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Over the last 4 years, the University Of The West Of Scotland has hosted regular Weds Afternoon collaboration workshops in our TV studios at UWS Ayr.
In that time over 400 participants, the majority of them International Students from countries all over the world have participated in the workshops. These student volunteers have collaborated together to record, edit and present the work of the BA(Hons) Contemporary Screen Acting Degree students .
Full details of the StudioLab process can be found here
I am pleased to announce that next Wednesdays StudioLab will be the 100th session . We will have a film crew down to record events . Look out for details of how we plan to celebrate our 100th Birthday .
Contemporary Screen Acting Students in our recent Rail Safety project
Just got this on the hotline from my colleague Dr David Manderson
“Congratulations to Kirsty McConnell, a graduate of last year’s Honours Screenwriting/Film-Making degree, for winning first prize in the London Screenwriters’ ‘Fifty Kisses’ short film script competition for her short script ‘Enough.
You can read her script and the judges’ comments here:
Well done Kirsty! A career beckons.”
I have taught Screenwriting and Performance at the University Of The West of Scotland since 2006. Dr Sarah Neely, who at that time was teaching Screenwriting here, originally asked me to visit to deliver a one hour talk on my work in the Creative Industries. At that time the institution was called “The University Of Paisley” . I thought I was agreeing to go and talk in Paisley, Renfrewshire, until the day before the visit I looked at a map armed with the Post Code and realised that I was booked to speak in Ayr. Ayr??? What….Ayr, Ayrshire? Robert Burns? Ice Cream? Butlins? I remember phoning Sarah up the night before and asking her once again…”
“It is Ayr you want me to go to, is it? ”
She assured me that it was indeed the toon of honest men and bonnie lasses, and off I went with my bike on the train, to Ayr the next day. I got out at the end of the line, and outside the station, asked the ticket inspector if he could tell me the way to the University. “Oh aye, ” he said, ” Ayr College….doon there, mate…”
“No..not Ayr College…..the University….” I said.
He drew himself up to his full 5’5″ , cupped his fag against the wind, and said ” There’s nae University in Ayr, son….”
Noting my puzzlement, one of his colleagues paused from rolling a cigarette and shouted over…” It’s Craigie he’s wantin’, Wullie”
With that, a light came on in Wullie’s eye…” Oh..CRAIGIE, is it?….how did you no say?” And with that he gave me pinpoint directions to the Craigie Campus of the University Of Paisley.
6 years later and I am still here.
The New Campus
Now renamed University Of The West Of Scotland after its merger with Bell College Hamilton, and newly relocated in our new £80 million state of the art campus on the banks of the River Ayr, the place I work in now is very different from the leaky, drafty, run down ex-teacher training college I walked into that day in March 2006. Thankfully, there is sign outside the town which says “Ayr..A University Town” , so that even Wullie from the station will now realise that there is a University in Ayr…and a damn fine one at that!
But there is something else that hasn’t changed at all. The students. Oh they aren’t exactly the same student’s of course. Six cohorts of graduates have moved on and made a life for themselves in the time I have been there. But they are exactly the same type of students.A large percentage of them tend to come from the same housing schemes, the same small towns, the same Islands and urban conurbations as they did then.
There is a specific “look” and “sound” to a group of UWS students. I can’t define it, but I can instantly recognise it. I have lectured to MA students in ancient oak and leather furnished rooms at St Andrews: to groups of Film Students in a modern Lecture Theatre at the University of Stirling: to Theatre Studies Graduates in a beautifully dramatic arts “Church” at Glasgow Uni. Every one of those groups was instantly differentiated from my students at UWS. Let’s cut to the chase here. We are talking class. The statisticians don’t talk about class. They talk about “areas of high deprivation” or “lower socioeconomic sectors”. Whatever way you dress it up as, the “look” and “sound” of a group of UWS students is closely linked to the fact that a large percentage of them come from the sort of places that most of the middle class worthies who run Scottish Education only see through smoke-tinted windscreens. Many of my students are the first person in their family to take up Higher Education. Many of them are single parents. Many of them have full time jobs in very low paid areas. Many of them subsist on bursaries, grants,handouts and overdrafts. Over 35% of our Performance Students have special educational needs which are fully supported by our fantastic team at UWS Ayr. I wonder what the equivalent figure is in St. Andrews? I don’t have that figure to hand, but today, thanks to the NUS Scotland, I DO have a figure which has made me proud to work at UWS, and proud to teach my students. More of that later.
