All entries for December 2006

December 31, 2006

Crime and its Representation in Cinema: Part 1

Crime, Vulnerable Citizens and the State

Introduction

Crime films are not all ‘who dunnits’ or macho gangster films such as Guy Ritchie’s efforts. Many films that represent crime are examining how states can either specifically criminalise a class of people – women in the case of The Circle and Vera Drake (see below), or else the state can fail its citizens through negligence and allowing crime to exist against those in a weker position in society.

There are some films which include crime issues (primarily against children) as a part of the messages and values which the preferred readings of the films are intending to convey. An aspect which is worthy of discussion is in regard to how much crime might be ‘glamorized’ in parts of the media. Below I summarise ways in which the representation of crime can be understood as a critique of states or political systems going beyond the often harrowing circumstances of the individuals actually being represented.

Monsoon Wedding

Animated Images Monsoon Wedding

Monsoon Wedding is by a woman director (Mira Nair) and is dealing with crime against children at the level where those who a child should be able to trust most are, either perpetrating the abuse, or are thinking about sweeping it under the carpet.

It is worth remembering that the father of the family is actually a Judge! As part of a preferred reading the father as a representative of the legal system the Judge’s role functions as an allegory (standing in for) the state of India as a whole. What Mira Nair the director seems to be suggesting is that the state of India is not doing enough to protect its children within the family.

This film differs from the one’s below as the narrative clearly brings things back to a state of equilibrium (remember your Todorov here). There are of course other issues concerning women in the film such as power and women in society and the concept of the arranged marriage which challenges western notions of romantic love. Here you could compare the film with notions of romance as represented by Bridget Jones’ Diary especially if you are studying women in film. (More on the social construction of romance another time).

Lilya 4-ever

Lilya in her Western Sex Slave Prison

When we come to look at Lilya 4-ever by the male director Lukas Moodysson we see not only neglect and then abandonment of Lilya which leaves her exposed and vulnerable to the flourishing people trafficking trade. A trade which has been very profitable for ruthless criminals since the collapse of the Soviet Union (now Russia) and those countries which were allied to it. (Please also note there is a video interview with Moodysson on this BBC page).

Moodysson is clearly going beyond the crisis of the indvididual Liya and is criticising the Russian state for being unable to look after its most vulnerable citizens. But this criticism goes beyond Russia to Western countries themselves, for it is as though they have been turning a blind eye to – and even profiting by – the exploitation especially of children and women in these countries.

The collapse of the Soviet Union meant that there was a collapse in most of the key benchmarks of citizenship. People who were used to high levels of social citizenship (health, housing, employment, education and pensions) now found that they had to survive on their own. Many turned to criminal activities of which people trafficking and the sex trade has been an important one.

The representation of children within the media often functions as an allegory (stands in for) of innocence and vulnerability. In Moodysson’s film there is an indirect critique of the West (which Sweden stands for). Although Western citizens in general were pleased that the Soviet Union which had been seen as a military threat and as a repressive regime because its citizens had few political rights there was little attention paid to the social rights of these same citizens once the political regime (communism) had gone.

People’s life savings became worthless as the old Rouble collapsed against international currencies so Western companies moved into the old Soviet Union and brought up companies on the cheap. The ending of the film here is deliberately ambiguous. We have been shown the full alternative which Lilya would face if she didn’t recognise the danger. The audience is given hope at the end because she recognises that geographically fruit picking in Sweden in the middle of winter is impossible.

UNICEF

The short UNICEF appeal which was shown with Lilya forever shows just how prevalent in real life this kind of people trafficking is. It is something which also existed in an organised way in Victorian Britain. Both films show how far social reality is away from the concept of ‘not kicking people when they are down’ instead people are kicked a lot when they are vulnerable.

Thelma and Louise

Thelma and Louise deal with Lorry Driver

Thelma and Louise is also by a male director Ridley Scott. There is a separate article about how this film subverts the typically male sub-genre of the ‘Road Movie’. Here I wish to link it to the theme of the State and the way in which it treats its most vulnerable citizens.

The narrative event which upsets the equilibrium and drives the film is the attempted rape scene at the drive by bar and the subsequent shooting of the perpetrator who would only stop when a gun was literally held to his head. As it is usually the state and its representatives the police who have the power of lawmaking the fact that some citizens are forced to protect themselves by extreme means shows that in terms of sexual violence against women the state isn’t taking its responsibilities seriously. As an audience we are given the point of view of the women to elicit our sympathy. This initial critique becomes explained indirectly throughout the film for one of the women has had such dreadful experiences in one state that she refused to drive into it despite the fact that it is the quickest means of escape.

The role of Harvey Keitel as a policeman is to try and convince them that they will be able to get justice. The women refuse to believe that this is possible. Eventually they are trapped by the police and the film ends with them driving into space off the edge of the Grand Canyon. They are not allowed to escape over the border (apparently a production decision influenced by testing out different endings on sample audiences).

Thelma and Louise No way out of patriarchy

Whilst for many the ending was unsatisfactory as the women are seen to be punished many sexist attitudes are parodied (think of the lorry-driver). Cinematically the gloomy domestic interiors – compared with the free space of the road – also stand in for the repression of women within southern American society and it seems to be the Deep South that is being criticised here for its regressive attitudes towards women which in the past have been supported by the law.

Keitel represents ‘new man’, more understanding in his attitudes to women’s rights. The fact that the original rapist and characters like the lorry driver can view women only as sex objects is a critique of the real power structures present within those states for they can be seen to legitimate the grossly sexist attitudes. In this film the Todorov standard narrative structure isn’t used. The ending isn’t a return to equilibrium as far as those women were concerned although we could argue that as far as sexist southern society was concerned it did bring equilibrium and served to reinforce the status quo.

