Monthly Archives: September 2010

Kicking off the research process: undergrad dissertations.

The autumn term rolls on, finally slipping into some kind of rhythm as we near the end of Week 4. There’s some structure the weeks and we can anticipate what’s coming up with greater clarity and certainty as each day passes.

There are those on campus who perhaps feel they lack such focus though: the final year undergraduate students are discussing and cogitating their early dissertation ideas. This is a time to think expansively about the sorts of topics and themes that interest them, but within a few days they need to turn those thoughts and ideas into something much more narrowly defined. At the end of the day, the dissertation is something they need to feel that they own, can control and will become one of the defining pieces of work that they take away from their university days.

Monday will see me in a similar position as I try to vocalise my thoughts to the manage of the doctoral programmes at the university. I’m very far from a focused set of questions, as witnessed by the range of themes discussed in this blog. But there’s a process, and hopefully a path towards something I too can take ownership of.

World beating ways to spend a day off.

As trailed earlier in September, I’m building up to a fairly short presentation at a workshop being hosted by my employer.  This is a chance to talk with practitioners about what works for them, which tools they’re using to build their online presence and to organise some of my own thoughts in this area.  So today, a local holiday in Edinburgh, has been spent putting together my presentation.

Fortunately it’s gone OK, although some parts have taken a while to compile – thank goodness for a day/night cricket match at Lord’s to keep me entertained.  I’ll post the slides on this site after the event, although the amount of fanfare which accompanies them might depend on how well they’re received!  Suffice it to say they’re as colourful as I can manage and hopefully contain enough ideas and links that they’ll be referred to after the event.  I hope I don’t have to rush through them – we’ll see.

Earlier today, so also forming part of my holiday, I spent an hour or so sat on the steps outside work talking to a prospective student.  I had managed to organise a guided tour on a day when the university buildings are all locked up, but it ended up OK with a good conversation and hopefully another recruit.

Just now the cricket is ready to end, with an England defeat I should think, and I’m about ready for my tea.

Structures and guidelines.

So that was 6 September and now it’s the 14th, a week or so into the academic year. Students new and continuing are settling into the higher education groove and Craiglockhart Campus is humming with activity. Long may it last: students attending lectures, contributing to tutorials, asking searching questions of their tutors and producing some innovative and interesting coursework. That would be great.

On the back burner, where it has been placed out of necessity as other priorities consume everyone’s time, are the PhD / DBA plans. I have another meeting in the offing, this time with the course leadership of both programmes in my faculty – they happen to be led by the same person. This could be most significant meeting to decide which route I’d prefer to a doctorate, so I’d best be prepared.

To help me get ready I’ve been sent some information about how Edinburgh Napier sees these two different degrees, for example:

DBA: Practice > Theory > Practice > Impact
PhD: Theory > Practice > Theory > Impact

Which takes precedence in my mind, what am I most interested in? Would I rather place my topic in an explicitly business orientated set of reference points or opt to take a more theoretical, open and perhaps nuanced approach? Which is more relevant to the people I’d be working with (inside and outwith the university)? What about future career development opportunities? …lots to think on.

My hunch at the moment is that I’d prefer the PhD route. It’s a classic doctorate, encouraging the creation of new knowledge without the demand of being able to apply is to business situations quite so explicitly. As I think back to the themes that have dominated my ‘ideas’ documents, the commentators I’m interested in and the discussions I’ve had, they seem to demand the less focused commercially approach. That’s just a hunch, mind, yet once it’s taken root you’ll often find a hunch comes back.

More thinking to be done, talking to be said.

Two quick notes before bed: MP3-based shows on the Fringe; a comment on my chosen links.

6 September has long been nestled at the back of my mind like a cosy cuckoo, waiting to waken up and consume all the time I may have had lying around.  6 September is the date this September’s students are due to start at Edinburgh Napier, except of course no longer are they due: they’re here.

More accurately I hope they’re out enjoying some Edinburgh hospitality, or settling into their university accommodation and getting used to life on their own.

And so with the need to help with a cracking first day at university came the requirement to get up early and spend much of the rest of the day thinking, talking and trying to be helpful and useful: and now I am tired.  So, with little fuss, here are a couple of topics I’ve been meaning to cover for a while…
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MP3-based shows at the Edinburgh Fringe
Please let me know if you’ve a better sub-heading for this discussion – I’m not sure ‘MP3’ captures it, but let’s crack on.

A recent BBC Culture Show from the Edinburgh Festival highlighted three Fringe shows in which the audience experienced the piece while wearing headphones – playing a soundtrack, issuing instructions and so on.  Surely there could be few better examples of technology altering the way we engage with a festival/event/etc.?  In truth, I don’t know: I wasn’t organised enough to get a ticket for any of the ‘shows’.  Here they are for your surfing pleasure (links to the edfringe.com or Forest Fringe listing and anything else relevant):
– ‘Suspicious Package‘ from Fifth Wall in association with The Brick Theater, New York
– ‘En Route‘ from One Step at a Time Like This / Richard Jordan Productions
– ‘The Bench‘ from Ant Hampton (Rotozaza)

In these events audiences/listeners were variously compelled to act out a part in a play, give themselves over a new way of seeing the city and sit next to a stranger and strike up a conversation.  A few thoughts have come to mind…
– The notion that events are both the production and consumption of a product has rarely been as important, for in these examples it’s not just consumption which is the responsibility of the (paying) audience, they have to produce the event as well.  Is that the same as buying a dog and barking yourself?  Why not, if that’s the sort of experience you’re keen to have.
– Is this the extent to which the technology can be pushed?  At least one of the events requires half a dozen MP3 players being manually started simultaneously in order to keep everyone in time, so once the event is set in motion there’s no going back.  You can’t stop.  A bit like building the Hoover Dam.
– What tools and techniques are available to help develop the relationship between audience and producer, helping enhance the feeling of immersion on the part of the headphone wearer while perhaps enabling greater means of control and contribution to the overall experience.  Some feedback loop that affects the experiences of others, either simultaneously or asynchronously.

