Online Presence

We ran our first online presence corse at OUCS this week and found it very revealing. The sort of approach needed to support someone in exploring how they present themselves academically to the world is quite different from teaching them how to use a tool (such as a software application) to achieve their aims. I think the course was as revealing to us as it was to the participants (we had three teachers). So we shall add to the material we have created and try to get our participants to think about setting their own strategies. We shall lay out the land in terms of possibilities and then concentrate on promoting awareness of their individual needs. From this we hope that each person can get an initial strategy that includes the use of some tools and their approach to using them. What we want to promote is coherent workflows that reflect the individual’s motivation and addresses their target audience – whether that is funding bodies, peers, students, potential employers, or the general public.

One of the many benefits of doing this from Oxford will be the use of WebLearn, our virtual learning environment. The resources we place there should offer more choice to the course attendees and help them to personalise their goals in this work.

Setting up an online presence should be a very exciting and rewarding experience and by asking some simple but core questions like ‘who are you?’, ‘who is this for?’ and ‘what is my content?’ we can get a strong sense of purpose from the beginning.

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Remix cinema

This is a link to some mixed media art dicussed at the Remix cinema conference at Oxford last weekend. This piece is made up entirely from clips found on YouTube and is a very nice bit of editing!  The choice of samples is fascinating and, to me, the finished piece is soulful and a great piece of art.

See for more on theis wonderful conference.

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Digital Media User Group

This month saw the launch of the Digital Media User Group hosted here at OUCS. The DMUG exists as a Weblearn site full of electronic resources to support the work of the University in creating and distributing digital media (our podcast service has recently served 9 million downloads world wide through iTunesU – just one aspect of the work being done at Oxford). In addition to the site, DMUG hosts a termly meeting showcasing member’s work and offering expert overviews from specialists in media areas. The following is a brief overview of the event:

Alison Kahn showcased her work with the Pitt Rivers Museum working with archive anthropological footage taken early last century, and mapping that footage to objects in the museum. Using high resolution still photography, the objects are captured to archive standard and the film can be tailored to multiple audiences and purposes – from TV documentary purposes to specialist teaching support. The end results were captivating and showed the objects in high enough resolution to be useful as graphical study aides

Maarten Roos showcased some of the work he has done in supporting and promoting the work of numerous Science based projects using the skills he has developed as a serious filmmaker. His work with the VIRTIS space instrument is worth a closer look:

The direction and sense of perfection he brings to the projects is evidenced in the high quality films that these projects now boast.

Peter Robinson who heads up Oxford’s podcast service then gave a quick digital tour of the service and underlined the inclusiveness of the project and our overall goal of sharing world class content. The Podcast service has delivered over 9 million downloads to a worldwide audience and the content ranges from simple audio capture to productions that rival any commercial service.

Oxford members can email to join the site and get updates as to the next meeting

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Reflections from term 4!

Having worked through my 4th term here at Oxford as a teacher, I thought it would be a good time to review how I feel about my practice now that I have been through the academic year more than once.

The first thing I notice is that I am more relaxed in the role of guide to the class. When I first joined, I would prepare a class to get through it efficiently and to deliver the course detail in a knowledgeable way. I am still preparing for most classes but this is so that the hinterland around core subjects can be explored. I am much happier wandering off topic for a little time, surer in the knowledge that I will be able to return to a given place when the need arises. The questions students ask are given more time and allowed to shape the class session to a degree.

Fundamentally, I believe this is down to acknowledging one truth: The more I have learnt has given me permission not to have to know everything! Once you relinquish the impossible task of having to know everything, you are free to teach; that is, to explore the subject and where individual students are with it. The questions and obstacles students will encounter will to some degree be personal and I can only help if I realize this means I don’t have the answers immediately to hand sometimes.

These changes in attitude can sound slight or obvious sometimes but my experience is that they have only been earned through putting the hours in!

Garr Reynolds

We were very fortunate to have Garr Reynolds speak at Oxford recently, and his talk on Presentations was superb. His site give a lot of information:

I tried to follow in his footsteps a week afterwards and got very positive feedback from the experience. Again, everything he talks about seems like common sense – but it is not in common practice!

Hilary onwards

One new strand in our teaching that I would like to raise awareness of is the beginnings of our Online Presence talks in February and March. These start as one hour lunchtime sessions but hopefully more will follow. Recent meetings have left me in no doubt that there is significant interest with our academics and researchers in this area, and that is set to grow. Our podcasting success and the launch of the university’s YouTube Edu pages make it clear that Oxford is committed to supporting new forms of communication for academics and this is something that we are privileged to be involved in at OUCS. We hope that the courses we offer in Digital media and the concepts behind their use will continue to grow and provide effective support for our academics to shine in the new medias.

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Copyright and creativity

One of the great things about being a student whilst working is that occasionally , you meet a subject in one part of your life from a fundamentally different perspective, in another part. Following a link on a fellow research students Facebook page led me to this YouTube clip that is a discussion of copyright and creativity from an experimental music perspective. There was (and is) a movement in music of re-sampling  pre-recorded music to create new works that whilst were sometimes entirely made up of sampled material, were nonetheless original works of art. This was taking place on the fringes of academia in the last century before copyright threats began to close the practice down. However, the concept of creating new art from old was radically established and the practice of sampling is, of course,  rife today – though normally not in the way Chris Cutler describes in:

This YouTube clip is interesting for educators in the way it critiques copyright and uses a very distinct example of what is happening with copyright – the tensions that intellectual property provoke in our society.

The Amen Brake

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Pure data

Pure data is a graphical programming application that allows for a wide variety of sound design, either with oscillator objects or from outside sound files. It been around for quite some time and has a famous commercial sibling in MAX MSP. Pure Data is free to download and use and is available cross platform. Like all good open source software, it has been enhanced by other developer/users and is now certainly well established in academic music departments. Like many other good open source examples it has suffered a little from having a less than intuitive gui interface and difficult to find documentation/tutorials.

That has changed recently with the existence of:

This clear introduction might not be the only resource available for Pure Data but it is very clearly written comes high on search results for the application. Even someone with little programming experience can work through the material and see some progress. In the absence of a well-taught class (still unsurpassed for turbo-charging your learning), it has given me enough help explore the software with enough enthusiasm to try and use it in forthcoming projects.

As a teacher it points to the value of good support materials. A combination of core class support and excellent online material for long term learning support is a powerful blend that offers continuous  benefits to the users.

the pure data interface and a working file

The main PD interface and a working file in the right window. A simple patch that plays pitches chosen by mousing over the number box at the top of the diagram.

If you are interested in music and sound and havn’t given Pure Data a test run you should. It won’t suit everyone but if you like exploring sound and sound design, it is well worth the effort.

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We’ve been discussing workflows and how to support them in our teaching recently at ITLP. The idea that many applications can be dipped into to create a fluid workflow that modifies to the user’s specific needs isn’t that new – but it is difficult to anticipate in teaching support and still requires core knowledge of each individual part of the process. How do you teach people the freedom of creating workflows if you are not a master of all the components (an impossible task, especially when you consider the growing presence of web 2.0 in academic practice)?

I think in this arena, expectations have to shift. Teachers might adopt the approach of the adventurous scout rather than the master of a controlled environment. And users should adjust their expectations of a carefully planned master tutorial to something much more open-ended and introductory in nature. The pay-off is of course sessions that open up new possibilities of outcomes as well as greater knowledge of an applications use – teaching that genuinely changes accepted paradigms and gives academics fresh options.

Software manufacturers are aware of this trend – a core strength of iLife has always been it’s ability to share data amongst its applications and produce a blended output to the user’s wishes. Microsoft’s launch of Office 2010 will see further integration and key leaps into Web 2.0 output such as sharing a PowerPoint online with a single key stroke. How we disseminate our work (how to make this easy/simple) is sharply in focus at the present and there is no reason to think that this will change. We are living in an age when the user and his/her individual demands are being addressed by integration and sharing.

Where all this will end is not clear but it certainly makes new demands of teaching. Whilst there will always be a need for focussed and expert tutorials in key and specialised apps, there will be a growing demand to step outside of  the parameters of a particular product and think creatively about delivering possibilities as well as givens. Our long standing relationship with our users will be a huge asset once again as we deliver teaching to meet these creative times.

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My iPad wishes

As the whole industrialised world knows, Apple have launched the iPad and it seems set to sell very well. Basically an expanded iTouch, the increased screen size and the continuing explosion of media to take advantage of it will make it one of the key consumer products of this year.

When I heard that a tablet device was immanent and didn’t know it would be based on the iTouch/Phone technology I was hoping for the processing power and application set that come with the macbook level of  product.Working with pro apps using a touch based interface would have been revolutionary and worthy of the “game-changing” hype that the iPad received. I am told rumours exist of an Imac with some touch based interfacing being available sometime in Autumn. I genuinely look forward to that as a giant leap. Mocking up multimedia projects using hand gestures and then being able to zoom in and lock movement to a grid to facilitate fine editing would be infinitely preferable and faster than mouse and keystroke manipulation. Post-production real-time effect mixing and automation would become a pleasure and a whole generation of new users would find their creative software more immediate and intuitive to use.

Lets not forget that the art of creating and the craft of production often demand opposite approaches and any improvement in the interface of the two is going to reap real rewards.

As for the iPad, it can only help with our Podcast marketing and we will be able to use it to show off the wider educational market of free and inspiring media that is now available.

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The emerging teacher

Hello and welcome to my blog. As this is my first post, I think it would be a good idea to say something about my experiences as a relatively new recruit to teaching and the computing services. I am currently engaged with teaching Word and a whole raft of multimedia software which supports our Podcasting team and hopefully gives any student a lot of confidence to try digital media projects whatever their aims.

I often suspect that the diversity of choice in this field is as bewildering to the casual user as it is empowering. Of course, much of the software available does very similar things in slightly different ways so once a project is started the choices will become clearer and task orientated. There is no substitute to having a go and the process should liberate us from the fear of new tools as we see how easily we assimilate them.

As a new teacher I am still finding that preparation is only part of the story. Like any specialist, experience is a key precursor to success and good teaching can only come through the steady accumulation of  class experiences and the confidence that you gain from that. I still surprise myself with nerves occasionally but this can only be natural at this stage and each successful class helps build up a core confidence.

In some ways the teacher is a never ending student – not only of the class subject but of the experience of teaching and the interaction with students. Its been a good choice for me as my work has been engaging and allowed me to develop work significantly.


Mac users who  want to podcast but don’t know where to start could to a lot worse that have a look at the podcasting templates in GarageBand. GarageBand is part of the iLife suite of applications and ships free with any new mac computer for the last few years. There is a Getting Started pdf for using GarageBand as a podcasting tool in the help menu and this is a clear and easy document to read. The whole process has the dual hallmarks of iLife – Its very easy to use and gives professional results with little effort. Key features are the ability to use still images or video along with spoken word, music, hyperlinks and chapters. If this sounds complex, it is not, and if you have the software and want/need to podcast you should try it out.

There will be a course in Trinity utilizing GarageBand for podcasting from OUCS so check the courses website for times and dates:

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