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Writing about creative survival in higher education

Author: nmoran Page 1 of 2

Walking with other people

I used to accompany my children on their walk to school. A common scenario, familiar to many. Some mornings were more fraught than others but I realised that this routine would not go on indefinitely (even if sometimes it felt like that).  These ten or fifteen minutes are an important transition, from domestic persona as child, little brother, big brother to a participant in the institution of school. Class-member, pupil, pal to some, stranger to others. Adversary to one or two, no doubt, on occasion. Who else do they become during these hours away from home?  Not really for me to know, I had to conclude.

Like all good rituals, our routine was highly symbolic. The habit of ‘taking to school’ was more than just that – really, we were escorting them out into the world.

Back view of two children in school uniform walking to school together. A father and child walk together up ahead.

You can share a lot in ten minutes.

Sometimes I tried to use the time to remind and cajole and encourage. This was never particularly effective. I think I got better at this parental duty when I realised that as soon as we’re on the way my role was very simple: Just be there. Look up when instructed and share the view (along a small, deliberate pointed finger).  Walk with. Make space. Be a witness. In terms of conversation, less felt like more. Which is not to say there was no room for creative expression, humour, sometimes tears.

Musicians understand what it means to accompany someone, and what it means to be accompanied. They may not be able to tell you. In fact, words tend to get in the way. Some musicians are particularly known and valued for their skills as accompanists. Highly skillful musical accompaniment does rely on technical accomplishment, but it isn’t restricted to mastery of specific instruments; rather, it is a form of expressive, musical relating. “The sole differentiation between a solo and an accompaniment”, explained the late experimental musician and improviser, Cornelius Cardew (1972), “is in the mode of playing.”

In this relational sense, accompaniment is one way to understand what’s going on in many musical performance situations. The concept of accompaniment takes a particular meaning in certain musical traditions. For example, in the language of music education, the accompanist is often conceived as a pianist. For singer-songwriters, the guitar is often the companion. Yet framed in the broader, relational sense, accompaniment shows up as a familiar and functional role wherever groups of people make music together. Either pre-determined by compositional and stylistic norms, or agreed in the course of extemporised performance, the expressive prominence of musical material and voices (their foreground-ness or background-ness) is a variable common to musical situations spanning diverse formal, informal, everyday and artistic traditions.

In whatever way we attend to live music – a concert, a recital, a gig, a show, a session, or simply by being in or near the vicinity of a musical event – we come face to face with the material production of expressive utterance. The musicians’ efforts unfold before us: embodied, generative gestures motivated by lived experience and its attempted decoding through artistic communication. This expressive and intentional aspect is vital and evident.  It’s also present in our encounters with mediated musical forms and sounds, in audio or audio-visual recordings, soundtracks to television, film or game, because how we hear this arises from the same crucible of human sound- and sense-making: Musical situations – however we come at them or they come at us – involve effortful relating.

Musical accompaniment is de facto inconspicuous. Cardew again: “An accompaniment is defined as music that allows a solo…to be appreciated as such”. Accompaniment is deliberately recessed from view. Its function is in fact to create prominence and form in some place other than itself.  Therefore, the work of accompaniment is made manifest as context: it cannot be foreground. A melody – a tune – attains its prominence when we hear an expressive, coherent assemblage of contour, phrasing, and well-formedness.  It’s a voice that we can relate to, perhaps sing back. Functionally, the accompaniment facilitates this expression through its alterity to the melody. It is a witness to ‘the solo’; the accompaniment creates the situation, shaping the solo utterance by generating and holding a responsive ‘space’.

What would happen if everyone had access to an education which prioritised skills in understanding and responding to the needs of other people? What would it take to systematically train people how to do this?  Should we invest more in education that delivers this outcome?  Does music education already do this?  How could we do this better?

There is huge power in accompaniment, but it isn’t always easy to see.  Even in imaginative terms, the contour of a melodic solo can lend itself to simple imagery; accompaniment, meanwhile, tends to be multidimensional, complex, subtle.  And the process of accompaniment operates in a different domain to any eventual artistic product. It is creative, relational action. The intentions which motivate accompaniment, and the consequent actions which it motivates in turn, these processes occupy a different frame of experience – and invoke a different frame of reference – to the one in which the creative outcome itself can be perceived and understood.

