Project update

Since the last blog update the project has moved into a phase of tutorial support with students now developing solo and site specific work as part of their core module studies. The process of developing their dance module pieces is expected therefore to be documented and reflected upon regularly through their online PDP blogs.

The first tutorial session (29/11/10) following the skills sessions showed that the group were at a similar stage of progress and understanding, all had blogs (created during the second technical skills session) and had demonstrated at least some published media documentation. An observation at this point was that the students seemed to feel the emphasis on their blog creation was very much in adding multi-media content (images, video, sketches) and as a result had neglected to add a representative proportion of written reflection alongside the media evidence. This resulted perhaps due to the emphasis the project placed on bringing the media skill levels of the group to a common level at an early stage before focussing on the process of pdp development and critical reflection itself. It is probably also indicative of the groups lack of experience in engaging with their own creativity in a reflective and critical manner and stepping away from the relative security of purely descriptive text as first year students. Feedback from this session to all students was to increase the volume and regularity of reflective writing on the blog in relation to the media content, to try to add reflective comments every time a piece of media content is added, and to explain the development progress that has occurred between blog posts.

The wednesday afternoon open studio sessions appear to have been a useful aide to the students with most now having booked time slots and used the equipment, space and staff resource to develop their work. Students have been encouraged to connect to each others blogs (via invite) in order to view their peers work, give constructive feedback via commenting and provide initial support for one another before approaching teaching staff. In practice the 30min individual studio allocations are insufficient for students to gain much practical development progress (although more useful for tutor contact time), as a result, group bookings (3 students) of 1.5hrs have been more commonly adopted and have eased the use of limited shared equipment and the documenting of solo pieces. The equipment itself has performed well, the Flip cameras have a 2hr recording limit but generally run out of power within 1-2hrs so rechargeable AA batteries have been required as a backup. Organizing the efficient uploading of content is also an ongoing process with many students still choosing to upload images directly to their blog space rather than to an image hosting site like Flikr as advised. There are also some issues regarding the immediate uploading of video content to Youtube after studio sessions due to the length of time required to upload the duration of footage produced. Both of these issues are resolvable, in the first instance students have again been advised to store images on separate hosting sites as their allocated blog space will eventually run out as more image files are added. Regarding video documentation we have advised students to go back to the Jerwood Bank blogs and Siobhan Davies RePlay to observe how professional dancers in this instance have used video as a part of their documentation and development process by capturing very small key fragments of movement. If the students begin to use the video in this way rather than conceiving of the video document as a fixed, final and privileged artifact that demonstrates the totality of their work rather than the fragments of its construction then they will simultaneously find that demonstrating their development and reflect upon it will be a potentially easier task, and they will avoid the technical issues associated with the uploading of longer HD video files.

Student evaluation & assignment

The students will be given their assignment details this week as a set of minimum requirements to enable the assessment of their engagement with the pdp blog process. The group will also each be given an evaluation sheet to provide individual feedback on the usefulness of the sessions delivered so far.

This week will also be the first time that the group are able to book allocated studio time and begin (if they haven’t already) to document their process using the digital tools provided by the project. Tutorial sessions will start next week and provide an opportunity for us to evaluate where the students are in engaging with the blog process and also give them the opportunity to ask questions of both Andrea (reflective process) and myself (technical).

Tech skills session 2

Last weeks skills session covered the basic steps in setting up a blog and posting different types of content. During previous weeks, students were encouraged to go online and search for blogs that interested them and that demonstrated aspects, either visual or thematic that they could imagine employing in their own blog. At the outset of the project the research team felt that a barrier to the uptake of online collaboration tools is often due to the lack of choice and individual ownership perceived by mandating the use of internal, institutional platforms. There was also a strong desire for the blogs and process formed during the projects short lifespan to have a life beyond the assessed period and it was therefore decided that students would be free to choose any platform on which to create their pdp blogs. WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr were all given as examples of free blogging platforms that the students may want to use, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each were highlighted. Ultimately the majority of the group decided to use Blogger (this was recommended both anecdotally by Sarah Warsop during the first session and later as a good all round platform) as it offered enough customization and control over all of the critical blog settings whilst being less technically complex than WordPress and more fully featured than Tumblr. A smaller number decided to use Tumblr mainly due to the design options and visual quality of the sites it can produce and were content to accept some of the additional tasks such as adding a disqus account to enable commenting on Tumblr blogs (not included as a standard feature).

Key areas covered in the session included:

  • Step by step creation of blog accounts during the session
  • Privacy settings – open/private (if private how to invite selected readers to the blog)
  • Comments & moderation (applying settings to enable author control over commenting)
  • Design (choosing themes/layout/gadgets)
  • Posting content (text/embedding video & image content)

