• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


Introduction and background

Page history last edited by Lou McGill 9 years, 5 months ago

Introduction and Background |  Findings and outcomes | SummaryRecommendations


1. Introduction

A summary of activities and findings to date from a one year evaluation study into the Distributed Open Media Classes at Coventry University.


The study began in January 2014 and will conclude at the end of January 2015. The study team is made up of Lou McGill and Tim Gray of Lou McGill Consultancy Ltd. 

The aims of the study are

  1. to examine and evaluate the open media classes initiative at Coventry University (http://disruptivemedia.org.uk/ in terms of the benefits it has enabled Coventry to realise and the possibility of the transfer of the model to other parts of the sector.
  2. To work with the team to support and enhance their processes and practice, and make recommendations to both the team and Jisc
  3. To work with Jisc on a range of advice and guidance products based on ongoing evaluations and findings.


2. Approach and Stakeholders

This study adopted an iterative approach, working in partnership with the Coventry Team to consider past and current practice of key stakeholders. This approach utilised a framework (activity system triangle[1]) to guide discussion around rules, roles, tools within the ‘system’ (in this case the various course stakeholders). This approach has grounding in the literature and a proven track record. For a fuller description of the method and approach see our 'Evaluation Approach' wiki page, the 'Evaluation Activities' wiki page and the 'Evaluation Questions' wiki page. Appendix 1 includes evaluation questions from the perspectives of different stakeholder groups.


The study recognises that the whole story of the open media classes is made up of a series of different narratives from a variety of stakeholders and that we need mechanisms to reflect their diverse needs and approaches (recognising that boundaries between learner/teacher/curator/creator are blurred within this model.)  Evaluating the Open Media Classes is challenging as there are several stakeholders involved in these models.


Stakeholders are viewed in this study as

  1. different groups of people with an interest in the questions we need to ask (audience/community)
  2. different groups of people who are experiencing the impact of COMC (subjects). 


We have identified the following groups of stakeholders which sometimes include sub groups. Of course some stakeholders may belong to several groups, particularly as one of the key factors of the Open Media Courses is that boundaries are blurred and roles are not predefined or static.

  • Academic team - Impact on academic practice
  • Support teams
  • Registered students - impact on learning, employability, professional networking
  • Open students
  • Open professionals
  • Institutional senior managers (dept/faculty level, strategic level, operational level)
  • Wider HE community (UK and global) Jisc, other HEIs


3. Background

3a. Distributed Open courses

Networking technologies have the potential to transform learning and teaching from closed content-based approaches to open connected and collaborative experiences. Yet questions remain about how far open access to both content and learning opportunities translates into successful experiences for learners. Educational institutions, which tend to be slow to change, can struggle to adapt existing models of teaching and support to take account of these changes, but have to respond to growing competition in a global context and a range of different emerging open models. Coventry University were early adopters of open approaches and secured funding from the third phase of the HEFCE funded UK Open Educational Resources Programme (UKOER) (2011-2012). Whilst many of the projects in the UKOER Programme (2009-2012) were focused specifically on content most of them  were also concerned with open educational practices[3] (OEP). The UKOER Coventry Open Media Classes (COMC) project was unusual in that it focused on open classes rather than content and their findings provided a rich additional story to the UKOER findings.


There are a range of different types of open course[4] - from fully open massive courses such as the cMOOCs (based on connectivist principles of knowledge creation encouraging collaborative content creation, creativity, autonomy, and social networked learning) and xMOOCs (large scale high profile courses delivered largely through traditional means with a focus on didactic pedagogy such as lectures and testing) to what have been described as open boundary or open classroom courses (where existing traditional courses are opened up and transformed by contributions from open non fee-paying students and professionals around the world). Open classroom courses offer opportunities to integrate new open approaches with existing traditional models and the Coventry open media classes are one of the most successful exemplars of this model, providing tangible evidence of transformative teaching practice and enhanced student experiences. In these open classrooms roles of, and relationships between, the various stakeholders are changing in exciting and challenging ways. This study aims to tell the story of the Coventry open media classes and answer some of the questions that we need to consider around how far the models are transferable to other institutions and other subject disciplines, and how they have developed and adapted over the last 5 years.


