Friday, 3 June 2016


Last weeks Presentation went well I think. I think I could have included more detail, but I think, like many people, I am feeling my way through this project as I have never really done anything like this before.
I picked up a lot of inspiration from the other presentations, and its nice to feel the support of everyone else too. It feels like a real community.

My next step is to get to grips with the interview footage.  Its been a busy week at the university with the end of year work, so now I can devote some time to going thru the footage and making some sense of it all and then start ploughing through all the related research.
It feels quite overwhelming, and I’m still not entirely sure about the outcome, in terms of how its presented, so I hope the lectures that are upcoming will help there.

The research project has come at an interesting time.
Inevitably, I’m having some doubts about being a teacher.
The truth is that I’ve been making films for twenty years and you cant just switch that impulse off.
Its been, and continues to be, a huge adjustment to make. 
I think the biggest challenge is not the actual teaching but all the other duties, particularly now the term is over.
I find it incredibly difficult to sit in meetings and listen to dialogue when Ive always been a man of action.

Also, being your own boss for twenty years makes being a cog in a machine rather tough…

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Initial reflections on Interviews filmed

Last week I interviewed 13 students in total.
I filmed them in groups or pairs, to make sure they were comfortable.
In fact, one of the students had to be filmed alone and that was the least successful.

For the most part each 20-30 minute interview was very interesting.
One of the principle challenges was keeping the student responses as broad as possible without focusing too heavily on individual lecturers.
But it seems when a group of students have had a bad experience they need to vent their frustrations, no matter how much they are steered away!
I guess its a testament to the relaxed nature of the interviews that the students found it a forum to air their views in such a full and frank way.

The questions i generated created useful prompts and kept the conversations steered in the right direction, so no one area of study became too dominant.  (Such as the faults of lecturers!)

Inevitably, when seeking personal perspective you will get a mixture of differing viewpoints and experiences, but equally there were some fairly consistent patterns that emerged easily.

For example, when talking about the "teaching persona" and specifically the qualities that students seek in their tutors, it seems the common element in all of the interviews was that students need a tutor to "care".   Expertise, teaching ability etc all come a distant second place to the idea that the students need that caring and nurturing atmosphere. To know their best interests are being taken of.
Students become almost hostile when they feel a tutor doesn't care or isn't invested in them, and this in turn affects attendance, engagement and their creative output.

There is a lot of material to watch and collate and then to place in a wider context, but its fascinating stuff.

One anecdotal response that came out of he interviews that made me smile, and pause for thought, was the fact that I fell victim thru trying to create my own teaching persona.
Apparently, the first year students had created a false impression about me due to the fact that I started the academic year in my new lecturer position wearing a tweed suit.  As a result, many of them were anxious and even disappointed that they had a "boring' or "square" lecturer.  
By trying to create a "look" as a lecturer I inadvertently sent out the wrong message to a class of first years who were already full of nerves and anxiety!

Lesson learned...

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Unit 2 begins: Filming

And so begins Unit 2 of the PGCERT, after seemingly navigating the first unit successfully!

My research project has been in development for some time now and today I am beginning the first stage of the project in earnest.

I have around 14 students attending the film studio at the university to talk about the nature of teaching and learning, and have devised a series of questions (or prompts) to keep the discussion on topic.

The idea is that it I enter this project with no preconceived ideas, or agendas.
Hopefully I will acquire a diverse series of responses that i can then sit and review at a later date and look for patterns and areas of crossover that will form the basis of a one hour film that I will edit together.

Building on these responses I will then look to place them in context of a wider educational research to take forward for unit 2.

Its quite a daunting prospect to enter this project with such an open mind, but equally its absolutely essential to do so.
I feel i have to allow the answers flow without prejudice and then begin the second part of my own learning journey as a teacher.

The purpose of this project was to look at teaching and learning from the students perspective, having already covered my own thoughts and feelings in Unit 1.

I hope to learn as much as I did in the previous unit and hopefully provide a useful resource for people to watch also.

Ive selected a diversity of students from years 1 and 2, because these students are still in the formative period of their university experience.
I think if I had gone into third years then it would be more androgogical in nature, so not as relevant.

