Engaging your end-users training course – what a fun week!

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In this blog post, Jasmine Wareham from the University of Leicester shares her experience of attending the NERC funded “Engaging Research: Developing productive partnerships with end-users” 5 day residential training course at the Open University.

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The course was run 3 times in February – March 2017 with a maximum of 10 PhD students for each week. The course material was delivered by Dr Richard Holliman, Dr Clare Warren, Dr Janet Sumner and Gerard Giorgi-Coll. Each week also had 2 previous course attendees helping out. Prior to the training, we each had a bit of preparation to do: firstly, we were required to write a 250 word summary of our research, written for a non-expert audience; secondly, we needed to identify who our potential end-users could be/are; and lastly, we provided answers to some pre-workshop questions, including what (if any) public engagement/communication we had done before and what we wanted to gain from the course. For me, the course was a chance to improve my confidence with talking about my research in an accessible manner and to learn new skills in digital communication for developing short films.

Most mornings, we had a classroom session where we would discuss various aspects of engaging research including why we should engage our end-users and how we should go about it. The rest of each day was taken up with learning the necessary skills for devising, producing and editing our own short films.

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On the very first day we were thrown into the deep end as we were each interviewed about what we do, why we do it and any other questions the interviewer decided to ask! This was a good opportunity to get to grips with the camera whilst in a stationary position and also allowed us to learn how to check aspects such as the sound quality and focussing the camera. During this time, I did however establish that my interviewee skills need more development and it’s very important to over exaggerate one’s smile as the result if not, can be a rather dull and uninteresting interview!! In the evening on Monday, we each needed to refine our research summaries into 2 minute scripts which we subsequently had to learn that evening too – for me, this involved saying it out loud many times whilst walking towards the mirror in my room! The reason for this will become clear shortly…

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Recording an interview

Tuesday was the day we recorded our ‘pieces-to-camera’ (PTC) and I was up first! Thankfully, I had just about managed to memorise my 2 minute script with a bit of extra practice whilst getting ready that morning. We recorded my PTC in a car park on campus and I got through the script on the third take – not too shabby! We needed to record the PTCs in one take and we also needed to deliver the script whilst on the move, looking directly into the camera lens (hence why I practiced walking around my room and staring into the mirror!). We watched the PTCs back before the end of the day and they all looked pretty good!

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Piece-to-camera recording.

Wednesday was a day of rest from filming but definitely not from hard work! We were split into two groups and were tasked with devising and scripting a short film incorporating some of our research topics. We discussed multiple different options for what to make our film about before having our eureka moment for ‘the cost of comfort’ and soon things started falling into place. During this day, we also learnt new skills for filming and presenting our films which we put into practice the following day.

After deciding on a suitable order for filming each segment of our films, Thursday was the day to capture everything we needed to put our films together. My group started in the hotel bar where we managed to convert a small area into what (hopefully) looked like someone’s living room! We then headed over to the Open University campus to film everything else.

By Friday we were all feeling pretty tired after a very busy week but we were all excited to get as much editing done as possible. Looking back on what we filmed, we could have done with getting some alternative shots to give us more flexibility when editing but I guess we were conscious to stick to our schedule so that we got everything filmed in the time we had. After learning some basic editing skills, both groups made a rough cut film which we had the chance to view before the end of the course. I think it’s safe to say that everyone had improved their presenting to camera skills throughout the week and we were impressed with what we’d managed to achieve in a short space of time. It was sad to have reached the end of the course but we were excited to see what the final version of our films would look like once Gerard had worked his editing magic on them!

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Editing the group film

Overall, the course was a fantastic opportunity and great fun throughout and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who gets the opportunity to go on the course in the future – I wish I could go again!

Thank you very much to the organisers of this fantastic training course and also to NERC for funding this valuable and rewarding experience.

If you’re interested in seeing the films made from this series of courses, they can be found here:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL1-6ZFoq8C6fz96Ujnd9S-KnicxmF2GW8

(Photo credits to Kate Baker, Lucy Garrett and Gareth Davies)

Check back on the blog next week to hear some reflections on the course from Eleni Wood!

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