The New NSS Survey is out? Oh……great. :..(
When you work at UWS, the release of National Statistics is rarely a pleasant experience. With teeth-grinding regularity, I see the National Student Survey “Performance Charts” which put Oxford , St Andrews and Cambridge at the top, and UWS somewhere…well…. let’s say a wee bit further down than Edinburgh.
Never mind that my students are taught in the most modern Creative Industries University in Britain.Never mind that all the hard work, toil, time, effort and downright passion that my colleagues and I put in to our students learning experience comes to nothing. My UWS students aren’t even included in the National Student Survey. Astonishingly, unbelievably, incredibly, as direct entry third year “top up” students, they don’t even get ASKED what they think of their education. Why? Because the entire NSS system is geared to assessing the thoughts of 18 year olds with A Levels who are studying three year degrees. None of my students, not a single ONE of them, adheres to that biased, Southern, middle class model. Many of my students don’t even have Highers. They left school at 16, maybe took a year out to work , or signed on. Some of them have been Fire Officers, Estate Agents,full time mothers, even a magician! Whatever their past, at some point,at some time, they took an access course, went to a local FE college, and achieved an HNC or an HND in Performance and Acting. They did this in circumstances which were a million miles away from the creme de la creme of the education world who are recruited by the “elites” . This large group of Articulation students is completely ignored by the NSS. Institutions like UWS takes large numbers of these students . We cajole them, teache them, argue with them, are frustrated and infuriated by them, but finally we arm them with an honours degree , self respect, and a practical tool kit to go out into the world and make a career for themselves. And yet my colleagues, students and I have to watch as their progress is completely marginalised as the NSS statistics “prove” how wonderful the “elite” universities are, and how low down we are .
League Table Shmeague Table.
As we all know, the true situation at the chalk face is far more complex than any crass league tables can ever reflect. For example, I am bursting with pride at my two Honours students who achieved First Class degrees this year. They could walk into post-graduate studies of any elite institution in the country if they so wished. However I am just as proud of my other students who have emerged from challenging circumstances and learned advanced criticality, reflection and transferrable soft and hard skills which will help them gain employment or create their own jobs and careers. They want to ensure that their children don’t get the same free meals that they did, and I am proud to be part of that process. Indeed I am literally part of that process, because I too was the possessor of a dreaded free “white dinner ticket” while at school. But none of this is reflected in the cursed tables I see published in the papers every year. And do you know what? I’m past caring…..well…until today……because…..we made it to the top of a table today, and suddenly , I think they are a GREAT idea….so….
Hallelujah! Let joy be unconfined! Let the church bells ring and let laughter and mirth spread through the land! At last, some statistics are published which finally reflect the pride I feel in my institution, and which justify the passion and energy which my colleagues and I put into our work here. UWS has come out ON TOP in a statistical survey! I will repeat that. University Of The West Of Scotland has come out ON TOP! We are the top recruiter of students scoring highest using the criteria of the Scottish Index Of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD)
According to a recent study commissioned by NUS Scotland, UWS recruits a greater percentage of students from “deprived areas” than any other university in Scotland. Of course needless to say, this was not presented as a positive story. Did I pick up my Herald yesterday and luxuriate in the headline trumpeting “UWS Triumphs In Campaign For Open Access” ? Errr….No. Instead these figures were described as “Elite Universities Fail To Recruit Poorer Pupils.” ‘Twas ever thus.