Accompaniment, explained in this fashion, has some distinctive features:

  • It is expressed as situated behaviour (it is both responsive and anticipatory)
  • Its expression indicates tacit knowledge and expertise
  • It is readily overlooked.

As a form of social interaction, accompaniment expresses relational intent, and has the potential to influence, to facilitate, and to generate change. Musical accompaniment, in this light, has huge potential to shape the creative outcomes of any collaborative, artistic performance.  Translated to non-musical domains, the role of expert ‘accompanist’ maps to other spheres of social interaction.  The anticipation of other people’s needs; a manner of operating which adapts to the contingency of these; labour and service which facilitates the very context in which another person can express their own utterance: these are the skills of the accompanist.  Interestingly, they are skills that are most evident in traditionally female-dominated care professions, in nurturing roles, in education.

What would happen if everyone had access to an education which prioritised skills in understanding and responding to the needs of other people? What would it take to systematically train people how to do this?  Should we invest more in education that delivers this outcome?  Does music education already do this?  How could we do this better?

Sounds In The Round

I was blown away by the Angelica Mesiti exhibition In The Round, at Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery.  Installations Over the Air and Underground (2020), and Citizens Band (2012) went straight home for me.  At the invitation of ESRC postdoc, Laura Harris, and curator, James Clegg, I wrote this creative response to the exhibition for their event, In Another Tongue.

[The opening passage picks up from the occasion and imagery that I wrote about some months ago in this blog post, but takes a different turn. I have elsewhere written and published more scholarly texts on some of the ideas described here – like this, and this.]

Sound-making is movement

I’m alone but I’m not lonely. I can hear the piano tuner’s progress, his temporal journey from low to high. Without thought, I’m in step with his decisions, which are evident in the vibrations and resonance that say, “Work done. This one is ready now, time to move on.”

What a luxury. What a privilege. I have safety, I have warmth, I have refuge. I have a piano – not a travelling instrument, it is furniture. And my piano has eighty-eight keys, eighty-eight notes. Their boundaries are clear and ordered, pre-determined by consensus.  I have the privilege of company, in my solitude: the piano tuner and I observe, together, the discipline of equal temperament.


Our human experience with music is one of interfacing: I interface with music as it comes to me in sound and movement.  Because sound-making is movement – it comes from vibration, from events of action; from airborne pressure changes that permeate our bodies’ physical margins.

Over the air, musical sounds sit in imaginative relief, distinguished from background noise by our recognition in them of patterns and signals.

We can theorize about the patterns. We can evoke them abstractly, inscribe them symbolically, explore them discursively. These patterns afford us the imagination of conceptual structures, rules, and conventions. Of theory. The degree to which (and manner in which) diverse musical cultures use theory varies, ranging from informal, implicit learning — technical attention given to complete items of performative repertoire — to explicit and complex symbolic literacy that fosters theoretical as much as embodied generation of new material.

But to make music is to participate in humanity; to communicate the realization of our expressive vitality.

Expert musicians have mastery in the production and modulation of sound. Their intentional control of an instrument of any sort (including the voice) requires fine motor control, expert co-ordination of independent movements between limbs or parts, and the assimilation of feedback between aural and motor processes at a very high temporal resolution. Music is an integrated expression of body and mind.

So, musical performance comes in skillful, multi-modal and temporally integrated technical proficiencies: actions that deliver the pressure changes that bring us patterns in sound and behaviour. Our encounters with music, then, as sound in air — as auditory experience — already encode action, bodies, movement. Distinguished from background noise, these are the patterned signals whose relief imprints upon bodily imagination.

Inherent in pattern lies order. And in order, we can infer intention, instigation, agency: through our encounter with pattern, we encounter others.  Others with bodies like ours, who share the common experiences of breath, and breathing; the same mechanics that motivate and sustain voices, limbs, digits.  But: Which others?

In Mesiti we meet strangers and their displaced mastery. Music lifted up, out, away from home. There’s no domestic sanctuary here. No piano furniture. No refuge in the colour-blind pretence of conventions of equal temperament. What becomes clear, is that the rupture presented to us is ours, too, as we witness the partly-familiar musical technologies; as we witness the vulnerability of the performers’ commitment to expression.


When it comes to music and its communication: what’s fact, and what’s fiction?  What’s in tune?  What’s out of tune?