Summary

Women Criminalised by the State in Jafar

Crime doesn’t have to be a case of glamorization. Its representation can act as a critique of the state through the actions and events which happen to an individual. Other films to see which can develop your views on this can include City of God set in the Favelas of Brazil. The Circle shows how the theocratic state contrives to make criminals out of women in a very specific way.

Vera Drake as caring mother

Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake shows how working class women broke the law by arranging and carrying out illegal abortions whilst those women who were better off managed to manipulate the system although they were of course exploited. Again the state here is contriving to oppress its women citizens. There are of course many different crime genres and this article is only dealing with some aspects. Gangster and Heist (caper films) may represent entirely different aspects of life. Remember too, what counts as a crime depends to a great extent on where you are and how you are positioned in life. Democracy and politics are about renegotiating these boundaries. Media output is able to help or hinder this process.


December 30, 2006

French Cinema: Some Good Websites

French Cinema 1945 – 1970 (Open Studies Spring 2006)

Below are a range of websites gathered for the above mentioned course run in Spring 2006 which deal with many of the areas covered in the course. It is by no means comprehensive but opens up a range of portals into an evergrowing range of research, commentary and and discussion now availale via the web.

I haven’t analysed these sites in any great depth so no there are no particualr recommendations. The Senses of Cinema site has many good articles. When this list was complied a few months ago there was a free chapter on the New Wave available at the Blackwells site so I recommend downloading it if possible.

The Sites

http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Cinema/4355/index.html

http://www.mastersofcinema.org/bresson/

http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/jeanrenoir/FilmDirectors.htm

http://www.thejetty.org/

http://www.maurice-pialat.net/

http://mapage.noos.fr/e.rohmer/

http://www.sensesofcinema.com/links.html

http://www.cadrage.net/

http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC02folder/auteur2.html

http://www.questia.com/library/communication/media-studies/film/national-cinemas/french-cinema.jsp?CRID=french_cinema&OFFID=se1&KEY=french_cinema&LID=15170594

http://javari.com/javari/archive.truffaut.htm

http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/cteq/05/35/my_night_at_mauds.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Rouch

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Marker

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alain_Resnais

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_and_Fog_%28movie%29

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prix_Jean_Vigo

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinema_of_France

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2584/is_n1_v15/ai_16922293

http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/content/BPL_Images/Content_store/Sample_chapter/0631226575/001.pdf
(This is a whole sample chapter onthe New wave highly recommended)

http://film.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/Guardian/0,4029,638924,00.html

http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/film/scopearchive/articles/how-queer.htm

http://www.kinema.uwaterloo.ca/bachm952.htm

http://www.newi.ac.uk/humanities/dir5/souffle.htm

http://reason.com/9807/fe.cowen.shtml

http://frenchfilms.topcities.com/index2.html


More on Podcasting Equipment

Ordering Podcasting Equipment

Well, post-Xmas online sales have stimulated me into taking the plunge and ordering some podcasting equipment. I should emphasise here that this is not a recommended route for all but a possible route for some. Clearly individual / departmental circumstances are contingent.

If you are going to only be an individual podcaster making your own podcast talks then one good route is getting the Rode Podcaster USB microphone which plugs straight into your computer and download Audacity as start-up software.

If you think that you might want to do something more sophisticated such as interviewing people or recording discussions then a different route is probably more suitable.

Quality Microphones

Trawling the better blogs and reviews of equipment it seems clear that the more you pay for a microphone the better the sound quality. A good microphone isn’t going to go out of date in the same way that computers and software do so the best you can afford is the accepted route. On this principle I took the plunge last night and ordered an AKG C 3000 B. This seems to be a well rated general microphone and is currently (29th December 2006) heavily discounted at Dolphin Music.

AKG C 3000 B General Microphone

The good price decided me that I would take the path of finding an interface which allows you to plug in more than one microphone, add some other sound if you want it and give you some flexibility in what type of microphones to use at any given time. Having a USB (Universal Serial Bus) connection to the computer from this interface device means that you can record straight onto your hard drive.

Phantom Power: What it is and why you need it

I still don’t know why it is called this, and in fact going to a couple of blogs talking about this it seemed to be yet another technological hurdle. In plain English some microphones (usually the better ones) need a power source. Some will use batteries and others rely on these microphone pre-amplifiers which allows you to control the signals coming from the microphone. If you are choosing this route to a small recording system make sure that the equipment you buy can provide this phantom power to microphones. If it can’t I’d suggest forgetting it!

Most of the digital recorders such as the Marantz mentioned elsewhere in this blog allow for this although they have their own microphones built in.
The advantage of the separate interface pre-amp is that it is more flexible with other sound sources and if you buy one of the better ones it will have circuitry and components included which improve the sound quality. If you have good microphones they will get the best out of them.

Disadvantages

Whilst this approach is portable you can’t go rushing around the streets interviewing people and it requires a more formal setting. This route depends upon what kind of recording situations you expect to be in.

Choosing the Microphone interface Unit

Having decided upon the USB route for a recording chain and plunging for a decent microphone the next problem was choosing a suitable interface / preamp. This was harder because I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for to start with. Not only have I trawled blogs, trudged through various online stores and accessed a range of reviews I even found myself in the local newsagents looking at the Sound on Sound magazines which I thought was aimed at a target audience of male freaks all wanting to be rock stars. Fortunately Smiths was empty and nobody I knew saw me. Reason for buying this for £5-00: There was a review of the very latest microphone / computer interface gizmo on the market – serendipity or what?

