In addition to celebrating, it’s also time to thank those whom I have worked / collaborated with. Without you (you know who you are – my dear students, colleagues and friends), I would not be able to make this far. Leading new courses is not an easy job; so much needs to be done to lay down a foundation. I have to give the courses a unique identity, build up credentials so that more students will be happy to join us at UCA Farnham. I hope flagging up these highlights provides people a better idea about what I try to achieve here: marrying the theory and the practice, the technical and the social, and ultimately the creativity and the digital.
In two days, on the 10th of December 2015, Ada Lovelace, known to be the first computer programmer in the world these days, will be 200 years old. I spent a day celebrating (and understanding) her cultural legacies at the Mathematical Institute at Oxford University.
Today’s event demystified Ada Lovelace, a human being who had a unique sense of humour (“very mathematical weather”, inspired by her sonnet on rainbow), sharp and visionary scientific imagination, and achievements.
On her death date, the 27th of November, I did a lecture on ‘media representation of female scientists, and sexism in science’ to my Yr1 media and journalism students. When asked to name a female scientist, the only two names my students came up with (after a moment of awkward silence in the room) were: Marie Curie and Mary Anning. They could not name any contemporary female scientists (contrast to other familiar male figures such as Stephen Hawking). Role models such as ‘Ada Lovelace’ are much needed. Perhaps a label has been created, but so what? As one participant confidently and rightly said, ‘The label is there; let’s relish and celebrate it!’
I’m happy that I have this opportunity to know Ada Lovelace better today #LovelaceOxford. There will be other events across the country and the world to celebrate Ada Lovelace’s birthday on the 10th of December (such as the Ada Lovelace workshop at Cambridge). Let’s make the 10th of December shine!
We did it – the first ever Raspberry Pi workshop at UCA Farnham successfully took place today with 30+ Year 2 undergraduate students on three different honour degree courses (Media & Communications, Media & Creative Writing, and Digital Film and Screen Arts). Jake Strickland delivered an engaging lecture on the Internet of Things in the morning, followed by a hands-on workshop in the afternoon assembling a Sheffield Raspberry Pi Weather Station and then turning the Pi into a video looper.
The success of today could not have happened without the help of the following people. My thanks go to Jo Bates who let me borrow the Raspberry Pi Weather Station kits that she and her team at the University of Sheffield developed. I have worked with them on the AHRC-funded ‘The Secret Life of a Weather Datum‘ project where the idea of a Raspberry Pi Weather Station was conceived, and that’s how the story all began (how Jake and I were connected – see the CDC Weather Station). Thanks also go to Rosie Gunn for being collaborative and supportive of my experimental ideas. Well done Jake and all students involved in today’s workshop – I’m sensing that many creative ideas will be arriving in the near future.
I am coordinator of the MA theory module ‘Critical Contexts’, shared by all MA students in the School of Film, Media and Performing Arts. This year we have five MFA Photography students on this module, all very engaged. Quite a few of them are interested in the gender issues in photography, and under-representation of female photographers in the history of photography is one of the problems. In one of our student-led reading groups, ‘Ally’ cleverly devised a quiz, which asked participants to guess which image was taken by a female photographer and which by a male photographer, as a way of challenging the stereotypical image of a fe/male photographer and their interests (that also reminded me of a quiz that Radio 3 did – guess which music was composed by female composers). Of course, Annie Leibovitz was in the quiz. The unreplaceable position of Annie Leibovitz is evidenced by the newly released Pirelli 2016 calendar, which celebrates not only (different) female bodies but also achievements. It’s about ‘different ways of looking women’, said Fran Lebowitz. Is this significant? Oh definitely – as it has been termed ‘a cultural shift’ (Friedman 2015). Time to update my lecture on gender and media with this addition. Annie Leibovitz on the 2016 Pirelli calendar in a Guardian video.
UCA has had a new media identity called ‘We Create’. But we not only create, we also transform. The video graffiti workshops led by the Finnish documentary director and video artist, Soile Mottisenkangas, have transformed UCA Farnham quad yard, classroom, and the James Hockey Gallery. For example, the BA students on Digital Films and Screen Arts projected films (slow documentary-style abstract films, gig video recording, still images) onto different surfaces in classrooms, on smooth wall or on ventilation grilles to generate different effects and atmospheres. Students have also ‘dialogued’ with the Kawaii exhibition at the James Hockey Gallery, by projecting the videos to different installations. This has (re-)created some profound artworks: a mentally trapped man speaking on a bleeding toy bear, a mademoiselle interacting with a boy and his dogs, Farnham castle being displayed alongside Japanese-style tower, spliting the projection through the cascading sakura rain. On a rainy day, instead of going for a longer tour around Farnham, we explored UCA Farnham quad yard, by projecting videos onto a bucket collecting rain fall, pools of water on the ground, walls inside and outside a shed. By projecting videos onto different surfaces at different locations, new meanings have been generated. The everyday space at UCA has been transformed into a theatre platform where people play and interact. These video projections. can be considered as digital performance, that create interaction and new meanings. They are temporal, but the transformative effect on next generation video artists and media professionals, I believe, is immensely long-term and tenacious. See video and Soile’s Storify.
