The Media and Learning Conference (Brussels, December 2013)

I attended the Media and Learning Conference 2013 in Brussels at the end of December and found it really thought provoking and enjoyable. It was great to discuss current issues and share practice with participants from all across Europe and the US (I think there were participants from 27 different countries.) I really struggled to pick between the parallel sessions throughout both days, such was the relevance of each topic.


The underlying theme of the conference was Media Literacy and the ‘urgency of embedding digital and media literacy skills amongst the European workforce.’


During the opening plenary, the ‘modern world’ was addressed, with the discussion around whether dramatic and radical change or gradual systematic adaption within the education sector was the right way forward to meet the needs of today.


The representative from the Flemish Ministry of Education and Training in Belgium (a last minute replacement so didn’t catch his name) urged us to take a step back and really put ourselves in the shoes of a teacher/lecturer who wants to incorporate more media based initiatives in their classroom. Diving in to a world where it’s likely their students are more well-versed, the uncertainty of what others are doing in their teaching, the sense of responsibility that comes with the encouragement of recommending and using tools such as Youtube with their students- all factors among many more that could lead a teacher to see using media as making a ‘brave’ choice. For me, this emphasised the importance of ensuring that we share the great work our academics are already doing across the schools, as a means of reassurance to the less experienced/confident people in faculty.


Professor Renee Hobbs (Harrington School of Communication, Rhode Island, USA) had identified a set of ‘motivators’ through assessing teacher’s attitudes to media. When it comes to the reasoning behind and preferred usage of media tools within their teaching, they could be anything from a ‘trendsetter’ (the want to meet students ‘where they live’ by connecting the classroom to popular culture) to an ‘activist’ (encouraging students to use media to ‘address real-world issues.’) We discuss the importance of learner autonomy quite frequently so it was nice to think about teacher preference.


(To find out what kind of ‘motivator’ you are take the test at


There were some interesting discussions throughout the day around the use of lecture capture and presentations from institutions who have rolled it out on quite a large scale and those who are at the earlier stages of implementation. We had a discussion around the use of video within it and whether or not this component was actually needed (software typically contains the options of slides with audio, video- which is usually of the lecture itself if it was recorded live or the lecturer presenting to a webcam or similar, plus a means of navigation through the lecture.) Research done at the University of Eastern Finland tracked student’s eye movement when shown a captured lecture and hotspots were equal in measure around the slide content and the lecturer presenting. It was argued that as so much of a proportion of communication is visual, a view of the lecturer was an important element, but it was also argued that there’s no evidence it actually aids learning, even if student’s ‘like’ it. Some institutions have totally gone down the slides and audio route for the ease of rolling out lectures in large quantities.


Thinking about video use in HE in general, we debated the use of both simple and quick un-edited video and of higher-end production (a debate which has cropped up more than any other for me during my time in HE!) as well as looking at quality and what this means in terms of video.


Strong views were held in both the ‘quick and simple’ and ‘planned and scripted’ camps and most agreed there is value in both methods. An academic’s preference was also highlighted as an important factor in this choice- some being comfortable to switch on a webcam and address their students directly and distribute it self-sufficiently, whereas others embrace the scripting and direction from a production team.


Although the quick vs scripted debate was not new to me, in contrast to past debates, ‘quality’ seemed to be universally defined as quality of content instead of quality in a technical sense, which was music to my ears. The quality of video in a technical sense was thought of as a given, owing to the standard of today’s recording devices and available bandwidth. Something that was visibly and (especially) audibly high quality was seen by a lot of us as a minimum standard, the structure and relevance of the video content being the most important factor


As the case usually is, there was a lot of discussion around justifying video use in terms of assessing it against learning theory. It’s relevance as a component of recent trends such as the ‘flipped classroom’ model, the importance of it within social learning theories/participatory teaching methods and assessing it in terms of learning styles were all popular debates. These are no doubt very valid and important topics that underlie nearly everything we do as part of a Technology Enhanced Learning department. However, what I’ll take away with me is that there is a shift now towards the thinking that media with learning ‘is happening’ and that this is equally as important as theory behind it’s justification. No matter why or how we use it, culturally it is part of our every day lives and therefore is a part of education.


Overall, a very worthwhile conference and good to see some of the work going on at the Medea Awards Ceremony in the evening. I left with a lot of confidence in what we are doing here at Derby and excitement about all the new projects and initiatives that we will start in 2014.