Cameras are obvious, the web is still scary

It’s Freshers’ Week again. Today we had to ‘pitch’ our first year production modules to the new intake so they can make an informed choice about what they are studying this year.

This afternoon I’ve been meeting students in a drop-in session at my office to answer queries about the classes I run. I’ve only been asked questions about an introductory website design module that I run and there’s been one clear and consistent point: students weren’t sure that the module would be accessible to all regardless of prior experience.

So now I think in future I’ll need to stress this point in my pitch. Interestingly none of the other lecturers stress this point in their talks – the photography lecturer doesn’t point out that his team will take students through the basic operation of an SLR, for example. Also I’ve not been asked to clarify how much experience you need to take my graphic design intro module (none, by the way).

I asked a few students about this, and it seems they have no fears about going in cold to a TV studio or radio studio, they have every confidence they can knock out some press releases and news features. There’s a sense of innate knowledge about these other production areas, but they don’t have this for new media which remains somehow othered for them. I guess really it comes down to fear of code. I did think carefully today about this issue and I wanted to get across that this isn’t about code or programming, instead I tried to get them to relate to the idea that they were learning some new grammar or obtaining a box of Lego bricks that would enable them to start putting things together but that fear of code is so strong the message didn’t get through.

Last week at the CEMP summit I heard Ian Livingstone run through his now familiar, to me anyway, treatise on computing education and I felt that resonate quite strongly with me today. Asking people to learn some HTML is a world away from the computer science that Ian was talking about – he was talking about proper programming, not a bit of markup – but it presents with the same symptoms.

By Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research: