Post MA areas of interest

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PhD backroom: making is learning

Craft/media project in a south London primary school. March 2013.

Craft/media project in a south London primary school. Jointly conceived by the teacher, the Lambeth CLC and the BFI. March 2013. Photo: M Cannon

I’ve been avoiding linking this site with my PhD work because I thought trying to maintain numerous blogs would be onerous. I still think this, but do feel the need to at least acknowledge the fact that I’m doing one and so below is the PhD ‘working out’ blog. It’s a link to a page attempting to thrash out some research questions based on this conference poster.

Here are more questions that will either be jettisoned or engaged with:

How do media making practices in schools enhance or support learning?

can the claims made for cognitive and aesthetic learning in relation to traditional literacy be made for media production?

how do media making practices encourage wider sociocultural engagement and participation?

How relevant are discourses on making and participatory cultures to teaching and learning ?

in what ways can the principles of craft be recuperated in the digital era?

what is the relationship between composing and editing in digital processes and manual work?

how might traditional pedagogy respond to the informal digital practices of young people?

In the field of media education, can the academic and the vocational be reconciled?

how can we account for the widening gap between these poles?

how and where is media production positioned on this axis?

How does education reform based on economic need impact on school media production practices?

might traditional schooling learn from the skills and dispositions of hackers and open source principles?

what are the implications for critical and creative endeavour of standardised skills and training?

As may be apparent, the ‘fashioning and flow’ blog is likely to be neglected during the course of the PhD – hence for the next 2.5 years – in favour of the ‘making is learning’ blog, and even then once research data gathering and writing begins in earnest, blogging will probably be put on the back burner as I unravel the delights of the Scrivener tool.

CPD for Cultural Campers @ BFI with CLC

Over the past few years the BFI has worked in partnership with Lambeth City Learning Centre (CLC) and various Lambeth primary schools to develop exciting creative media related projects. Planning for each schools’ ‘Cultural Campus’ begins in the autumn and teachers are very much encouraged to take the reins and aim high, with the BFI & the CLC providing resources and expertise. The project takes place over 6 weeks in the spring or summer term involving groups of primary children coming to Southbank spaces a few times a week and using them as their classroom.

This year, thanks to the efforts of Lambeth CLC arts manager, Hannah Quigley, the National Theatre and the Ballet Rambert have come on board too and have agreed to open up their world to primary children and educators. The BFI and the CLC believe it’s important for the teachers and their teaching assistants to experience much of what their class will be experiencing during the course of their projects. As far as possible I will be tracking their progress over the next few months: here’s a rough edit of interviews taken on their (CPD) training day at the BFI in December 2012. They were learning how to make podcasts in Garageband and to edit image and sound in iMovie, most for the first time. Some already have an idea of which arts activities they wish to develop – from film and animation to dance and poetry – and all will feature the Gothic as an underlying theme.

See here for details of a previous Cultural Campus used as a Case Study for my Masters dissertation.

Spanish initiatives in film education

‘Cine y Educación: la formación del futuro espectador’ conference, Telefonica, Madrid, Sept 2012

Driven by social media over the past 2 years a grass roots movement called Tribu 2.0 has been promoting film in education in Spain. Co-ordinated by the irrepressible Mercedes Ruiz, a teacher at the Colegio Espanol Vicente Canada Blanch in Portobello Road,Tribu 2.0 oversees film activities for children, families and communities at national level throughout Spain. This group of Spanish teachers is now in collaboration with: La Fundación Telefónica, La Academia de Cine, Alta Films, prominent Spanish film directors, El Observatorio Europeo de la TV Infantil and government minister Susana de la Sierra, Director of the Instituto de Cinematografía y Artes Audiovisuales (ICAA). This powerful alliance is beginning to lobby for a national ‘Audiovisual Plan’ to integrate film into formal educational structures in Spain.

At the beginning of September 2012 I attended their first conference: ‘Cine y Educación: la formación del futuro espectador’ in the Espacio Fundación Telefónica in Madrid and spoke about BFI Education’s various local, national and transnational school projects. Here’s a 3 minute synopsis of the Madrid event on Youtube and transcripts of my talk in English and Spanish.

‘Cine y Educación: la formación del futuro espectador’ conference, Telefonica, Madrid, Sept 2012

One of the initiatives featured in my talk was the annual Cent Ans de Jeunesse programme in conjunction with the Cinémathèque Française, Paris. Speaking with teachers after the talk it emerged that representatives from the Barcelona-based Cinema en curs, the Spanish contingent very much involved in the Cinémathèque project and in the running of many other school film projects, were also present as delegates at the Tribu 2.0 event. Cinema en Curs have well established film education practices and teaching programmes in Catalunya and other parts of the Spain, and now in Brazil and Argentina. It remains to be seen how both new and established national and international networks might connect in the furthering of film education awareness and practices. To this end, a database of film initiatives in the country is in the process of being gathered, starting with an appeal for posts on this

See also an article by education journalist, Mónica Bergós in Escuela, the national newspaper covering education.

Southbank/BFI Cultural Campus Projects 2012

Lambeth Schools, The Ring Residency, Music Group, BFI, June 2012

Lambeth Schools, The Ring Residency, Music Group, BFI, June 2012

Over 2012 I have been observing and capturing the activities of local schools in this year’s Cultural Campus Projects at London’s Southbank Centre, mainly in association with the BFI Education. I have posted photos and some research findings on the blog below. The 10 Capacities refer to a framework for a deeper understanding of arts education projects developed by the Lincoln Centre Institute, New York.

The participating schools this year were: The London Nautical School, Rosendale Primary School, Telferscot Primary School, Charles Edward Brooke Secondary School and Dunraven Secondary School.

Comments here and on the above blog are welcome as ever. You may also be interested in reading about last year’s week-long Lambeth Schools residency in June 2011 (pdf 1MB) whose stimulus was Vertov’s ‘Man with a Camera’.

The Road Safety Rap and Language Learning

Spring 2009: these Year 6 boys were considered trouble-makers and lost causes in terms of academic ability in the East London primary school where I worked. I suggested to senior management that I work with the less able kids, rather than the ‘gifted and talented’, and this would be the test case. It was agreed that we’d work on a small film project based on a current topic – Road Safety in this instance. The boys, who were nothing but respectful to me, couldn’t believe their luck that form and content relevant to their lives, involving self-penned rap, film, phones, music videos and mp3 players, were suddenly acceptable in the school context.

The project generated what now seem to me to be familiar claims associated with media projects: measures of an enhanced sense of trust, independence, respect, confidence; co-ordination of hand, eye and mind; creative collaboration; sustained energy and focus on an activity; the feeling of competence and pride in producing something they could show to others. However the same claims can be made of drama, art, music, dance and numerous other arts activities. The most rewarding aspect of using moving image in education is the opportunity to actively manipulate a medium to which students are already accustomed and to which they have had sustained, largely passive exposure. In most cases tacit knowledge lathers up like undiluted bubble bath under a stream of water; the trick is to rouse an aspiration to quality.

I’m put in mind of years of – again, largely passive – foreign language learning at school and the shock of actually visiting the country. Immersed in a new and strange environment you start to recognise certain language formulae and with practice actively start to build a new form of communication with new meanings. The formerly abstract and decontextualised phenomenon by default comes to deliver nuance, depth and character. So it is with the film making process: with sustained and purposeful access you become a skilled communicator with a new persona.

Direct experience in foreign lands can be publicly messy and tainted with moments of paralysing self-consciousness. Whilst all the locals seem comfortable, competent and as one with their environment, you can feel sidelined and misunderstood like some under-confident but congenial gate-crasher. I contend that this characterises some students’ experience of traditional school curricula.

The beauty of working with digitally mediated resources is the amount of control you enjoy over your material along with the opportunity for self-expression in a different language and context without any of the cultural inconveniences and feelings of estrangement outlined above. On the contrary, it’s safe, satisfying and a perfect vehicle for the articulation of identity.

Picasso, digital glue & animation

Rich Mix, a charity and social enterprise arts venue in Bethnal Green, East London is expanding its educational programme for schools, colleges and teachers. They offered a free animation workshop for Tower Hamlets teachers with animators, Tom Hillenbrand and Shelley Wain. I knew the principles of animation from working with Flash in the early noughties, but the hands on experience was entirely other and much more enjoyable.

Over a period of about 3 hours, we went through the processes of development, pre-production, production (I Can Animate) and post-production (iMovie) and produced a 30 second cut-out animation. From a stimulus involving a pile of subjects (ours was History) and a pile of film genres (ours was Horror), some hand-crafted flat elements, a latent appreciation of film grammar and a collective knowledge of Anne Boleyn’s sad demise, our group of 3 created a multi-layered text with narrative meaning – in a medium that was new to us. See here at 33 seconds in.

Persistence of Vision was an MEA animation project from 2009 – 2010 whose central hypothesis was “that recurrent opportunities for children to engage in critical and creative activity with animated film would lead to substantial gains in children’s attainment, not only in relation to film but also in relation to other curricular areas and behaviour, compared to what they might achieve through “one-off” projects” (taken from the summary report, accessed April 2012).

Picasso’s ‘Bulls Head’ 1942. Source: Wall Street Journal, April 16 2011

Activities and projects such as these reinforce my conviction that the synthesis of elements – concepts, ideas, tangible objects, media, music, sound, genres, photos, illustrations, disciplines, familiar narratives, plasticine, lego – is the most potent creative act and when applied in new contexts, this synthesis deepens our capacity to make meaning.

As Tim Brook puts it, film-making can be the “digital glue” that meshes our own personal network of skills, knowledge and understanding. In “Teaching Media in Primary Schools” (ed. Bazalgette, 2010:128), Brook alludes to Picasso’s ‘Bulls Head’ or rather his alternative take on a bicycle saddle and some handlebars arranged in a bovine way: “Picasso offered us a new way of seeing both bicycle and bull, and also a deeper understanding of our own perceptions. The film-making process likewise pulls together a wide range of competences from the curriculum and beyond.”

This range of competencies is beautifully illustrated in a local ongoing animation project, one of whose episodes was produced and filmed at Hackney Pirates last summer. Animator, Saskia Schmidt, has conceived of a story in which a sheep is on a journey to discover all the colours in the world. Hackney’s was Silver World. The film recalls all the surreal qualities of my childhood interactions with animation, where nothing was more normal than for soft knitted aliens with long noses to engage with Soup Dragons and speak in high pitch, whooping cadences. Young children are now given the opportunity to fully indulge, record and distribute the fruit of their creative urges, a privilege that was once the preserve of BBC programme commissioners and professional creatives of the day.

The business of film education?

Picture source:

April 2012: I attended a seminar at the BFI in association with a 3-year project entitled Film: 21st Century Literacy whose aim is to develop a strategy for film education across the UK. The project pioneered some excellent research and is now coming to an end. It produced this advocacy report. The seminar’s theme was “Re/defining film education” and I had a 5 minute slot in which to talk about the European perspective – having been part of a team researching film literacy in Europe for the preceding few months. I began developing a presentation around the concepts of Purpose, Positioning and Processes (the 3 P’s) in relation to film education.

Such have been the findings so far and considering the majority of the 60 delegates may well have ‘heard it all before’, I felt that this 5 minutes might be better spent entertaining a metaphorical notion. It offers a more playful approach inviting us to look at the field through a different lens. It could highlight where energies might best be spent if film education is to gain traction as a core entitlement for all young people. The 3 P’s reminded me of a business model…

What if … in the spirit of TV’s The Apprentice, film education was a product?:

  • with abundant USP’s, massive growth potential and clear evidence of longevity
  • but whose brand, despite its relevance, suffers in most quarters from perception deficit, issues of differentiation, positioning and a crowded market
  • whose backers lack sustained R & D commitment, even taking into account excellent in-house product design skills
  • whose target markets are highly receptive, but whose market penetration continues to disappoint – despite the potential for cross-selling, franchising and international expansion
  • whose excellent market research isn’t always acted on and is, in some cases, disregarded
  • whose PR strategy, Quality Control & Sales Rep training need bigger investment
  • whose stakeholders are debating the pros and cons of a being absorbed by another associated brand with bigger European clout: ‘Does this represent a good opportunity to raise our profile? Might our product’s distinct qualities be subsumed in the process?’
  • whose creative use of new media technologies both in its delivery and consumption, make it attractive, current and adaptable, but also burdened with heavy and punitive legislation
  • whose profit margins are really tricky to measure, in fact so elusive and diffuse that to some, the product doesn’t even look viable; however, such is the manufacturers’ and consumers’ belief in the benefits, it keeps current and successful on the margins.

I’m aware that indulging metaphors in this way can come across as a bit pleased with itself, but what’s useful here is the flagging up of similarities between social processes. Perhaps perceiving of film education in more metaphorical and less essentialist ways might inspire the kind of imaginative leaps and new connections necessary to advance it. Paradoxically, film education’s very plasticity, transferability and translatability, so often perceived as liabilities under current structures, are its most ‘marketable’ core strengths.

One of the more interesting ideas advanced by Cary Bazalgette during the seminar was to compile a list of agencies, interest groups and a few large brands with common interests, who might become allies in a bid to back film education during reviews of current education provision.

