Monthly Archives: November 2001

Pilot Course Evaluation

Author: Christopher Hambly

27.09.01

Outline

This essay represents an evaluation of an online pilot course, Production Techniques. Reference is also made to a supporting web site containing the learning materials constructed for the pilot. The evaluation takes the form of evaluating the types of interaction and outcomes of the experience and then presenting suggestions to improve the course for student learning and also the administrative processes. The learning materials have been in production since the start of 2000 and during 2001. The pilot course ran during the months of August and September of the same year. Synchronous text/audio sessions were held and given the term ‘Live Workshops’ the transcriptions from these will be examined.

Course Aims

The course aims were documented in previously but for the purpose of this essay re-iteration will be helpful in understanding the unique nature of working within the field of audio. Currently, open and distance-learning (ODL) courses targeted specifically at audio are an exception. Practically no such courses seem to exist worldwide whereby the utilisation, and more specifically, the manipulation of audio assets is the norm. Some courses exist where audio examples are used and discussed but not in the context of examining production techniques. Nor do these courses display flexibility to tailor the learning experience to suit the individual needs of the learners at any given time, as this course attempted to achieve. With that in mind Production Techniques purposefully set out to target that need and to assess the outcomes and therefore its potential.

Traditional Institutions

Sound Engineering, as a subject is a relatively new discipline in academia. Even in 2001 face-to-face (f2f) sound engineering courses globally have difficulties fitting into traditional departments in universities. Sound engineering encompasses many different mind-sets and approaches to learning including engineering principles, and equally so, creative artistic ones. The majority of current professionals working within the field have grown up and learnt their skills in the school of ‘hard knocks’. Essentially, by being thrown into situations and learning through self-experience and emulating mentors in the workplace. A cynical point of view is that over the last 30 years educational establishments have assessed a need for ‘fast-tracking’ engineers and providing provision in the form of courses as means of generating income. A more positive view would be that there is indeed a need, even if only for personal development without the outcome of employment. And rightly so, social learning reasons can be seen to be just as valid for the enrichment of culture. However, being such a specialised area, most traditional universities do not find themselves in a situation to be able to provide such courses that really do reflect the culture that professionals work in. Courses exist where sound engineering is an add-on to music courses or performing based courses, though very few exist exclusively for sound engineering as a subject. Figures suggest the number is currently around five in the United Kingdom where the student does not need to be a musician and can focus entirely on sound engineering, one of which being the Higher National Diploma in Sound Engineering and Multimedia Integration at Truro College Cornwall UK. (disclosure: I authored that)

Private Institutions

Private institutions are in a far stronger position to provide courses for this subject. Equipment and specialists are expensive. The resources needed and time per student/teacher ratio, not to mention the unique environment needed, all add up to make sound engineering courses rather expensive in comparison to many other subjects. Therefore, a growth in private institutions can be witnessed such as:

  • The Audio Engineering School, with multiple centres located in the five major continents (and expanding) throughout the world. www.sae.edu (disclosure SAE is now a client of mine, 2008)
  • Full Sail, Florida, United States of America. www.fullsail.com

Because these schools charge very high fees they are in a position to provide the necessary industrial equipment along with the expertise to teach. Naturally, only a select few students are fortunate enough to find themselves, being fortunate enough to benefit from these centres.

It is interesting to note that these large private companies (and the traditional institutions) have not yet moved into an ODL medium within the field of sound engineering even though funding councils have ‘embarked on a series of actions that encourage members of higher education institutions to reconsider their roles’. (Gentle, 2001) The potential market then is clear, and research suggests that suitable courses that function adequately and present a dynamic learning environment would achieve high enrolment. The Production Techniques course is targeted at this niche.