Questions are detailed below:

  1. Tell me about the differences between your previous education and NUA FMIP
  2. How have you found being more of an independent learner (from the more hand-held nature of school)?
  3. Tell me about your feelings when you first entered the classroom here
  4. tell me about a moment during a lecture where something clicked for you.  has there been one?  not necessarily at NUA.
  5. Tell me about what makes a successful lecture for you.  what are things that work (for you?)
  6. Of the best lecturers/teachers you have had to date, what qualities have you enjoyed or responded to?
  7. Of the lecturers or teachers who didn’t connect with you, what are those elements that have made learning difficult.
  8. Tell me about a situation where the lecture/lesson wasn’t working for you and maybe the reasons why?
  9. What brings a lecture or a session to life for you.  what are those moments when it comes alive?
  10. Have you found it possible to translate what you have learned into practice.  How has this been possible.  Examples of were it works?
  11. Tell me about your ideal lecture…
  12. What makes a good teacher?  What personality traits?  is personality important?  
  13. Are you able to “read” a teacher/lecturer and tell if they care?  
  14. Are you aware of a “persona” that a teacher may employ?  Does this matter?
  15. How important is the learning environment? - class sizes, facilities etc?
  16. Why do you study? go to Uni?  
  17. Whats the end result?
  18. Where does the pressure come from to do well?  (fees, peer pressure, parents, self)
  19. Is higher education still relevant?  - What does it do for you?

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Unit 2 thoughts

Initially I couldn't think what the unit 2 research project would be and how to build on the work I had done so far for the PGCERT, and then it fell easily into place today.
I have, thus far, talked about my reflections about being a teacher and also the different types of learning types I will face in class, and how to address and engage them.

What i didn't consider was encouraging input from those actually learning!
and then, it made even more sense to incorporate my own practice into this exercise.

The idea snowballed into a fully fledged research project that incorporated the use of video and the facilities on my own film course!

The proposal I have is to film first and second year film students discussing their own thoughts on the types of learning they have and what stimulates them as learners.  and possibly the most exciting question of all for me as a teacher.  What is that spark that makes a leaner sit up and feel engaged and excited by the subject?  Which then leads to deeper learning and the desire to research further and apply to their own practice?

My approach will be to book the film studio and use a film MA student (someone objective, and importantly non-threatening or "leading") to be the interviewer.
The MA student would be able to have on-camera conversations with 1st/2nd year film students and get to the heart of their learning experience.

I can then edit these (maybe 12) interviews together and mix with a lecture I will deliver later in April.

From this I can then write up my thoughts and reflections on the responses and how the responses can be contextualised with a broader research.

Hopefully this will be a perfect extension of my existing research and analysis into understanding my role as teacher and the nature of learning and quest for deeper learning!

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Reflections on Pedagogy and Andragogy

Yesterday Saint John Walker, the course leader for VFX at NUA delivered an interesting presentation on the nature of teaching, and developed the terms Pedagogy and Andragogy.

Its something I have been having a debate about with a lecturer on the Photography course.  He was claiming that Pedagogy is a term better suited to School children than young adults.

Saint discussed the terminology and the key distinction for me was the idea that teaching is delivered by a teacher and learning is defined by a teacher for pedagogy, whereas with Andragogy the learning aspect of the classroom is led by the student, planning what they need to put directly into practice.

It strikes me with the FMIP course that I teach on that the nature of learning starts with a pedagogical approach, as students tend to find independent study a difficult concept and need time to adapt to becoming self-motivated learners and, in particular, embracing the concept of deep learning.
This then develops through to the third year of the course when students have to work largely independently and with only nurturing guidance towards their final graduation piece.  Which to me, strikes me as a more andragogical approach, where many of the things that students are taught will have direct relevance to their industry career.

Its an area that Id like to look at more, particularly as I have been placed in charge of Year 0, which is particularly interested in developing students into independent studiers.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

New techniques

Today I delivered a lecture to all 3 years of the FMIP course, and tried some of the new techniques I've been developing, in terms of retroactivity and engagement activities to engender deeper learning.

See below:

I managed to obtain some software that enabled students to vote on a pre-chosen subject and for the result to appear live on the big projected screen.
It created a "wow" factor as well as raising over all interactivity levels.