EMU-0404 Recording Interface

Certainly the Sound on Sound review was very favourable. The equipment seemed to do everything I needed and came with a good bundle of audio software (useful for those who wish to go beyond Audacity). I was close to racing off to the checkout and pressing submit, but I did a last trawl of internet reviews and comments and some of the forums which have sprung up on specific bits of equipment. One person who seemed to know what they were talking about had considerable trouble having read the same Sound on Sound review and been convinced to upgrade from a technologically less sophisticated but very relaible make.

This was enough to put me off at the last moment. I had already been considering a model in the above mentioned Dolphin sale called the Lexicon Lambda. This comes from a more up-market audio firm than Creative Sounds who make the EM-U. I had initially been put off by a very unfavourable comment which rapidly disappeared from the Dolphin website. I trawled the web and paid 99p for a couple of reviews as PDFs (I will pass these on to Robert O’Toole as I don’t know how to get a PDF into a blog, then those who are interested can take a look).

The main concern mentioned by reviewers was that this model was a bit weak on the software package. However I came close to buying it when I remembered seeing something about one of their early forays into USB interfaces coming up with a very good sound.

The Lexicon Omega

Lexicon Omega Interface

I checked out the model which was called the Omega. The Sound on Sound review
was very warm towards the model. Please note that this model dates from 2004. Originally around £330 pounds this was clearly a well specified model when it came out.

Three things you will need on these bits of equipment are:

  • 2 XLR Microphone inputs with the ability to switch to ‘phantom power’
  • Separate headphone controls. (The headphone on the Omega is said to be excellent). This is important for hearing what the microphones are picking up as well as for mixing sounds).
  • A USB output to your computer.

Something else to consider is how you would like to power the unit. Some can be powered via the USB port on a computer whilst others are like a laptop with a separate cable and transformer. The Omega for example is powered conventionally whilst the Lambda uses USB power.

Regarding the Omega there are several references to how good the microphone pre-amps are on this model. This was finally what sold it to me. You can check the firm’s original information sheet here. Note it strongly emphasises the high qualiy of the microphone pre-amps. This is what all podcasters need. As such, it seemed to represent a bargain. I will report back later on the inevitable installation problems.

It does lots of things I will probably never need. The computer conection is only a USB 1.1. This is slow by today’s standards and presumably a low cholesterol model (Omege-3: get it?) is on the way with USB etc. If you wish to record a band this model is probably not for you!. Currently it is available on special order for about £170.00. This was well above my original budget but I was planning to spend something on a ‘lite’ edition of some software so it more or less balanced out. The Omega does have some light versions of industry software bundled and some of Lexicon’s reverberation software which can give the feel of particular rooms. Apparently the firm is very well know for this so it could be a bit of fun pretending I’m in Coventry Cathedral or wherever.

Summary

Overall there are several reasonbly priced routes into creating a podcasting recording base which can be developed if desired:

  • Desktop computer / Laptop with a USB Headset. (Check out Beyer & AKG, for very cheap Logitech) + Audacity software
  • Desktop / Laptop with USB Microphone + Audacity software
  • Desktop / Laptop with a USB interface for 2 Mikes etc. Audacity or hopefully bundled software
  • Fully Portable digital recorder + computer + Audacity software

It is best to try and work out what your needs are in advance. Certainly a minimum of quality is needed. You do need to take some trouble over this. Here is a link to the University of Warwick History Department who have gone to the trouble to do a cost / benefit analysis on audio equipment. recording.

Hopefully I can now get back to covering cinema for a bit, which is where this all started from. Hopefully there will be some podcasts in due course :-).


December 28, 2006

Affordance in E–Learning

The concept of Affordance taken from a range of disciplines is considered as important in the development of E-Learning.

What is Affordance?

I have lifted this directly from a course at Purdue University
however there are many sites which come up with the same material. The door example is especially popular. In other words this is the accepted dominant discourse.

Gibson Affordance Theory

The perception theorist J. J. Gibson (Gibson, 1979) radically changed ideas about human perception:

Gibson assumed that we perceive in order to operate on the environment. Perception is designed for action. Gibson called the perceivable possibilities for action affordances. He claimed that we perceive affordance properties of the environment in a direct and immediate way. This theory is clearly attractive from the perspective of visualization. The goal of most visualization is decision making. In short, Gibson claims that we perceive possibilities for action. i.e. surfaces for walking, handles for pulling, space for navigation, tools for manipulating, etc. In general, our whole evolution has been geared toward perceiving useful possibilities for action.

Affordance example: (Norman, 1988)

You are approaching a door through which you eventually want to pass. The door, and the manner in which it is secured to the wall, permits opening by pushing it from its ‘closed’ position. We say that the door affords (or allows, or is for) opening by pushing. On approaching that door you observe a flat plate fixed to it at waist height on the ‘non-hinge’ side, and possibly some sticky finger marks on its otherwise polished surface. You deduce that the door is meant to be pushed open: you therefore push on the plate, whereupon the door opens and you pass through. Here, there is a perceived affordance, triggered by the sight of the plate and the finger marks, that is identical with the actual affordance. Note that the affordance we discuss is neither the door nor the plate: it is a property of the door (the door affords opening by pushing ). [My emphasis]

Norman, D. (1988). The Psychology of Everyday Things , New York, Basic Books, pp. 87-92.

