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By Russ Hepworth

Surely nobody can have missed the lockdown the UK is under at the moment? As a result, things at York St John moved quickly from teaching to not teaching, almost overnight. Credit due to all staff and students for collaborating and adapting so quickly. We’re still working things out as I write this.  

From one perspective, the options available to lecturers might have seemed obvious. Social media and other outlets appeared to be purporting to one online learning system or another but even just giving a voice over the top of PowerPoint type affair is not as simple as it seems. Even that takes considerable time to prepare (as it’s different to a session with students in the room), deliver, and if you’ve had a perpetual cold like me, time to edit every cough and splutter out (let alone each ‘errrm’) in freeware video editing software I’d never needed to use before. Some of our many colleagues who, even with film editing experience, have also taken to the task as champions and created artforms, but the time has been huge for them too to get the work together how they’d like it. All of this has happened overnight for all courses. All courses everywhere, not just YSJ. Hats off to colleagues everywhere, whatever the subject.  

However, in the creative industries topics in the Higher Education sector, things are even more difficult. Students, in many cases, are at a disadvantage due to their restriction to access specialist equipment and facilities. This is not helped by the fact that we’ve no idea how long the campus, the trains, the shops and our front doors will remain closed. University cannot lend equipment to those completing their degrees in a few months’ time. So we awoke to a situation, as staff, where we were trying our best to deliver the theory in voice over whatever means we could for our lecture slides, all the time whilst trying to work out the next step’s solution  

The other side of what we teach in the creative industries are the tools and the practice. How do we deliver training in audio mastering for example, across different DAWs and different operating systems? Could we send them all a Mac and a copy of Logic Pro X? Not possible, not least due to the difficulty of delivering anything to anyone not deemed as essential (medical and food). Amazon.co.uk appears to be (at the time of writing) taking over 4 weeks for a Prime delivery, which is perfectly understandable.  

We needed solutions and need them quickly. Fortunately, we polled our students and we ascertained what they could achieve in their homes with the equipment they had. From there we could address the issue in by adjusting assessments for the end of the year, and set our minds thinking as to how to delivery meaningful content in the few weeks remaining of this academic year. For those students without their own Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) who had relied entirely on ProTools or Logic Pro on our Macs at university are now faced with a reality of using an affordable alternative such as Reaper (www.reaper.fm) for the first time due to Cockos’ generous free license for students in this unprecedented event – http://cockos.com/reaper/reaper_2020_temporary_license.txt. ProTools have offered something similar, but students are not all receiving responses at this moment in time. Others are managing with ProTools Free where possible.  

In any event, my colleagues and I have learnt many new things in a short space of time. It is interesting that Yuval Noah Harari writing in the Financial Times has expressed that the changes we’ve endured, and the ‘new things’ we’ve learnt could remain the norm. “…Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments. What happens when everybody works from home and communicates only at a distance? What happens when entire schools and universities go online? In normal times, governments, businesses and educational boards would never agree to conduct such experiments. But these aren’t normal times” (https://www.ft.com/content/19d90308-6858-11ea-a3c9-1fe6fedcca75). Has a new norm been created and if so, we should lead the change, not be led by this event?  

Now where’s my freeware video editing software icon….  

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