Its incredible to see how much of a positive effect the PGCERT is having, in particular how the Active Learning presentation kicked it all off and made me think very carefully about how I prepare for lectures and how I might actually put addressing deeper learning into action!

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Putting it into action

The increase in responsibility with the senior lecturer is surely taking up my time!
I'm currently finding it difficult to juggle everything, plus I'm still winding down my film activities in the background which is also time consuming. Factor in having a 7 month old baby and I can't recall the last time I had any time to myself!

The good news is that the Active Learning Session has really invigorated my teaching.  its like the shackles are off. I feel confident in my teaching again, but armed with a more balanced approach and a new found enthusiasm to try new things and new stimulus in lectures and tutorials that can help promote energy and fun in the class and thus promote deep learning.

The whole experience has actually prompted me to try more techniques and also to link the stimulus with some quantifiable goals.

One of my projects going into the next academic year is to increase cine-literacy.
I have noted a trend for first year students to have a pronounced lack of diversity in their film experience.  In a survey of students, I found a massive gap in viewing habits - namely the accepted classics of cinema were not being watched, and in some cases actively avoided.

Its essential in film and filmmaking, that key works should be analysed and contextualised with the filmmakers practice in order to gain a greater understanding of the process and areas such as subtext in sound, image and text.

On Tuesday I will be delivering a lecture to all three years of the film students.
In the lecture I'm going to address the issue but in a "call to arms" style.
It could easily devolve into a "nagging session" but instead I want to address the issue in a fun and provocative way.
To this end I am piloting a live poll during the session, where students can vote their answers using their phones/iPads and then the results will appear on the screen.
Its introducing a level of interaction on a large scale that Ive never attempted before, but is very exciting.

I will monitor the lecture carefully, and then see how attendance of the suggested film screening goes in the evening.  That will be the acid test!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Back on board

Its been quite a while since my last confession!

The Active Learning presentation went really well, and I'm pleased I did so much research and prepared so thoroughly.  A great feeling of accomplishment.

But also, in all honesty, my initial reticence about academia seems to be fading and I am genuinely feeling like the theories are making sense to me and adding to my teaching skills.

Its now incumbent on me to keep up with the research now, but more importantly, start to incorporate the theories into my teaching going forward.
I think this whole experience is going to influence how I plan lectures next academic year.  I will be paying close attention to structuring lectures and bringing the pluralistic approach to my future lectures, with more content and also more variety and breaks etc.

I will upload the full video of my engagement exercise to vimeo and look to up on my next update.

NB more updates.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016


Time to embrace, and stop analysing!
So, Ive thrown myself into the research.
Some of the material feels like its obfuscating some very basic information for the sake of terminology, but actually, much of the anecdotal info is very interesting...

One thing, in the research to date, is that i can see already that engagement from students is a big issue.  How does one make them open up during class and participate?
Thats a very interesting area, because students, if left alone, will sit and listen and then file out at the end.
Reading some of the support materials and seeing some of the exercises suggested prompted me into trying my own exercise last week.
I got the students to do "25 words or less on their favourite film" and they had to then nominate a class mate to do the same.
It got everyone engaged a bit more I feel.
The test will be to then deliver some teaching and see if the number of hands or questions increases AFTER such an exercise.
I will build this into the next lecture i deliver and aim to film that lecture too to see how that goes.

the challenge

The initial thinking is to present my active learning session presentation on the challenges of adapting a theoretical framework to a “production” led film course and the emphasis on practice-based learning rather than the more academic framework.
Also, the course recruits (me, as a case in point) production-based personnel, and de-emphasises academic qualification, so the learning curve is very steep.  much of the language is quite alien to me and as such its quite difficult to find ways to latch-on to that style of thinking.

Its fair to say theres a dichotomy here. I “have” to be academically qualified to teach - and I accept that I have to learn pedagogical skills in order to facilitate learning in students, but in doing so its forcing me to re-invent my teaching style- which was always looser and based on student results - successful!  So there is a feeling of “should I be messing with my teaching style” for the sake of a qualification?

Of course, one must temper this with the fact that it would be naive and a little irresponsible of me to assume that its “my way or the highway”!  especially, when many of the teaching models discussed have proven success, and its incumbent on me to become a better teacher, by virtue of the fact that i signed up to be a full-time teacher.