The Wikipedia entry on Affordance is also interesting as it leads on to post cognitivist ideas within psychology which relate to affordance theories. The term is also linked to graphical design and human-computer interaction.

Here is a blog by a designer about his daughter’s reaction to buttons.
You can follow through to a discussion as well.

Here is a commercial training company’s understanding of the term in relation to e-learning. If you scroll down there is a good range of web pages with some critique on how well they offer ‘affordance’. Do things which look clikable turn out not to be clickable for example.

Here is another blog about ‘drag and drop’. Drag and drop in general is generally a good example of affordance (which I take to mean usability in a pragmatic sense of a no technical user). You will notice references to Ajax here. Ajax is not 1) A Greek Hero nor 2) Some kind of scouring agent. Ajax is 3) A web development programme which helps to create drag and drop however this blog points out that:

The problem with drag-and-drop is that it doesn’t have any affordances. You can’t tell when you’ve encountered an element that is dragable. The result is that this powerful capability is often only known by developers.

This blogger (Jared Spool) is a web designer and a key issue is managing to make thigs easy for users. Of course if they did media degrees they would know that one of the most important things to do is to test out products on audiences before general release as Hollywood does. Several endings are shot at the same time. ‘Affordance means’ audience testing!

This blog ends with a useful set of comments and discussion for people who know something about the technologies (not I). This leads into a a different page on the notion of perceived affordance.

This glossary also led me to the useful term Minesweeping which for non- initiates describes the process when one clicks wildly all over the screen to try and find something interactive. When this happens there is clearly a lack of ‘affordance’.

For educationalists seeking to develop materials and environments for students the issue of affordance is very important. If the pages aren’t set out effectively then students will ignore them. The answer to this is always evaluate your work well with students to see how they cope. Take their problems and comments on board, remember they are the audience.

Examples of Affordance

Thematic Navigation and Contextual Navigation

This entry explains how the tagging system in Warwick Blogs works. This is a very good example of good practice in which alternative paths to providing the content which a target user is likely to be interested in are made available.

... each item of content is also classified as pertaining to one or more themes. These themes run across the whole site, and may appear in any context. For example, the theme ‘Writing Skills’ may be assigned to any page. In Sitebuilder and Warwick Blogs, themes are applied using a taxonomically consistent set of keyword tags. So for example, this blog entry, and many others in Warwick Blogs, contains the tag ‘E-learning’, indicating that it is of that theme. When carried out in such a systematic way, keyword tagging may build an alternative way of organising web content, independent (or on top of) of contextual navigation. Furthermore, each page may contain more than one theme, thus providing sense about the relationship between themes as expresses in the page. The final element of thematic navigation is the provision of ways in which a user can see the available themes, and query for pages that contain those themes.

When Blogging: Take Care of the Humble Tag!

One important element of ‘affordance’ is empowering a user to get at the information they want in the most direct way possible. I have learnt as I have been developing this blog just how important the humble tag is. Initially I wasn’t certain of the best way of using them but as entries started to build up (blog builder) learning how to navigate for myself was very important. Only today I realise that I was tagging E_Learning not E-Learning. consequently I couldn’t access the developing discourse on this area. I had to change all the tagging on a number of entries.

Lesson 1. For good blog design which pays respect to affordance is organising your tags well.

Lesson 2. I suggest you ask your visitors to leave a message in the comments box if they find it difficult to navigate.

Lesson 3) To develop ‘affordance’ on this blog I have also placed an explanatory post on the lay out of the side bar and its relevance for the expected target audiences of the site. To increase the visual aids to navigation I have dropped clock widgets into the sidebar set at GMT. This helps to break the sidebar into sections. If you are familiar with Manuel Castells’ notion of ‘timeless time’ in the networked society you will enjoy the irony.


New Media: Citizenship

New Media Technologies and Citizenship

Beyond the discourse of commerce which has increasingly come to dominate the web the fundamental issues of citizenship for the 21st century remains an important issue.

Citizenship isn’t a static concept and concerns of cultural citizenship and ecological citizenship have emerged on top of older concerns about political and social citizenship.

According to a story from the BBC web feed the issue of citizenship in terms of communications and politics is a core issue in China.

It appears as though the remnants of the old command and centralised system is increasingly fracturing as it comes up against networked systems. In theory at least my bet is on the networked systems succeeeding. What perhaps is the biggest issue is what will happen when it does finally succeed. Will there be a highly sophisticate digerati ready to take over China as we know it? Will regional powers start to emerge?

The Open Net initiative is a fascinating site for anybody interested in the effects of new media and communications technologies in relation to citizenship and politics in general. It comes strongly recommended. The BBC page also has some useful links for those intersted in following up.


New Media: Relationship of Podcasting to Radio in an Educational Environment

Courses on Radio Production and Their Application to Podcasting

Preface

Here I am going through the process of working through issues of educational innovation and identifying some of the problems involved which are both technical and institutional. Here I have kept the focus on podcasting as the example educational technology to link in with the following educational areas:

  1. Firstly, practical work I intend to introduce in terms of making my own talks
  2. Secondly teaching these technologies to colleagues / students
  3. Issues of managing change
  4. Institutional resistances and problems
  5. How HE institutions which already practice radio production could contribute to developing educational podcasting

Introduction

For educationalists podcasting is going to become increasingly important as one of the available tools of communications / media management for education. This issue has recently been highlighted by Robert O’Toole.

1. communcations managers are concerned with raising the level of communcations skills and the quality of media processes throughout the organisation;
2. these communications skills are also fundamental academic skills;
3. e-learning (following the new agenda for research based learning) is concerned with encouraging skills and quality processes using technology within the student’s research-learning process, communications form a significant element within these skills.

