#MPE2018

What might Research Informed Teaching (RIT) look like in media practice education?

A skewed and somewhat (REF)erential reading of the 2018 Media Practice and Education/MeCCSA Practice Network symposium.

Just the other week I had the opportunity to attend with a colleague, the Media Practice and Education/MeCCSA Practice Network held at University of Lincoln, School of Film and Media. These symposiums are always great fun, a fantastic opportunity to catch up with others in the field and to refresh/update yourself on where the subject discipline is heading. For this year’s symposium, there was a focus on the Practice as Research debate, no doubt driven by the forthcoming REF.

Before attending the symposium we were encouraged to read a paper on the topic of creative film and media practice as research (Bell 2006). Intended as a provocation for those submitting papers to the symposium, the paper asks questions about the epistemic nature of creative practice research (Bell 2006, 89) and questions the ways in which media practice researchers might apply the generic definitions (Bell 2006, 89) promulgated by the AHRC among others. For example, the definition of research as a process of systematic enquiry whereby new knowledge in a field of study is generated (AHRC 2005) is put forward as a kind of classicist definition of research. Bell (2006) considers the correspondence between the kind research activities found within creative practice and those more commonly recognised within academia. The kind of research that more commonly focuses on the empirical testing of hypothesis and the answering of pre-specified research questions. In contrast, Bell argues that research for creative practice is often more likely to be orientated towards the making of an artefact of some sort. Not towards the production of knowledge or the exploration of novel context free (Bell 2006, 89) research methods.

The development of practice based post-doctoral study, he tells us, may at some point, have held the potential to inform a pedagogy of research for creative practice (he lists some characteristics as: detailed documentation, contextualisation of methods/outcomes within a critical discourse, systemisation of learnt experience). However, he problematises this framing by pointing out that successful creative practitioners are not always able to clearly articulate their processes and that adopting the kind of reflexive approach that is common in practice-based PhD’s does not, necessarily produce high quality and successful creative works (Bell 2006, 90). This approach also tends towards an overbearing accountability to the discourse of empirical positivism, evidentiality, and the iron cage (Bell 2006, 92) of rationality. Which is to say, the framing discourse constrains practice within a set of narrow predefined boundaries that can be captured for the benefit of evidentiality (i.e. there is a focus on the epistemological outcome). Whereas, research for creative practice is by its nature exploratory and often difficult to document (i.e. there is a focus on the ontological experience). Bell goes on to argue that creative practice research is essentially performative, generative and the making of work is directly aligned with its reception. For him creative practices are doings and the properties of the final artefact turn us, as the audience to what was done (Bell 2006, 97). In other words, the qualities and characteristics of research undertaken in the making of a creative artefact is evidenced within its consumption. This would seem like a powerful argument for accepting the outputs of creative practice as bone fide evidence of the research undertaken.

For me, one of the drivers for this personal investigation in to research for creative practice is very much the rise of the Research Informed Teaching agenda (Stern 2016, Malcom 2014) commonly referred to as RIT. Joseph-Richard (2018) recently presented a useful review of the topic, evaluating a range of frameworks through which we can understand how the experience of learning could better mirror the activities of researchers (Joseph-Richard 2018, 34). In the end, he concludes that these frameworks are not practitioner focused and suggests that the existing frameworks constrain an understanding of research as practice to within a narrow conceptual understanding of what constitutes RIT (Joseph-Richard 2018, 34). By way of an alternative he offers a more descriptive framework based on a novel ‘crowdsourcing’ research methodology (cf. Joseph-Richard 2018) which he employs to elicit contributions from those already utilising RIT in the classroom. His framework draws on the principles of ‘student centred, creative, critical, analytical inquiry’ (Joseph-Richard 2018, 34) and places these at the centre of the debate. It reveals research to be a complex, interwoven, multiplicity of ideas, methods and approaches that require a discipline focused approach to what we do in the classroom.

