All entries for Thursday 04 January 2007

January 04, 2007

I switched off my TV, permanently, almost

An uncharacteristic rant. But it has lessons for anyone who works in the media (including the web).

I have finally run out of patience. Watching television increasingly makes me feel physically sick. US public radio legend Garrison Keillor understands my pain:

“TV distracts you by flashing pictures at you and doing camera acrobatics. People sometimes tell me stories I told them on the radio years ago. Quite astonishing. TV has attention deficit disorder built into it, unfortunately.” (from an interview with the BBC).

BBC4 last night screened a vitally important documentary entitled Mortgaged to the Yanks. Sir Christopher Meyer examined one of the most shameful episodes in recent British history. It was fascinating but almost unwatchable. The cretinous director/producer clearly thought his audience too dumb and impatient to want to just focus on the facts and arguments. Instead we had to see things though a steadicam deliberately made un-steady, dodging and weaving around the shots. Was this supposed to give an edginess to the show? The arguments were edgy in themselves. This was an account of some of the most fraught moments in British history, illustrated by interviews with some key players and those who inherited the debt. It didn’t need to be messed around with. It would, I reckon, have made a great Radio 4 broadcast. Perhaps BBC4 is a national disaster almost as big: programs that should just be audio on Radio 4 now have to have pictures as well. Damn the BBC! Save the BBC!

If a subject needs additional edgy, flashy, fast, effects, then its not worth bothering with. If it doesn’t but is subjected to the now habitual use of sub-1-second shots, then it’s been wrecked by TV, as is almost everything now. Even worse, many TV presenters seem to be competing with the camera effects, adding un-necessary expressions and inflections. And then the scriptwriters join in with additional layers of sensationalism!

From now on audio only, no picture. An afternoon spent bashing, scraping and painting old bits of motorcycle in a dark garage while listening to Jonathan Bate talk King Lear on an ancient radio – that was my Boxing Day. That’s better than a lifetime of The Culture Show’s fake liminality.

Perhaps with just one or two exceptions. Heston Blumenthal I like. He has concentration and skill. The camera is forced to give way to his hands and his intelligence. Bill Oddie is charming, conducting a symphony of starlings. That nice Kate girl too. And the poor bugger they send out into the freezing cuds of the north – Simon. There’s also a wildlife presenter who does programmes about migrations, quite straightforwards and engaging, and minimal in its use of music (wildlife does not need bloody orchestras, it did years ago when the film and audio recording wasn’t very good, but now it is un-necessary – I want to hear the sounds of the wild, with Attenborough whispering a well informed commentary). Billie Piper is gorgeous, full of character and endlessly watchable. And of course there is Bruce Parry – yikes! – but entirely convincing.

Using digital media: copyright, DRM and safe [e]learning practice

I am often asked to give advice on the digitisation of copyrighted content and its distribution online. I’m not an expert on this, and claim no qualifications. But I have studied the issues and attended some good courses. In an attempt tp summarise this knowledge, I have created this (draft) document. You can read this in whatever order you like, either the good news first or the bad!

Key sources on which this is based:

The bad news

Contrary to popular belief, there is no blanket ‘fair use for education’ exemption within British copyright law. Furthermore, educational bodies are increasingly considered to be commercial organisations. If we infringe upon the rights of another commercial organisation, they are likely to pursue us for compensation. The position of the university on this, as embodied in its acceptable use policy (AUP) for IT, is that individual members must not use University facilities to commit such infringments. Employees of the University should not commit such infringements in the course of their work.

Although we have a limited license agreement that allows us to reproduce certain copyrighted materials on paper, there is as yet no such agreement covering digital media. Similarly, print media that has been digitised is not covered. The Library are currently piloting a very restrictive digitisation license, but only in a controlled way. There is a good reason for this limitation, from the perspective of copyright holders. Once content has been digitised, it can be redistributed to thousands or even millions of people at the click of a mouse button. When this happens, they no longer have control. Digital rights management (DRM) systems are being developed to allow controlled digitisation and redistribution, but are not yet widely used.

