Thursday, 22 November 2012


  One of the first questions Matt Johnston and I ask ourselves when we look at changing our open classes  is: "Will this change constitute a barrier to entry?" and if the answer is yes then we re-think it. In this way we've enabled our classes to become global networks, accessible to non-English speakers, people without recourse to funds and/or a UK secondary education. They've become a distributed pool of talent from which clients can search and hire, similarly we've begun to connect our distributed student-pool to the collaborators (speakers, professionals, lecturers etc) for private tuition - at a fraction of the cost of a tradition a degree course, significantly less than most "portfolio reviews" and with exciting responses.

  Outside of Coventry there are over 60 collaborating Universities with editing rights on the schedule. Inside of the University the classes have become some of the most popular and the Photography BA course in which they sit is now the hardest to gain entry to (even at the maximum UK fee chargeable) with the highest achieving applicants by a significant margin  and all at no additional cost to the institution.

So where's the catch?

Well, because of their success I was talking again about them again this week in the context of MOOCs in what the New York Times described as the year of the MOOC. But the thing is,  they're not MOOCs.

  One of the barriers to entry that Matt and I struggle with are cultural barriers to entry. The language is different and I suspect the crowd-sourced translations often miss our intended meanings.

 The management culture within an institution like a university uses a markedly different lexicon to the people at the sticky end. When we think about "sales and brand equity", we probably don't easily equate that to "the number of students in the room and what they thought of the class" but this is exactly what it means in an Open Class and we have to make that clear. It's our job as teachers to explain this to our managers, we have to bridge this cultural divide.

  Phonar is an Open Undergraduate Class Hybrid (from now on referred to as an OUCH). It is a regular undergrad class, a version of which lives and leverages online. That means it doesn't incur the massive start-up costs of Coursera or Udacity (which, when used as examples prompt managers to question price-points and returns on investment etc). Instead it re-thinks what my valuable product as teacher actually is and turns that "learning experience" (sunk cost) into an outward facing and long-tail asset - which means:

if the experience of the class is awesome then enable as many people as possible to find out.

  What follows is enabling the participants to engage in such a way that they amplify everyone's experience without incurring an atoms drag - the edu-cultural translation to which is:

"how do you increase the students' perceived value of the educational experience and improve their employability chances by introducing them into professional networks etc without increasing overheads?"

  Well open classes like DS106 , phonar and picbod are very successful at this because they understand social media is not a media at all, but a network, and so they leverage the architecture of that pre-existing network. They don't incur huge set-up costs or massive investment because they re-purpose existing university assets effectively and free up versions of the class in order to maximise participation via that "social-media" network.

So here's the kicker,  universities kind of already hold all the cards in this respect. The onsite classroom experience is a generative one and social media enables versions of it to be distributed which amplify that face to face (paid-for) experience.

  Dear University - don't listen to the journalist who's never written or run a successful open class. You don't need a MOOC, you do "onsite" really, really well and you have a portfolio of onsite experiences that can be freely amplified just by opening them up.

Come and ask us about OUCHs and leave the MOOCs to institutions who hold all the cards but prefer to play roulette.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

‘Great British Public’ in Leeds

© Simon Roberts

Here's one not to miss (outside of London) - fresh from the London Festival of Photography 2012 ‘Great British Public’ will be arriving in Leeds at the White Cloth gallery on the 19th of July and staying until 17th September.
Contributions from: John Angerson (Ilford Photograper of The Year), Nick Cunard, Peter Dench (World Press Photo Award), Liz Hingley (Canon Female Photojournalist Award Winner), Zed Nelson (World Press Photo Winner), Ben Roberts (Magenta Flash Forward Emerging Photographer Winner), Simon Roberts (Official 2010 UK election artist), Arnhel de Serra, Homer Sykes and Giulietta Verdon-Roe.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

What is a MOOC? #jiscwebinar

This Wednesday (12-1pm BST) I'll be taking part with Lou McGill , David KernohanMartin Weller and Dave White in a free JISC webinar talking Moocs (Massive Online Open Courses)My role will be to talk about phonar and picbod from an instructor's perspective - although neither class are strictly Moocs, hopefully there'll be things enough to share that may prove useful for anyone interested in creating and running an online class (and not just limited to photography).