The article is certainly a stimulating and engaging piece of work but it has one significant flaw from the point of view of my own inquiry into the field. How could you apply such a distinctively academic framework to the field of creative and media practice? Perhaps the framework doesn’t work for practice? Perhaps we are already doing RIT in our practitioner led classes? If we were what might it look like? These and many more questions arise from a reading of the article. So it would seem that Joseph-Richard (2018) has laid the ground for further research that might advance the understanding of what RIT in media practice classrooms might look like. He even offers a respectable methodology for asking these questions that would perhaps replicate his own research but within the media practice community. Sadly though, at this point in time, without having undertaken this follow up study, I am still no closer to answering the questions I have about RIT.

With this in mind I approached the symposium with renewed excitement. Was I going to finally unpack this idea of research through practice and be able to articulate it for myself?

Unfortunately, I left the symposium none the wiser and with perhaps more questions than I arrived with. That is not to say the symposium wasn’t informative, engaging and enlightening. On the contrary, it was all of those things. The issues is that, as I go deeper I find myself more and more confounded by the tensions and contradictions within the various intellectual positions put forward concerning the nature of research for practice, practice as research, practice-based research (and its various other formulations). So, when I arrived at the MeCCSA Practice Network, I set out with my own research question at the start of the day and set out to pursue the answer: what might RIT look like in media practice education?

In order to answer the question, I employed my own interpretivist methodology of listening, discussing, chatting, offering provocations and drinking tea with colleagues while bedevilling them with my confounding questions. I must admit that I really enjoyed the keynote by Associate Professor Craig Batty who unpacked for me exactly what research impact means and this fed into my investigation offering a number of key insights. For example, the need for there to be some kind of audience and the need to capture metrics around their experience of any artefact produced. Also, the requirement for some kind of change or transformation along with the need to evidence the research in some way also resonated for me. The idea of curiosity also circulated around the conference along with discovery and inquiry as buzz words that for me started to get me thinking about inquiry-based learning as a paradigm that might be drawn upon. I am attracted to the notion that RIT might somehow employ a Deweyian proposition that teaching should focus on processes through which we can encourage the development of critical, intellectual skills. These themes were further developed by the very engaging closing key note by Professor Brian Winston who argued that the role of creative and media practice education is not to train students to reproduce what we already have but to innovate and change the field within which they will eventually work. That we should be aiming to educate them to be incredible social beings. Inspiring stuff and more good material for my post presentation research activities to draw upon.

What was the outcome at the end of the day?

Quite productive as it happens and I have added the conclusion to my inquiry below as I now feel I have a sense of what RIT in a media practice classroom might look like. It draws on principles of inquiry-based learning, infused with a sprinkle of problem-based learning and probably delivered through project-based learning. I think it needs a name so I am running with RIT-based learning at the moment but am happy to take suggestions for a better way of framing it. Here it is, the answer to the question:  what might RIT look like in media practice education?

  1. Activity is driven by a question(s)/problem encounters.
  2. Activity is structured through adoption of a process/method/obstruction.
  3. Discovery should be situated (acknowledge what has come before).
  4. There is change/transformation/something new emerges.
  5. Activity is underpinned by risk taking and uncertainty.
  6. Research is evidenced in some way (perhaps through reflection).
  7. They’re should be impact/engagement/audience.

That is probably a description that most media practice educators will recognise and I have a feeling that we kind of already do all of the above. Perhaps though, we just need to find ways to articulate this better and to locate justifications within the literature.

Personally, I am not yet convinced that research is always evidenced clearly in the artefact and that the artefact itself should stand alone. My experience of the symposium suggests otherwise since the number of presentations I saw that were able to actually articulate the content of their abstracts was very low. In most cases I can’t say I came away with any understanding of the methodological aspects of the presentations which tended to focus on the output. Had the work been presented without the verbal contextualisation I am not sure if I would then subsequently be able to articulate any the the research questions/outcomes/methods (perhaps that is the problem – maybe I shouldn’t need to). In general, I find that the Ernie Wise approach to research through practice presentations (i.e. this is wot I dun) doesn’t do justice to the researchers and the quality of the work they are producing. It is a shame as I felt there was a rich seam of contextual information missing from most of what I saw.

I am sure this debate will continue and I am equally sure there isn’t really an obvious answer since the problem seems to lie with an institutional need to describe research for creative practice for the benefit of government ministers rather than for practitioners and their audiences.