Podcasting & Radio

In many ways podcasting is an extension of radio. Radio is the oldest form of electronic mass media and as has been indicated elsewhere on this site it is very important in countries which have been less developed.

With the rapid emergence of broadband internet access and the increasingly lower financial hurdles to reproduction equipment a combination of streamed internet ‘radio’ and podcasting looks set to fill the role which was occupied by pirate radio stations in a legitimate way.

The great advantage of podcasting is that individual programmes can be delivered direct to blogs or else to a free subscription service such as i-Tunes. This allows the audience to access the content where and when they want it.

As in other areas of media fully professional programmes from mainstream broadcasters such as the BBC will be delivering podcasts which will sit alongside podcasts from small groups, individual enthusiasts, educationalists etc.

Education and Podcasting

Increasingly people will need to become more familiar with these technologies as the ability to produce podcasts with a reasonable level of technical competence is becoming part of everyday communications strategies.

Currently the shift to new media technologies and their application within education is being pushed from the top down. It is one thing to invent grandiose strategies for implementation and quite another to persuade practitioners of the need and use for these technologies when there are already many institutional pressures in place.

It has recently beeen identified that even within Media Studies at HE radio is very much a Cinderella subject.

Those keen on introducing podcasting which is an excellent way of communicating with students -how many are permanently glued to an MP3 – are currently operating in something of a vacuum in terms of how best to format and deliver the content. This is apart from any technological issues which may need to be dealt with and having institutional funds available to purchases this.

Institutional Resistances

Tick-box culture leads to minimalism. The introduction of IT into learning is often considered as just another government mantra which is entirely disconnected for many teachers and lecturers. There is often considerable resistance in a passive sense to innovation which is regarded as change for changes sake and which can involve a lot of work with rewards which are unclear. There is also considerable concern amongst practitioners about the commodification and instrumentalism entering education. Post cognitivist psychologist John Pickering expresses these sentiments here.

Podcasting is just one of a plethora of new technologies which added together seem overbearing in their enormity. I feel the need to be familiar with a large number of quite complex software programmes such as Dreamweaver, Flash, Photoshop, A DTP package, PowerPoint, an audio package say Audition, Premiere Pro for video and video strreaming. I could also do with being familiar with audio equipment, digital video, digital cameras all of which are changing at an incredible speed.

On top of this I should be familiar with VLE environments and how to make the most out of them in a pedagogical way. All the content needs to be rewritten rewritten or even reinvented. Look at the emerging culture of Second Life for example.

The reality is that people learn as much as they can in a very eclectic way. Any strategy involving E.Learning technologies requires a clear institutional investment in ensuring that their educationalists are trained up properly in these technologies. Further more it is important that their training is achieved in relation to the courses they are delivering. Thus there is likely top be a long period of transition for most practitioners which needs to be taken into account.

Where it is possible, the transition to E-Learning needs to be organised on a team basis with clear tasks being given preferably flowing from people’s prior knowledge base and enthusisms. It also needs to be recognised that developments are ongoing things which can’t just be delivered in a one or two day training course. I am certain that a considerable amount of money is wasted within education delivering short ‘training’ courses on some piece of software or another. This is a tickbox attitude which can emanate from mnanagement structures themselves: “X members of staff have received training in Y software. 90% of aattendees said they learned something”. This approach has little to do with implementation, increasing familiarity with the available tools and embedding the technology within the teaching / learning environment effectively.

Here it must be emphasised that the very nature of Web 2 technologies changes the parameters of the educational environment itself, which adds another level of complexity to the equation. Overall considerable amounts of thought need to be invested in devising effective transistional training and development programmes for educators which will undoubtedly be expensive but cheaper in the long run than the odd ‘training day’.

Problems of Innovation: Educational Technologies Guidelines?

For those who are keen to incorporate change and to enthuse colleagues there need to be more practical guides written by academics who run practical production courses which should be available in a multimedia environment on the web. A range of special courses for education professionals could also be set up on ‘Technological Innovations and their Pedagogical Development_’. Educational practitioners could attend courses every week to learn the technologies and discuss their implementation within their own setting. The courses would be assessed on the introduction and implementation of E-technologies in the practitioners environment. these accredited certificates would be available for individual technologies. for the purposes of this blog “Podcasting within Education” for example.

This suggests that HE institutions need to be aware of the potential professional development market within education. Arguably one of the roles of the Higher Education Academy would be to encourage this approach by funding devlopment partnerships between HE & other institutions to provide this accreditation.

Effectively what is happening is a campaign to reconstruct the British educational environment. It sorely needs the active participation of the foot-soldiers. It these people who will put things into practice and develop a new cultural milieu. At the same time the budgets must be available in the institutions for the enthusiasts to be able to innovate. This is an argument for ring-fenced budgets to go to educational institutions for this purpose.

Here is a link to TELFRI which is an organisation concerned with the issue of transferability of educational technologies. I haven’t as yet had a chance to delve in depth into the contents but its on the ‘to do’ list.

The FE / Sixth Form Environment: The Discouraging of Change?

My comments are particularly addressed to problems of change and innovation within the educational foodchain below HE. The ‘A’ level environment consists of teachers taking low risk teaching strategies and things which work and are proven to work to get their students through. Innovation necessarily implies risk.

The intensely competitive environment where teachers do intense textual analysis on what is demanded by the examinations boards functions as a closure and unless process based reward is introduced into the public examinations system there is always going to be a serious problem as risk and innovation are inherently linked.

