1. Early career and influences (A4, V3)
My first post in connection with videoconferencing was my appointment for two years as a research officer at the Centre for Learning and Teaching (CeLT) at Wolverhampton University in 1999. This was to co-ordinate the university’s contribution to the DIVERSE project, and to be the university’s videoconferencing co-ordinator. DIVERSE was a TLTP project which placed video cameras on walls of lecture rooms, controlled at the lectern which enabled lecturers to record their own lectures. The project goals were to evaluate the technology and to build a bank of video materials that could be used as revision purposes. I also discovered a demand for the deaf studies unit to be able to record material for deaf students (Lawton and Childs, 2001), and for some lecturers to want to develop their students’ presentation skills by recording and playing back their presentations. The technology also became a stop on the visits by schools as part of the university’s outreach programme, as schoolchildren could record their impressions and take the videotape back to the school with them.
The project, and my contract, ended in 2001 with an international conference at Derby University, chaired by Professor Chris O’Hagan, which was very successful, indicating a lack of outlets for research into video and videoconferencing, and a community of interested practitioners who valued a conference targeted specifically to their interests. For these reasons the DIVERSE conferences continued after the end of the project.
After the end of the project, I obtained a two-year contract at the University of Warwick, working on the ANNIE project (from 2001 to 03). This was an FDTL-funded project, collaborating with the University of Kent at Canterbury, and several other universities and was aimed as sharing expertise in performing arts between these universities using predominantly videoconferencing (Childs and Dempster, 2003). This led to 12 workshops and seminars and a series of guidance documents on how to conduct distanced synchronous activities.
The project successfully gained transferability funding (from 2003 to 05), and this enabled the findings to be used to provide consultancy and workshops for five more beneficiaries, the most prestigious of these being a Grove Forum at the Royal College of Music.
2. Focus of research interest and leading a community of practice (A5, K2, V2)
Findings from the ANNIE projects were presented at a DIVERSE conference (Childs, 2002) and at ALT-C (Childs, 2004). The former presentation continued my connection with DIVERSE (discussed further below), the latter one led to my decision to begin a PhD. The presentation I conducted at ALT-C in 2004 was paired with a presentation by Prof Steve Wheeler which introduced me to the idea that my work could have a stronger theoretical underpinning, and there were particular models to describe learning with technologies that could make sense of the effects I was observing.
I began my PhD at Warwick in 2005 and spent the first year familiarising myself with the concept of presence, which was the aspect of interaction I chose to focus on. The Streaming Theatres project (discussed below) began soon after and this provided a pilot for the effects of presence that I aimed to observe in my PhD. Although presence remained the focus of my PhD throughout the study, I switched to looking at virtual worlds as a platform; this is the subject of my other case study as part of this application.
2005 also was the year I took over as chair of the DIVERSE conferences. I had attended all of the DIVERSE conferences, presenting at the 2004 conference too (discussed in the other case study) and remained on the committee, so when Professor O’Hagan stood down as chair in 2004 I was encouraged to take over.
My role as chair was to identify organisations willing to host the conference, liaise with the host organisation regarding the structure of the conference and to lead the academic aspect of the conference, choosing themes, collecting submissions, distributing these to the committee, collecting responses as to whether to accept, reject or ask for revisions, and to collate the various successful contributions into a schedule. I felt it was important to retain the focus of the community on visual technologies, as this gave the community its unique remit, and meant that presentations could be more specialised, as they were speaking to a more specialist audience and clarified this in my inaugural keynote. As chair of the community I also to co-ordinated and encouraged the activities of the 18 academics on the committee, many of whom had their own ideas of what to contribute and in which direction the conferences should go. I also collated the papers submitted to the conference and edited these into conference proceedings (Childs, Cuttle and Riley, 2007; Childs et al 2009).
Also an important part of each conference was the opening address I gave; in that it set the tone for the ensuing two to three days. I insisted on the conference being inclusive and we also had a range of levels with which people could engage with the academic level of the conferences, academic papers were encouraged but not obligatory. Frequently people commented that it was the first conference they had attended.
The conferences I chaired took place in Nashville (2005), Glasgow (2006), Lillehammer (2007) and Haarlem (2008). At that point, I stood down as chair. During the period I was chair I introduced the conference proceedings, and as a route to publication for new academics, included a section for shorter pieces. I also collated the papers submitted to the first four conferences and arranged for these to be published by ALT as two volumes, though was only involved in editing the first (Calverley, Childs and Schnieders, 2008).
Also during this period DIVERSE attracted sponsorship from a variety of corporations (arranged by the host organisations) but also was jointly supported by Jisc and SURF (a Dutch organisation with similar remit to Jisc) for two years. This was one of the first collaborations between Jisc and SURF and was followed by the two organisations jointly funding a series of collaborative projects.