If you are so minded you can watch a short video of the symposium here: MeCCSA Symposium held at the School of Film and Media 2018

REFERENCE LIST

Bell, D. (2006). Creative film and media practice as research: In pursuit of that obscure object of knowledge. Journal of Media Practice, 7(2), 85-100.

Joseph-Richard, P. (2018). Uncovering the many faces of research-informed teaching through crowdsourcing: a descriptive framework. Dialogue, 9, 33-48.

Malcom, M. (2014). A critical evaluation of recent progress in understanding the role of the research-teaching link in higher education. Higher Education, 67(3) 289-301.

Stern, N. (2016). Building on success and learning from experience: an independent review of the research excellence framework. London: Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [viewed Mar 17, 2017]. Available here.

RISE peer feedback model

RISE to the challenge of dialogic feedback

It seems that students want more feedback but studies show they don’t read it or don’t understand it (McConlogue 2014, 1496). But that might largely be down to the monologic, transmission model tutors use for giving feedback. If we want students to increase their uptake of feedback then we need to encourage them to proactively engage with the feedback. To achieve this then perhaps it is useful to start to see feedback as an “interactive and communicative process in service of learning” (Strijbos, J. W., & Sluijsmans 2010, 267) that is not an isolated incident along the way but something integrated into learning in an iterative and repeated manner.

Nichol (2010, 502) suggests that if students are to be thought of as “active agents“, who are equal participants in their learning then they should also be “active constructors“(Nichol 2010, 503) of feedback. Such a shift towards dialogic forms of feedback would see students engage in forms of interaction that might free them from a dependency on “tutor judgements” (McConlogue 2014, 1497) and help them develop the capability for turning their newly found skills in reviewing and feedingback to their own work.

The process of reviewing and commenting on formative writing through course blogs would seem to offer a useful space for developing just such a range of skills. There is though a fundamental need to scaffold peer feedback processes (Kollar & Fischer 2010, 347). Students need to be trained, to have the process modelled, they need practice. Tutors also need to be in a position to facilitate the development of positive and productive commenting and to understand that it is possible that the quality of the interaction with feedback is more important than the quality of the comments (Nichol 2010, 502). With this in mind I have started to devise a general model for application of some of these ideas. It starts with a workshop that introduces some principals and offers some suggestions about how to give good feedback. It goes onto include opportunities for face to face interaction between students post the review and commenting process.

Wray’s (2017) RISE model for structuring peer feedback is going to become an important tool for focusing the students reviews into constructive and valuable feedback. Coupled with a rubric for evaluating the quality of the feedback they give/receive based on Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy it may be possible to generate some interaction around the course blogs when we introduce them.

RISE model for peer feedback

Aligned as it is with Bloom’s taxonomy for higher order thinking the model aims develop feedback skills as positive communications that not only structure the process of review but give a model for reflection and the construction of new knowledge. I haven’t tried it yet but I am building it into plans for the coming academic year. It maybe that the terminology is too dense for some students and this is an issue that has been identified in the literature. As tutors we draw on a large repository of tacit knowledge that enables to easily unpack the meaning of complex jargon and we need to be aware that students don’t necessarily share that repository of knowledge with us. Nonetheless, the model looks inspirational and this reason enough to test its use as a means for structuring student peer feedback.

References

Kollar, I., & Fischer, F. (2010). Peer assessment as collaborative learning: A cognitive perspective. Learning and Instruction, 20(4), 344–348. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2009.08.005

Nicol, D. (2010). From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 501-517. http://doi.org/:10.1080/02602931003786559

McConlogue, T. (2014). Making judgements: investigating the process of composing and receiving peer feedback. Studies in Higher Education, 5079(October), 1–12. http://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2013.868878

Strijbos, J. W., & Sluijsmans, D. (2010). Unravelling peer assessment: Methodological, functional, and conceptual developments. Learning and Instruction, 20(4), 265–269. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2009.08.002

Wray, E., (2017). RISE Model for structuring Student Peer Feedback. Retrieved from http://www.emilywray.com/rise-model/

Case Study: blogging as a tool for early engagement in media practice education.