Nevertheless, it IS a positive story for us at UWS! Last year we recruited 1,117 students from the lowest SIMD sector. To give this a bit of context, St Andrews, (which I believe is thought of as one of the elite ) , managed to recruit……..wait for the drumroll……..a grand total of ….13. Maybe we should call them the St. Andrews 13. Maybe they were all from the same Rugby League team? Whoever they are, I really do wish them well, because they must be 13 of the most outstanding students in the country. However it means that while 2.7% of St Andrews students might have got free school meals or had an unemployed parent, the UWS figure is 25.4%.
Not only that, but the elite universities (what a wonderful term that is ) are actually recruiting less disadvantaged students than they did 10 years ago. This means that these august educational institutions , whose senior common rooms no doubt glow with statisfaction at their domination of the NSS statistics, are getting less and less successful in helping the poorest attempt to break out of a cycle of deprivation and poverty than before.
The Blame Game?
Let’s make one point crystal clear here. I don’t blame the elite unis for this. As Alistair Sim, director of Universities Scotland states in the Herald of June 4th 2012
“To deliver significant change in universities, you first need to tackle the root of the problem, which is the large gap in attainment according to deprivation in schools, as recent reports have confirmed,”
Coupled with this, I also don’t blame the elite for wanting to recruit the best students. If I got the chance to recruit a fantastic actress who had gone to Swiss finishing school and had an International Baccalauréat , I would do it in a flash. But I live in the real world too. I am competing against other institutions which are deemed “elite” and superior to mine. I know that because I see it in the League Tables, so it must be true, musn’t it?
Prolier Than Thou?
Of course, The solution to these societal inequalities, as Alistair Sim points out, lies not in the University sector at all. Universities are the symptom of the disease, not the cause. It is in the schools and pre-school system that this canker of inequality is nurtured. The fact that elite schools dominate the intake of elite universities is clearly symptomatic of the effect of pouring massive subsidy and resources into the education of the 7% of British Children who attend “independent” schools. Thus inequality is structurally inevitable if we are to continue to give parents the “freedom” to buy their children’s superior school education. Even the proposed imposition of quotas, through which the Government plans to force Universities to take more disadvantaged students (and which the “elite” will inevitably rail against) , are naught but a tiny sticking plaster on what is a far , far deeper inequality wound in contemporary Scottish society.
The Way Forward.
If we Scots decide that we want to build a fairer society (and the evidence of election after election in Scotland is that we do ) , then the only way to redress our massive societal inequalities is through investment in education and training at the pre-school, school, FE and HE level. At UWS, we can only do what we can do, and I am proud to be part of an HE institution which is clearly and demonstrably doing more to enable open access to HE than any other University in Scotland.
So let’s hear it for UWS, our students, and especially for Wullie the ticket inspector from Ayr whose town has a University which is top of the performance charts in at least one crucial area.
If you want more information on the sort of work our Articulation students do in Ayr, please have a look at the Video below. It was created, written, acted and edited by my third years last term. These students came straight from an HND at FE College, and have no current voice in the National Student Survey. Let their words speak for themselves. Contemporary Screen Acting At University Of The West Of Scotland.
I have blogged in the past about the Commercial Screen Project module at the University Of The West Of Scotland . This is an innovative “real life” project where 3rd Year student Teams use their acting, writing and filming skills create a web video for an external client.
This year I am delighted to reveal that two of the clients for whom the teams are creating web content are Spirit Aid , the Charity set up by Glasgow born actor David Hayman, and the UWS Skillset Media Academy, based in Paisley. Spirit Aid wish to promote their annual Fund Raising climb of Ben Nevis on the 19th of May, and Margaret Scott, manager of the Skillset Media Academy is using the talents of the students to publicise the opening of the innovative Social Media Hub in March.
Students teams have already had preliminary meetings with the management of both organisations to discuss the brief, and are currently researching and planning the next stage of the process.
They are aided by two Industry Practitioners who will be Project Managing the entire process. Director Michael Hines of Chewing the Fat and Still Game fame will be leading up the Skillset team, and Writer and Actor Martin McCardie will be responsible for the Spirit Aid Project.