The ‘musical structures’ to which we ever respond, as listeners, they may reduce to an auditory signal. But music arises from our essentially social, human existence — from our embodied interaction with one another and our world.

Over the air, this expression of logic and discipline stands as cultural identity, subject to political legitimacy or stigmatization. Our individual acts of musical performance express values of in-tune-ness, in-time-ness, proficiency, generativity, novelty, beauty.

But: Shared world, common bodies, interior beginnings stacked and grown one inside another.

Underground, under skin, music emerges from the connective mycelium of our absolute interdependence. From sympathies of sound in movement.


Image credit: Mycelium. This image shows a group of elongated cells (hyphae) from the filamentous fungus Podospora anserina. They are labeled with a fluorescent stain, JC-1, that labels areas of high metabolic activity (orange-red staining). It was taken by a high-resolution camera attached to a fluorescence microscope. The magnification is 630x.

Christian Scheckhuber, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Group work griping

We generally teach courses in single semesters.  Twelve weeks of teaching, which feels like a triple marathon yet also flies by. In these three months, I want students on my courses to engage, to share, and to pick up the baton for themselves. I want them to do this from week 1.

I see that the majority want this too, but they are not always sure how to do it. The silence when I invited thoughts, ideas, and contributions during the early weeks of this wobbly, half-out-of-lockdown semester was particularly deafening.

But even during ‘normal’ times, classroom dynamics in the early weeks tend to go like this: ‘Oh this is nice, you will tell us some new things and if we’re interested we’ll listen.’   Then, once there’s a deadline: ‘Wait what? I need to do something?’ (Fair enough, most of us need deadlines to get things done.)   In my teaching, I usually design a structured graded assessment with a Week 6 submission point, and get this started in Week 3.

Collaborative group projects can – potentially – create a nice space to learn about a lot of stuff.  They can foster a community vibe which significantly boosts the quality of teaching and learning.  And the chance to learn what it takes to be an employable human. They can minimize the mid-semester marking burden while still generating lots of good quality feedback for learners. Or, they can be hellish for everyone.

Group work will never please everyone. Oh well.

When it comes to digital tools and course design enhancements, here are some reasons not to try anything new and fancy:  Assignments and grading in one course need balancing alongside our other courses and teaching, and also alongside the routinely unpredictable tasks we all do day to day. These are legion: initiating, proposing, explaining, writing, practicing, re-purposing, collaborating, project-managing, re-creating, advocating, administrating, persuading, re-imagining, inventing, facilitating, caring, and also these days some servitorial duties, manual labour, and completing inscrutable and coded HR information returns using obscure Excel worksheet formulae.  We also have to spend a lot of time learning and re-learning new digital tools, interfaces and systems that are not always fit for purpose, and which change the nature of the job that we set out to do in the first place.

But I do really like WebPA.

I’ve been using WebPA for quite a few years now.  It’s a system to manage peer assessment. It was devised at Loughborough University – here’s a link to the WebPA homepage for more about this open source project. Some clever team at Edinburgh University have integrated WebPA into our regular VLE.

What This Means is that I grade and provide feedback on the attainment of, say, 10 assignments – but my 60 students each receive an individualised mark which reflects their contribution to the project. It also provides students with scaffolding and feedback to understand how to work well in a group.

It took me a while to understand what WebPA is. This is ‘it’:  Once the submission is in, students take 2 minutes using a Likert scale to answer survey questions about how everyone in the group contributed to getting the project done. Based on these numerical responses, the WebPA algorithm generates a weighting which moderates the project marks. The output takes into account the assigned grades and groupings (so you can have uneven group sizes), and you can tweak the parameters to fit your criteria.

