Collateral Learning Outcomes

Collateral learning outcomes are the sorts of things that students learn through and by doing other things. These sorts of things may not be assessed, directly or indirectly, but are the sorts of literacies that are fundamental to what they do. For instance a task might require them to write an essay that must include six journal articles. In the process of doing this the students will learn how to find journal articles that are relevant (indeed, they may even learn what a journal is).

In this particular subject the collateral learning outcomes are the skills and literacies necessary for any contemporary media practice that wants to treat the network as the site of practice and not merely the site of dissemination. This is made up of one suite of literacies that I like to think of as a ‘network literacy’, but it also includes the use of a specific methodology to critique the videos made, reflective exercises to make visible to the students what they will need to do (‘participation’), and some activities and discussions about collaboration and group tasks.

Network Literacy

Jill Walker and I drafted an abstract in early 2003 around blogging, learning and what we then described as ‘network’ or ‘networked multiliteracies’. It is, as far as I’m aware, the first use of the term, though for a variety of reasons we never completed the paper.

The abstract proposed, in part, that:

Successful blogging demonstrates that networked literacy shifts the value of knowledge from a content towards a transactional model, from stasis to flow. This is made literal in blogging through such elements as linking, blogrolls, and emergent communities. While blogs have a tradition in existing forms of journal notation, for instance the personal diary, designers’ visual diaries, research notebooks, and so on, it is also clear that the blog has developed as the first mature Web genre that fully adopts the properties of networked writing as its fundamental conditions, they are polyvocal, plural, screen based, social, decentred, rhizomatic, adopt the link as their major rhetorical trope, archival, dialogical, open, and have invented and are legitimating a new academic vernacular. Prior to blogs most forms of Web based writing looked backward to traditional (largely print) genres, but blogs produce a new economy of writing and learning where the relations that blogs establish between themselves and each other produce a qualitative shift where emergent structures can be identified, whether thematic, social, topical, or more usually a combination of all of these.

While this is specifically about blogging (and would have, I think, been a fantastic essay) most of what it says can be easily translated to systems like Korsakow and their relation to existing media making. However, the specifics of what I’m describing as network literacy can be understood in relation to how internalised and naturalised print literacy is, and translating this to the network.

Print literacy includes (and this is just a quick list):

  • knowing how to write
  • knowing how to read
  • knowing what things to write on – culturally (my books, not yours or the libraries); technically (paper is good, biro on glass, less so)
  • knowing what is appropriate to write (that we have an enormous diversity of writing genres of voices)
  • that books can be found in bookstores
  • that books can be found in librarians
  • that libraries have a professional caste called librarians
  • that pages are ordered serially
  • that books have ‘interfaces’ to aid locating parts (page numbers, indexes, tables of contents, titles, dates, etc)
  • that books have spines and titles
  • they have authors
  • that they are often arranged according to abstract principals (Dewey classification, by author, by subject then author, etc)
  • they will be catalogued
  • that you can share them (subject to social protocols)
  • that some things I write are more important than others
  • that some things I write are more formal than others

These are simple, naturalised and internalised so that we are not particularly aware of all of these things, why they matter, and how we routinely use them. We don’t think twice about using or relying on any of these things.

Now, let’s translate this to the network, and another quick list:

  • the network relies on protocols
  • some are technical (http, ftp, smtp, pop, imap)
  • some are social (spam, attachments, flaming, replying with quotation)
  • that these are all described in more detail than usually desired, on and by the network
  • that it is granular
  • it is porous (parts need to be available and addressable to other parts)
  • that we can use different tools (programs) to perform different tasks, often using different technical and social protocols
  • that different modes of communication have different social protocols (twitter etiquette, blog etiquette, etc)
  • these social protocols generally emerge through use by users and are negotiated by users
  • that software is soft
  • that code is text
  • that HTML is text
  • that such text is discoverable, malleable, rewritable, resuable
  • that many of the structures that matter emerge in situ, through use (it is emergent)
  • that Google uses page rank and page rank is a measure of connectivity, not traffic

During the course of this subject students are ‘exposed’ to many of these things, and most of what they do relies to varying degrees on some ability to do these things – they blog, write or edit some simple HTML, use FTP to upload their Korsakow films, might use GoogleDocs to write an essay and document a project, set up a private FaceBook group to share material, and so on. The difference though, between merely doing these things and ‘network literacy’ is that students have an understanding that these are systems that rely on code and different sorts of protocols and that these have implications socially and technically. It is to ‘get’ the network for the thing it is rather than merely using it as best you can.

Critique

I use a modified version of de Bono’s ‘coloured hat method’ to structure critiques of the weekly videos that students make. There is resistance to this, often because they have been introduced to it previously and it has been used poorly, or because it sounds a bit too ‘unserious’. However, I have used variations of this method for several years and, as with all teaching, if you apply it properly, with rigour and seriousness, it works and the students – within one class – can understand its value. The crux here is that it offers a framework to structure critique, and that the terms and practice of this critique (the framework) is treated as legitimate and with pedagogical seriousness.

The method is simple. I have five index cards, one for each of the colours being used. This index card has a simple description of the judgement that the colour requires, and the student literally holds this card so they have a prompt to help them frame their response. I generally have one student use one colour at a time, so the video that is being critiqued receives 5 statements from 5 different students, each one based on a different colour. Once they have made their critique, using this one colour, they pass the card on to the next person ready for the next film.