All aspects of the videos will be researched. workshopped, recorded, edited and distributed by UWS students. Teams are using the skills of 4th Year Contemporary Screen Acting students, Commercial Music Students, and Film Making & Screenwriting Students to ensure that the finished products are of the highest standard.
I hope to blog on the progress of the projects as they develop, and look forward to showcasing the end products towards the end of May
- Provide students with relevant work experience (eg through the UWS Production Company)
- Provide Continuous Professional Development for individuals and businesses in the Creative & Cultural Industries.
- Produce talented, experienced and industry ready graduates.
- Work seamlessly with industry in the areas of research and knowledge exchange (eg Knowledge Transfer Partnerships)
- Filming eg for the web, awards ceremony presentations, promotional work, training videos through the UWS Production Company
- Training/implementation of social media to promote your business
- Developing a media marketing plan
- Writing for the web / web translations
- Presentation Skills
- Short tailored courses
This is an expanded version of a talk I gave at a Glasgow University Theatre Film and TV Student Employment Forum At Gilmorehill Church On Monday 21st March 2011
Tip 2. Change yourself from a consumer to a creator.
Tip 3. Investigate the blogosphere.
Tip 4. Think Small.
Tip 5. Think Big.
Tip 6. Be Passionate.
Tip 7. Network.
Tip 8. Hang out with creatives.
Tip 9. Be Flexible,
Tip 10.Have a backup plan.
I have blogged in the past about using new media platforms as a learning & teaching resource. The entire content of our BA (Hons) Contemporary Screen Acting Programme at the University of the West of Scotland is delivered using Twitter, Posterous and Youtube at the very core of Teaching , Learning and , crucially Assessement. From it’s inception in September 2010, student engagement with these platforms was developed gradually over the first 15 weeks of the programme. In the second trimester of the programme there is now 100% participation from the students and participating staff across a wide range of New Media . However I had carried out no empirical research on the pace of takeup from the students. This was due to the fact that September 2010 was the first time I had run the programme and I had other things on my mind more pressing than research.
However it has become clear from the level of student engagement and their enthusiastic and positive feedback that the experiment of using the new media in this way been a qualified success. Obviously I was hampered in that I had no data to demonstrate to what degree this had been the case . I also did not know if the alacrity with which my small group of 15 Performance students engaged with these new platforms could be replicated across the board with other Creative Industries students. The students had, after all, been interviewed and recruited on the basis of using these new media platforms as the key deliverer of their creative screen acting work.
My colleague John Quinn and I teach a module on the Film Making and Screenwriting Programme here at UWS titled “Team Writing For Television.” You can read about the background of TWFTV as I have blogged previously about the module here .We
decided to attempt to use Twitter as a platform at the centre of the module for student feedback ,f eedforward and reflecti0n, using the #TWFTV hashtag.
Since the start of the Module in February 2011, there have been over 300 (and building) separate #TWFTV responses from the students. You can carry out your own #TWFTV search on twitter to have a look at them right now. They range from reflections on lessons, suggestions for new themes and Television Series to studied , and real time comments on shows I have asked them to watch out of class.This has been a voluntary process. Every time John or I get an interesting tweet on #TWFTV, we RT this to our own followers. There are no marks or brownie points for the students, other than the fact that we have shown them that we read their tweets, and will respond to them if we can. The sight of a student’s face when you reveal that you are indeed going to analyse their favourite long running TV series because of a casual mention on Twitter makes the whole exercise worthwhile. Thus, they KNOW that we listen to them , and the engagement goes up steadily as a result. A point to note is that the content of the students tweets,( contrary to fears expressed by colleagues) has been overwhelmingly positive and creative as the take up has grown steadily. It takes a bit of courage to throw open the doors of the classroom to one billion potential eyes and ears, but so far no one has flamed us online, and even if they did, as is the way with Twitter, the dogs would bark, and the caravan would move on. At least I hope that is what would happen. We shall see.
As the module has progressed,John Quinn and I have been monitoring, reflecting and reacting to the tweets, and have now carried out a short interim survey of the up take and use of Twitter and feedback from the students, to see if we can draw any general conclusions. We are specifically interested in exploring the use of Twitter as a tool for enhancing the Teaching and Learning experience from the perspective of the student.