Andrew Stanton at TED on storytelling

WALL-E (2008) Directed by Andrew Stanton

Toy Stories and Wall-E – quality storytelling. Below is the writer, Andrew Stanton, at TED explaining his craft. I particularly like what he has to say about the need to seduce the audience into caring, the purity of stories without dialogue and also the importance of leaving gaps and withholding information. We create and listen to narratives all day long in business contexts, in academia, in education, in politics and more overtly in anecdotal chitchat and daily media interactions. Aspects of film education explicitly cater to our need to carve some cognitive sense out of everyday chaos and make it affective, so why not orchestrate more of that in the curriculum?

Here are a couple of transcriptions from his talk. (See full transcription here)

“The children’s television host Mr. Rogers always carried in his wallet a quote from a social worker that said, “Frankly there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you know their story.” And the way I like to interpret that is probably the greatest story commandment, “Make me care.”

Please, emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically… make me care.

We all know what it’s like to not care. You’ve gone through hundreds of TV channels, just switching, channel after channel. And suddenly you actually stop on one, it’s already halfway over, but something’s caught you and you’re drawn in. That’s not by chance, that’s by design.

“Storytelling without dialogue. It’s the purest form of cinematic storytelling. It’s the most inclusive approach you can take. It confirmed something I really had a hunch on, is that the audience actually wants to work for their meal. They just don’t want to know that they’re doing that. That’s your job as a storyteller, is to hide the fact that you’re making them work for their meal. We’re born problem solvers. We’re compelled to deduce and to deduct, because that’s what we do in real life. It’s this well-organized absence of information that draws us in. There’s a reason that we’re all attracted to an infant or a puppy. It’s not just that they’re damn cute; it’s because they can’t completely express what they’re thinking and what their intentions are. And it’s like a magnet. We can’t stop ourselves from wanting to complete the sentence and fill it in.”

Film Education’s Young Film Critic Competition 2011

Over a few afternoon sessions at the end of 2011 I worked with 4 particular Year 4 boys on a film review of the Japanese animation Ponyo by Studio Ghibli. We started off the project by playing with flip books and then listening to the sound on the wonderful short “Birthday Boy” (on the BFI Story Shorts 2 DVD) set in a Korean war zone; we then watched Birthday Boy intently a few times, matching sound with image. After seeing Ponyo at Rich Mix as part of National Schools Film Week, we discussed characters, setting, sound, narrative & style and compared the 2 films. They produced a considered set of thoughts and observations. They also made their own drawings inspired by Miyazaki & the Studio Ghibli animators.

The piece was entered into Film Education‘s annual ‘Young Film Critic‘ Competition at the end of 2011, but what differentiated their review was that it was collaboratively filmed, produced and edited as opposed to individually written. Film Education received over 1000 film review entries to their competition, three of which were filmed. Approaching film and literacy in this way gives these children agency to show and share their understanding in a medium with which they are familiar as well as an opportunity for interaction with a sector to which they may never ordinarily have had access.

A good film review is supposed to inform, illuminate and entertain and the children’s efforts therein were rewarded – seeing their enthusiasm and engagement, Film Education asked the boys to attend the Award Ceremony at the BAFTA headquarters in Piccadilly to accept a Special School Prize, a category that had to be created for them as there was no category for a collaborative entry in the film critic competition. Here’s the 2 minute review which they edited down from 30 minutes of material:

In my dissertation I looked at the notion of second orality and Andrew Burn’s kineikonic mode – offering a framework for understanding moving image texts – including such elements as movement, sound, speech and gesture – as well as their sites of distribution – whether that be a class of peers in Tower Hamlets or an audience of competition nominees, parents, Directors, Producers & CEOs at The Princess Ann Theatre at BAFTA. The fact of audiovisual texts begetting further audiovisual texts displayed in a multiplicity of social settings perhaps signals the resurgence of rhetoric as a must-have skill. The more we invest in digital rhetorical skill in the primary years, the better equipped our young citizens will be for social participation. See similar ideas in action in the field, in the movie + commentary here: Telferscot School Case Study.

Literacy and consent

Year 4 Telferscot Primary School children at Southbank Centre Cultural Campus Spring 2011. Photo: M. Cannon

More provocative pause for thought from Mr. Rosen:

“language is owned and controlled by everybody and what we do with it seems to be governed by various kinds of consent, operating through the social groups of our lives … so Gwynne, I suspect will have immense amounts of fun and satisfaction telling people what is ‘right’. People attending his classes will feel immensely pleased that they have been told what’s right and will probably spend a good deal of time telling other people they meet or read where and how they are wrong. This is not a neutral activity. It is part of how a certain caste of people have staked a claim over literacy. In effect, they state over and over again that literacy belongs to them.”

Taken from here:

Benjamin Franklin:

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn."

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