Q&A with Helen Keegan – Senior Lecturer (Interactive Media and Social Technologies), University of Salford, Manchester.
Q1.You have been involved in numerous projects which challenge the usual dynamics in teaching and ask students to be producers what has been your personal favourite and what did students produce as a result?
“It’s hard to choose one as they’ve all had their strengths and weaknesses, but I’d probably go with the ‘opera project’ as it was such a challenge and there was a live output as a result of remote collaboration. In this project, we worked with 120 students from the UK, New Zealand, France and Colombia. They formed eight international teams, and each team was responsible for producing the visual backdrop for a specific act in an 8-act opera. The visuals were entirely filmed and edited on mobile devices. Each team was given a one word descriptor for their act, along with the music, which was fairly avant garde so they really needed to demonstrate abstract thought. They collaborated through google hangouts and docs for the planning, so it was quite a challenge for them to negotiate the creative process remotely and across timezones. Complete chaos at times, but worth it to see their visuals become part of the performance at the Tete-a-Tete Opera Festival in 2013.”
Q2. Have you experienced any difficulties in getting teachers and students to engage projects which use social media and how did/do you deal with this?
“Yes, there are always difficulties – the main concerns centre on working openly, lack of confidence in using various tools and different platform preferences. Confidence in using tools and working openly tends to build through time, but the platform preference issue is interesting when it comes to international collaborations. We’ve found that students in different countries tend to gravitate towards particular platforms. It’s all very well setting up an international collaboration, but when students in country X insist on using Facebook while students in country Y insist on using Twitter, that’s a problem! We try to be as platform-agnostic as possible, then aggregate content from multiple platforms through a common hashtag. Eventually groups will settle on a common platform for communicating, but at the beginning it can be a challenge to negotiate platform preferences and the resulting power relations.”
Q3. What has been the most exciting/interesting outcome of a project so far?
“This year, we moved from international collaborative projects (like the opera project) to student-led (and initiated) collaborations. 250 students from the same 4 countries started to connect through a common hashtag, and we encouraged them to make one another curious through producing interesting/odd Vine videos and adding them to a collaborative Google map. It was a really neat way to build ambient awareness, and then the students started communicating and collaborating on the production of mobile films – however they didn’t have to do this, so it was great to see how many of them did begin to work together, and the outputs were fantastic! In the past, we’d done a lot of work in terms of organising groups and defining projects, so it was interesting to see the results when we stepped back and let the students self-organise through common interests.”
Q4. Do you think these projects change the way that your students view and use social media?
“Absolutely – these kinds of projects introduce students to the collaborative potential of social media. Although they’re all avid social media users (in terms of social networking) they still tend to view collaboration as working in small, local groups. Through working on large-scale international collaborations, they become comfortable with the idea of working across cultures and timezones, and they also benefit from learning from one another’s disciplinary perspectives. They’re much more likely to instigate collaborative projects themselves after taking part in these projects, as they become confident in their ability to work in international teams with people they haven’t met face-to-face.”
Helen will be speaking more about her work at LSE as part of the LTI Networked seminar series on Wednesday 5th November at 5pm.