How to Flip from Home and Empower Students — remote learning

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Alarm. Bathroom. Coffee. Lights. A few props. Backdrop. Mac. Connection. Morning! Afternoon!

This is the world of Lockdown Lecturering, more conversational really. It’s come to this. I can hear the words of a former Vice Chancellor, Geoffrey Copland for a presentation I was putting together on the future of education at London’s Excel Centre.

“A lot of learning that students do, you don’t really need that face to face” . “There will still be a place for the big lecture, the celebrity lecture, if you like but I guess students will also design their own curriculum…and somebody’s going to have to help the students through this great morass of data”.

“Wow VC”, I said after the interview adding “if I’d said that, which I’m prone to, I would have got the eye”. That was 2012, eight years ago.

Today, Yuval Noah, Historian and Best selling author of Homo Sapiens, says the world has accelerated to a future that was not thinkable in near trend extrapolation models. Covid-19 has compressed the future.

Quite. Last December I kicked off a module to Masters students on Foreign News Reporting. I created this graphic and asked the class to consider what they would be doing in 2023 with AI breathing down us? It’s still breathing down us, but something more sinister has shred that timeline. 2021’s the focal point, more like it!

2012has some relevance for where we are now, it was the year Britain put on a fitting show for the world, the Olympics; Covid struck the Middle East as MERs, and Obama returned to office as President.

In Wired Magazine, a seminal issue, sang the name of the evangelists, disrupting education and Flipping classrooms.

An MIT grad working as a financial analyst, Salman Khan, starts teaching his cousin maths using video. It leads to a TED talk which inspires Norvic Thrun at Stamford University to Flip his module on AI.

The Flip doctrine spreads. Its approach isn’t just seen as recording a classroom lecture, in the same way newspapers erroneously believed initially splashing their content online would work.

Interactivity, feedback loops, web episodic videos, one-to-many broadcasts made possible through YouTube, and new coded and aesthetic space were being conventionalised as the new norm.

Amazon the content. Airbnb the source. Uberises its deliveries. Look Mum, no humans involved.

Today, sites like Udemy boasts 50,000 students and 57,000 instructors from around the world. That was the new norm, but now the online space, is about to get interesting with remote teaching.

I’d been online since 1995 after presenting the news and the first embers of the Internet, and built my first website a year later. In 2001 I joined several successful dotcoms, and in three years later did my first web lecture after contacting the BBC to ask them if they’d our allow students to show them the future. They did as reported by

Two years on Apple sent a reporter to interview me (read here) as I breathlessly spoke about the Blec (web lecture) and naively believed that in a decade we’d be streaming from homes into public spaces. Yah right! The web lecture was a work in progress but sites like Rocketboom, F1 — the first truly video platform and module — and, were showing interesting insights into web 2.0.

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2020, eight years later and questions like the following are focusing attention, necessity being the mum of invention:

  1. Things to be considered with remote teaching?
  2. What, if any is a secret sauce?
  3. What happens next?

Digital Textuality, and Ninjas

Understanding the online space pulls in a smorgasbord of disciplines: UX design, viewer’s attention, community-building, systems thinking etc. Some of the books I found influential were: Smart Mobs by Howard Rheingold, PresentationZen Design by Garr Reynolds and Lev Manovich’s ground breaking The Language of New Media.

In the online space I learned its is a dynamic medium. Remember when the thinking was no sane person would watch anything online for more than 5 minutes and webisodes was the future, and then Kony 2012 (30 minutes) smashed that illusion? It amassed 20m in a day. 102,773,413 views thus far. Or that the Times changed its corporate blue branding to lime green?

Things to be considered teaching online?

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Governor Cuomo’s sit down presentation — Easy to follow
  1. The semiotics of digital space. Well made designs impact how effortful or effortlessly you process information. A poorly designed website impedes information flow, as much as a poorly made video or presentation.
  2. The stalwart of online and usability Jakob Nielsen, who’s consulted for amongst others, the BBC, advocated one idea per paragraph, otherwise there’s a danger of cognitive overload. Also, people invariably skim information, so simplicity and white space is essentially. This holds well for the next point presenting online.
  3. Guy Kawasaki’s (Apple evangelist) says it’s the 10:20:30 rule. A presentation should have 10 slides, hold for 20 seconds and use a minimum font of 30. Whilst I’m a big fan of Kawasaki, these instructions are geared towards investment pitches where the recipients are cash rich, time poor. But I do encourage shorter slide decks, because of memory retention and fewer words on screen. Governor Cuomo’s presentation show how.
  4. The use of key words and its neuro impact trigger greater sensory perception. Researchers in a 2006 study emphasised how activation of the brain with words like “Lemon”, created visceral reactions and simulacrums as if the host was actually eating a lemon. The lesson? Descriptive narratives, like podcasts, are really helpful in online presentations.
  5. If you have a look at Apple’s iTune trailer site one thing is generally common across all the posters. Users, Hollywood, discovered like looking at faces. Presenting in vision online allows the receiver to follow the narrator, their facial expressions, their gestures, and eye-level contact. So being behind a screen all the while isn’t beneficial.
  6. Colours to both compliment each other and to psychologically reinforce memory is often overlooked. See Neil Patel’s post
  7. Strong (punctum) images that make a lasting impression work just as well on websites as they do presentation. There are a stream of dos and don’ts (here) when it comes to images, but for memorability, the more striking the image the better. Unsplash could help here.
  8. People learn by creating simulacrums of the world they’ve grown up in or inhabit and there can be wide discrepancies if you’re from South East Asia and the West. Take Ying and Yang and its philosophy reflected in visual schema’s in Asian cultures and how balanced visual representation creates harmonies. In 2012, I carried out an experiment to test this. Below is framing by Ozu, one of Japan’s and the world’s most revered filmmakers. His images are central. In this post from 2017, How to approach VR as Journalism via 4D, I show how Eastern art Vs Western art has unresolved tensions.
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Performance also plays a significant role.

