting where we reviewed contributions and discussed any issues, and then a final meeting. The lessons I blogged about at the project’s culmination in 2010 were:

  • The legitimisation of ‘playing’ – signing up to the project legitimised playing with new technology their own minds (and that of colleagues/managers) and also provided a motivation to engage.
  • The switch to producer from consumer – We asked people to upload to YouTube, and although most had viewed lots of videos, none had produced their own. Once this switch has been made it will be interesting to see if it sticks.
  • Different formats – although we started the project around Flip cams, I also introduced people to a bunch of other services (most now long gone) with the challenge ‘you can produce something in 15 minutes’. Some participants preferred these other tools, and all could see value in having a mix. Exposure to the variety of tools, was a significant gain for many of the volunteers.
  • An appreciation of how easy it has become – it was a mild revelation to many participants to realise how easy the tools were to use. We had passed a threshold in the ease of use of multimedia which was quite liberating.
  • Context and framing is important – when you have your own blog, it is easy to construct the academic context around an artefact. Without this some participants reported that they felt their outputs were rather left floating.
  • A non-project project – the podstars project seemed to be at about the right level for meeting – it was identified as an internal project with people attached to it, there were some loose objectives associated with it, but it remained fairly lightweight and exploratory.
  • Being creative is fun – who knew?

Looking back on these now, some seem rather naive and a bit wowed by new technology. Good online multimedia often requires professional skills to rise above most of the mass output, but I still feel that with not much skill academics can create engaging content that complements their research or teaching. In many ways I was wrong about all of this – it didn’t really change much, and now ten years later we still publish books and articles mostly. Some people have toyed with alternative outputs – comic books, video, twitter threads, interactive data – but I’d say these are still the exception. Creating this kind of output has not become part of the everyday life of academics, and is not readily encouraged or supported by most institutions. I may need a better title, but you could run a podstars series in 2020 along much the same lines.

Here is the rather gaudy slides I prepared for the workshop back in the day:

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