The long tail of education online allows a focused and targeted course to appeal to mid-career creative professionals seeking to deepen their understanding of specialized domain. Finding an audience for such a distinct course is near impossible in conventional F2F environments, but the beauty of synchronous online communication means that a community of practice can be formed on a global basis, attracting participants seeking to study from their “studio” and connecting them with established professionals as mentors. This approach has implications for any practice-led education where the emphasis is on solving real world problems and developing professional experience.
This presentation outlines how the postgraduate programme in the Media School at LCC/UAL uses web 2.0 tools on the online Masters in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography to develop a collaborative virtual community of practice, drawing on Schon’s (1983) concept of the “practicum” as a “virtual world” between the realities of business and the rarefied atmosphere of the academic world. This provides a “sandbox” in which the students can develop their professional practice in a controlled environment. This in turn correlates with Eskow’s concept of e e learning (2007), combining experience with technology so that the students become “scholar practitioners”, and, in our reworking of Schon’s idea, “eflective practitioners”. The course is influenced by the pedagogic approach of Mike Wesch at Kansas, who emphasizes that we need to move from producing students who are “knowledgeable” to those who are “knowledge-able” (Wesch 2008), by setting them authentic, purpose-driven research.
The course design philosophy is organic, and operates as a “living curriculum” in collaboration with the student body, with an “edupunk” approach to finding the best currently available tool to solve the pedagogic problem at that point, abandoning it in the future if a better alternative emerges, and the ideas of the “edupunk” movement in adopting a tool for a specific purpose when it is needed rather than from a predetermined VLE. This approach acknowledges the concept that the world is in “perpetual beta” (Boyd 2008).
In particular the combination of blogs, social networking using Ning, synchronous web-conferencing with Wimba live classroom, and live IM with Pronto, creates a powerful alliance that supports the participants in their learning journey. Blogs act as the “glue” that holds the rest of the individual’s e-learning experience together, connecting them to the collaborative community through the synchronous spaces for lectures and tutorials and the asynchronous VLE and social network.
The world requires a range of skills and attributes from those in the creative industries; not just technical skills, but also an aesthetic and creative sensibility, an understanding of ethical issues in a professional context and the capacity to network and market their work.
How do we prepare our students for this education and this world? A social constructivist view of education leads us to recognize the importance of dialogue and story-telling in learning. Wimba is particularly effective in this, allowing mentors to contribute their expertise from their workplaces as well, negating the need to travel physically to meet the students. A professional in New York can coach a group of students spread all over the globe without ever visiting the university campus.
What follows from this is the potential of peer and collaborative learning amongst the student group, staff and visiting faculty, collectively generating an online “community of practice” with learning involving “legitimate peripheral participation” (Lave and Wenger 1991).
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