Palatine event – afternoon open space

During the afternoons open space session, there was some useful discussion around the use and assessment of blogs and scratch tapes in dance teaching and learning. I joined a group discussing the use of blogs by their own students as a way of extending the usefulness (for both student and tutor) of the traditional notebook form of documentation by being able to work with a variety of media in a collected space. A member of the group also saw the blog as potentially useful when devising group work and maintaining a co-authored journal of the group process – with the blog enabling the quick extraction of individual student contributions for assessment and learning support. We discussed certain barriers to student uptake such as access to equipment, relevant skills development and the freedom to allow students to create blogs that will engage them rather than enforce existing institutional systems into use (due to the real or perceived differences in the level of personal customization available relative to externally available tools).
There were also issues regarding conduct and privacy that the group felt would be important areas to monitor and give guidance on, however in the same way as the notebook is private and personal, so the blog can be mediated with regards its content and kept private while still allowing peer contribution and tutor assessment via blog invitation. One thing that I took from the discussion was the idea of the blog as feedback loop, even if kept to a minimal number of users, a log seems an ideal way to enable and to demonstrate that feedback loop taking place between students and tutor. The blog therefore seems to be a useful tool even if assessment takes place in more traditional ways as it could provide the source for content, reflection and evidence.
It was useful to share some of the ways we have implemented the D-traces project with others interested in doing something similar and getting their feedback and concerns around the use of blogs. What was really encouraging was the obvious enthusiasm that the group (mainly dance teachers) had for engaging with these technologies in their teaching and learning and the potential value they could see in it.

Palatine Event

Attended the Palatine ‘Digital Archives of the Dance: using digital dance archives in teaching and learning’ event at the Siobhan Davies Dance Studios yesterday. It was an extremely useful day with some very interesting presentations, discussions and food for thought. More information on the event here.

Flips, grip and steering wheels…

Not a post about stunt driving (though there may be parallels) but rather reflections on the first technical skills session, the student responses to the topics covered and how the session developed between the first and second deliveries. The aim of the session was to demonstrate the equipment and techniques available to the students in documenting their studio based movement material through digital media such as digital video, images, scans etc. We started by taking a very brief guided tour of the Flip Ultra HD cameras we have available exclusively for the group, brief because the cameras essentially have an on button, a record button and a playback and delete button. These cameras were chosen for the project based on our knowledge of the scratch tape (rehearsal) footage used extensively within Siobhan Davies RePlay and the simple note-taking form that the video medium had offered the dancers. The scratch tapes showed that there was little need for adjustable focus and zoom, audio was in most cases incidental and quality of image was the priority. In choosing the Flip cameras we therefore sacrificed the creative flexibility of more fully featured cameras for ease of use, more than satisfactory image quality and simplicity of subsequent file management using the supplied software and built in USB connection. There are of course downsides to using very small auto-function video cameras and these were the areas that we focused on with the students initially, looking at reducing camera shake by stabilizing the camera, framing the subject, and being aware of the light and sound qualities of the location you are shooting in. The students had some group practical time of learning to set up and use a few bits of grip equipment such as tripod, clamp and Fig Rig (immediately dubbed the steering wheel) and gave some initial feedback on their experiences. They felt that the tripod and clamp were too restrictive as they wanted the ability to move when in control of the camera, however they were more positive regarding the Fig Rig because of its unfixed nature and thought it might prove useful. I think they understood that giving the camera a more stable platform would ultimately provide better results, how many actually use the grip kit during their free studio sessions will be interesting to see, media production students often avoid the effort of setting up their camera correctly in favor of the quicker and easier handheld alternative so it would be unreasonable to expect that the dance students would necessarily take to it immediately. As was stressed throughout the session however, these are all optional tools at their disposal and they are completely free to choose the methods and tools that suit them best, the better to do this from a position of knowledge than of ignorance.

We then covered the process of managing the video files from Flip to computer to online video host and then to blog. This became an interesting discussion in the first session and revealed that the idea of ‘hosting’ media externally to the blog (due to the storage limits imposed on free blog services) needed to be explained more fully. We also looked at the netbooks and portable scanner that will be available in the studio during their sessions and ran through some basic functionality of each. We covered a lot of ground in the 1.5hrs sessions and although it was a lot of information for the students to absorb, it seemed successful in giving them some necessary exposure to the basic tools needed to document movement work and begin to build a media-rich blog. There were also opportunities to link the practical work taking place back to the content of Siobhan Davies RePlay and the Jerwood Bank Blogs, encouraging the students to use these resources to inform their own development and to reference this use whenever possible, as well as to the previous session with the dancers and the excellent discussions around documentation and its usefulness to personal and professional development.

Tech skills session 1

We have the first technical skills session this morning, covering basic use of the equipment we’ve purchased for the project (more on this later) with the students to ensure they are all at a level of technical proficiency regarding documenting their work. We have split the group into two so that we have a more manageable 15 students per session, as there will be lots of hands on practical work and potential questions arising this seemed the best way forward. The downside is that the sessions are now only 1.5hrs long in which to cover basic camera techniques, practical camera handling, principles of transferring & uploading of content from the cameras and talk briefly about next weeks session on blogs, which means a tight schedule needs to be kept to for each part of the session. Fortunately Andrea, David and myself will be present at the session and this should help to speed up one on one support during the practical elements.

My initial fears of not pitching the technical side of things at too advanced a level have been slightly allayed since being present during the first sessions and realising that the technical proficiency of many of the students is at a fairly good level already. This combined with the limited session time means it was easier to strip out potentially unnecessary parts of the camera skills session, focus on the parts that will be of most use to the students in the dance studio itself, and deal with individual issues or requests as they arise over the course of the next few weeks.

I hope they enjoy learning a little more about the technical side of things, I hope they find the session useful and applicable to what they are doing and I hope they don’t all glaze over when I say ‘rule of thirds’, perhaps a step too far?