The current obsession with metrics means that even slight variations in student results are picked up. Unsurprisingly this encourages an attitude of “If it ain’t the broke don’t fix it”. Given that performance related pay systems are also in place the risk is a very real one. Despite the continual bombardment of creativity and change the system itself discourages change on the ground. If management structures order change and targets then people can blame the management if their figures change. We can talk about embedding the new practices or consolidating them.

I would suggest that performance related pay systems need to be linked to a range of different parameters and benchmarks rather than pure results in public exams to encourage the willingness and enthusiasm necessary to promote change from the bottom up. This would encourage the risk-takers and remove some of the conservative values amongst grass roots educators.

Media Production Courses for Radio

Below I have included a link to HE institutions which deliver radio training both theoretical and production based. Accessing their websites may well yield guidelines to practical production of programmes which can be applied to the creation of educational podcasts.

The importance of checking out available courses for practical radio / podcast production is moving up the agenda. Useful media links which I have accessed via the Higher Education Academy

Links to Higher Education Media Projects

Radio Studies Final Report

For students and teachers in schools and FEs here is a link to HE courses which specialise in aspects of radio production

Successful Non-Commercial Radio Projects

Radio Warwick The student radio station


December 27, 2006

_The Constant Gardener_2005. Dir Fernando Meirelles

Introduction

The Constant Gardener, 2005; dir Fernando Meirelles.

Running from Sudanese Tribesmen

Boxing Day plans were changed due to our host contracting a nasty bug. This afforded me the time to catch up with The Constant Gardener which was on my ‘to watch’ list. The film is well worth anybody’s two hours of viewing time – a key benchmark in my opinion. Cinematically, in its performance, in the interesting but challenging narrative structure as well as its content, it this is certainly one of the best ‘British’ films to come out since the turn of the millenium. I put British in inverted commas because the film has an important feature which many successful British films in recent years have had which is a non-British director.

I had forgotten (what a confession) that it was directed by the Brazilian Fernando Meirelles whose first film City of God made such a stunning impact both in terms of its shocking content as well as its cinematagraphy. After making these two films he certainly must be considered as one of the most interesting directors currently at work. Whether he becomes totally Hollywoodised we will have to see.

Arnold and Tessa Leaving on their mission North

This is the second feature by Meirelles. Meirelles’ first feature was City of God set in the favella or slums of Sao Paolo in Brazil. As can be seen in the awards section below the film has achieved wide critical success. Overall the film has won 18 awards and a further 40 award nominations. It is an adaptation of an original novel by John le Carré also called The Constant Gardener and stars Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz

Fiennes and Weisz in Constant Gardener

Link to programme notes from the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham
You can get a good plot summary here so I won’t reinvent the wheel.

Much of the film was made on location in Loiyangalani also see the Wikipedia entry the slums of Kibera, Kenya.

The film combines the feel of realism throughout, despite the fact that the plot is a typical post cold war conspiracy thriller involving dodgy government dealings with international drug companies and exploitation of the weak. The latter are unwittingly put at risk through the trialling of new drugs. The risk of unacceptable side effects by carrying out trials in poverty stricken countries where news is never made is intertwined with le Carre’s more familiar themes of trust, doubts, and betrayal. Here these themes work their way through the British diplomatic corps. These are themes which will be familiar to viewers of the excellent Tinker Tailor TV series of the 1970s based on le Carre’s work. The film is thus multi-layered and challenging on a number of levels whilst politically it raises fundamental concerns about the nature of global citizenship.

The realism isn’t just an aesthetic effect. The situation in Africa where the crew were filming is so gross that cast, director and le Carre have established the Constant Gardener Trust (link below) in order to provide basic education around these villages. Weisz, Fiennes, and Le Carré are patrons of the charity. It is useful to note that the charity is also interested in what it describes as ‘responsible film-making’ an aim which is shared by this writer.

Getting help to track down the culprits

The film goes well beyond the ‘worthy but boring’ kind of a film which can so often happen. Rachel Weisz’s performance is genuinely passionate and it is no surprise to learn that she persistently followed up Meirelles after audition’s because she felt deeply that it was a part for her:

Weisz gleefully admits that, as soon as she saw the script, she was desperate to convince Meirelles that she was worth getting hold of. She claims that he had no idea who she was beforehand – “he wasn’t really familiar with any British actresses” – but flew over to London from LA in order to audition, and felt no shame in pursuing him afterwards. “I wrote him a very passionate letter,” she smiles. “I really wanted the role.” (Full Guardian story here)

Film and Adaptation

A pensive Ralph Fiennes

Several of the reviews below make a strong reference to the original book and comment that sections are not included or that the contorted plot isn’t so well represented. I tend to take this type of criticism with a pinch of salt. It is clear that the spirit of the original book has been kept and that is the most important thing. Adaptation inevitably means compromises and issues of translation across different media. films should be inherently cinematic and so far the work of Meireilles excels at this. If you want the book you should read the book. Films work differently and also they are far more industrial products than books are. Whilst book publishers can have far more discretion regarding the length of thier product, especially when is from an established author, a film needs to keep within common industry practices. Distribution and exhibition are everything and has been pointed out elswhere in this site the multiplex system offers less choice with more screens rather than diversity.

Awards

The film was nominated for the 2005 Golden Globe Awards in the following categories: best film, best director and best supporting actress (Rachel Weisz). Weisz won the Best Supporting Actress at the 2005 Golden Globes for her performance in the film, as well as the 2005 Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role. On January 31, 2006, the film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, and Best Supporting Actress for Weisz, which she won.