An interesting recent development is the Connected Courses collaborative network of faculty in higher education. This initiative launched in summer 2014 and established an open course for developing and teaching open courses in September 2014. The team at Coventry are contributing to Connected Courses and utilising this initiative to share their stories and their models with the wider community. This followed the Reclaim Open Learning initiative from the DML Hub (Digital Media and Learning), part of the MacArthur Foundation which had awarded a prize to support Coventry's Phonar-Ed initiative, University of Mary Washington's DS106 (Digital Storytelling) course, and FemTechNet' distributed course.  Phonar-Ed provides 'a back channel for instructors to come together, share experiences and highlight examples of best (open) visual story-telling practice. With #PhonarEd we are setting out to address the challenges experienced by academics/instructors who are as yet unfamiliar with the remix culture that Creative Commons licenses (for example) grant access to (our most FAQ’s are is it okay and how do I use/adapt/adopt this?). We have found that to be passively open is not enough, with #PhonarEd we seek to continue our policy of active openness' From Reclaim Open Learning, September 2013


3b. Wider developments at Coventry University

In 2009 Coventry University developed the Open Media Classes in response to changes in the media and communications professions and the educational landscape, brought about by both an increasingly networked world and emerging open practices. Technological changes in digital media have challenged traditional ownership of content - particularly in relation to broadcasting and sharing information and have enabled wide-scale access to the means of recording, producing and publishing/sharing.  This has transformed the relationships and power balance around ownership of media messages (Ratto & Boler, 2014). Notable examples of this include the impact on news reporting by public contributions through social media; on professional photography models[1]; and publishing models[2].  Professionals working in the media and communications field have been adapting to these changes and struggling to respond to an erosion of traditional communication channels and technologies.


There were other developments happening in parallel at the University which highlight a responsiveness to the changing learning technology landscape, a readiness for cultural change and a certain openness to risk. In 2008 Peter Woodbridge was working as a researcher at the University and was an early adopter of social media. Peter took a proposal to the university aiming to transform their digital presence through the adopton of iTunes U to share University open podcasts. Although some staff were nervous about these open approaches, Professor Madeleine Atkins, the Vice Chancellor at the time was very supportive and was interested in establishing a global presence for the Institution. The institution became the 1st University of this type to have open podcasts on iTunes U (and 6th in the UK overall). A key driver was the need to attract international students and to support University marketing.


The institution was also establishing the CURVE open repository which linked in with projects across the university. Gary Hall from the Media Department was taking a leading role in open access to research in the UK, and the Department of Media was providing many of the open podcasts. Alongside this the Department began opening some of their classes in the BA (Hons) Photography (Phonar (Photography and narrative) and Picbod (Picturing the body) (described in more detail below). Peter joined the Department as a lecturer in 2010 and established the open Creative Activism class as part of the BA (Hons) Media Production Degree. Peter also developed a mobile application to support the Picbod open class which integrated tweets, photographs and podcasts, and allowed people who were interested to follow the course in "real time" or at their own convenience. Jonathan Shaw further developed the app to allow students to take and upload their own photographs, enhanced sharing mechanisms and searching all of #PICBOD posts.


The Centre of Disruptive Media was initiated by Gary Hall and established by the Department of Media  at Coventry University School of Art & Design in 2011 to study, research and experiment with disruptive digital technologies to explore new models and new economies.  


In this respect, it is important, as we say, to distinguish between different kinds of disruption. These include, but are not limited to: disruption of the practices of HEIs, not least by means of technological-pedagogic practices; disruption of the business models and economics of these institutions; and disruption of their ownership and institutional structures. (van Mourik Broekman et al Open education: a study in disruption 2014)


The open media classes have become one aspect of the Centre's work which have the potential to 'disrupt' higher education models, practice, structures and markets. The shift toward a 'globalised higher education market' brings challenges and opportunities to the sector with the potential to transform traditional models of practice. In a recent publication[1] several members of the Coventry University School of Arts and Design provide an overview of the wider international and national context that underpinned developments at Coventry. They also consider the more local (institutional) complexities that impact on open education approaches and the various stakeholders involved.

Our argument in this book is that, as well as providing a chance to experiment, critically and creatively, with the institution of the university, Open Education also represents a direct challenge to the future of the academic institution.



