Mary: 6 October 2015
Two years ago today Mike went for a climb. During that climb he came up with the idea of calling our new business Outdoor Gear Coach and this story is told in his blog.
I remember vividly getting an excited email that evening and realising we were moving forward on a completely new journey, to develop e-training materials for the outdoor industry. It would build on both our past experience in the outdoor industry and in higher education, but bring different expectations, hurdles, ways of working and experiences.
Retiring, after 35 years as an academic, gave the chance for new beginnings and new challenges and brought new experiences to enjoy. We are now close to completing Keeping Dry and Staying Warm, our first initiative. It covers fibres, textiles, products, physiology, layering and usage techniques.
Looking back over the last two years several thoughts spring to mind. I thought I understood outdoor garments and how they functioned. Wrong! I am lucky enough to work alongside Mike and a team of outdoor experts, so every email or Google doc brings a new perspective or clarification and challenges what I thought I knew. This is exciting even, if at first, it was disconcerting! We are a team of 10 and everything Mike and I write is scrutinised and critiqued before further appraisal from the major brands.
We are an independent, not for profit Community Interest Company. The integrity, accuracy and relevance of our training depends on this extensive reviewing by garment brands, retailers and outdoor professionals. This is every bit as challenging as the peer review process my academic articles went through. It is so very satisfying and also a real privilege to work alongside such a range of people. I was chatting about this to Ellie, one of my very close, past university colleagues, the other day. She commented ‘ Yes intriguing isn’t it? The model you and Mike are using for Outdoor Gear Coach is so like his Think Tank from the Karrimor days.’ Yes it is of course and I had not realised! So we are very much drawing on our past experience but drawing on many other people’s expertise.
I have especially enjoyed learning more and more about making animated video clips. These will help promote of our materials, whet appetites and aid retention and understanding . I have been playing round with video clips since 2008, when Mike shared a new bit of software with me – a very, early and simple Animoto, which combined images and music. The first time I saw Animoto I thought it was a gimmick and I cannot remember quite what prompted me to test it out, other than curiosity. I quite liked the effect of what I did with photos but, had I not had a need for something different I doubt I would have bothered playing long with it.
But there was a need. We had students saying they wanted a little introduction to each week of our course to help them focus on preparation. I didn’t want to use workshop time to do this and had been scratching my head since the end of the 2007 course . I had wondered about podcasts, but how to get the combination of image and voice? So I thought I would see what happened if I put a voice file into Animoto instead of the music from the Animoto site. I just plonked an MP3 file alongside some photos and bingo it worked! That was the start and very basic. But it was effective for student engagement. Over the intervening years I played with various types of software and experimented with audio feedback for students.
So it was natural that I would be playing round with this medium for Outdoor Gear Coach. We have invested in good commissioned graphics, which makes it much easier to make a good video clip. During the year I discovered Powtoon allowed me to move the animation forward, but to start with the sound was awful, echoey and tinny. I am lucky enough to have a contact who is also professional film maker. He was prepared to advise and coach me on how to improve the sound and what equipment to buy without spending a fortune, as this little video clip shows. Making clips can sometimes be surprising in itself and, armed with a better understanding of sound, it was fun to make the clip animated, rather than being a glorified powerpoint with a voice-over. Tailoring for function began as just that but being ruthless and starting again made for a better clip.
This is just a taster of what I have been doing this year. Mike has been the driving force behind, the shape, content and depth in Keeping Dry and Staying Warm. His 50 years of knowledge and understanding of the outdoors, the outdoor trade and outdoor garments, as well as extensive contacts, has driven and built what we are doing.