Executive Summary

This case study evaluates the use of blogging as a tool for promoting early engagement on a level 6 media production course. Based on an action research methodology the case study draws on qualitative interviews and blogged responses to explore the student experience of blogging as a tool for promoting formative assessment. It outlines the research findings and offers suggestions for ways in which others might implement a similar approach. The need for the research emerges from the need to integrate theory and practice into the curriculum so practice is informed by theory; and to ensure critical reflection on practice is located within an appropriate theoretical framework. The paper builds on previous work into approaches to project-based learning in media practice education in UK HEI’s.

What was Done

During the BA (hons) Media Production Top Up student’s welcome week I arranged for a staff member from the Learning Technology Unit to work with Laraine and myself on a session in which all of the students set up a personal blog. We used the free WordPress.com platform to do this and students were asked to write a short welcome post and to email a link to this to their tutor. Initially the aim was to pilot the use of blogging on Factual Production, a L6 unit for which I am the course leader. As part of the project I then scheduled a session which introduced students to the idea of blogging, the style of writing commonly adopted, the value of commenting on each other’s blogs and so on.

The blogging activity was initiated by a lecture on Documentary Modes (Nichols 1983) which I deliver as part of the course. The students were then set a first blogging task which required them to select a documentary video of their own choice from the Vimeo staff picks list[1] and to critically watch the video using a handout on Documentary Modes as a means of thinking about how the video functioned. The following week the students were asked to apply the concept of Documentary Modes in a short analysis and to use this as a basis for a short 300-500-word blog post. The aim was for students to determine the particular mode their chosen documentary fell into and say why. The task required them to use references and provide a bibliography as per normal academic requirements. The first writing task was started during class time and the students were given 30 minutes to begin their blog posts with an expectation that they would be finished in their own time. The following week the students were asked to comment on each other’s blog posts and the course tutor (me) also evaluated and gave written feedback in the form of a comment on each blog post. This process was then repeated a second time with a second blogging task organised in a similar fashion.

In order to evaluate the pilot, we ran a discussion group at a later point in the following semester which resulted in a number of short blogs being written by the participating students. These were captured via Survey Monkey and have formed the basis for the data collection phase of the research.

Motivation and Aims

It is possible to formulate Media practice education as a form of experiential learning following a claim often attributed to Aristotle (2001) that ‘the things we have to learn before doing them, we learn by doing them’. This idea is further expanded by Kolb (1994) who see learning as coming about through a cycle of experience and reflection-on-experience and by Schön (1983) with his concept of the reflective practioner. More recent literature (see Moon 2004) develops this idea further suggesting that experiential learning occurs through a process of reflection on the actions and interactions that come about through experience, leading towards a refinement of judgements of choice and future action. For Moon and others, experiential learning is analytical, immersive and requires learners to be participant both cognitively and affectively. It develops not only skills and knowledge but attitudes, values and behaviours (Hoover & Whitehead 1975, 25). So it would seem clear the reflection is a key means to developing the kinds of expertise that emerges from practice (Lave & Wenger 1991). This is further supported by Barnett (2007, 79) who suggests that if ‘performance is only to be valued through the material outcomes that it yields, [all it will reveal] is a warped and partial valuing of the students’ educational efforts’. Thus, it is possible to argue that critical reflection is a significant and important element in all practice-based teaching.

However, a number of issues arise when using critical reflection to assess project-based learning in media practice education. The first concerns the need to integrate theory and practice into the curriculum so practice is informed by theory. Secondly, there is a need to promote an engagement with critical concerns that circulate around ideas of practice so that critical reflection on practice is located within an appropriate theoretical framework. Finally, there is the need to promote an early engagement with critical reflection so that there can be a formative component to what is an act of looking back upon practice.

Thus, the project aimed to encourage student’s early engagement with theoretical concerns as they relate to their units of study. It aimed to do this through the introduction of a blogging activity that would encourage students to draw on theory to inform their own practice at a much earlier point in the teaching period. It aimed to encourage students to identify and utilise theoretical sources at a much earlier stage in the unit schedule, preparing them for the critical reflection at the end of the course. In addition, it aimed to build formative assessment of the student’s critical engagement with theory and practice into the course schedule at an earlier point in time. Thereby providing feed forward in support of the critical reflection at the end of the course.