3c Coventry open class model/s

There are several narratives to take into consideration as we consider how the Coventry open media classes developed and have since been adapted. These include the stories of managers, teachers, registered students, open students and open professionals and interested amateurs. This study aims to bring those narratives together into a coherent story.


A range of people were involved in establishing and supporting the open classes. Lecturer Jonathan Worth led the transformation with the establishment of the Picbod (Picturing the body) and Phonar (Photography and narrative) classes. Matt Johnston, was originally a student on the Picbod course and later joined as a lecturer on the open classes. Peter Woodbridge led the Creative Activism classes and Martyn Lee led the Living in a digital world class. Shaun Hides as Head of Media Department provided managerial support, enabling and encouraging innovative practice and Jonathan Shaw (now Co-Director of the Disruptive Media Learning Lab and Associate Head of Media Department (Innovation, Profile and Research) developed the second generation of apps. Different approaches based on particpation within open networks were adopted and trialled in 10 week open classes which has ultimately led to the most effective elements being permanently incorporated into the undergraduate programme and the development of a new Open Masters Degree.

The coming together of this group of people at the right time is an important factor in the innovative approaches, but much of the inspiration, guidance and mentoring came from outside the HE sector and probably accounts for some of the more innovative methods used.



Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these classes is just how much they reflect the changing media landscape and how much they were informed and led by the parallel activities of several innovative media professionals. Jonathan Worth, as a freelance editorial photographer, had been experimenting with 'new business-models for photography that leverage, rather than fight, the Internet' (Doctorow, 2009) which is illustrated in his experiment with author Cory Doctorow (http://craphound.com/?p=2364 and  http://jonathan-worth.blogspot.co.uk/2009/10/giving-things-away-pt-ii.html)


When Jonathan joined the Department of Media at Coventry he brought three essential elements that informed the development of the Open Media Classes:

  • a fresh view of what it meant to be a professional photographer in an open networked world
  • a network of innovative individuals from a range of professions such as Cory Doctorow (Author), Fred Ritchin (Photographer and nowDean of the International Centre of Photography in New York), David Campbell (Head of International Centre of Photography Media Lab in New York), Stephen Mayes Director of VII photo agency) and John Levy founder of FOTO8 and HOST Gallery

  • no traditional teaching background


The latter meant that Jonathan was not wedded to traditional academic practice but also meant that he was open to considering different approaches to teaching - both in terms of what a modern photography course should include, but also in which methods to use. He was able to engage a network of professionals in deciding what to teach but also involved them in the classes as well. In terms of actual teaching practice Jonathan offers the following list of people that inspire and inform his practice:

I adapted (and adapt) from the writings of Jeff Jarvis (What Would Google Do? and Public Parts), Chris Anderson (Free, the future of a radical price and The Long Tail), Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus), Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational and The Honest Truth about Dishonesty), Dubner and Levitt (Freakonomics), Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers and The Tipping Point), Steven Johnson ( Where Good Ideas Come From), William Poundstone (Priceless), Nick Bilton (I live in the future and here’s how it works) James Boyle (The Public Domain), Laurence Lessig (Remix and Free Culture), James Gleick (The information), Ulrich Boser (The Leap), Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit) , Daniel Pink (Drive) and Daniel Khaneman (Thinking Fast and Slow)


It is significant that the staff at Coventry were open to this fresh perspective, which was further enhanced by input from Matt Johnston and Peter Woodbridge. Jonathan, Matt and Peter all highlighted the value of having Shaun Hides, Jonathan Shaw and Gary Hall to 'navigate the institution' on their behalf, which meant they did not have to negotiate with University IT, marketing and legal departments.


Development of the open classes


'This approach is driven by the desire to reveal and facilitate the individual learner's practice and to explore the potential of visual storytelling using a medium in perpetual technological motion. In itself this is not that new, but the real game changer is the resulting collaboration in a live, mentored and open space with the class (lecturers  and learners) in direct dialogue with its wider external community of interest.' Jonathan Shaw NewFotoScapes, 2014


As early as 2009 Shaun Hides produced an Open Media policy to inform activities in the Department of Media in Coventry University's School of Art in Design. This reflected developments in the wider media professions and educational landscape and recognised a need for Coventry's Open Media Courses to adapt to these changes. Initially two classes were opened-up as a way of enhancing the existing degree course in photography. The Picbod http://www.picbod.covmedia.co.uk/  (Picturing the Body) and Phonar http://phonar.org/ (Photography and Narrative) courses were the first courses to include two ten week open classes as part of the Undergraduate Photography Degree. During the UKOER COMC project the Creative Activism Class and the Living in a digital world class were added. This enabled a low risk approach to try different technologies, teaching approaches and support methods which were adapted, re-mixed and re-written over the last five years.


