A big part of our work here at The Open University is creating materials for distance learning. Our students don’t come on campus and get their teaching in weekly blocks, usually delivered via our Virtual Learning Environment, to be worked through in their own time.
It’s a highly inclusive model, built for people with other commitments in their life and without many of the additional costs that come from spending years on-site.
But it’s also a model that needs a huge amount of work to deliver those materials, something that I’ve been learning more about over my first 18 months here.
While much of our content is text, there’s a strong desire to use audio and video as much as we can. These elements provide a more diverse and engaging experience for students and let us do things that wouldn’t really work otherwise.
At a technical level, that means professional producers working with academics to create individual pieces, much like a broadcast programme: indeed, that’s one of the reasons the University does so much with the BBC, because we’re all relatively experienced in the demands of the media.
However, as a newbie, it’s also a learning curve for me.
Central in that has been working back from my media experience to applying those insights to a more formally pedagogic setting.
Ironically, that has often meant channeling my inner podcaster when making these resources.
I’m going to guess you listen to podcasts and watch TV news or documentaries. Think about what makes those work as engaging and interesting pieces of work.
Part of it is about a strong message or argument, but part of it is also more personal: you empathise with the presenter(s). And that’s the bit which I think is quite crucial when making pieces for students.
Communicating part of yourself matters in audio and video in a way that it doesn’t in text: precisely because it’s you speaking/acting, there is more for students to fix on and that’s work your time to make as much of as possible.
For me, that might be a relatively conversational tone and an attempt to think about why my audience might be interested in anything I have to say. Your style might well be different, but you have to know how you are and want to be if you’re not to come across as someone rushing to get out of the studio.
Just as your lecturing style is something that takes time to find and refine, so too for these different pedagogies, made more complicated by these not being quite the same as each other.
Something to think about next time you create an audio or video piece for your students.