The situation becomes worse when digitised material is uploaded to the web. Redistribution then becomes even more simple. It is often assumed that storing content on a password or permissions protected web page is acceptable. Rights owners would counter that the material may still accidentally or deliberately be ‘leaked’ into a public realm by anyone with access to the restricted page. Imagine if a student were to make a copy and then post it publicly on their blog. Auditing of digitally stored materials may occur, even behind protected pages, and this can lead to painful consequence.

The good news

There are three significant exemptions that we can exploit. Firstly, and most well known, are the various expiration periods of rights under protection. For example:

  • In literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works copyright lasts 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies.
  • Sound recordings, usually 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the recording is made (there are complications).
  • Films, 70 years from the end of the calendar year of the death of the last to die of the following persons: the principal director; the author of the screenplay; the author of the dialogue; and the composer of music specifically created and used in the film.

(Adapted from the Cambridge University copyright web site )

However, you might want to use more recent materials. There are two further ‘permitted uses’ available to us:

  1. Making copy for personal research or private study – and that means personal, you cannot use this exemption to make copies for groups of students or researchers. They can of course make their own copies.
  2. Reproducing an ‘insubstantial part’ of a performance or publication for the purposes of criticism or review.

One could argue that much of what we do in higher education, especially the arts, constitutes criticism or review. This enables us to use citations from publications or small lower quality images of artworks without explicit permission (although it is often good practice to ask first, as this keeps artists and publishers sweet). There is a significant caveat: ‘insubstantial part’. This does not necessarily describe a quantity of the original work. To calculate whether you are reproducing a ‘substantial part’ consider this question:

Would the acquisition (or viewing) of my reproduction make the acquisition (or viewing) of the original in some way unnecessary?

If yes, then you have definitely used a substantial part. For example, this is the clause that prevents theatre critics from giving away the ending of a play. Note that you can still use your criticism to convince people that the play isn’t worth seeing on artistic grounds. For more information and ideas on the permitted use for criticism and review, read this blog entry.

And finally, remember that if you really must use a substantial part (or whole) of a performace or publication, it is worthwhile simply asking for permission from the copyright owner. Explain to them how you are to use it in education or research, tell them that it will increase the prestige and even sales of their work, and reassure them about how you plan to control access to the reproduction. There are organisations that exist to support this process. I will investigate these and report further.

Technology for research based [e]learning – presentation abstract

Advances in entrepreneurial and research based [e]learning at Warwick

Warwick has developed extensive [e]learning provisions: web architecture, software and hardware catalogue, support and training, network of experts and advisors, research and development programme, and most importantly a culture of innovation (especially amongst students). This has been undertaken to serve the needs of an entrepreneurial and research oriented university.

Our focus is then upon using technology to enhance student academic processes, key research and enterprise skills, and their assessment. This is achieved by making the tools and techniques used by researchers and entrepreneurs available to students. At the same time, we extend the technical capabilities of our academic staff as researchers. We aim to foster a digitally native, collaborative, network oriented, technically proficient and media savvy university population, staff and students included, such that research and enterprise is enhanced throughout. This represents an entrepreneurial and research oriented agenda for e-learning.

I will begin with a concise but effective clarification of the concept of entrepreneurial research based [e]learning, thus providing a framework through which specific technologies can be understood:

  • Valuing the process as much as the product (and implications for skills and assessment).
  • Students as researchers creating and developing novel opportunities (four essential research skills, the link between research, creativity and enterprise).
  • Surveying and understanding current knowledge (revealing gaps and contradictions in knowledge, making opportunities appear, questioning and investigating).
  • Beyond content transmission (digital nativity, collaboration, critical reflection, network/community orientation, technical proficiency and media savviness).

I will then provide a brief overview of the technologies and techniques that we have made available, evaluating how each of these supports entrepreneurial research based [e]learning differently.

Two particular technologies/techniques will be subjected to thorough investigation: podcasting and concept mapping. These have emerged, largely without conscious planning, as popular and effective tools. Podcasting, as a student collaborative research activity, has shown great promise. It has also proved popular with older staff, who find its radio-like format to be familiar and useful. Concept mapping (as opposed to mind mapping), has been rapidly adopted by individuals and groups as a tool for gathering and analysing information. It is a highly effective tool, and yet simple and intuitive to use even when dealing with large and complex domains. I will demonstrate how it can revolutionise learning, research and collaboration through the application of critical and analytical processes.