The last ten week iteration of phonar had over seventy people with editing rights on the schedule representing over 45 different Universities and the last iteration of Picbod was adopted, adapted and run independently by Matt Johnston applying his successes at turning [online] numbers into names and actions (with the photobookclub.org). The last iteration of Phonar had over 35,000 people come to the WordPress version of the class from 139 countries, we haven’t had resources to accurately record the Flickr, Soundcloud, Youtube, Google+ and Twitter environments though the classes thrive there also. Following Phonar2012 the students demanded their next class be run open and along the same lines – which Coventry University assented to – our proviso being that they (the students) designed it. Phonar2012 graduated with the highest percentage of First Class Honours in the history of the course. From Reclaim Open Learning, September 2013


This has informed the re-approval of the Photography Bachelor of Arts Degree course and an open Masters course (launching Sept 2015). This is a remarkable illustration of how far the experiences of the department, academic staff and registered and open students have convinced institutional managers of the scalability of the model/s. By opening up the classes the Team developed a network of connected professionals and learners which enrich the experience of the paying and attending student. The course has become the 'most over subscribed in the University'. Classes have enjoyed engagement by individuals and communities who have traditionally not been able to access Coventry courses through geographical, financial or cultural barriers.


Open class models

Initially the Coventry open media classes enhanced traditional classroom-based UG courses, which included lectures, seminars, assignments and project work. The open elements were delivered across ten weeks during the second or third year. Attending students remained the central focus of the course and had the opportunity to engage with a much broader community of open students and professionals. The element of choice was important and paying students had control of which aspects of the global community they engaged with and, with the support of their instructors, identified which would be of value to them individually. These conversations and connected experiences enriched the content authored by the team and had the potential to transform the relationships between learners, teachers, working professionals and interested amateurs. In the early stages, course content was uploaded to a blog (as well as onto the institutional platform) with the presumption that 'all material generated/curated by staff will be ‘open access’, as will any material, or contributions made/offered by external contributors – the terms of these contributions will be explicit and visible to all. As contributors add comments, review students, send commentary ideas or links, or when they come to give talks/specialist classes, their contributions go live as soon as possible.'


The open media classes aimed to be connected participatory experiences which relied on online contributions from the range of participants and as such, generated a significant amount of content from a diverse range of contributors. Practical tasks, informed by the thematic content, were assigned, but allowed space for personal interpretation, implicitly encouraging a sense of ownership. These contributions included blog posts, comments and responses, images, videos, soundfiles, tweets, and conversations. It was important to try to ensure that this content was aggregated effectively and made accessible, and that the process resulted in resources of a high standard, establishing Coventry as a trusted provider, so a clear and visible code of conduct was developed alongside a collective review system /moderation group.


The utilisation of various social media (as appropriate for each class) meant that staff and students may have had to learn how to use different media effectively. This approach required students and staff to enhance their digital, visual and media literacies and ultimately started to transform the focus of the course. In order to work effectively as media professionals digital media and visual literacies are essential to enable people to adjust to new models of professional practice, which includes a range of knowledge and skills such as digital storytelling, managing an online presence, networking, licensing and ownership issues, managing content and metadata and marketing. Coventry Open Media Courses focus on equipping students to become accomplished professionals that can adapt and respond to changing professional parameters.