The target and the tone of the survey questions are worth getting right. I’ve devised four questions that seem to work for me regardless of the topic of the course, or the nature of the assignment. Here they are:

For each of the four criteria below, choose the best fitting statement for YOURSELF and EACH OTHER MEMBER OF YOUR GROUP:

1. Getting started: Contributing timely and appropriate ideas
  • Plenty of appropriate suggestions – score 5
  • Plenty of suggestions – score 4
  • Some suggestions on the right lines – score 3
  • Contributed only a few, or inappropriate, suggestions – score 2
  • Contributed no suggestions – score 1
2. Getting going: Turning ideas into action!
  • Unstoppable! A powerhouse of initiative! – 5
  • Good amount of initiative – 4
  • Fair amount of initiative – 3
  • Took action when nudged – 2
  • Showed little or no initiative – 1
3. To the finish line! Completing work and delivering the project
  • Highest level of contribution – 5
  • Great contribution -4
  • Kept at it – 3
  • Not especially helpful – 2
  • Obstructive – 1

4. Overall: General contribution to the group (e.g. through punctuality, respectful behaviour, good communication)

  • Score from 5 (highly positive contribution) to 1 (not a positive contribution)

Obviously, a process like this needs talking about in class well before the project is in progress. Doesn’t take long to run through survey questions. It’s a nice quick discussion that demystifies group work and saves a lot of time in the long run.

Basically, in setting up group projects I try to use the platform as academic lead to model the attributes that I think will serve students best in their study, and in general life. These include commitment, humour, honesty and a bit of loving-kindness. With this approach, assessed group projects can be a really important component in course design, steering the ship towards peer-directed and peer-supportive waters – an essential survival strategy for the 12 week semester model and hybrid HE meltdown strike-stricken pandemic workload that we all have to operate in.

E-books and ballots

This week we launched a creative commons multimedia e-textbook, Fundamentals of Music Theory. This came about as the result of a pilot Open Educational Resource project, and – funded by a Student Experience Grant – we paid three Music student interns to work on the transfer of a range of existing digital materials into this new source, providing some valuable work experience.  (The valuable part came from the tutelage of the OER team, with their experience in collaborative project working and their handling and direction of the interns.  It was also valuable for me to watch how they did this, and to see our students operating in a different context, away from lectures and tutorials.)

Overall it was a very positive experience, though the timing of the project meant that it took place across perhaps the most stressful and intense period of working I have known. Early discussions and then application coincided with the end of a period of industrial action/the onset of the pandemic. The recruitment phase took place in lockdown Semester 1, 2020. The active, funded portion ran from January to June 2021 while we struggled on to the end of the locked-down academic year.

The chance to develop freely available, open educational resources is precious to me, and a key reason for this is because OER can stand in as an attitude of welcome, of hospitality.  Meanwhile in my daily working life, I’m finding fewer and fewer opportunities to perform the deliberate gestures which create space to give and receive (Would you like a cup of tea?  Let’s eat together. Come sit down, let’s talk!).  As an educator, I sorely miss these chances to rehearse and to model authentic dialogue.

I’d like to believe that academic communities’ primary work is to share what they know and to keep learning more. But I feel deeply concerned that the many forces which are currently squeezing and shaping my daily working life are causing damage to this fundamental professional (vocational?) commitment. I don’t believe that the pandemic is the main issue here.

The example of PhD viva voce examinations: an extended, rigorous, intellectually and creatively gruelling dialogue between scrutinizers and defender, the culmination of a minimum three years independent work by the candidate.  The process has thankfully been modernized (and shortened) compared to the most antiquated version of this rite of passage. But still: pre-meeting, examination, and feedback session all in cannot take less than 3 hours, usually longer.  The standard hospitality for this event now?  No tea or coffee. No biscuits.  Forget sandwiches!

It’s revealing that locked-down, virtual Zoom vivas have felt like a relief because of the way that they remove what has become burdensome hospitality. But I don’t want to lose these skills and opportunities!

The PhD viva is a specific example, but it’s indicative and it flags up wider issues – including debilitating busyworkload – which limit the good quality talking and listening that are essential for good quality scholarship and education. If you need to book a room ahead and factor in transit time for that chat, it’s far less likely to happen. And when booking and reporting processes are required to execute the most essential daily transactions, the effect is that we are in constant competition for funds, for time, for space with our own colleagues.

UCU is balloting.  I’m devastated at the thought of more strikes, distressed students, pay loss. I care a great deal about my professional capacity to offer hospitality and create space for meaningful dialogue. I am grateful that my institution has put such resource behind OER – including committed, skillful individuals. But while strike action withholds in the short term, I don’t see any better option than to fight to preserve the value of open, accessible, meaningful dialogue and knowledge creation.

Invitation To Play

There is A Thing that early childhood educators know about, called an Invitation To Play.