Production Advisors

The pilot course utilised two teachers/facilitators of learning and each were assigned the name of ‘Production Advisors’. The author being one Production Advisor, the other was an ex-student of the author, Ben Morgan. Both Production Advisors had considerable experience in using both synchronous communicative technologies (SCT) and a-synchronous communicative technologies (ASCT). Additionally, both parties were adept at producing the necessary learning materials. As the pilot used both SCT and ASCT it was essential that the Production Advisors were fully conversant with the range of skills required in order to effectively communicate with the students and personalise the learning medium. The range of skills, or rather roles, that the Production Advisors took included:

  • Mentor
  • Advisor
  • Counsellor
  • Assessor
  • Tutor
  • Conference Moderator

(Thorpe, 2001)

An interesting observation was that during the pilot all participants took on one or more of these roles, not only the Production Advisors, which highlights a significant amount of power showing having taken place and in essence a learning community established, certainly a constructivist one.

What was not so clear to the students before the course started was the precise range of skills the Production Advisors were to utilise, and the type of learning culture that was to exist. This would be made explicit for future versions of the course.

Advertising

The pilot course was advertised on an online forum owned by the magazine Sound on Sound. This is one of the most widely used online forums for the audio world in the United Kingdom and can be found at: www.sospubs.co.uk

The intention was to run the pilot with only a small group of students, aiming for around five so the message that was posted was kept suitably modest. The message posted can be found in appendix 8.

Expressions of Interest

The returns of interest were fairly immediate, and within 1 week the following students were committed to the programme.

  • Aloysius – New York (sadly I didn’t hear from him again after the Trade Towers plight
  • Graeme – Devon UK
  • Javen – Cornwall UK

Though small in number it was felt that these numbers were adequate; considering the newness of the medium we would be using, and no further advertising was put forward.

Initial Support Needs

There was a significant amount of questioning from the students at this point, which took the form of:

  • What do we need? I.e. software/hardware configuration
  • When do we need to be online?
  • What will we be taught?
  • What will we get out of the programme?

These questions were discussed through e-mail during the week before the first live workshop was held. This highlights an obvious need for more detailed information on exactly such issues. As the number was small there was no hardship in providing such information by personal e-mails, in fact this aided in cementing a supporting relationship at a very early stage. Though one can envisaged a slightly different situation with larger numbers (due to time constraints), experience intimates that the personal touch of having a Production Advisor available for questioning at this early point cannot be under estimated. Naturally, many of the above questions could be answered by providing online literature detailing such topics. However, the pilot and further versions will aim to provide the above personal service. The web site has now been updated to reflect this early support structure need with literature to tackle typical questions along with the role of the Production Advisors in being available for queries.

Data Collection

Within this week, full contact details and background information on each student was obtained. The questioning that was put forward was styled to obtain information on the type of equipment and experience each student had, and their main interests with regards to audio production techniques. Addresses were collected in order to be able to use the postal service for sending audio assets and evaluation versions of software on a compact disk read only memory (CD-ROM). These were found very useful by the students as indicated by Graeme. ‘The use of a CD with all the software and samples needed was also very useful.’ (appendix 7)

The students were also asked if they would agree to being added to a distributed mailing list in order that the Production Advisors could keep them up to date with general developments and in essence become part of a new learning community. All agreed to this and the mailing list is currently distributed monthly and growing in number.

The first activity set through e-mail was for the students to install PalTalk, (a SCT application) and get the feel of using it, as this would be the main vehicle for course communication. The scheduled meetings were to be termed Live Workshops.

Synchronised meeting

During the e-mail exchanges a date was put forward for the participants and details of where to meet online. The learning material web site found at (no longer in existance) contains a live chat applet which allows users to log in and become part of a chat room. This was the first form of contact. And all participants showed up at the agreed time on 15.08.01. This chat applet proved very successful in allowing everyone to communicate in real time through his or her web browser. The downside of the applet is that the text within cannot be saved, or even copied and pasted into another application. Doubled with this the applet does not allow audio or the exchange of files. It was merely a first point of contact. And will be used in further versions of the course due to the ease of use and as a ‘back-up’ in case of primary application failure. ‘There was only one time when Paltalk was unavailable, though that was unlucky as it was only for the two hours that the course was scheduled. There should have been a backup plan, though I didn’t think of it at the time and that would be to use the website, the only thing you couldn’t do is send files to each other.’ (appendix 7)

PalTalk

PalTalk is an application that allows synchronous text and audio exchange along with file swaps, more details can be found in appendix 10. While the web chat applet was active, participants were directed to the Production Techniques room that was created for the pilot in PalTalk. The sight of seeing students arrive on time in the Live Workshop was highly encouraging for both the Production Advisors and dialogue took the form of welcoming. The welcome dialogue can not been seen in the message appendices as both Production Advisors had periodic interrupts in their Internet Service Provider (ISP) therefore text was lost. This theme will be tackled in more detail later in the essay.