3. Bringing the wider community to my institutions (K1, K4)
One of these collaborative projects was Streaming Theatre in a Virtual Classroom (2006 to 07). I was still working at the University of Warwick when I was approached by one of the DIVERSE committee who had colleagues at the University of Amsterdam who were looking for a UK partner organisation. So that they could work with me on the project, they chose the University of Warwick, and I brought it to Warwick’s School of Theatre Studies. The bid was successful and enabled two modules, one at Amsterdam and one at Warwick, to be linked so that students could exchange experiences and view of their own national theatres. This project led to these activities becoming an embedded part of the curriculum in the two universities, leading to a further project at Warwick (Extended Learning and Performance, 2007 to 2008) and the integration of videoconferencing equipment into the Theatre School’s new studio builds over that time.
In 2008 I moved from Warwick to Coventry University to take up a three-year contract at the Centre for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) as a Teaching Development Fellow (TDF) with a focus on e-learning. CSHE was closed down at the end of my first year and I was transferred to the Faculty of Engineering and Computing. While at the faculty I supported two academics who wished to use the creation of video as a pedagogical tool; instead of the teachers instructing students in key learning skills, students were set the task of creating videos about key learning skills which were then assessed, as well as being judged by their peers in a video competition. My role was to introduce the students to the technologies, co-ordinate the competition and evaluate and publish the results of the effectiveness of the activities as a learning activity. This again was presented at a DIVERSE conference (Childs, et al, 2010).
My contract as a TDF at Coventry was not renewed, but in my third year at Coventry I had become involved with two research projects, so I was recruited as a part-time Senior Research Fellow to continue my work on these projects, funded by those projects. One of these projects was VAPVoS (2011 to 13) which was an EU-funded project looking at programming in virtual and remote laboratories. The other was a Hewlett-Packard project which I had co-written called Learning to Create a Better Built Environment (2011 to 12) which had many similarities to the Streaming Theatre project in that it linked two universities and two modules, and required students to work in distributed teams, though in the field of civil engineering rather than theatre studies. As the Principal Investigator for this project moved to Loughborough University, and our bid to the HEA for continuation funding was successful, this enabled my research into online collaboration to continue and develop, this time as a Senior Researcher at Loughborough. This follow-up project was called BIM-Hub and ran from 2013 to 15. The analyses from the two projects have enabled the development of guidance notes and workshop materials informing teachers how best to support online collaborative activities with their students. The findings informed workshops and seminars in the UK and Croatia (Childs and Soetanto, 2014) and been the subject of two academic papers. A book on the subject of online learning for STEM is in press (Childs and Soetanto, 2016).
My connection with the field of video and videoconferencing is therefore widespread, long term and influential in that for a period I chaired the leading conference in the field. My role is still acknowledged through opportunities such as, for example, recently being appointed an external PhD examiner at Dublin City University (hosts of the 2011 DIVERSE conference).
My role in the virtual worlds community is discussed in the following case study.
Calverley, G., and Childs, M. with Schnieders, H. L. (eds.) (2008) Video for education, Volume 1, ALT, UK: Manchester
Childs, M., (2002) The use of videoconferencing to provide remote access to expertise in theatre and performance studies, in Baggaley, J., Fahy, P. & O’Hagan, C., (2002) Educational Conferencing: video and text traditions. Proceedings of the 1st International Symposium on Educational Conferencing (ISEC), Banff, Alberta.
Childs, M. (2004) Accessing and Networking with National and International Expertise, ALT-C 2004: Blue skies and pragmatism – learning technologies for the next decade, 13 – 16 September 2004, Exeter, UK
Childs, M., Cuttle, M. and Riley, K. (eds.) (2007) DIVERSE Conference Proceedings 2005 & 2006, Glasgow: Glasgow Caledonian University
Childs, M. and Dempster, J. (2003) Videoconferencing in Theatre and Performance Studies, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 4 (1), April 2003, ISSN: 1492-3831
Childs, M., Schnieders, H.L. , van Parreeren, P. and Oomen, J. (eds.) (2009) DIVERSE Conference Proceedings 2007 and 2008, Haarlem; INHolland University
Childs, M., Smith, C., Lewis, P. and Brzezinska, K. (2010) “Video creation as an assessment tool: challenges & successes in foundation year group assignment in Engineering & Computing”, 10th DIVERSE Conference July 6-8, 2010, University of Southern Maine, Portland, MA, USA
Childs, M. and Soetanto, R. (2014) Virtual Collaboration in the Built Environment, EDEN Annual Conference, Zagreb, Croatia, 10th to 13th June, 2014,
Childs, M. and Soetanto, R. (2016) Online Learning for STEM Subjects, UK: Abingdon, Taylor and Francis
Lawton, M. and Childs, M., (2001) Using a video recording system with deaf and hearing-impaired students, 1st International DIVERSE Conference on Video and Video-conferencing in Further and Higher Education, University of Derby, 2nd July 2001,