If you don’t already know what that is, I wonder what you’re imagining. An enticingly heavy, embossed card through the letterbox? A verbose request in swirling calligraphy? A formal – perhaps awkward – conversation?

Actually, an invitation to play involves no words, either spoken or written. (Or typed, or embossed.) It is a scene. A site for invention and exploration. It is the setting-up of objects and materials, the curation of another person’s future actions – a creation of desire!

I discovered Invitation To Play before I knew its name, watching my young son’s behaviour – at ease in his home, primed for a day at nursery, out and about in brand new places. In thrall to his mind and infant curiosity, I loved to explore his reactions to objects, events, situations. I noticed different rhythms of repetition, renewal, invention, learning in every different setting.

I suppose that when watching with love, that’s when we really witness the direction of someone else’s attention: I found that I could learn more about his mind by interacting, myself, in his world. Stepping with care into play.

In his absence I would take huge pleasure in approaching areas of our home and setting a scene — laying out an object, rearranging something normally overlooked.  A book off the shelf and balanced upright with the pages open.  Three bendy pipe cleaners by the shoe rack.  A wooden spoon alongside a tin pot on the bench in the kitchen. Laying them out, just so: calibrating my knowledge of his mind and the possibilities inherent in those objects.

There is nothing more rewarding and affirming than standing silently aside and watching the invitation work its magic.

So much of HE teaching is lecturing. So much lecturing is telling. Telling is no fun! Discovery is better.

Facing out, tuning up

I’m sitting in my kitchen, looking into fine, drizzling rain tickling the leaves of the elder which has grown too tall for itself, leggy and bending outside my window. The air around me feels spacious and cool. It’s occupied by the logical tranquility of the piano tuner’s key strikes. I’m gazing without seeing, hearing without listening.

The cat stands, stretches, and wanders across the room, disturbing the bell on his collar. It blends with the piano’s harmonics which are moving in and out of focus, trickling into the kitchen from the hallway on the other side of the door. No words. This space is peaceful.

In this moment, demands on my attention and time are quelled. I am alone but far from lonely. My ears keep me in company with the piano tuner’s progress, his temporal journey from low to high. Without thought, I’m in step with his decisions, which are evident in the vibrations and resonance that say, “Work done. This one is ready now, time to move on”.

Like everyone, I’m living in daily anxiety through inevitable, unknowable change. Like every parent, I fear the future of austerity and global damage. The insecurity can be overwhelming – what to do for the best? How much is ever enough? But I can escape for another few minutes into this step-wise sonic space of action, clarity and order.

Imagine if… our University teaching and interactions were to create this same feeling for students to sit with, for an hour or two? Where we can acknowledge the disorder and complexity of our precarious life and times, but yet enjoy moments of clarity in successive decisions that we reach – for ourselves – through absorption and creation. Agreeing that this will do, that this is well enough in time, in tune, ok for now – each single small decision accepting something beyond ourselves.  Idealistic?  Pretty sure this is how it should be.

Teaching with Tangles and Knots

I’ve spent the day with a background of mental visualisations. Abstract images of stitching, sewing, crotcheting, knitting. Of material workmanship in progress – productive incremental actions. The imagery involves a sensation in my fingers and the palms of my hands. Tingling imagination of the warm, abrasive itch of wool, of pinching and grasping and moving yarn and threads, manipulating needles and tools, of bringing stitches and loops together from sides to middle, sides to middle, turning in and outside and yielding comforting new breadths and lengths of fabric.

The imagery emerged after I read a discussion thread this morning. Among some musicians who teach University courses in composition, who were identifying and discussing the dilemma they routinely encounter in the admissions and pedagogic process. The dilemma is to do with the deep divide between experience and expertise in musical notation practices amongst prospective students. The discussants described witnessing a debilitating lag in skills for those seeking access to musical composition programmes who did not have fluent, sophisticated literacy skills from working with musical scores already for many years and as a fundamental, performative aspect of their musical lives. The conversation in the thread recognised that the means by which applicants attain such skills were almost exclusively tied to both cultural and financial capital. Yet the need for musical composition pedagogy and professional practice to be based in music notational literacy was – for the majority of contributors – an indisputable priority: How, one discussant asked, would applicants with less experience and fluency in reading and writing musical scores ever ‘catch up’?