Staff activities to support the classes began to adapt as they increasingly became curators of open online content and as boundaries between learner, professional and teacher became blurred. The changing roles of both staff and students is an important aspect of this story, and this study aims to capture some of these changes and the impact of these on the various stakeholder groups. In the case of these classes ,the educator’s role is to define the landscape and curate a coherent learning-journey through chosen specialists who generate a wide range of content. Jonathan Worth, 2012 Jisc online case study, 2012 



The Coventry open media classes made use of existing technologies with the intention that participants would not have to alter their online habits – both hardware and software made accessible through various desktop and mobile platforms (laptops, tablets, iphone /android phones, ipod touch and PCs). They were supported by light and readily available software: free blogging software, twitter, i-tunesU, pod casts, vimeo etc., as well as Coventry’s online learning platform CUonline (which is moodle based). This approach meant that time and resources were not devoted to establishing and testing new platforms. Adopting a regular Wordpress blog to host the online elements of the course, removed some of the institutional barriers to entry that an internal university system might incur and also meant that the course content was accessible to search engines. (21% of visits came from Google searches). This blog acted as a hub which aggregated content using tags (for example #phonar), and an iPhone app was also created as a mobile tool for dynamic engagement with this hub, which has been downloaded over 2,000 times. A recent development included the need to establish fully SSL Certifcation Encryption and Authentication for the Wordpress blogs to prevent hacking and security breaches. It is notable that the University marketing department did initially question the use of a wordpress blog but on seeing the significant number of hits (over 6000) compared to the University website, realised that this approach was generating considerable traffic - other University departments are now encouraged to do the same. 



Traditional approaches to assessment continued in the campus-based elements of the course, but the open online aspects offered an opportunity for students to receive individual feedback from a diverse mix of teaching staff, other students and the professionals who agreed to participate in the course. Peer assessment and feedback have been discussed widely in recent research (Evans, 2013) and brings it's own challenges and benefits. Whilst many of the research studies are with small numbers of students the Coventry open models are interesting in that there are potentially large numbers of participants (up to 900 students attending an online class and thousands of potential visitors who could comment or feedback of student work). These kinds of numbers can, inevitably, raise issues around consistency so the team responded by providing a sheltered space (online forum requiring sign-in) for feedback to take place - aiming to develop the trust and confidence needed to offer and receive one-to-one feedback. This approach gives some editorial control to moderators who can deal with negative or 'trolling' behaviour and the sign-in was expected to limit troll-like behaviour. Another tool used to support feedback was the aggregated twitter stream, although the limited character format limits in-depth feedback.


Staff implementing the open classes tried to be flexible with learning outcomes and assessment with a view to ensuring that the focus for students was on developing their portfolios, rather than their grades. The aim was to encourage autonomy, self direction and critical thinking and to support the development of twenty first century skills (Jenkins, 2009).


Ownership and licensing

The team developing the Coventry Open Media Classes obtained support and approval from the  senior research management of the University. However, the Creative Commons licencing of content  (CC BY SA ) and their extensive use of un-restricted platforms did not strictly conform to existing University IT policy[5]. The University Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research was aware of this ‘conflict’ and nonetheless endorsed the project.  This enabled the team to adopt and test open approaches. 


In relation to ownership of student contributions, the Legal Compliance Officer confirmed that the University asserts IP and copyright over all Coventry University Student work produced within a teaching and learning environment. However, in practice the University always recognizes the moral rights of students over their own intellectual products and would always work to enable them to exploit any potential tangible/financial benefit under specific permissions. The University agreed for student work to be part of the classes under a CC BY SA licence i.e. with their proper authorial acknowledgment/recognition.  Indeed raising awareness of ownership and rights is a significant part of digital and media literacy and, by nature, of the classes themselves.





[1] http://www.worldphoto.org/news-and-events/wpo-news/the-evolving-business-model-of-photography-an-interview-with-jonathan-worth/

[2] http://newfotoscapes.org/portfolio/dewi-lewis/

[3] For a definition of Open Educational Practices and links to further sources and discussion see this page on the UKOER wiki

[4] For a description of different open courses and links to further information see this page on the UKOER wiki

[5] http://wwwm.coventry.ac.uk/Registry/Regulations/Documents/General%20Regulations%202011-12/Appendix%2013%20GR%20Student%20IPR%202011.pdf





  1. van Mourik Broekman, P. , Hall, G. , Byfield, T. , Hides, S. and Worthington, S. (2014) Open education: A study in disruption. London:Rowman & Littlefield International. https://curve.coventry.ac.uk/open/file/c04530ce-d16a-46ca-b359-a905195a76cb/1/Open%20education.pdf

Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.