There have been some serendipitous events as a result of this process. Peter Kosminsky (@kosmoSFL ) tweeted back to us on our response to his recent mini series “The Promise”. Francis McKee of the CCA in Glasgow ( @CCA_Glasgow) RTd one of our responses also using the hashtag. Reaction to our discussions have come from followers of The Glasgow Film Festival, Step2CollaboTV, and even as far afield as the States and Australia. In this way, the #TWFTV hashtag, which started off as a modest attempt to engage some students in Ayr with their teaching and learning has spread its wings far afield. It’s no Justin Beiber, but at least it is causing a small ripple or two in the Tweetoshpere. I even recieved an email from New Zealand asking me about the module and if we taught it by distance learning!
Below are some of the preliminary data and findings of this anonymous survey.
It is worth noting that the *12.82% of students who had used Twitter in the past for academic communication were all studying on my Contemporary Screen Acting programme. None of the remaining students had used Twitter in this way before. This survey was carried out in Week 5 of a 15 week module, so we are one third of the way through the process.
Response rate 78% (39/50)
1. Prior to the start of the TWFTV module, had you ever communicated with your tutors about class matters via a social networking platform?
2. Since the start of the TWFTV module, have you communicated with your tutors about class matters via a social networking platform?
3%. Do you think that social networking platforms are a useful tool in communicating feedback to your peers and tutors?
4. Would you like to see more modules using social network platforms for class feedback and engagement?
5. Do you prefer using tools such as Twitter, Facebook and Google Docs to the university VLE Blackboard for feedback and communication?
We also asked for comments from the students about the use of Twitter. These were almost wholly positive .
One note of criticism was that ” It’s not fair that students who don’t use Twitter have an advantage by getting their views across.” my response to that was , if you think that they are gaining an advantage, then engage!
Another comment was ” You should use Facebook. Students don’t like Twitter”
Actually we ARE using Facebook, all my Tweets are delivered to my Facebook site, and at least two of our teams use Facebook pages to communicate with one another, as well as Googledocs and , suprise surprise, Blackboard. However I am happy not to use Facebook directly, as that’s where students tend to hang out and discuss…well everything. And I don’t want to hear everything, I only want to hear about stuff relating to TWFTV. I don’t have to follow them or find out what they did on Friday night, but I am able to key into their thoughts and comments every time they decide to use the TWFTV hashtag. I make sure that I do a #TWFTV search once a day , and then RT any interesting material, and also ensure that I act upon any good suggestions. One very interesting corollary to this is that it is many of the most reticent students who use Twitter, the ones who never ask questions in class, the silent majority. Twitter gives them the ability to ask questions and make points without having to intervene at class.
I should add that Twitter is used exclusively as an ADD ON platform to our VLE, Blackboard. All important messages, assessments,dates, pdfs of lectures and the like are posted on Blackboard, and these are supplemented by a weekly videocast from me which you can see on the blog above.
These findings were presented and discussed at the Student Engagement in Learning & Teaching Forum (SELT) in the classroom of the Future at the University Of The West Of Scotland on Thursday 3rd of March at 10.45 GMT. We carried out a real time discussion with the students and staff, and demonstrated a real time Twittter Ticker on display. The idea that a group of students can contribute any where , any time , to a discussion about the delivery of their own teaching and learning is a relatively innovative idea, and one that I will continue if I present the final figures. Another interesting point which came up in discussion is that we fully expect the students to continue engaging in online discussion using #TWFTV after the module has finished. We will archive the searches and use them as a resource for next years class. It may be the case that this cohort of students will carry on this method of feeding back in other classes. Time will tell.
We will continue with the monitoring process as the weeks go by, and share our data and findings in a concluding blog. along with a set of conclusions.
Watch this space, and for a real time update, carry out a #TWFTV search on Twitter right now.
I will be presenting the final results at the TeachMeet event at UWS Ayr on Thurs April 23rd.