British Film Institute
Since 1998, the British Film Institute has pioneered the use of online technology in an educational context. In partnership with the British Universities' Film and Video Council, the bfi conducted a pilot project distributing high quality streaming (MPEG-1) video to students and lecturers in the Universities of Glasgow and Glamorgan in 1998-99, for the purposes of research and integration into teaching programmes. Since 1999, the bfi's own Online project has offered a range of materials in digital form, including some 35 hours of near-VHS quality MPEG-1 video, scripts, film stills, posters and publicity materials, recorded audio interviews. In early 2001, the bfi will begin a new pilot, introducing the service into selected specialist schools and Media Arts Colleges throughout the UK. In a parallel project launched recently in Belfast, the Northern Ireland Film Commission, with support from the bfi and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, has developed a Digital Film Archive featuring around fifty hours of digital video representing Northern Ireland's cultural, political and social history, which will be made available at six locations across the province. In the longer term, the bfi is joining forces with other organisations, including the newsreel archive British Pathe, in a plan to develop a sizeable online film and television archive which will be made accessible free to schools and libraries throughout the UK.
Such initiatives represent a new and potentially powerful educational resource, with implications for formal pedagogy, lifelong learning and academic research. But while the technology in itself is undoubtedly seductive, there are a number of important lessons to be learnt if it is to fulfil its potential in the classroom, lecture theatre or library. The use of moving images alone is not especially innovative. Film and video have long been a part of the pedagogical toolbox - digital delivery may have identifiable advantages over traditional media - ease of access, sharing resources between multiple users, low storage costs etc., but it is hardly revolutionary. The real advantage of new media in pedagogy is the ability to develop rich media resources, integrating moving images, audio, still images and text into a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, through a range of materials developed around Hitchcock's 1929 Blackmail (widely credited as the first British 'talkie'), we are able raise important questions on the aesthetic shift initiated by the arrival of sound to cinema, demonstrating this by enabling students to watch parallel video clips of the film in both its silent and sound versions, while a mouse click can take them to a detailed article by a leading film academic comparing the two versions. Elsewhere a series of contemporary reviews from newspapers and journals allows users to judge the film's reception. Real care needs to be devoted to contextualising moving image materials in order best to harness their value in an educational environment.
So far, projects such as those identified above have necessarily been limited to closed networks and selected clients. Is the internet the next step? There are two problems here. First, the slow rollout of broadband provision. The broadband 'revolution' is considerably more advanced in the US than in the UK and Europe. It has already been several years since ADSL technology was first proposed as a way of getting new life from old copper wires: bandwidth of 2 Megabits per second (equivalent to around 40 times that available using a standard 56Kbps modem) should be possible with ADSL connections. But the technology has been slow to roll out, and most users still access the internet with a standard modem, which makes the delivery of anything other than highly-compressed, postage stamp-sized video a challenge. Moreover, many doubt that ADSL is anything more than a small step on the way to true broadband provision, which remains some way off. Few would deny, however, that broadband will transform the internet within the next five years.
The most important obstacle to internet provision of pedagogical material based around high quality moving images is the increasingly crucial issue of intellectual property rights. The notoriety surrounding the proliferation of mp3 files, and particularly the phenomenon of Napster and similar internet services like Gnutella and Scour, which allow users to exchange music and other files freely over the net, has terrified rights holders, with broadcasters and film studios very aware that the experience of the music industry now might be theirs in the approaching future. The result of such anxiety is that rights holders, with some exceptions, such as British Pathé, which has already begun the process of making its entire archive available online, are likely to shy off allowing material to appear on the net until they are convinced that pirates can be kept at bay.
This paper will draw upon the lessons of more than three years experience of digital pedagogy, chiefly, but not exclusively, in the field of film and media studies, identifying the major issues faced in taking film and media studies into the digital age and using the results of real applications of new technology to explore both the benefits and the pitfalls of such exercises.
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July 13, 2001 - July 16, 2001
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