Another contributor began circumspectly to question the musical conservatory in its entirety: Having noticed that ‘luckily, conservatories are not the gatekeepers of music’, then ‘letting [more] people in’ to conservatories is something that would concern the contributor a lot more should the conservatory itself offer something of value to students whose interests (and experience) lay with ‘say, non-notated music’.

Hmm. Having composed the post and pressed ‘Send’, I wonder whether the contributor might then have paused, halfway to a confusing revelation.

For sure, conservatories don’t have control over human musical creativity. These institutions can’t assert authority over new practices, new genres, new sounds and performances and artistic output. They can’t start or stop people from engaging with music, and in everyday life most of that happens a million miles away from scored, notated music practices. But given that: what’s to be gained from this acceptance and complicity in systems of institutional prestige – purported quality and standards – that operate through exclusion?

The thread mirrored so many conversations I’ve been party to, that I’m still working through, and that I’ve challenged without resolution.  But why did all this bring me to that quiet mental yearning for the experience of a crafting process? Sides to middle, sides to middle, inside to outside…

Why did it bring on the vivid, tacit internal vision and sensation of crafting? Of working-with? Of sides-to-middle, inside-outside transformation and growth?

Perhaps because this is the process that I want teaching to be: working with, not working on. Transforming and creating through process. Making, not judging.

Why I Find It Helps To Remember You Have A Bum And A Back

The demands of remote teaching have given urgent rise to so many needs during the past 12 months. We need screen breaks, we need good spec tech, we need more space at home than most of us have got, we need our children to go away, we need to move and stretch, and (I think, more than anything), we’ve needed to upgrade the quality and efficiency of our professional relationships, with colleagues and with students.

What I mean by better quality relationships is, the sort of relationships that can really tolerate confusion, and impatience, and misunderstandings, and occasional mute button swearing. We’ve had to share and create new knowledge under exceptionally limiting circumstances and with broken connections, poor sync, terrible sound quality, patchy wifi. Good communication fundamentally requires a basis of some common ground, but when this began we were all in a new place, each of us confined to our own pieces in a square jigsaw of icons and initials and – now and then, if you’re lucky – floating faces.

The digital reduction of our physical selves and our communicative intentions into 2D space is as crummy as it’s miraculous. How can we know if we understood? How can we know if we have been understood? We can dissolve into a puddley, formless state of gaze and scroll, gaze and scroll, all our precious connections to other people mindlessly constrained to a loop between gritty eyes, aching ears, fingers on the keyboard… This is why I find it really helps to remember you have a bum and a back, and I have enjoyed reminding my students of this, too.

This semester I have systematically integrated such reminders into my online teaching, making space for the class to act (not think) in a playful and creative manner in response to a variety of prompts, some as warm-up activities, others as core teaching devices. I’ve used my experience of improvisation and mindfulness practices, and it’s been serious fun – as in, the results have induced both laughter and deep reflection. Devising the exercises for online groups required a little bit of thinking, mostly in reshaping group facilitation strategies that I have used informally for a number of years. Making these work online has felt like a game-changer, for the way that they can transform a shallow, disconnected virtual space into an engaged and courageous cohort of students.

– Playful grounding exercises as standard welcome/warm-up

– ‘Busy hands’ tasks, to help students navigate online discussions with one another

– Structured peer-to-peer listening sessions, timetabled alongside academic seminars

– Deliberate integration of freeform creative journalling exercises (doodling, painting, colour, collage) into academic topic-based discussions:

  • to support students’ development of their own voice and original argument
  • to support students’ autonomy, their own approach to integrating knowledge
  • to create space for emerging studentled discussion and new perspectives on central issues of concern such as good academic conduct, plagiarism, etc.

Over this time, I’ve loved finding patches of common ground with other ECA colleagues who have also been trying out new strategies. And I’ve loved naming each exercise – Lemon Buzz, Alternative Corner Reality, You Have Nice Hands, Labyrinth, Other Body Curiosity… Please get in touch if you’d like to know more. If you’re already using creative journaling or art techniques in your academic teaching, I would especially like to chat!

Making a virtual meeting sign-up sheet

I have been thinking and talking to people about the best way to schedule Personal Tutor and other student meetings. Options include blocking out a time for drop-ins, then use the Lobby function in Teams to let individual students in. Or, use your Calendar, and ask students to make appointments according to your availability.

