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Beyond Blackboard

Jan Worth

As part of my research activity I have recently completed a blended learning postgraduate certificate in Online Education and Training at the Institute of Learning, London University. My reason for following this course of study was to develop further the potential for a more flexible and diverse access to high-end media content production in the area of postgraduate Screen Writing .
     Whilst I found the Online Teaching and Learning course stimulating and informative, I also found that many of the problematic issues I have been grappling with in my face-to-face teaching could potentially be compounded by simply reproducing traditional teaching methods as a way of organising an online course. This realisation led me to apply to Sheffield for a Teaching and Learning Fellowship to research best practice in media practice online education together with innovative ways of using the web to develop narrative in both the fine art and political social media.
     The outcome of this research has been the establishment of a R&D Blackboard site entitled ‘Screenplay’. This site utilises the potential offered through e-learning to engage interactively to generate transformative personal and fictionalised narratives as research for developing screenplays. The site uses popular devices such as blogging as a complementary method of developing critical and reflective skills and the use of wikis as an online forum for textual analysis and group editing of written screen work. I am currently working with the teaching and learning team at Sheffield Hallam to build narrative games as a narrative development tool for writers.
     A central core of my teaching is discussion and re-drafting. This has led to the development of different forms of commentary to represent the process of interaction between myself and the students which guides the redrafting process.
     This presentation seeks to open up discussion about both the opportunities and retractions associated with e-learning within the context of higher education, utilising my research as a case study by posing a series of questions, as follows.

E-learning within the context of higher education is primarily delivered and organised through learning management systems such as Blackboard.
- Do we see the LMS as anything more than a notice board?
- Does using a structured tool like blackboard drive or dictate the nature of interaction?The design of the Blackboard interface works effectively as a learning management tool but is it a learning environment creation tool?
- Does our current interface design rely too heavily on ‘what do the designers and administrators want to do?
-Is the problem a question of form: the LMS?
- How much is this problem compounded by the desire of many institutions and teachers to preserve and reproduce traditional forms of hierarchies, therefore potentially restricting creative and pedagogic development of these learning sites?

Author Bio(s)

I have successfully taught screen writing at both undergraduate and postgraduate level over a period of 20 years. I was a regular visiting lecturer on the BA Film & Television at the London College of Printing from 1979-1985. At the University of Northumbria (1989-96) I developed the first dedicated undergraduate route in scriptwriting in the UK and also redesigned the department’s entire undergraduate programme in Media Production. Since 1996, I have taken a leading role in postgraduate curriculum design at Sheffield Hallam’s postgraduate Northern Media School in my various roles as course leader, programme leader and acting head of school. I have pioneered practice-based research degrees in Media with the Sheffield Hallam Art and Design Research Centre
     I have worked variously as an independent filmmaker, executive producer, script writer-director, script consultant, and script editor within the genres of experimental film, feature film, and television broadcasting, reaching regional, national, and international audiences.
     My current research involves a critical re-evaluation of philosophies and practices of screen writing pedagogy. This research is evidenced by successful research funding bids, peer-reviewed publications, and by keynote speeches, papers, and seminars that I have presented at local, national, and international symposia and conferences.
     A key strand of my exploration of creative writing pedagogy is the potential for digital technologies and e-learning to facilitate, extend, and enhance the pedagogic possibilities of learning and teaching creative and screen based writing. In July 2004 I was awarded a Faculty Teaching and Learning Fellowship to research best practice for online education in media practice, together with innovative ways of using the web to develop narrative form in the fine art, political and social media. I have since been awarded two further research bursaries at Sheffield Hallam to research innovation and interactivity in media practice e-learning.
     The outcome of this research has led to the setting up of a R&D Blackboard site entitled ‘Screenplay’ using popular devices such as bloggs, wikis and serious gaming to utilise interactive e-learning teaching methods for narrative development in writing for screen media.