Brighton Rocks: Enhancing Media Employability and Engaging Stories at HEA Storyville, May 2013

Brighton, as host city to the Higher Education Academy 2013 Storyville event (29-30 May), welcomed an army of students and academics from across the globe to explore and discuss the narratives of learning and teaching within the higher education environment. This included a staff and student team from Birmingham City University’s School of Media which consisted of Annette Copper, Hannah Ustel, Sophie Drake and myself. We were there to share our ideas and to harvest a few new ones in the true HEA sharing spirit.

With a primary focus upon the use of different narrative and storytelling formats, and their extension to the lived student experience, the event saw the showcasing of an extensive array of innovative practice, in which we all became active participants. I attended with the Birmingham City University Media Industry Outreach team (Annette Copper, Hannah Ustel and Sophie Drake) to share our stories of enhanced student employability, placement activity and the benefits of industry outreach.

Our session saw a shared interest in graduate employability and the media industry. Carlota
Larrea (University of Bedfordshire) examined the shifting nature of work within the media industry and the uncertainties that were reflected in a media curriculum in flux due to recent pressure on the creative industries to save the UK economy. Our own paper addressed the importance of media placement and industry outreach work with regional media employers in order to equip our students with confidence and on the job skills acquirement. Here we looked at the benefits of Student Academic Partnership work in media industry outreach and knowledge co-creation to enhance the employability of our students. The employability theme was then picked up by Karen Jaundrill-Scott and Debbie Milner (Edge Hill University) in their exploration of the journey of a graduate company in the North West to demonstrate how the work conducted as a student could be translated into a viable working project, to examine the gaps in employability provision in order to address these whilst simultaneously nurturing creativity. To read more about Media industry employability, you can check out our chapter here:

One of the first treats of the event came with a surprising conference twist in which the traditional plenary format was ditched in favour of an active, motion-orientated induction to Brighton. The Sheffield Hallam university team (Hilary Cunliffe-Charlesworth and Christopher Hall) in their presentation entitled ‘High noon geo-social networking for integrations and transitions into HE Media Education’ quite literally inducted us into Brighton life through a geo-caching tour. I would never have believed that I would have been scrabbling under windowsills on my hands and knees in Skinny Lane hunting for a test-tube containing instructions.

Skinny Lane, Brighton

And oh what a joy it was!

After recreating the High Noon movie poster and tweeting it via Instragram, we sang a song we didn’t know into Soundcloud and received further instructions in return. However, as the student population of Brighton awoke (and their mobile technology with them), the Wifi went bye-bye and we returned to the Thistle Hotel to share our experiences.

Somewhat surprisingly, after a semi-successful attempt by a group of non-technological 30+yr old women to follow instructions in a co-ordinated fashion, we had discovered that, in such a short space of time, we had learnt such a lot about one another and had bonded as a group. On our travels around Brighton we had been encouraged to share stories and personal information in a natural and chatty fashion, which far surpassed my experiences of any instigated and formalised networking and bonding exercise. To top it all we had managed to get out of the conference venue and see Brighton in the process.

A great idea stolen for the revision of our induction process at the Birmingham School of Media. Thank you Sheffield Hallam.

In fact, the entire event was seemingly dedicated to innovations in the learning and teaching experience. Some of us attended workshop managed by James Hewison (Edge Hill University) and Elsa Urmston  (Independent Dance Scientist and Educator), entitled ‘Flow: narratives of creativity and spontaneity in
the learning experience’. As an inexperienced (and self-professed bad) dancer, this was a real test of my willingess to engage creatively, but I found myself hopping across Thistle Brighton’s floral-swirl carpet six yr old stylee with the best of them. The session presented an inspiring approach to the use of flow performance and dance to engender spontaneous creativity. As an altogether enlightening experience, the dancing workshop left us invigorated. We left the workshop in a state that was surprisingly not unlike the spa-fresh feeling. If only all taught sessions were like this.

To continue with our experiential learning, the rest of the team attended Alke Gröppel-Wegener’s (Staffordshire University) session, ‘Take a little button’, in which learning and writing processes were examined in relation to their attachment to individual objects and how these can be used to explore creative learning. Check out Alke’s blog here:

The significance of shared stories and collaborative creations was explored by the Graphic Arts and Design Team (Leeds Metropolitan University). The joint project ‘Under the beach, the pavement’ delivered by Liz Stirling, Jo Hassall, Jess Young, Jennifer Conway and Ben Hall took us out on another venture in Brighton, this time under the pier. Here we found ourselves engaging with finds across the beach and flotsam across the tideline through which to narrate our own shared imaginary account of Brighton, circulating around mermaids, hag stones and heresy.

The workshop also saw us exploring the sounds and textures of the Brighton which we used to created a shared experience

and participated in recording a shared memory through a collaborative excursion and creative improvisation to create a collective narrative experience. All of the above offer massive potential for narrating the induction experiences of our students; offering up an opportunity to take the time to explore, experience and record the immersion into alien environments and to document this as a shared narrative.

The opening and closing keynotes acted as punctuation to these activities and worked to highlight the active potential that the stories that we tell and the narratives that we narrate have upon our everyday lived experiences. Dr Vicky Gunn (University of Glasgow) examined the purpose of stories as a means of ‘re-membering’ and the potential for stories to facilitate identification, and to create a sense of belonging as a key part of the learning experience. Here she highlights how “When we tell stories, we offer a hand of friendship.”

Prof Hamish Fyfe picked up on the use of stories to extend friendships and to offer a voice to us all. Fyfe highlights the narratives of the world as ‘numberless’ and identifies how we need to use them. Identifying the engaging way in which the internet supports new ways of storytelling through offering emotional realism to accounts presented in the learning and teaching environment. The use of the internet to record and share these experiences within the learning and teaching environment renders the emotional experience as real and tangible. Fyfe argues for the use of digital storied and narratives to generate social stories in which everyone (!) has a story to tell.

This is my Storyville.

However, if you want to see more, you can check out the Storify for HEA Storyville 2013 here: http://


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