Soile Mottisenkangas is undertaking her residency at UCA Farnham this week. She has given a couple of lectures on slow tv and Nordic documentary (poetic, character-driven documentaries). In addition, she also introduced the concept of ‘video graffiti’, and led a tour of mobile screening of short films at Farnham. Using the Philips PicoPix PPX4350 WiFi Portable Projectors, we redefined where a screen is, and explored how meanings of images change when images are re-located. We have engaged MA students in the School of Film and Media and MFA Photography, BA students in Animation, Media & Communications, Media & Creative Writing, Digital Film and Screen Arts. The locations we explored include UCA Farnham Quad, Lion and Lamb Yard, St. Andrew’s Church, Farnham Library. Lots of interesting works have emerged from these workshops. It’s been an interesting journey with these young promising creative colleagues at UCA.
I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at the (short but interesting) international conference on Education and Media in Sofia, Bulgaria today. The event was organised by the media group Bulgaria On Air in cooperation with Bloomberg TV. I was joined by Veselin Vackov (Director of Lidove noviny at Czech Republic),Barçın Inanc (opinions editor (op-ed) and journalist at Hürriyet Daily News in Turkey), and Massimiliano Dibitonto (CTO of madsign.biz in Rome).
With the popularity of free online course materials such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare and Open University’s MOOC, or the paid content (educational projects) that Lidove noviny or Lynda have been developing, why should people go to university (especially given the sky high tuition fee in the UK)? My talk addressed this concern. I shared my observation about the contemporary media industry, and the pedagogical philosophy and approaches we have developed at UCA Farnham to modern media education delivery. Essentially, I’d like to equip students the knowledge and analytical skills to reflect and think critically, the ability to proactively participate in media through creative communication, problem-solving and self-broadcasting.
Such media literacy and pedagogical approaches have bee nicely echoed and illustrated by my fellow panellists Massimiliano Dibitonto when he talked about p2p learning and ‘learning by doing’ embraced by the makers communities (his talk was entitled “From watching to making: the democratization of knowledge and invention”), and by Barcin Inanc when she noted the diverse voices on social media (or alternative media).
We had received excellent questions from the audience, ranging from how to encourage students to produce good content (focusing on quality not quantity), how to retain journalistic integrity while facing difficult financial situation (it’s a question regarding media ethics and professional code of conduct, how to deal with censorship and influence of political parties and commercial sponsors), how not to be controlled by technology but take control of technology, how we can deal with information overload on social media and in a media saturated environment. All and all, I’d say that having the ‘critical thinking’ skill is really the key. And that’s why we still teach students cultural and social theory to inform their young minds.
Well, first of all, who says Bulgaria lacks consistency, or determination or efficiency in reform (cf. UK Ambassador to Sofia Emma Hopkins’s recent comment)? My real sentiment is: How horrendous. I think teachers should integrate smartphones and tablets into teaching and learning, rather than confiscating them. I think students should learn when is the right time to use their computer for research, and when’s the right time to pay attention to the lectures or course work. After all, they should learn how to act responsibly and appropriately in different contexts. Banning is not the ultimate solution to dealing with low-level persistent disruptive behaviours; self-regulation is. Despite I feel totally neglected and annoyed by students checking messages on their phones during my lecture, I’d try to integrate the phones into the learning and teaching, and make my lectures more interesting to catch their attention, rather than removing the phones from the classroom. It’s not going to be easy (and nobody says it’s going to be), but I think that’s the way to go at the university level.
More information about this event can be found here.
 More info on the ban on the use of mobile phones in Bulgarian schools: the use of mobile phones are banned the same way smoking and bringing weapons to the classroom are banned, but students can still use tablets or computers if that is somehow part of the educational process and is approved by the teacher. Also the ban does not apply to universities.
 This interview has been published on the 7th of October 2015 – see http://www.dnevnik.bg/intervju/2015/10/07/2623248_juvei_lin_prepodavatel_po_medii_i_komunikacii/?ref=interview