In the UK it has led the BAFTA nominations with 10 categories including both Best Film and Best British Film. Weisz and Fiennes were nominated for the leading role category at the BAFTA. It instead won only one BAFTA for Best Editing by Claire Simpson.

Weisz and Fiennes, have won the leading role awards at the London Critics Circle Film Awards and British Independent Film Awards. Overall Weisz won five awards for the film .

The Constant Gardener Trust

Unusually the film spawned not only a critical reaction but genuine shock amongst the audiences. The powerful reaction to the content of the film lead to the establishing in the Constant Gardener Trust. Writer John le Carre and the actors Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz are all supporters of the trust. Yet again British media has shown that it can stimulate citizen response in the real world a precedent which had been set in the 1960s with Ken Loach’s Kathy Come Home which stimulated the start of Shelter the charity for the homeless.

Oxfam site dealing with issues of trade and medicines

Review Links

Film Australia review

BBC Review

BBC News Entertainment review

BFI / London Film Festival

Channel 4 review

The Guardian review

Time Out review

Tiscali review

Commentaries Relating the Film to the Drug Companies

Sonia Shah author of a book on the international drug companies writing in The Nation


December 24, 2006

The Role of Educational Podcasting: Reviewing the Possibilities

Using Podcasting in Education

Introduction

What follows is a review of my research findings so far regarding the uses of podcasting in an educational environment and some ways of developing one’s own skills which have to take on board some technical issues at a fairly basic level and also production issues in terms of the contents of what is podcast.

What follows has already been influenced by the interactivity of Web 2 internet technologies which is only right. In many ways this has developed rhizomatically for all you (Deluezians out there). The work here is also preliminary work for a certificate in Innovations in e.Learning run by the Open University. (The course is starting in February so if you are inspired by this check it out).

Much of this work has been stimulated by some great experiences with my AS Media Students at Sixth Form College Solihull. We had a great time playing with the Moodle Virtual Learning environment as it was being installed. This experience convinced me that Web 2 represented a significant shift in the ways in which education can work. It made education fun again -right now an awful lot of it is so regimented that education in a liberal sense has been overwhelmed by managerialist discourse – and we were all learning the possibilities.

It certainly worked for some of my students. I met one in Harvey Nichols in Birmingham last week. She was clearly a fashion fan so it was no surprise that she was working there. What was lovely was that although billed to get a ‘D’ she’d managed to gain an ‘A’ on this particular unit and I heard that other students had done better than expected on this unit. That was anecdotal proof to me that being a little less prescriptive and giving students the possibility to drive things – up to a point – can (should?) translate into good results.

The cultural milieu which students work in is very important. There are many paths to learning in terms of developing higher order patterns of thought, and over-reductionist approaches to classroom management are not the only way to gain results.

Thanks to Chris Coe at Warwick e.learning for helping me on the path to blogging. Then thanks to Tom Abbott, the Warwick University Communications Officer, for offering and giving me some of his valuable time. Tom showed me some of the latest podcasting and video equipment and discussed some of the practicalities of producing podcasts particularly in relation to educational purposes. Thanks also to Robert O’Toole for commenting on a blog posting and putting me onto one of the registered suppliers for University of Warwick.

This supplier has got the some of the best descriptions about recording equipment and is a useful way into finding out about some (not all) of the major products which you will probably wish to consider if like me you are just starting out.

One nice thing about this is that there is an exciting atmosphere of ‘just get out there and do it’. As yet there are no precise formulae and there is the mental space allowed to make mistakes. There is something quite exciting about being able to get your voice (quite literally) out there in a way which offers interested people across the world or in your teaching sphere at the local level the opportunity to listen and to respond.

The initial financial entry barriers are very low for aspiring educators and it is clear that humanity is on the brink of another huge communications revolution which in terms of interactivity and reciprocity is opening up our horizons of possibility. This tempts me to point out that even if you are not doing it your students probably will be!

Below I have listed several applications of how podcasting can be used within an educational settting. On a separate posting I will summarise what I have found out about the equipment required to get into podcasting relating this to what you activities you will expect to be undertaking. Different equipment should be used in different settings.

Educational Applications for Podcasting. Production by the Educator

We can split podcasting roughly into two areas: direct usage by the educator and direct usage by students.

There is a range of applications in which podcasting can be used for educational purposes by the educator. This list is not meant to be comprehensive but identifies some common possibilities. There will be separate postings for each point listed immediately below. After that I discuss the advantages of podcast lectures / talks. I then argue that some of the outcomes make a persuasive argument for much greater institutional investment in these developments.

  • Individual teacher / lecturer presentations
  • Carrying out interviews within a familiar internal environment
  • Carrying out location based interviews perhaps in the open
  • Recording visiting speakers giving talks
  • Recording student presentations
  • Recording small group discussions

Podcast Lectures / Talks

This usage can be very rewarding although its use has been controversial. A lecturer at Bradford University has been one of the leading practitioners of this approach. ( Follow this link for more on Dr. Bill Ashraf ).

  • Podcast lectures can function as a replacement for the physical lecture
  • This gives students the opporutunity to predigest the original material and empowers them to ask more searching questions
  • Students are able to listen as many times as they wish. they can also listen in places such as public transport where reading might be far less productive or entirely impossible. Student time can be used more productively
  • The feedback process allows the lecturer to refine the original the original to make points more clearly if they have been weakly understood. Reflexivity is therefore built in
  • Once the lecturer / teacher is satisfied that the content and mode of presentation is right it can be stored for use in the future freeing up development time
  • Should significant changes in the knowledge base emerge the talk can be re-edited to ensure extra longevity.
  • Digitally based archival storage medium is very stable unlike old audio tapes
  • The product is excellent for team working across several groups. Colleagues can work productively on something else to develop an in depth resource base.
  • Colleagues can also easily cover absences as they will know exactly what the students have been exposed to.