Audio Software

It was stated very clearly that though the Production Advisors would be using CoolEdit (manufactured by Syntrillium) as an audio editor, the course was not about cloning techniques, or more importantly, focussing on one particular software application, but motivating and encouraging the students to utilise any combination of software/hardware. This proved to highly effective in not ostracising any student. Graeme, for example, showed quite early on that he was uncomfortable with CoolEdit and preferred to work with his preferred software, which can be seen in the dialogue exchange that took place in the first Live Workshop. Funky_35 is a screen name for the author. Ben m is the other Production Advisor.

  • J_Graeme: Are you actually wanting us to use cool edit or can I use my sampler and Logic
  • funky_35: great question…
  • funky_35: what do you feel Ben?
  • ben_m: it may be advantageous to use both
  • J_Graeme: I’m not really bothered it just that’s the way I normally work
  • funky_35: Do you have access to DSP with your normal working set-up?
  • funky_35: i.e. compression and filters etc?
  • J_Graeme: yes
  • ben_m: using cool edit will certainly make it easier in later sessions regarding specific effects, but you can never have knowledge on enough platforms so maybe you could mirror the activities on both platforms
  • J_Graeme: Filters in the sampler and compression with the mixer
  • J_Graeme: Ok I’ll give it ago on both
  • funky_35: Ben makes a good point about being flexible in approach..
  • J_Graeme: Basically I use effects in Soundforge on the samples and then send them to the sampler
  • ben_m: soundforge is very similar to CoolEdit in a lot of ways minus the multitracking option
  • J_Graeme: Yes I know, That’s the only downside
  • ben_m: but if you are using a sequencer it kind of levels out
  • J_Graeme: However my music computer is only a Pentium 166mmx so I don’t do any real-time audio work with it
  • ben_m: fair enough, my celeron 433 can struggle with a few tracks
  • J_Graeme: I use the controls in Logic and the outboard to do that!!
  • funky_35: My advice is keep an open mind and use what you can to a creative outcome… but as Ben states for exploring techniques software based applications may broaden your experience.
  • funky_35: Certainly CoolEdit is the in the style of being a little sister to the Two main performers of Soundscape and Protools
  • funky_35: for high-end audio production
  • J_Graeme: Oh definitely, I love the software approach and want to give Cool Edit a go for the multitracking, however I’d probably do more with my existing set-up.
  • funky_35: Don’t feel we are looking for your best shot at an audio track!
  • funky_35: we are looking for you to explore….
  • funky_35: and are here to aid you in that..
  • J_Graeme: OK
  • funky_35: :)
  • funky_35: see it as a journey
  • funky_35: not a test…
  • J_Graeme: Ok, I’ll probably do one using cool edit and another with my set-up
  • funky_35: that’s a cool idea.
  • (edited from appendix 2)

The above dialogue is an explicit example of the Production Advisors’ philosophy of maintaining flexibility. This is borne of hard-learned lessons in the industry and the very real need of adopting this flexibility and cherishing the open approach in industry. This also has cost implications. Providing a course that opens the possibility of each student using his/her own preferred software will mean less expenditure. The implications are also for the course provider, in that if common software were to be provided this would make the course fees higher and reduce the intake.

Graeme also voiced his fears on the suitability of his computer hardware in being able to cope with the course. This theme certainly is an issue for all online courses. This insight led to the creation of student support documentation indicating minimum specifications and recommended specifications to assess if student computer equipment is suitable for the course (appendix 9). This process of assessment will form part of the enrolment dialogue in future versions of the course, possibly through completion of an online questionnaire.

