lördag 8 december 2012

Future of Magazines - post-presentation reflections

I've written quite a few blog posts this autumn that relates to the course Future of Media and this year's theme Future of Magazines and Magazines of the Future. This will in fact not be the last blog post on that topic even though the most visible part of the course (the actual projects) came to an end yesterday with a huge public presentation (schedule here) with an estimated audience of 200-250 persons. The KTH internal newsletter "Campi" wrote a (Swedish-language) text about the course with a focus on the final presentation.

This year's course, and the public presentation yesterday, must be regarded as a huge success. Beyond the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year students in our program (who have to come to the presentation), there were also more external guests than ever before, including 60+ persons from industry (Bonnier, Aller Media, Sveriges Tidskrifter, WAN-IFRA, Schibsted, Svenska Dagbladet, Metro International, Aftonbladet, Expressen, Ekstra Bladet (DK), Tidningen Arbetsliv, Världen idag, Shourtcut Magazines, Campi, Tidningskungen, Grafiska företagens förbund and many smaller companies).

I had also recruited a great panel (or "jury") consisting of no less than five persons who provided the project groups with instant feedback and some questions:

- Anders Malmström, CEO for Bonnier International Magazines
- Milad Hosseinzadeh, Architect at White arkitekter, entrepreneur and guest teacher at KTH/Architecture
- Kristina Sabelström Möller, Tech. Dr. (KTH) and Senior project manager/researcher, most recently at Expressen
- Björn Thuresson, Senior researcher at KTH/CSC
- Jonas Olofsson, Business development manager at Bonnier Research & Development

The panel were, on the other hand, quite tough in the post-presentation deliberations. This is something that I will take into account, but their judgements will at the same time be "diluted" by other aspects that go into the grading and that the panel don't know anything about (see below). This however leads me to reflect a little on the process and work that needs to be done for next year's course; I wonder if what the panel perceived to be their job differs from what the students have aimed at (based on my instructions). I think this might be the case and wonder if it's a case of just clarifying goals to the students and the panel (i.e. just a matter of better communication), or if it's also a matter of re-writing and/or developing these goals.

What the panel can judge is:
1) The quality of the concept/scenario (is it relevant, does it have innovation height, is it credible, does it meet a real needs etc.)
2) The quality of the 10-minute presentation, i.e. the performance itself (was it well structured, did it  communicate the concept in a good way, was the presentation fun, innovative, were the presenters themselves doing a good job etc.)
3) The quality of supporting design representation ["gestaltning"]. These design representations most often consisted of a short movies - did they have a high degree of professional craftsmanship, did they manage to communicate the concept, did the presentation and design representation/movie support each other and form a coherent "story" etc.)

Beyond that, there are several other things that I (and my side-kick teacher) can judge:
4) The concept (again) but this time as expressed in the project report (where for example technical matters can be further developed and references can be made use of more effectively)
5) The quality/finish of the text itself, seen as a text (degree of professional craftsmanship, and divorced from other functions of the text (point 4 above))
6) The underlying work/research effort (desktop research/literature review, interviews, focus groups, surveys etc.)
7) The process (did a good job with the original project proposal, have handed in weekly status reports in time, attended the coordination meetings) things in time etc.)  

I think it would be of great help to next year's students if the tradeoff between different goals (as expressed in the 7 points above) could be clarified. Perhaps the description of the course should be updated too to better reflect any such changes. Before I start to do that, I would however like to read the students' evaluation of the course (due 10 days from now for early birds and beginning of January for late birds). 

One univocal success of the course is the idea of having an "executive group" help out. That is, beyond the 12 project groups exploring different aspects of the future of magazine, we have a 13th group, an "executive group", who help manage different aspects of the course-seen-as-a-project. These students make it possible to make something truly special out of the course, above and beyond what is normally possible in a university (project) course. 

Two panelists (those with the most experience of university courses) commented on the brilliance of having such a group. The secret of the sauce is of course also to man such a group with capable students, something that fortunately has never been a problem in this course. This year there were no less than six persons in this group, and each person was personally responsible for a particular task; 1) the final presentation, 2) the web page, 3) the book we printed, 4) documentation and archival of the project on the web, 5) sponsors and promotion material and finally 6) project leadership and overall coordination of the executive group (as well as the "point woman" in the contact with the responsible teacher - me). 

Again, the course and the final presentation was an overall resounding success and something that will be hard to beat for next year's students! My only remaining headache is to grade these projects and that will be tough. My problem is this: the easy way out would be to give high grades (A-B) to most groups. They might or might not be worth it, based on the criteria in the course PM and list of aspects that can be evaluated (above). Giving lower grades might on the other hand also not feel totally fair as all groups have worked hard or very hard with their projects. What I would prefer is for for the course to be worth more credits (taking into account the work effort of the groups), and at the same time giving me increased possibilities to use the full spectrum of the grade scale (A-E or at least A-D) when I evaluate these projects (and with input from the side-kick teacher and the panel/jury). The number of course credits it something that is really really tough to change though...

3 kommentarer:

  1. Although I really appreciated it to have a panel, I find these two things noteworthy:

    - there was a judge that was supposed to be creative-thinking and "thinking inside the box from outside". What I felt after each critique was that this particular judge was the least creative-thinking person from the panel. I sometimes had the feeling that he was stuck in the past/present and forgot that the topic was the _future_ of media.

    - this directly refers to my first point. Having heard all presentations, I have the feeling that only a few projects really dealt with the _future_ of magazines. A lot of projects rather covered current or less futuristic topics, far away from thinking outside the box.

  2. As to one, I have noted your opinion. I was to concentrated on the presentations to be able to judge the judges' work effort/comments. The judge you refer to was however very very helpful at an earlier event in the course ("mid-term critique").

    As to two, and something that I found the panelists/judges to have a problem with too, was this idea that every project had to be very futuristic, build on future or currently-only-available-in-labs technology. This is how we have reasoned:

    Today only 7% of all Swedes have tablets (iPad etc.). It could easily take a decade for tablets to be as widespread in Sweden as smartphones are today. When "everybody" has a tablets, there will be a lot more digital magazines. That is, some of the project groups might have suggested stuff that is possible to build tomorrow, but that would be too early as there is no market yet for these services. Peoples' habits are hard to change and it was totally ok to assume a behavioral or societal change and then think about the implications of that for (the future of) magazines!

    Last point: it would have been interesting to know just a little more about who *you* are. A student at the media technology program (who might have heard previous presentations), an industry representative, or...?

  3. I appreciate your answer. I am just an interested student from the media technology program.