Summary

This page offers a summary of key points made in the report.

There is no doubt that the open media classes have contributed to a shift in standing for the Media Department at Coventry University, having moved up 52 places in the Guardian League tables during the last four years. There is also clear evidence that there have been very positive outcomes for the diverse groups and individuals who have led and contributed to the open classes. The open classes have informed the re-approval of the Photography Bachelor of Arts Degree course , an new BA in Digital Media and an open Masters course (launching Sept 2015). This is a remarkable illustration of how far the experiences of the department, academic staff and registered and open students have convinced institutional managers of the scalability of the model/s. The development of the Disruptive Media Lab in 2013 provides tangible evidence that the University endorses the activities of the Department, which has been given an entire floor of the Library and significant funding investment over three years to develop the Lab which will focus on – openness (research and teaching), co-creation and game based approaches, the flipped classroom and online/distance learning.

The open media classes were not developed in a vacuum. They were, and are, an integral part of a range of activities at Coventry, including the Research activities at the Centre for Disruptive Media, and the series of open access and editable publications by Professor Gary Hall, the development of bespoke mobile applications, as well as collaborative activities with other art schools to explore the concept of a ’21st Century Art School’. These activities are symbiotic and help to generate and support a culture of openness and innovation. The team at Coventry make it clear that course development is an ongoing process that is continually responding to needs as they develop. As new people join the team with different experiences and practices, the courses may be taken in new directions, although the fundamental principles remain the same. The principles outlined in the policy developed by Shaun Hides in 2009 – Tactical, Sustainable, Engaged, Visible and Collaborative  – continue to frame the changes the team make in their efforts to respond to what it means to be a media professional and in how the Department provides a curriculum to support this.

Issues of trust and risk have been key factors in the overall story of the Open Media Classes. Department Managers, in particular placed significant trust in innovative lecturers to try out new approaches, and those lecturers in turn trusted managers to navigate the institution on their behalf in terms of risk management. There was also a need for trust in opening the classes to outside contributors in terms of ensuring that students had positive learning experiences, received valid and useful interaction and feedback and developed the confidence to interact in an open way. The risk of placing students in situations where they may feel vulnerable needed to be managed well and the lecturers did respond to concerns from students and established a more secure forum in one instance. The low profile approach adopted by the Department of Media meant that the Institution did not become overly risk averse, which enabled innovation to take place, but there is also clear evidence of a level of trust at the institutional level as senior managers supported early steps into open access and open podcasting.

It is also important to note that for the team at Coventry these open models are not aiming to become the ‘norm’ but are part of an ongoing investigation into how HE might respond to continuing political, economic and social changes and challenges. These challenges also present opportunities to reconsider traditional approaches and explore new ways to educate and support learners. Whilst other educational institutions could adopt elements of these models they have not been presented to the wider community as a single solution – for Coventry University they have been as much a part of the process and not simply a product.

Since 2009 the classes have been variously remixed and re-written. The last ten week iteration of phonar had over seventy people with editing rights on the schedule representing over 45 different Universities and the last iteration of Picbod was adopted, adapted and run independently by Matt Johnston applying his successes at turning [online] numbers into names and actions (with the photobookclub.org). The last iteration of Phonar had over 35,000 people come to the WordPress version of the class from 139 countries, we haven’t had resources to accurately record the Flickr, Soundcloud, Youtube, Google+ and Twitter environments though the classes thrive there also. Following Phonar2012 the students demanded their next class be run open and along the same lines – which Coventry University assented to – our proviso being that they (the students) designed it. Phonar2012 graduated with the highest percentage of First Class Honours in the history of the course.
…We have proven to our institution that by opening up our photography classes we create a network of connected visual storytellers who serve to enrich the experience of the paying and attending student (leading to our course becoming the most over subscribed in the University). This virtuous circle of the distributed class has enabled engagement by individuals and communities barred from traditional closed learning either by geographical, financial or cultural barrier, whilst simultaneously offering an expanded network of resource and collaboration to the attendee. As far as we can see – everyone wins.  Reclaim Open Learning Awards, 2013 http://open.media.mit.edu/phonar-ed/

Throughout this report we have used the terms ‘innovation’ and ‘disruption’. These terms can be perceived and dismissed as ‘buzzwords’ but for the Department the terms fundamentally drive their thinking and their activities. A thorough discussion of why the Department focuses on ‘disruption’ is well articulated in a recent publication ‘Open Education: a study in disruption’. The open media classes are exemplars of innovative teaching practice which take advantage of open social technologies but which are situated within validated, formal University courses. These classes illustrate exciting new approaches that have the potential to transform both the relationships between teachers and learners and the roles of academics, students, industry professionals and the public in education. A recent article by Jim Groom and Brian Lamb on ‘reclaiming innovation’ offers a considered discussion around these terms saying that innovation is ‘increasingly conflated with hype, disruption for disruption’s sake, and outsourcing laced with a dose of austerity-driven downsizing. Call it innovation fatigue.’ (Groom and Lamb 2014). They consider the values, goals and strategies that educators might pursue to keep innovation as a ‘positive force’ and call for ‘open architectures, through open-source applications, to reinvest in creative people, processes, and possibilities’. The open media classes at Coventry illustrate these values and offer authentic exemplars of innovation.

It is well within the power of educators to play a decisive role in the battle for the future of the web. Doing so will require the courage to buck prevailing trends. It will require an at-times inconvenient commitment to the fundamental principles of openness, ownership, and participation. It will require hard work, creativity, and a spirit of fun. Groom, J and Lamb, B. 2014 http://www.educause.edu/visuals/shared/er/extras/2014/ReclaimingInnovation/default.html

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