It's free but you need to sign up and test the software (unlike phonar and picbod this webinar will be running on one of those proprietary software platforms favoured by edu-institutions. We can discuss whether they're appropriate for environments for MOOCs only if you sign up, install, test...... :)


Friday, 29 June 2012

Can photographers teach educators anything?

Next week Grant Scott and I are in conversation for ClickClickJim in Brighton , it's free and we'd love you to come, but if you can't make it to the seaside then in the spirit of the open classes - we'd like you to shout down the interwebular tubes instead, either by chipping in here (comment) or tweeting (please use the hashtag #PhotoEd ).

We'll then add your comments/tweets into the mix on the night and it'll be like you were in the room with us, fightin' the good fight.

So, here's the question:
"Can photographers teach educators anything about "teaching", about "photography" or about "teaching photography"?

Monday, 25 June 2012

ClickclickJim Talk with Hungry Eye. July 3rd Brighton.

I'm in conversation with Grant Scott of HungryEye next week, be great to meet up in person if you're able to drop by.


 A few months ago, as part of their regular series of podcasts, editor of Hungry Eye Magazine (and collaborator / supporter of the miniclick talks) Grant Scott invited the creator of the world’s first open undergraduate photography course, Jonathan Worth for a chat. Jonathan’s PICBOD and PHONAR courses at Coventry University are free and available to all online and have caused a bit of a stir. His conversation with Grant proved to be one of Hungry Eye’s most popular podcasts and created a significant amount of debate and comments on the social media networks. Personally, after listening, I felt fired up and ready to start a revolution so I’m really looking forward to seeing the two of them discuss some similar themes (the current state of the industry, it’s future, photography education…) on Tuesday July, 3rd.
The talk will be on Tuesday July 3rd at The Old Market in Brighton & Hove. Doors are at 6:30pm and entry, as always, is free!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


 Over on HUNGRYEYE there's a podchat between me and publisher Grant Scott. He asks what my motivation was for making phonar and picbod open and why I think photographers and educators have a lot in common.

WARNING: It's a bit shouty.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Phonar - a case study

As part of Open Education Week JISC just published a case study of Phonar (the open undergraduate class that Matt Johnston and I run over at Coventry University).

The theme of the phonar (photography and narrative) class is to address some of the big concerns of the 21st-century photographer, some of which I described above. Therefore it was most appropriate to make the class itself a model of what it investigates. As the syllabus directs the students to use other people’s work and allow other people to use theirs, the class itself is licensed CC BY-SA (the Creative Commons licence that enables attributed sharing) and draws on the input of both collaborators and attendees.
The theme of the phonar (photography and narrative) class is to address some of the big concerns of the 21st-century photographer. Therefore it was most appropriate to make the class itself a model of what it investigates.
The tasks within the classes encourage photographers to investigate the communities behind a particular subject area and then to draw on their expert knowledge – rather than taking a picture of a homeless person students will investigate the underlying causes and integrate people embodying those causes in their work. The same is true for the class itself.
In practical terms, this means we begin by asking: What is the role of the 21st-century photographer?
This complex question is posed to the community as a framing device to establish the thematic environment in which the class’s conversation can take place. US military strategy teaches that one cannot control a battle, but if one can dictate the battlespace then it becomes possible to affect how it evolves. Similarly, the educator’s role is to define the landscape and curate a coherent learning-journey through chosen specialists who generate a wide range of content. Simultaneously, the phonar programme assigns practical tasks that are necessarily informed and framed by the thematic content but have the latitude for personal interpretation, implicitly encouraging a sense of ownership.
 The full article is over on the JISC site.

Friday, 2 March 2012

How do we make kids care about online privacy?

Reading Jeff Jarvis's "Public Parts" and off-setting it with snippets such as this from Cory Doctorow.

[Facebook is]"A Skinner box that trains you to under-value your privacy: how do we make kids care about online privacy?"


Monday, 13 February 2012

“Is that it? Are we done?” Steve Pyke on judging the World Press Photo Award.

So we know who won the World Press Award but how does that happen? Chair of the portrait judges Steve Pyke took time to chat from behind the scenes on this, his first experience of the biggest photography competition in the world.

Steve Pyke from the World Press Photo Award on fifteen hour days, Royal audiences and being massaged.

Steve Pyke on reviewing over 8,000 images for the World Press Award whilst eating Brie.

I also posted these over at my open class picbod.

ReCaptcha harnessing the power of the web

Thanks to Jennifer Hearn for pushing this my way.