Summary of usage for talks / lectures

Making a podcast will initially take more time to produce. Even after going through the equipment learning curve careful attention to structure, pace and rhythm is needed. Attention to radio style communication is important. Lecturers and teachers will neeed training in the techniques. Communications media for teaching will undoubtedly become increasingly important for porfessional practice.

Institutions will need to create professional development time for their educators to learn these techniques. Teachers and lecturers will need to stop whingeing about whether this ‘creates more work’ and have a more get out and do approach. There is a professional responsibility required here. By the same token government (and therefore managers) need to become less obsessed by ‘metrics’ i.e. positivist quantitative reductionism and focus upon educational outcomes and what education actually means for society beyond the terminology of ‘skillsets’.

Pedagogically the evidence is that podcasting lectures is more effective, thus supporting the underlying logic of transferability and flexibility of the medium. The medium is highly flexible in terms of where, when and how it is used by the student. It also has the advantage that it is inherently more human than the more abstract form of communications which is writing.

The ability to use in teams or even to exchange podcasts on a global basis is something which could only be dreamt off in the past. The essence of Web 2 is the collaborative approach and cross-institutional collaboration can be made far easier and more effective. Thus a gradual move towards this form of communicative interaction will be far more cost effective and productive from the perspective of educational budgets.

The argument being put forward here is that even if none of the other uses of podcasting within education are considered the importance of being able to create a vast range of talks by large numbers of people with enthusiasm and expertise would dramatically widen the cultural milieu. It is therefore worth doing in its own right.

Another advantage of the system is that people not registered to courses would be able to gain access. They may be parents, prospective students etc. Thus openness and transparency would become embedded within the wider society and access to ideas and information would be easier and cheaper.


December 22, 2006

Media. Audio Production Resources

The practicalities of audio production

Introduction

The practicalities of audio production whether podcasting or radio go well beyond just the technical aspects. There are many things to learnt such as good interviewing techniques the optimum length of programmes to name but 2. In this section useful links will be added which will help everybody from scriptwriters to presenters as they are discovered.

As has been commented upon by many an experienced podcaster keeping your target audience engaged is fundamental. Very poor technical production will lose you and audience but the best equipment in the world is no guarantee of success.

Links

The Unseco Community Radio Handbook is available here in PDF format

This is written several years ago however in terms of fundamentals there are lotes of useful elements including good definitions of terms such as Public Service Broadcasting, as well as community broadcasting.

A good link for those intersted in community broadcasting in underdeveloped countries is from Johnathan Marks.

The introduction makes many important points about how radio is an extremely cheap mass medium, however if the $100.00 wind-up laptop from Nicholas Negroponte takes off then suddenly a much larger number of people will be able to access the still priviledged world of internet distribution. The world of podcasting and a multiplicity of specialist audiences will multiply dramatically.

This link is from Channel 4
and gives a few basic approaches to writing and sound production techniques for radio which can of course be used by podcasters.


This blog linked to the Channel 4 The Play’s the Thing
above is very interesting and will be added to the favourites section. There are insights into useful technical tricks thsat good soundengineeers develop. See the picture of this double microphone set-up below. You can read about it on the linked blog.

Dual Microphone Set Up

Elsewhere on The Play’s the Thing there is a useful video on recording in a studio with the relationship between actors and microphones explained as well as a basic intro to what equalisation and mixing is about.

This link again to another part of The Play’s the Thing provides a very useful video of making a radio play on location . Again this gives insights into acting the type of microphones which can be used for what purposes and the uses of carpet or acoustic panels to reduces sound reflections in unfavourable room locations.

Drama Writing Career

The Play’s the Thing is a radio drama writing competition open to 16-34 year olds.

This page has a number of good links. The Radio Drama Overview is particularly useful for aspiring scriptwriters with a long list of links attached.

This is another useful link for scriptwriters at Writernet

The BBC online have Writersroom
which is a guide to new writers for the BBC. It is also possible to download Scriptsmart from this site which provides templates for broadcast writing.


Media. Radio Training Resources at the BBC

Introduction

The differences between transmission on the airwaves and internet distribution.

This is a page linking into a range of useful training resources provided online by the BBC.

Radio Broadcaster

Because I have been writing specifically about podcasting I have isolated articles about radio production. This is because many of the production techniques and principles of podcasting are the same as radio. Podcasting is different to radio because anybody can do it legally. Radio as far as I am aware is controlled by national states to the extent that licences are sold to broadcasting organisations who may then use the airwaves.

The possibility of internet radio has circumvented the bandwidth limitations of conventional radio which need to be transmitted whereas internet aplications are uploaded. Transmission through airwaves provides absolute physical parameters which are finite. By comparison internet distribution is only limited by the available broadband connections which can be changed. This is to all intents and purposes infinite.

Link to BBC Radio Training.
This one is on interviewing techniques.

Link to BBC Radio Training

This one is about mcirophones and sound and is essential viewing for all podcasters who like BBC radio jounalists and broadcasters will need to gain some basic understanding of the equipment.

Particularly useful is the tip to always take a condom with you for location work. (If this doesn’t get you visiting the site what will :-) )


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