I think I have to get over this reticence, and also academic fear that i have, and learn to embrace it.  I think my concern is that I would be doing it to tick a box and not because I have a genuine desire to improve my teaching skills.  I know thats controversial to say that out loud, but is a genuine feeling.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Losing confidence

One of the things I'm interested in exploring, and this is quite surprising to me, is my loss of confidence in teaching ability.
Strangely enough, its linked with me becoming a full time lecturer.
I think being a HPL carried a large degree of freedom.  To the students you're a rock star who drifts in and drifts out and does their own thing.
Much less responsibility.

Becoming a full time member of staff I find myself questioning what i do and reflecting on my teaching style.  Am I impacting on the students and are they retaining material?
I think, much of it goes to who I am as a person.  i do push myself very hard and want to excel at what i do, so I do put myself under a lot of scrutiny.

One of the things Ive found myself doing is getting student feedback.  Now... I'm not entirely sure this is a good thing, and this is an important area I will be pursuing in research - is it a relationship between student and teacher, or should there still be a retention of the teacher as "instructor", for better or worse?   IE. does one keep a professional distance - and does this factor in to student engagement etc?

With 57 students to cater for, there will be lots of different levels, and again, one wonders how its possible to target effective teaching across a diverse range of skill levels.

My next step is to look at the teaching materials and immerse myself now in all the reading materials so I can feel more confident in making links to the teaching theory with my own practice.

To be honest, I think regardless, I should be doing this, as it would be presumptuous to assume that I could do this without that kind of support!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Making it all work

Tuesday 19 Jan:

I met with Tina Barnes-Powell today to voice my concerns about how I can fit the PGCERT in with everything I now have to do in my new role as senior lecturer.

After speaking with the course leader I have been freed up to have Wednesday afternoons to attend the meetings and also to work on research and reading.

I am going to present something on the link between my own learning cure as a teacher with the research on teaching methods that I intend to begin researching starting this week.
Lots of catching up to do, but all achievable within the time frame.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

A new term and a new job

Jan 14:

Prior to Christmas much of my focus has been on the interview for the senior lecturer position, so I wasn't able to make a start on this journal as soon as i had hoped.
Having secured the position, and jumped in to planning a full ten week term, I’m now looking at how to balance my PGCERT commitments with the additional work I’ll be doing in my new position.
I’m sure once I settle into the position, time will start to appear - or at least, thats the theory.

When I decided to be a full-time lecturer I jumped in fairly naively and perhaps didn't really appreciate just how tough it was going to be.
Certainly, being in charge of 57 students has been a huge challenge, and one thats made me pause to reflect on my teaching style quite a bit.

I think, unconsciously, Ive been trying out different teaching methods to see what styles have the broadest appeal or the best engagement from the most students.  It has to be said that i made the mistake of asking student opinions on my teaching style and got the answers I deserved, naturally focusing on the few negative ones!

Initially my style, coming in as a filmmaker, was to deliver industry-focused material and “talk”.  
I noted that whilst this was popular, there wasn't enough retention of information, and not enough curriculum information was coming through.
From September, I had a very steep learning curve, being appointed head of that year with a weeks notice.  This meant i inherited other peoples teaching materials, and I quickly found the powerpoint being used to be far too text-heavy.  It made the lectures too dry and too information heavy.

So, just recently, Ive taken to creating more evocative powerpoint presentations, just using a few key words and some powerful imagery as a way of bullet-pointing my lectures.
I try to stay away from the lectern if possible, and try and make the lecture as loose and informative as possible.

I’m also beginning to introduce key activities that punctuate each lecture, to see what’s been retained and maybe provoke the students into active thinking rather than  passive listening.

I find it an interesting journey, and equally feel very responsible to deliver quality lectures that impact, from a professional standpoint.  But the bottom line is that i have a few years ahead o me to really hone my style.
I am guessing next year when I start the new academic term afresh with a  clear direction under my own auspicious, that I will be able to implement lectures the way I really want to, and this will really help.

This reflective journal is actually tremendously useful to this process and something I intend to continue regardless of attaining the qualification.