Here is another possible solution for ECA Personal Tutors needing to schedule their online group and 1-to-1 meetings in the next couple of weeks. It is also useful if you have irregular office hours.

This is it: Use anything in Office or Office365 to make a basic grid. I used OneNote.

It gives similar scheduling flexibility as a Doodle poll – better, I’d say – and it has the advantage that it keeps you right by our institutional guidance on GDPR.

This is the process.

Make a sign up sheet à Save it to OneDrive à Paste a link into ECA Senior Tutor Dee’s ‘Welcome message’ template à Have students schedule themselves up according to your availability.

Here is a link to a sign-up template in OneNote that you can copy.


If you want to go one step further, use MS Teams to ‘Create a Team’ for your personal tutees.

Step 1. Make a team – the ‘Other’ type option is fine.

Step 2. Make it private.

Step 3. Skip the step where you add people.

Step 4. Go back the Teams view, find the ‘…’ and click More options > Manage team.

Step 5. Select the Settings tab > Team code > Generate. Click Copy.

Share this code in your Welcome email and invite students to join the Team. You can pin your sign-up sheet in the Team, just as if it’s a piece of paper stuck to your door.

Do this by adding a tab in your General channel – see screengrab.

Reasons you might want to do it this way:

  1. Generate instant magic community feeling
  2. Reduce transactional distance
  3. Save yourself from email inbox traffic

(PS – You will still have to suffer EUCLID to do the following: Find your personal tutees and their records, press the red attendance button, enrol them on courses, keep notes/document meetings, and send any group emails. Sorry.)

Media production studios experience

Media Production Studios pilot recordings – I did a session so I thought I’d tell you about it

I went to High School Yards yesterday morning for a pilot session of the new media recording services. I’m sharing thoughts on it here to let you know what to expect if you’re thinking about using this service yourself.

In two hours, we recorded materials for 6 x short (2-3 minute) ‘piece to camera’ lectures.  ‘Piece to camera’ means a headshot recording of my yabbering face. The material is for a Semester 1 course, and will also be used to update an existing MOOC which deals with the same content.

So I was working with a revised version of lecture material from last year, which I’d improved it in a series of drafts based on feedback from colleagues.  This meant I could boil each segment down to 3 minutes max.

This is dead important. Piece to camera works best when it is v v short.

Piece to camera can be interspersed with graphics, stock footage, slides etc. This requires planning and story-boarding, which I think is the most fun bit. I have always loved story-telling. So it’s frustrating at the moment that there is so little time to do this.

Of course, pre-recorded lectures don’t have to include our faces. It’s stressful, it feels very exposing. And do you remember how humid it was yesterday. Yabbering face amidst frizzy hair.  But.  I chose piece-to-camera for because:

1. I’m not at the stage to create graphics or choose stock footage. (The children only went back to school yesterday, and for how long…?)  But having the complete segments recorded and in the bag means we can sort this out later.

2. The nature of these scripts – the content – deserves an identifiable, explaining face to go along with it. One segment is introductory, it’s the first welcome to the course.  The other sections comprise a five-part contextualising micro-lecture addressing bias and ethnocentricism in the subject matter. It’s complex stuff and I want to deliver it humanely and accountably, not impersonally.

So if you just have straightforward content and slides already, a decent microphone voiceover recorded with Kaltura to Media Hopper or something is brilliant.

But if you have reason to feel that face-to-face delivery of some content would work better to engage students – maybe just for an early week, establishing what the course is, what you want students to do and what you want them to get from it – the Media Production service is a supportive way to do it.

These are the reasons I found it supportive:

1. Scheduling it gives you a clean deadline and then it’s done.

2.  No crowd, but you’re not on your own: one efficient, professional, sympathetic technician/recordist who will coach you through it, handle the auto-cue speed, and tell you if your rumbling tummy is loud enough to have spoiled the take.

3. Superb quality of audio and video.

I’ve put quality down there at no.3, because I think there is a lot to say for using lo-fi content in blended learning. Glossiness can sit badly and seem inauthentic next to the real, messy business of responsive teaching.  But if you’ve got portions of important, basic content that are not going away any time soon – or if they’re headed for a large platform like Coursera MOOC – then a bit of gloss is nice. Very happy to answer questions or chat if colleagues are thinking about using this service.

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