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.

Library Session, 11/11/10

Sarah Whatley and David Bennett led a session with the students to acquaint them with Siobhan Davies RePlay; a series of search tasks were developed so that students could become familiar with the range of content available and some of the functionality of the site, especially the scrapbook function.

The session took place in a group study room in the university library, equipped with 12 PCs – the group was split in half, 15 students per group, so some students had to pair-up, and each session was 90 mins.

A worksheet was created with some general remarks about what an archive is and how one should engage with it, together with a search task. Six tasks were distributed among the group, one task each, with a seventh task given to all students to be completed in their own time. Students were asked to bring personal ear-phones so the audio from the archive would not spill across the group.

The worksheets have been aggregated here D-TRACES Library session

Observing the students during the sessions and from the discussion after the tasks completed it was interesting to see how engaged they were with watching video content, one student noting ‘…not enough time to watch video all the way through’. The general comments included: the tasks were easy and straightforward; content was interesting (‘…flyers from so long ago’, interview(s) about Davies’ process); there was surprise ‘…at the range of stuff to keep’, e.g. sound scores, costume; and students found it useful as a model for documenting.

Hopefully, as the project progresses and the students engage further with their own process we will be able to evaluate the student experience with the archive more, and maybe find out what makes them ‘click or stick’. This will be useful feedback to inform the DDA project.

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)

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?

Session 1: Intro & sharing

Gill sharing some useful examples of dance blogs she’s discovered with Andrea and the group during the first D-traces session.

Blog Sharing

The three of us (Andrea, Gill, Ross) gave a brief introduction to the project from each of our fairly distinct perspectives, Andrea from a teaching and learning outcomes perspective, Gill as a former student and dance practitioner and myself from a technology and digital media support role. The group seemed fairly comfortable with the concept of documenting their work digitally, and more than I would have expected had already used video to document performance. The responses from a quick group task to describe how, why and what they had previously documented provided a relatively comprehensive list of methods and further evidence of a range of skills within the group. When asked how many of the group had already created a blog there was one slightly uncertain hand raised, when asked how many had used facebook to post thoughts, comments, images, share youtube videos etc the entire group raised their hands. My thoughts were that if we can make using a blog to document the dance process as immediate, easy and relevant as using facebook to document social activities, then there is actually less of a technological bridge to cross as many of the processes are very similar and familiar. Many of the practical skills required are potentially already there and it may be more about demonstrating ways of working and advocating the usefulness of doing so in a new context.

Gills danceblog links from the session: