‘Remote learning conundrum in academia’ — it sounds like a CNN headline with a swirling whoosh. A multi-billion pound industry is being tested in the face of a lockdown.
Meetings across faculties, like Matryoshka dolls, follow one after another. Zoom, few were familiar with months earlier, becomes an international household name, whilst a new word surfaces, ‘Zoom zonked’ ie fatigue.
It’s going to be tough, undeniably, in delivering lockdown lectures and yet, and yet, a solution has been visible in plain site. This, by the way, is not to suggest any welcome to the present predicament; it’s making do of a bad situation.
What’s more, the plain site solution opens the prospect of a new concept, provoking a Scotty moment in Star Trek with ‘Are ya daft lad?
‘Aye’, I have done a few daft things as it would happen. I once boarded a plane from London to New York to buy my first Powerbook. I had a Pizza, picked up a 6gb hard drive Mac and came back home.
Years before that I flew to Apartheid South Africa because I wanted to report on its story. I had one contact I’d never met but convinced British and South African Airways for free flights. Two years later I was reporting live from Nelson Mandela’s inauguration to the BBC World Service. Oh and I continue to thank them.
A couple of years back, spurned on by the seminal photo “ A Great Day in Harlem” when in 1957 fifty seven jazz greats lined up, a friend Simone Pennant MBE and I created the Leaders’ List — a UK contemporary version bringing together fifty seven of the UK’s amazingly talented black and brown producers that included a coffee book, gallery, and films. Then there’s the Obama concert story, which I’ll tell another time.
Today, if we get this right, the daft idea could be part of the drive in diversity in both delivery of content and academic producers behind it — a combined philosophy of practice and tech. One of my mentors Jude Kelly CBE, former Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre says in this 3 min film I made of her:
If you know you want to change the world then it is useful to stand on a bit where you can be quite loud and quite seen provided people let you stand there. Now they’ll only let you stand there if you’ve stood on other smaller places.
To a smaller standing in 2007 when a seed was planted. It’s the era of the second wave of the Dot coms. The first was 2000 where we got punch drunk. Now, social rather than asymmetric conversations are in. YouTube and Facebook are starting their long journey to their dominance today and local newspapers have revolutionised themselves with websites and learnt video at the Press Association thus competing with broadcasters for audiences. I had front seats for these.
I have been invited to speak at an education summit about the future of education at the O2 Centre in London. I know what I want to say, but it seems too, well, daft, so I make an appointment to visit the Vice Chancellor Geoffrey Copland of my then university. We meet. He knows my name and has done
some background research on me. That time if you put ‘David’ in google, the first thing that came up was a profile on a bloke called David Dunkley Gyimah. Remember that daft trip to New York, someone told them.
During my interview I’m smiling like a Cheshire cat at the VC. I even tell him cheekily, if I said the things he’s saying I’d be heckled. You can find the video here, but here’s a transcript of a few quotes.
They ( students) will probably spend quite a lot of their time working at their home base, travelling when they need to meet a member of staff. I don’t think anybody has ever found a proper substitute for having somebody face to face that you can interact with but a lot of learning that students do you don’t actually need that face to face….
Open source, students will have much more access to ideas, information presented by as we’ve seen at Oxford and Stanford and the Open University and I’m sure we’ll all be doing that, but then somebody’s got to help the student through this great morass, and I’ll say data rather than information, huge amounts of bits of stuff coming at them. How do they make sense out of that? How do they balance out the view of one person to another, or one university from another? And I think that’s actually what’s going to be the role of the teacher, much more as an intermediary between the student and huge range of material...
Dr. Copland rather presciently is seeing 2020 and the curatorial approach of information. In-person lectures usually involve citing references, or calling on videos, but when your presentation is solely online what do you do then?
The answer is partly in another reference he makes to the Open University. In a previous article Reinventing Universities- How a Pandemic Forced Flipped Lectures into New TV-like and Radio Shows I write about the 1970s when the Open University (OU) looked to expand. It found an ally in today’s equivalent of online, television. Programme makers from the OU deliberated over whether standard lectures would do on TV , or whether they required a new approach. They would compromise “between ‘ivory tower’ university teaching and entertainment TV”, resolving its academics needed to know something about TV production, adding:
The OU’s BBC TV producers were generally recruited as academics and then trained as producers, rather than vice versa.
In the pandemic the key to online lectures is a simulacrum of television programming, with its archetypal schedule wheel and guests as seen below. A television show from your kitchen, bedroom or living room? It’s been done before; Jamie Oliver etc, etc, and they can make for compelling viewing.
In Masterclass by Yanka Industries, which features some of the world’s greatest minds, notwithstanding the talent, it’s the set, the set, that’s also the star. Neil deGrass Tyson holds his audiences with his star knowledge and delivery alone. Note how he says humour is integral, but it’s the Mise en scène, the lighting, the different camera angles that contributes to the spectacle.
It’s not impossible to produce at home with a few lights, props and ideas, but to create a home pop-up studio requires an appreciation of design aesthetic. I remember now what caught my attention pre-pandemic in the bar in the above title photo. And it’s also possible on zoom to set up a three rig camera.
Yet I say the output is a simulacrum and that’s because firstly the production is personalised and tailored to the audiences and secondly coupled with the combination of new technology, mature start up cultures, super collaborations and post BLM philosophies we’re (my team and I) able to invite fresh innovation into television’s format.
Take this using IMB’s Watson. It’s a set up for sentiment reading of a film. This is a reading on the right of film I made on the Syrian border. Here’s the trailer.
Watson’s AI is labelling and categorising each frame and scene. The arrangement could provide invaluable information on a number of fronts when addressing an audience. I’m looking forward to furthering this work with one of IBM’s top thinkers.
The work I’m involved in is predicated on super collaborations. I call them super because the folks involved are powerhouses in their fields, professionals and academics, and give freely to the events engaging students. They come with a deep understanding of their craft and provide discursive insights, via analogical thinking, such those in the photos below.
What then if you could take shows that combined an academic bent with television programming, and added tech solutions? Next week I’m speaking to an outfit that draws together PhD researchers with commissioners. Then we launch our Future Story Lab with our Stacked programme, based on biological and start up cultures..
What if programming on diversity issues could be produced and then syndicated to audiences that include universities? There’s a strategic error in television that persists, that diversity depletes business successes; that they’re diametrically opposed to one another, or that at the root of organisational management diversity yields few benefits. The multi-million pound world of Marvel and comics in research, is one of many countless studies that proves otherwise.
In mapping my own background, co-presenting Black London on the BBC thirty years ago was an incredible opportunity, which coupled with my upbringing, provided an experiential collective sense of the impact, power and necessity of storytelling. In the late 90s post-Macpherson and with support from Jon Snow, a group of us envisaged change.
Co-producing the Leaders’ List which celebrated black and brown excellence and more recently the launch of a new media journal amongst a diverse group of academics and professional working journalists, shows the benefits of super collaborations and how each time we build on our innovations.
The challenges of diversity in media, and for that matter other businesses, are a full time unalloyed commitment, which many undertake alongside their day jobs. It presents daily and perennial tests. The initiatives and training forums to bring about change have been countless. But through tech, collaborations, the power of storytelling, and diversity, academia has an opportunity scaffold fresh approaches to pedagogy from the events of this year.
In their compelling book, Access All Areas, Sir Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder make the case for a manifesto for change more eloquently, engrossingly and forcefully.
Post script:Below my pop up studio and a list of guests that have made our programme.