Missing Students

As the first Live Workshop continued it was clear Javen and Aloysius were otherwise engaged or having difficulties arriving. After the workshop closed, e-mails were sent to the missing students with a transcription of the first session. Javen returned an e-mail expressing personal reasons for not being able to attend and he would rather ‘give it a go’ another time. Aloysius expressed he had to work at the last minute and would be online for the next session.

Message Board

Within the first session one of the activities that was discussed was the use of the course message board. This is an ASCT application whereby messages can be posted 24 hours a day seven days a week. It can be found at: (no longer active). The purpose of the board was discussed and an activity set that was for each student to post an introduction message. Two students and both Production Advisors completed the activity. As the course progressed the message board was not used and the students prefferred voicing their opinions and insights during the Live Workshops. This led the Production Advisors to not create activates for the message board but to allow the students to operate in their preferred manner. This was one of the first key insights that took place, that of allowing the course to be dynamic and organic which translates into giving the students what they want. Naturally, the Production Advisors would not make message board activities mandatory in the future but the option would still be available in case the need presented itself. Certainly the author has a great deal of faith in the potential of message boards and in some disciplines they can be seen to be invaluable. Though for Production Techniques where the individuals are not in the situation of having to create long academic arguments, the directness of being able to ‘throw around’ ideas live seems to be far more attractive.

Further Activities

The students had received by way of post a CD-ROM that along with containing some software applications also contained audio files that were to be the source files for building a track (song). An activity was mutually agreed upon. Graeme immediately expressed concern with the software choice and the Production Advisors went on to suggest he complete the activity in the manner most fitting for him, but also with an open mind to further options. The activity was to be ready for the next Live Workshop. The suggestion of this activity immediately promoted a great deal of dialogue regarding typical questions and techniques in the audio production arena.

The session ended and the Production Advisors then went on to discuss and review how the first Live Workshop had gone.

  • ben_m: that went ok didn’t it?
  • funky_35: yes I thought so…
  • funky_35: Has a great deal of potential huh?
  • ben_m: certainly, I think the only limitations are the quality of the phone line/ISP and the compatibility of the software
  • ben_m: as for a medium though it is certainly promising
  • funky_35: Good point..
  • funky_35: will be good for auditioning tunes in the future
  • funky_35: and I also feel it personalises the experience
  • ben_m: too right. if broadband was more widespread then I think that this form of learning would be amazing in terms of media distribution and communication
  • funky_35: I see BT have info about broadband on their site.. plans a foot as you mentioned
  • ben_m: right! can’t wait!
  • (edited from Appendix 2)

Ben_m raises the issue of broadband. Broadband being a high-speed Internet connection with improved connectivity. Both Production Advisors and students through the pilot found it frustrating to find themselves being disconnected periodically. This is disruptive to the flow of the Live Workshop. ISPs do exists with good connections but as yet high-speed connections are not the norm in the United Kingdom. Broadband would bring several advantages to such a course that utilises SCT. Current ‘off the shelf’ modems do allow file transfer and audio streaming but the quality is low and transfers slow.

Live Workshop Session two

The second Live Workshop gained the participation of Aloysius. Dialogue for this session took the form of discussing how the week had gone and in particular how the activity had progressed. As three participants had agreed in the previous Live Workshop to complete the activity there was an abundance of experience to reflect on. Some file swapping took place to share audio examples and then we discussed the techniques used to create them. A substantial amount of audio technicalities were discussed in this session, which we do not feel would be so suitable to follow or have realisations of were it not for the live media that we used. This can be seen evidenced in the dialogue of appendix 3. Funky_35 is cued into describing the recording method of vocals and there is continuous interjection from the participants based on the explanation put forward. This form of interaction is typically the way f2f instruction can operate, which is lacking in many forms of ODL that do not utilise SCT. The session ran over our two-hour allocation by a further 60 minutes. None of the participants minded and in fact it was a shame to bring the session to a close through moderation skills. Further activities were agreed and a date set for the next Live Workshop.

