Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 10.23.26   A grand design reflecting the digitally fuelled optimism of a bygone era? Megabytes of PowerPoints piling up unopened? Forum threads getting lost in the bush? Students nowhere to be seen or few and far between?   When Bauhaus architects developed their vision of light filled, affordable and egalitarian large scale housing early in the 20th century, they did not anticipate the anonymity, hopelessness and violence of high rise social housing projects designed later based on their ideas. Like those radically inventive Weimar artists, are we fooling ourselves now when we guide our students on to instructionally designed institutional websites, full of expectation towards emancipatory sharing interactions in the future?   We all genuinely want to be student focused, centred and led, yet the virtual spaces where learners feel comfortable all look quite different from Moodle, Blackboard and other VLEs. Perhaps learners prefer playlists to reading list pdfs, appreciate making more than referencing, and prefer choice to canon?   In my career as film producer that continues to run parallel to teaching, the industry is wrestling with a scary example set by the music industry: Resisting change in customer needs and practices gets you cut down to half your size, as happened to record labels in the noughties. As filmmakers we now see our well reviewed, award-winning movies disappearing from our local screen after a week or two to make way to critic-proof comic book adaptation sequel ‘tentpoles’ that also lose money as they ‘cannibalise each other’, as film industry trade magazine Variety puts it. When our films finally reappear on iTunes or Netflix, most revenue has been eaten up by ‘aggregators’ that structure the flow of movies and money in the 21st century. No way to put your kids through college!   After changing the music, film and publishing sectors beyond recognition, can we expect that digitisation will leave Universities’ workflows and business models untouched? Do we also have come to terms with customers who will have what they want, when they want, and on the platform they prefer – and if Universities don’t deliver, someone else will?   I wonder if, as educators, we can afford to stick to the belief that our certainty regarding what is good for students should always be part of our job description? Can we continue to rely solely on the curriculum, subject benchmarks and learning outcomes to transmit the required skills and insights to learners? Or, as management guru Gary Hemel puts it, do ‘we have to change the way we change’. Rather than making the educational workflow routine, I ask with Hemel: how can we increase the creative content of every lecturing job, by unleashing the creative capacity of every single individual – transforming ultimately both staff and students?   It is very timely that Coventry University is now developing new postgraduate courses which students can attend online only, enabling learners to arrange activities around their busy 21st century portfolio careers and other commitments as well as rural and travelling lifestyles in equal measure. Building on Coventry’s role establishing work-based learning in the 1980s when, quite radical for its time, the University then took the process of forming of new insights and habits out of the lecture theatres and into the conceptually messy environment of the Jaguar automobile factory. Likewise, nowadays live careers and speculative, innovative projects can feed into a flexible, just-in-time digitally enabled learning process, shifting ownership from institution to student.   The student managed, individualised curriculum then also reorganises the digital. Instead of forcing the learning to fit curricula or instructional design, the teaching benefits from working with students as much as possible in the spaces that they already find useful. The process becomes a negotiation between teacher and learner, inviting departures from VLE routine towards collaborative exploration of emerging possibilities. As educators, we have nothing to lose but our Microsoft Office documents! What we potentially gain is responsiveness and reflection breathing a new life into our expertise. Award-winning film and television producer Carl Schoenfeld is currently designing a new MA in Film & TV for Coventry University. The course will be delivered ‘mostly’ online to accommodate, as well as enhance, media professionals’ busy portfolio careers. The curriculum is going to be largely student managed, with the approach to teaching and learning taking Work Based Learning from its Coventry roots into the digital age.

Leave a Reply