Success and Lessons Learnt

The survey posted on Survey Monkey generated 8 responses from a total of 22 who took part in the pilot study. Initial findings support the use of blogging as a tool for promoting early engagement and even those students whose comments were largely negative responded that “it was good as it got me writing about a subject before the essays and this meant I wasn’t going into the essays completely cold” (Student E). Feedback suggested that in general the students found the tasks enjoyable and got them an early start on the research “so I wasn’t going into the essays completely cold” (Student E). Many identified the benefit of regular writing tasks that improved their writing and they also found that the tasks were a good basis for later critical reflection telling us that ”you engaged with the theoretical concepts and connect them with real life examples” (Student C). Some of the issues that were raised by the students included the need to ensure that their blog posts were reviewed and commented on by tutors. They said “I found my research useful when I came to write my critical reflection, however it became frustrating and I began to lack motivation to do it when my tutor did not look at it or provide relevant feedback” (Student F) and this feeling was echoed in other responses. They also wanted the blogging to be better integrated into course work and they wanted it to start right at the beginning of the course saying that they would like it to be a “more important part of the course and [tutors] to give regular feedback on it” (Student A).

It would seem then that there is a real value in using course blogs to stimulate critical thinking, kick start researching the topic and promote early theoretical engagement. Clearly though there are lessons to be learnt and the full and final evaluation of the research data which will include comparison of assessment statistics and debriefing the tutors involved will derive a range of indicators that can be turned into an effective model for rolling out the use of blogging as a means of embedding critical thinking at a much earlier stage of course units.

Scalability and Transferability

Having successfully piloted the use of blogging on one unit on our L6 Top Up programme there are plans to roll this out across all practice units for the Top Up and to also introduce the scheme for the incoming L4 cohort on the BA (Hons) Media Production. In order to do this the course team will need to be trained in the process and this will be part of a staff development session that is currently being planned for the end of this academic year. In particular, it is anticipated that staff will need a model to work to which we will be able to derive from the research findings. The feedback from tutors who have already participated formally and informally in the pilot (some took part informally making use of the blog tool in their own units as well) will be crucial in identifying exactly what support tutors will need if we are to successfully integrate the tool into all of our practice teaching. It is clear from the findings so far that tutors will need help to formulate tasks that have a critical component but at the same time relate directly to the students practice. The staff development workshops planned for the end of the year will address this through sharing of best practice and an outcomes led workshop process.

The research team have already submitted a proposal to present the interim findings to the SSU Learning and Teaching Conference in June 2017. There is a journal paper planned and the team are also planning on designing a workshop on the subject which will be available to other teams as a staff development session. It is also important to factor into the project the opportunity to review the introduction of the tool into the media programme at key stages during the next academic year. Staff, especially AL’s are likely to find it challenging at first and as with any form of change management they will need careful guidance and support if the roll out is to be successful. [word count 1724]

Bibliography

Barnett, R., 2007. A will to learn: Being a student in an age of uncertainty. Buckingham: SRHE/Open University Press.

Biggs, J. B., 1999. Teaching for quality learning at university. Open University Press

Hatton, N. & Smith, D., 1995. Reflection in teacher education – towards definition and implementation. Teaching and Teacher Education, 11 (1) pp33-49

Hoover, D. & Whitehead, C., 1975. An Experiential-Cognitive Methodology in the First Course in Management: Some Preliminary Results. Simulation Games and Experiential Learning in Action. The Proceedings of the Second National ABSEL Conference, Bloomington, Indiana.

Kolb, D., 1994. Experiential Learning as the Science of Learning and Development. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E., 1991. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Moon, J. A., 2004. A handbook of reflective and experiential learning: theory and practice. London: Routledge Falmer. Non-fiction.

Moon, J., & Readman, M., 2014. Graduated scenarios as a means of helping students to produce effective critical analysis of media production work’, in Media Education Summit. Prague, 21st November 2014.

Nichols, B., 1983. The Voice of Documentary. Film Quarterly, 3, p. 17, JSTOR Journals, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 April 2017.

Schön, D.A., 1983. The reflective practitioner. New York, NY: Basic Books.

[1] https://vimeo.com/categories/documentary