From the short appraisal on the Culture Show I got the impression that En Route was most successful in producing an experience that couldn’t be experienced in a traditional theatre; they were able to build on the audience members’ existing awareness of the location in which they were walking.  Perhaps this is a model for audio guides in museums and galleries, or the discovery of a healthy market in podcasts which specialise in providing 21st century walking tours in downloadable form, each one turning an urban (or rural!) stroll into an event.  Lyn Gardner also reviewed it, for The Guardian.

…but maybe we do this anyway when we flick through vast iLibraries of iSongs on our iPods: what was the impact of the Walkman?  It’s too soon to tell.
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Those links down the side of this blog
Not much to say here and I appreciate that this is a non sequitur from the above discussion.  In short those links span sites that I turn to on a regular basis for news and opinion, alongside those such as Aleks Krotoski’s which I revere as something of an exemplar when it comes to combining academic and mainstream material alongside the author’s experiences and projects.

What I can’t reflect particularly well is the multitude of RSS feeds that are directed to my Google Reader page.  In truth that’s the way I get lots of my content, trusting and relying on a team of curators who work tirelessly to provide me with stuff to read and view.  They don’t know I exist of course and won’t ever meet me or each other, but that’s the way of the web.

Is there much serendipity in my online life?  Not really, I wouldn’t have thought: why put something in front of my eyes if I know it’s likely to offend?  Nevertheless there is some great stuff beyond those links – I urge you to click around on Smashing Magazine for some truly wonderful articles and beautiful images; a link to xkcd is a cliche, yet necessary; the work of Creative Commons deserves as much publicity as can be gathered.
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In this evening’s final act of bravery I shall post this article without proof-reading it, then sink into reverie.

Radio Magnetic: at the Edinburgh Fringe and all over the interwebs.

Just time before bed to write up my thoughts on a recent seminar, held during the Edinburgh Fringe and hosted by Inner Ear (the folks behind Radio Magnetic).  Titled ‘Digital Audience Development‘ it looked at ‘how to select and sequence online services as part of an integrated social media marketing strategy‘.

True to their word the presenters worked through a host of social media tools and outlined their benefits to the audience.  It’s always going to be tricky running such a workshop when you know your audience might be coming at all this afresh, or perhaps looking to have their existing practises and ideas confirmed.  The extended case study approach worked I reckon, with different tools and sites being pulled together over the course of the 120 minutes we were there.

Key themes I took from the session…
– creating content: could be podcasts, photos, blog posts, flyers, etc.
– collating content: embedding and linking existing material from wherever
– syndicating content: pushing your work out to other online spaces
– monitoring the success of your online presence
– going to where your audience is (which = Facebook, Twitter)
– engaging with your audience and building relationships
– working towards your goals of: exposure, promotions, ticket sales, audiences, coverage, etc.
– link online and offline marketing
– documenting your events, publishing such records and rewarding online audiences by creating and sharing new content
– engaging again with your audience as they digest the event and contribute their own content (but be sparing and don’t bombard your followers)
– work alongside your competitors as well, retweeting and commenting as you go

Some definitions…
digital media: content
social media: conversations
rss, embeddable meda, tags: key components of web 2.0

Tools used that aren’t necessarily obvious…
– Posterous
– Eventbrite and PayPal
– Tweetreach and Twitterfeed
– Tweetdeck, twtqpon, twtpoll (twtapps.com)
– Issuu and Slideshare
– Audioboo and Mixcloud

This is all relevant to me because I’ll be running a similarly focused workshop in a few weeks – part of the broader work we do at Edinburgh Napier.  I’ve only got 40 minutes so am mulling the right approach to take.  The festival/events/arts sectors are ahead of academia when it comes to using social media, although it shouldn’t take too long for universities to start making more of a contribution – just long enough for me to start and finish a PhD.

And the key lesson I want my audience to take away: there’s a host of tools and opportunities out there for you to use if you think they’ll help you reach your goals, but you don’t have to use all of them.  Play around, get to know which ones suit you and your event, and make it easy enough for your audience(s) to access the content.  Maybe you want to drive people to your blog and the latest news – that’s fine, but you can easily spread the word through a little syndication to Twitter, Flickr and all their online brothers and sisters: pump up the volume.

Hail fellow.

Three years into my job at Edinburgh Napier Uni and I’ve managed to work through almost fifty business cards.  I’m meeting nearly 1.4 people a month it seems, although that average will come down once relatives are taken out.*

Cards come in packs of fifty, so this week’s main task was to order a fresh supply with all the anguish that comes with it: how to define my job title, etc.  Rather overwhelmingly I’ve also amassed several extra letters after my name, such that I resemble a Scrabble rack played according to a very loose interpretation of the rules.  What do you reckon…

David Jarman MA Hons. PgCTLHE MSc FHEA FRSA

…stick that on your triple word score and smoke it.

Those last two are fellowships of the Higher Education Academy (to show I’ve some professional qualifications) and the Royal Society of Arts (because I applaud much of their work and hope to contribute to it in due course.  If I’ve got a structure to work within I can achieve quite a bit over time – maybe it’s a blog, or perhaps membership of an institution.  Often needs time though!
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*Not in a gangster way of course.