(This method can be expanded or contracted as necessary. In my case I usually have around twenty students so there is not time for every student to offer a response to each film. If I had less students then I might use the same method but have every student in the class offer a critique, so there might be 2 or more responses from the same colour. Alternatively I may use a smaller group of students and have them use all five colours, though in my experience this seems to work best only after some experience with using the colours and this seems to be best developed where individuals do individual colours before inviting them to apply all five.)

The key is to model what is required in your own comments, to offer positive reinforcement by acknowledging the best comments (and indicating what makes them good), and insisting on a comment even where students claim to have nothing. This also means keeping students on ‘colour’ so that what they say relates to the critical theme that each colour represents, and holding them to this.

What is often not acknowledged by those who advocate using methods like this, but is worth being aware of, is that the colours allow you to perform a role, they are personas, and because of this it separates the personal from the act of making judgements. If I am black then I have to identify a problem, no matter if you’re my friend, I love the work, and it seems to be great. This makes the critique process emotionally very safe for all involved.

Finally, the use of this system scaffolds the discipline of ‘noticing’ that Mason describes as the basis of professional practice and so provides a simple framework directing the students towards what they need to notice, and how.

The colours that I use, and my definitions of them are:

White – facts and figures. Is the video online? Is it the correct length (30 seconds)? Does it meet the brief? The role of white here is to ensure the work responds to what was asked.

Green – the open. Green is not a judgement about whether you like, dislike, agree or disagree with the work. It is about suggestions and alternatives, about ways in which what has been done could be done differently. So this is to think about possibilities and variations. In the context of this subject I use green to emphasise how we are wanting to explore a video sketch practice, and so to think of a sketch as quickly drawing different versions of the one idea. For example, if it is a lot of shots and editing, what would a version as a single take be like? Or with dissolves? Or silent? Or sound? Or commentary? Or more variation of shot scale? Or having all at the same scale? Green then teaches

Black – problems. This is the one students usually find easiest to do, I suspect because most of our teaching involves ways of finding error, fault, or showing how something is not. Black involves a negative judgement. What don’t you think works in the sketch video? With black you are under no obligation to suggest solutions, you just have to find problems. For example, is it too slow? Too fast? The quality too bad? A lack of lighting? Mise-en-scene ill considered?

Red – an emotional response. Red requires recognising your intuitive immediate experience of the work. Is this experience positive or negative? What does the film make you feel? Name it. This requires no justification. This colour is about learning how to identify how something makes you feel, being able to name that and to trust your intuitive response to a piece of work.

Yellow – the positives. This, along with green, is often the hardest role to play. I use yellow in a particular way, where they are to identify something they like in the video, but more specifically what they would like to take from the work viewed to use in their own practice. It is a looking outwards from the work towards their own practice and so is intended to help them think through how to notice things and recontextualise them towards their own practice.

Participation and Group Work

I have documented elsewhere the participation protocol that I employ. The second, major, task in this subject involves group work, which commonly receives a collective groan. Class time is specifically spent unpacking this, getting them to acknowledge that they find group work difficult because a) there is always someone who doesn’t contribute, and b) the feeling that as an individual you have to do a lot of work to ensure you receive a good result. In general, a sense of inequity is how group work is experienced.

To address this I distribute graph paper and use the vertical x axis to indicate enjoyment, and the horizontal y axis to list all the steps involved in completing the project. This is broken down into quite small units, and includes deciding on a theoretical idea, reading, finding more material, taking notes, drafting, editing, as well as filming, editing, compressing, designing an interface, publishing online, building/authoring in Korsakow, and so on.

Everyone then creates a line graph indicating how much they enjoy doing each of these tasks, which they then share and discuss. What I make apparent as we discuss these charts is that no two charts are the same, so that some students hate the technical parts but love writing, or someone loves filming material but doesn’t like designing and experimenting with the interfaces. From here it is quite a short step to realise that the problems with group work is that participants aren’t aware of what they like doing and what they’re good at, and so sign on for things that they don’t like to do. This is always a recipe for not actually doing the task, or doing it very poorly. Similarly they can also see easily that the best groups would be those that draw people with complementary rather than similar skills, and that if you formed a project team based on the skills you have versus those you don’t, then a) you are almost certainly going to produce very good work, b) everyone is working on what they are good at so c) will actually do it.

This is a simple exercise, and valuable as it makes visible to them their strengths, the variety of abilities within the class, their differences, and that collaborative work premised on working to your skills is a much more successful model, and experience, than working with people with the same skill set as your own.


Each of the activities described are quite specific, but none are assessed during this subject. However, they are all things that get introduced, developed, and inform in various ways the things that are actually assessed. This is why I think of them as ‘collateral’ learning outcomes as they are by products of what is done, but in themselves are very important to their own understanding as learners and makers, and highly transferable to other contexts.

References

Miles, Adrian. “Network Literacy: The New Path to Knowledge.” Screen Education Autumn.45 (2007): 24–30. (available online)

Bono, Edward de. Six Thinking Hats. 2nd ed. Back Bay Books, 1999. Print.

Mason, John. Researching Your Own Practice: The Discipline of Noticing. Routledge, 2002. Print.