Live Workshop Session Three

Mid-way through this session the author set Aloysius the task of backing up the dialogue as Aloysius’s connection was Broadband and in the previous sessions he had not experienced any loss of connection, the first part of this sessions dialogue the author had lost. We also set an another date for the next session very early on as a safe guard of anyone missing the agreed date and time. The topics concerning Production Techniques varied greatly and all were based around what the group desired. In this session the author suggested that for future course a web accessed file area would be very desirable to aid the participants in uploading and downloading files. One of the problems we found was that PalTalk only allows one from transfer either in or out from one user at any time. As music files (although compressed into MP3 format) are very large, and the higher the compression ratio for quicker transference, the lower the quality. This is a paradox for audiophiles to live with as many of the subtleties and techniques that Production Techniques aims to tackle are compromised.

Live Workshop Session Four

The topic of file types for transfer over the web was immediately picked up in this session and the participants discussed various opinions. Further dialogue in this session took the form of Personal Computer (PC) chat for audio work. A vast amount of information was exchanged in which Graeme seemed to be very pleased with. This insight gave the Production Advisors the idea that perhaps a future course would in fact be just for Personal Compuetr Audio. A course that has the primary aim of optimising a PC for audio work. This area is a minefield currently, as the audio world continues to borrow many processes and equipment designed for non-audio work. This convergence is naturally beneficial to the audio world though, as faster processors and computer equipment can be utilised for audio operations.

As the participants of Production Techniques were by now more familiar with each other, and all had experience of the pilot, the Production Advisors steered the dialogue into questioning the medium. The results were highly insightful as the following (edited) text highlights:

  • funky_35: I think an upload centre is a good option…
  • This was the Production Advisors idea of reducing time spend transferring files in the Live Workshops
  • ben_m: If for instance the course was £x more BUT you received a legitimate copy of an audio editor would you rather pay the extra?
  • funky_35: what a about a university credit scheme?
  • J_Graeme: I think it would help, because then you have some idea it’s a proper course – no offence meant
  • funky_35: none taken… it’s a pilot. :)
  • funky_35: it’s also interesting to get an idea of what people feel a legitimate course actually is
  • J_Graeme: However if you are paying for an audio editor and that’s not your specific choice then it’s money wasted
  • Graeme response is interesting in that he does not want a course that is outside of his own personal situation. He wants the course to aid him and his current equipment set-up. Not surprising if he has spent a great deal of money on equipment.
  • funky_35: good point Graeme.
  • funky_35: what about the credit thing…. for a uni degree?
  • funky_35: or do you like the idea that the course is more flexible?
  • J_Graeme: I’m not sure what a legitimate course is, and doing music online will be difficult, without broadband, but if you teach want people want then they should be up for it.
  • Again clear statements that giving students what they want will keep them.
  • Aloysius: I like a course that has structure..
  • J_Graeme: flexible course would be more useful, so people can fit it around things
  • ben_m: :)
  • J_Graeme: though with in that have structured tasks to work through
  • funky_35: I like structure too, though it can impede on the organic nature of what people desire
  • J_Graeme: i.e. building a drum track, adding bass, etc
  • Aloysius: true.. but this is a course and you are the teacher.. a student doesn’t choose what they want to learn? they don’t know what’s good for them yet..
  • J_Graeme: good point
  • This is interesting in that both students do seek some form of structure and feel they maybe do not quite know what they need to learn.
  • ben_m: that’s a point of contention I think
  • ben_m: I think that with the online course model, there is less of a teacher/student divide than in a conventional classroom
  • ben_m: Of course there would be some kind of syllabus
  • ben_m: but if you are teaching 10 people and 7 people all ask if you could specialise in drum editing one week it would be hard to say no
  • Aloysius: I think an online course is more difficult since the medium is slower.. but the interaction is the same..
  • J_Graeme: True, but that should be a section of it
  • Production Advisor ben_m makes a great point and unwittingly asks the students to consider the difference of the online medium.
  • ben_m: The problem is that production techniques can mean many things to many different people
  • Aloysius: I think the most difficult part of an online course is sharing the work when it comes to transferring files to other people.
  • Aloysius: that’s true Ben.
  • ben_m: Certainly broadband access would make the course much more feasible
  • J_Graeme: the upload centre would help
  • Aloysius: yes the upload centre would work..
  • ben_m: in the states I am sure the course could be run at its potential
  • ben_m: due to the better bandwidth
  • funky_35: yes I agree.
  • Aloysius: unless students upload their work beforehand..
  • This idea of a file area keeps coming up as an issue.
  • J_Graeme: However you also need to see how things are done, especially for people with little or no experience
  • Aloysius: yes there is no blackboard in an online course.
  • funky_35: do you need a blackboard?
  • ben_m: well, an upload centre where each student has his/her own password to access their own file area could certainly be useful. Then students could be told that they have to have their work uploaded by the start of a session
  • Aloysius: no but it would help
  • J_Graeme: I think a blackboard would help
  • funky_35: why do you think a blackboard would help?
  • ben_m: would it help if we could send you jpgs/gifs (which we could with the current software) to illustrate principles (i.e. compression, eq, panning etc)?
  • funky_35: is it not merely a visual of what we are doing now?
  • J_Graeme: but more in terms of how to use the software and not a normal school blackboard
  • Aloysius: yes sending material before the course would help in explaining some difficult concepts such as compression..
  • J_Graeme: I think jpgs would help to illustrate techniques
  • An interesting concept has come to light here, in the form of perhaps ’ready-to-go’ resources as and when a topic is raised for illustrative purposes.
  • ben_m: should the course assume some familiarity with PC techniques on the students’ part?
  • Aloysius: yes I think so..
  • J_Graeme: you’ll need it
  • ben_m: should there be different content for beginners, intermediate, advanced etc?
  • J_Graeme: that would certainly help
  • Aloysius: yes of course..
  • J_Graeme: I would have been lost if I hadn’t written stuff before
  • J_Graeme: even just switching to Cool Edit was difficult