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Photo David Dunkley Gyimah

Soho Theatre, one of London’s premier comedy clubs. Some years back I had the pleasure of working alongside them helping to build a global digital platform. They filmed comedian Nish Kumar, as I went bonkers taking photos and then something struck me.

It reinforced a point I’d earlier observed in Al Gore’s TED talk. If you’ve not seen it, do. It’s masterly. Watch how for five minutes of his fifteen minute talk Gore plays with the audience and makes them laugh, before segueing into a fact-festooned lecture.

In a 2001 paper in Nature “The functional anatomy of humour: segregating cognitive and affective components” researchers unveil how humour leads to a greater retention of information.

I tried this in a presentation to the BFI a few years later. I got the audience to laugh. It was hard work! Then I reeled of facts and personal information that was designed to be incoherent. Thirty minutes into the presentation I asked the audience a series of questions about these random facts. A Student Observer for the University of Greenwich, Sam Rickard, was at the talk for the BFI and wrote the following.

After some discussion, he revealed to us that humour was the best method; and proved it by having the delegates recount the details of his past (which they did with flying colours). This is a very interesting notion, as the more you think about it; the more you realise that this tool is used by all forms of visual medium and is why programmes like “The Colbert Report,” in the U.S. are so effective.

In essence, it’s about developing relationships with the audience — community building.

Community Agency

A strategy in flipping classrooms was to provide the feel of a community agency. It yielded a different sense of urgency and peer-to-peer interactions.

In 2012, then MA student Jody-Lane Castle was set up to talk via skype to Vimeo’s award winning documentary maker Eliot Rausch, who made the incredibly moving film Last Minute with Oden.

You can read Jody-Lane’s account here, as well as a mini-media summit, which was regularly organised. The community approach builds trust, internally and with external speakers.

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The expert performance model (epm).

This is one of the areas where practitioners turned lecturers on practical courses offer unique expert insight into their craft. It’s a boon for universities. Many practitioners have been doing this for years, however new process-tracing measures could provide a way to monitor the objectives of individual students.

In a study on epm, researchers looked at methods to “ examine what actually changes during learning and to use realistic retention and transfer tests”. Digital platforms can use various personal feedback loops online.

Increasingly today, there are more sophisticated data acquisition methods and ratings to gauge successful knowledge exchange.

We found tracking progress and outcomes using short (1 min)diary videos helped us track student progress. We’re using this in our current module on Emerging Journalism at Cardiff.

A Secret Sauce

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The Guild of Entrepreneur’s banquet. I am invited to deliver the keynote to one of London’s most dynamic guilds. I’m thinking how Al Gore foregrounds his fact-laden speech; how Kony 2012 defied the experts because of its innovative approach. And that The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen, by Andrew Raskin, peels back the secret of great presentations — stories.

In all of the schema and techniques mentioned so far the armature that coils these together and one that industry practitioners are gifted with is storytelling — the creation of memorable narratives.

Stories from the field have more often been part of a practitioner’s strategy illustrating actual examples of theoretical themes. For instance how they might have cocked up and overcome adversity, to producing programmes under sheer pressure. Again this is about how to ensure the retention of facts and information.

For me there’s a major caveat. Whilst there are an array of story styles, the propensity to adhere to the hero’s story of Joseph Campbell, so liked by Hollywood and news, risks reducing the breadth of stories from diverse cultures. We should test our stories.

So what do you next? Experiment, research, experiment. The future of remotes learning is still being written.

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2012, 2016, & 2020 designing the lone space experience
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Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is a creative technologist and journalist. He’s one of the leading writers in journalism on @Medium He’s a senior lecturer at Cardiff University and a Co-investigator at Clwstwr. You can contact him here More on David here


Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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