The open media classes at Coventry University evolved as a result of international, national and institutional influences. It is helpful to consider these drivers in more detail

The emergence of Distributed Open Courses

Networking technologies have the potential to transform learning and teaching from closed content-based approaches to open connected and collaborative experiences. Yet questions remain about how far open access to both content and learning opportunities translates into successful experiences for learners (Littlejohn, A. et al 2014). Educational institutions, which tend to be slow to change, can struggle to adapt existing models of teaching and support to take account of these changes, but have to respond to growing competition in a global context and a range of different emerging open models (Weller, 2014). Coventry University was an early adopter of open approaches and the Department of Media at the School of Art and design secured funding from the third phase of the HEFCE funded UK Open Educational Resources Programme (UKOER) (2011-2012). Whilst many of the projects in the UKOER Programme (2009-2012) were focused specifically on content most of them  were also concerned with open educational practices1 (OEP). The UKOER Coventry Open Media Classes (COMC) project was unusual in that it focused on open classes rather than content and their findings provided a rich additional story to the UKOER findings.

There are a range of different types of open course2 – from fully open massive courses such as the cMOOCs (based on connectivist principles of knowledge creation encouraging collaborative content creation, creativity, autonomy, and social networked learning) and xMOOCs (large scale high profile courses delivered largely through traditional means with a focus on didactic pedagogy such as lectures and testing) to what have been described as open boundary or open classroom courses (where existing traditional courses are opened up and transformed by contributions from open non fee-paying students and professionals around the world). Open classroom courses offer opportunities to integrate new open approaches with existing traditional models and the Coventry open media classes are one of the most successful exemplars of this model, providing tangible evidence of transformative teaching practice and enhanced student experiences. In these open classrooms roles of, and relationships between, the various stakeholders are changing in exciting and challenging ways. This study aims to tell the story of the Coventry open media classes and answer some of the questions that we need to consider around how far the models are transferable to other institutions and other subject disciplines, and how they have developed and adapted over the last 5 years.

An interesting recent development is the Connected Courses collaborative network of faculty in higher education. This initiative launched in summer 2014 and established an open course for developing and teaching open courses in September 2014. The team at Coventry are contributing to Connected Courses and utilising this initiative to share their stories and their models with the wider community. This followed the Reclaim Open Learning initiative from the DML Hub (Digital Media and Learning), part of the MacArthur Foundation which had awarded a prize to support Coventry’s Phonar-Ed initiative, University of Mary Washington’s DS106 (Digital Storytelling) course, and FemTechNet’ distributed course.  Phonar-Ed provides ‘a back channel for instructors to come together, share experiences and highlight examples of best (open) visual story-telling practice. With #PhonarEd we are setting out to address the challenges experienced by academics/instructors who are as yet unfamiliar with the remix culture that Creative Commons licenses (for example) grant access to (our most FAQ’s are is it okay and how do I use/adapt/adopt this?). We have found that to be passively open is not enough, with #PhonarEd we seek to continue our policy of active opennessFrom Reclaim Open Learning, September 2013

Wider developments at Coventry University

In 2009 Coventry University the Media Department developed the Open Media Strategy in response to changes in the media and communications professions and the educational landscape, brought about by both an increasingly networked world and emerging open practices. Technological changes in digital media have challenged traditional ownership of content – particularly in relation to broadcasting and sharing information and have enabled wide-scale access to the means of recording, producing and publishing/sharing.  This has transformed the relationships and power balance around ownership of media messages (Ratto & Boler, 2014). Notable examples of this include the impact on news reporting by public contributions through social media; on professional photography models3; and publishing models4.  Professionals working in the media and communications field have been adapting to these changes and struggling to respond to an erosion of traditional communication channels and technologies.

There were other developments happening in parallel at the University, which highlight a responsiveness to the changing learning technology landscape, a readiness for cultural change and a certain openness to risk. In 2008 Peter Woodbridge was working as a researcher at the University and was an early adopter of social media. Peter took a proposal to the university aiming to transform their digital presence through the adoption of iTunes U to share University open podcasts. Although some staff were nervous about these open approaches, Professor Madeleine Atkins, the Vice Chancellor at the time was very supportive and was interested in establishing a global presence for the Institution. The institution became the 1st University of this type to have open podcasts on iTunes U (and 6th in the UK overall). A key driver was the need to attract international students and to support University marketing.

The institution was also establishing the CURVE open repository, which linked in with projects across the university. Gary Hall from the Media Department was taking a leading role in opening access to research in the UK, and the Department of Media was providing many of the open podcasts. Alongside this Jonathan Worth began opening some of the department’s classes in the BA (Hons) Photography (Phonar (Photography and narrative) and Picbod (Picturing the body) (described in more detail below). Peter joined the Department as a lecturer in 2010 and established the open Creative Activism class as part of the BA (Hons) Media Production Degree. Peter also developed a mobile application to support the Picbod open class which integrated tweets, photographs and podcasts, and allowed people who were interested to follow the course in “real time” or at their own convenience. Jonathan Shaw further developed the app to allow students to take and upload their own photographs, enhanced sharing mechanisms and searching all of #PICBOD posts.

The Centre of Disruptive Media was initiated by Gary Hall and Shaun Hides and established by the Department of Media at Coventry University School of Art & Design in 2011 to study, research and experiment with disruptive digital technologies to explore new models and new economies.  

 In this respect, it is important, as we say, to distinguish between different kinds of disruption. These include, but are not limited to: disruption of the practices of HEIs, not least by means of technological-pedagogic practices; disruption of the business models and economics of these institutions; and disruption of their ownership and institutional structures. (van Mourik Broekman et al Open education: a study in disruption 2014)

The open media classes have become one aspect of this work, which has the potential to ‘disrupt’ higher education models, practice, structures and markets. The shift toward a ‘globalised higher education market’ brings challenges and opportunities to the sector with the potential to transform traditional models of practice. In a recent publication several members of the Coventry University School of Art and Design provide an overview of the wider international and national context that underpinned developments at Coventry (van Mourik Broekman et al, 2014). They also consider the more local (institutional) complexities that impact on open education approaches and the various stakeholders involved.

1 For a definition of Open Educational Practices and links to further sources and discussion see this page on the UKOER wiki

2 For a description of different open courses and links to further information see this page on the UKOER wiki