Ben raises the issue of content level, which the students agree to be a good thing, this may have implication for different student with different abilities being put into groups.

(edited from appendix 5)

A fitting quote to summarise the usefulness of the above dialogue has been made by Moore and Kearsley: ‘Students’ reactions are a good source of information about the effectiveness of a particular course and help give ideas for how to design a course for a particular group. Student satisfaction with distance education courses relative to traditional classes can vary according to students’ personalities and other characteristics and the design of the course and how well it is taught.’ (Moore and Kearsley, 1996)

Production Techniques Final session

This final session was held two weeks later than agreed due to the PalTalk server being down and after the devastating situation presented in New York concerning the Twin Towers. It was known that Aloysius was from New York and he did not show for this session. In fact to date (three weeks later) none of the participants have heard from him and we can only hope the situation is not grave.

Being the last Live Workshop of the pilot, and the recent events, naturally the dialogue took on a closing down nature.

Recommendations

It is the belief of the Production Advisors and the participants, that the pilot course was highly encouraging and that all participants gained a great deal from the experience. We all learnt a lot, the students honed their production techniques and the Production Advisors obtained a great deal of knowledge on how to progress for future version of the course. Indeed the course will become active in the future and be advertised commercially. A number of issues arise that do need attention if this course is to be competitive and attract and keep students.

The major issues take the form of:

  1. Course file area for uploads and downloads – This file area needs to be simple to use and access. Basically what is needed is a fairly large amount of web space where students have a segment of space for their own use. File exchanges can then take place more efficiently and downloads and uploads can take place outside of the Live Workshops.
  2. Prepared resources that are ready to go should a topic arise during the Workshops – Resources that are web based covering typical topics need to be constructed. Students can then be directed to areas that are being discussed, the resources to be a blend of audio/text and graphical information.
  3. Online information concerning the role of the Production Advisors – Details outlining the purpose of the Production Advisors would be helpful. This to include how new learners can obtain support and be assigned the assistance of a Production Advisor to make the enrolment process smooth.
  4. Online information concerning the learning culture – The way in which the Live Workshops function would be beneficial for students to understand what they can get from the environment and to understand the Workshops are organic and can be tailored/steered into topics that are required. Essentially to be seen as a help centre.
  5. Online information concerning the types of activities that will be worked on – Typical activities that the Live Workshops can focus on need to be explicit. Presenting examples of work carried out as a result of the Live Workshops should help the understanding. These examples may take the form of past students songs being published on the course web site with contact details for each of the students. This seems to be desirable as the participants did express a keen interest in having an outlet for their compositions. As the course grows in stature and the course web site obtains a greater amount of ‘hits’ (visits to the site), students may find themselves being contacted regarding their work.
  6. Improved ISP connections to avoid interruptions – The Production Advisors need to ensure that their own ISP is of sound quality and that they are relatively free of broken connections. This also being a recommendation for students. Many current ISPs in the UK have connection limits where after say two hours their connection is re-set. This situation is highly frustrating and to be avoided. The course can of course still function as there is redundancy built in by having two Production Advisors available at any given time. The likelihood of both being disconnected is remote. Nevertheless the situation is highly frustrating.
  7. Possibly a dedicated SCT application similar to PalTalk that is exclusive to the course – PalTalk will allow commercial use though at a small cost. This cost can easily be absorbed in student fees but of more concern is that the course is in the hands of the PalTalk servers. Should PalTalk decide to conduct routine maintenance rendering their servers useless, then, the course cannot operate, as was the situation for one of the scheduled sessions. Though the chat applet on the web site does provide redundancy.
  8. Student profiles giving potential learners an insight into the style of learning – Having information written by past students and Production Advisors available would help potential learners make a judgment on their suitability for the course. Evaluation forms for this pilot were distributed and this would continue for future versions. Permission would be sought to allow the outcomes to be published.
  9. Broadband connectivity – The benefits of having broadband connectivity cannot be underestimated. Companies such as British Telecom are currently conducting research into this area and there does seem to be a high degree of need. This is one of the main obstacles preventing a very rich learning experience indeed. As stated in one of the sessions a course such as this would certainly be able to operate much more effectively in the USA where broadband is more widely used. To give a very clear example; an audio CD quality file has a bandwidth of 10Mb per/minute. Therefore, a three-minute pop song would have a bandwidth of 30Mb. Naturally the infrastructure of the web currently widespread in the UK simply cannot cope with such a large amount of data. Though modems can operate at 54Kbps, in reality a 30Mb file can easily take two or more hours to download/upload!
  10. Possible Accreditation – It could be envisaged, as was documented in previous H804 assignments, that a University could validate a course similar to this. This would enable students to be able to gain credit toward a degree. Certainly I feel the experience that took place has academic virtue this seems very clear in the way students responded and participated. My reservations are that many traditional Universities require outcomes based objectives for assessment purposes. This could impinge on the relaxed nature and wonderful culture that was established for the pilot. Therefore. The jury is still out on that as a concept and further versions of the course will continue to assess if there is a need for such validation or not.

Conclusions

This essay has tried to put across to the reader the very unique nature of the style and feel that is needed in running courses for those interested in audio. The project really does deserves more than the 6000 word quota to do it any justice. Running the pilot was highly rewarding and the experiences of H804 were without exception fundamental in ‘building the road’. It was took a great deal of commitment and hard work. However, for parties interested in finding new forms of education, utilising new media, the author whole-heartedly recommends undertaking such a project. The ‘Lone ranger’ approach may not be ideal but as can seen the individuals that took part in this pilot have experienced something quite unique that can now only move forward.

References and Background Research

  • Calder, J. and McCollum, A. (1998) Open and Flexible Learning in Vocational Education and Training, Kogan Page, London.
  • Collis, B. (1996). Tele-learning in a Digital World. London: International Thompson Computer Press.
  • Evans, T. (1994) Understanding Learners in Open and Distance Education, Kogan Page, London.
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