Sunday 14 February 2021
Sunday 6 December 2020
Earlier in the summer It's Nice That posed some questions to me regarding the response of art schools to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
Future of Creative Education – It's Nice That Feature
When does your university's new term start?
Monday 28th for the new level 4 (first year students) who go through orientation and induction week, and then the other two years begin on Monday 5th October.
Will your institution be offering online learning for the new term? (if so, how much and for how long?)
The university is reopening for the next academic year as much as possible, and as a course we shall be delivering a minimum of 20% in person teaching for semester 1, using a hybrid blended learning of online, studio and workshop experiences, whilst adhering to health & safety guidance and keeping social distancing measures. Without knowing what the future will hold with any further outbreaks of coronavirus COVID-19 in the Autumn at least we know that the basic structure of the course can be delivered online. Therefore the in-person activities or teaching will be a great benefit for students returning to the course, and the reopening of the workshops etc.
What was the online attendance and engagement like in the latter half of the year?
I must say that attendance was very good, we quickly converted to remote teaching within days following 17th March and set up class groups on Microsoft Teams to begin tutorial support, especially for the final year students before the Easter break to ensure that they were supported and became use to the new way of interaction online. The important thing seemed to be making sure that everyone was connected and using the software to help support each other – the structure of teaching was as important for the staff I think, as it was for the students, when it was rather scary to face this invisible menace. I personally was very conscious of needing to support the students in isolation and to give them a focus through their creative work, as much for their wellbeing than for the degree.
I would say that those who had attendance issues before Coronavirus COVID-19 carried these with them during remote teaching, we chased everyone up, did things like sending out a student questionnaire to identify their location, whether they were students safe, internet access, laptops etc. A few did have technical issues, and there is an obvious acceptance now of a minimum level of equipment that students need to operate online, and to keep communication with the course.
Tutor's jobs have changed drastically, how are you coping with the move to teaching digitally? Do you feel that you are aptly supported?
As a course we seemed to adapt very quickly and seamlessly to teaching digitally. Perhaps already helped that we ask students to submit digitally for their assessments, so there is an established culture of the students contextualising their practice and using designed outcomes or publications to communicate their work, show their processes, research, reflections and critical analysis of what they are making. They have a familiarity of documenting their work for these assessments anyway.
I would say that at Brighton the illustration course has tried some innovative approaches, with a mixture of software being employed to try to replicate some of our established pedagogic techniques. So we’ve tried things such as Padlet for students to display their work, Miro and other white board facilities, also some interactive creative games and quiz’s - my colleague Liv Taylor who runs third year Illustration was great at facilitating these sorts of activities, and the first year staff of Claire Scully, Dave Williams and Jasper Goodall tried some great visualising workshops with the students, that fit in well with the ‘purposeful play’ and experimentation ethos of the course. I think that the confidence of the staff team allowed them to generally try some things out, and to not simply adopt 1-2-1 tutorials so that the students continued to interact with one another, that there was a continued element of peer learning, which is so vital in education - the students learn as much from each other as they do from the staff. There is also a great collaborative social aspect to the both graphic design and illustration at the university, so we generally sort ways to reimagine what we could do to replicate these things – we did a virtual King and Queen Day event that is a tradition of marking the third year assessment hand in.
The technical team also were very resourceful - helping to find tech fixes, or alternative software for students to use to continue to make work, this aspect of problem solving, of resilience is so important, and illustrators have always been very adaptable.
How is the university best preparing for the new term in the midst of such uncertainty?
As with the start of the pandemic back in March, course leaders in the School of Art have had to check through modules in semester 1 to verify whether the learning outcomes are achievable whilst delivering a mixed economy of online and physical experiences. We have verified new studio capacities whilst adhering to social distancing to provide a safe space for both students and staff to work in, and with students in L5 & L6 given the option of whether to return to Brighton for their studies or to begin 2020/21 remotely, as of course for international students there is still much worry and uncertainty. I’m still to return onsite personally, but know that the university are currently making buildings COVID proof and implementing one-way systems etc. I shall be returning ahead of the new academic year to familiarise myself with the changes and to support staff in planning for our delivery of the course.
What are the benefits and pitfalls of teaching your course online?
It isn’t ideal, but there have been positives to teaching online, its important to look at the creative potential of things, and to adapt where possible. One of the benefits has been that for some students it perhaps gave them slightly more focus being online, and removed the anxiety of crossing the academic threshold into the university, with all of the attached hang ups of being in higher education, that has been growing in recent times. For a small number of students the screen interaction of a 1-2-1 tutorial helped in many ways, perhaps for some to be in their own domestic environment took away the anxiety of performing in the presence of their classmates?
Other tangible benefits have been that staff meetings have become much more succinct, and the various educational committees that I have to sit on at the university have become more efficient and focused – though I am in so many Team Groups now, that I do need to simplify visually.
Interesting how the importance of connectability or internet access has become so important for both students and staff. It was funny to experience those staff with bad broadband width, and those who chose to blur their backgrounds on screen – understandable, but you view university hierarchy in a slightly different way when you know that they are speaking to you from a bedroom!
As for pitfalls, I would say that we generally over compensated during the early stage of the UK lockdown, the desire of establishing a regular tutorial routine for students ate into the Easter vacation, and I know that I personally taught a little too much. Another one is that whilst you would have thought it easier to work from home, the blurring of work life and home life brought its own issues - I’m sure for those staff with families it was difficult to juggle teaching commitments with those of their own business, and home schooling, something that my colleague Elaine Perks pointed out. It became a regular experience during online staff meetings to see the kids pop up onscreen.
I think that some of the educational processes took longer online - the assessment procedure for definite was elongated, as we had to go through quite densely packed PDF’s submissions of material, with contextual information in the form of writing or narrated films… which were all good, but it just took longer. Another thing I guess was the additional time to set up seminars or group activities - there was always the slight delay of waiting for everyone to connect online. Simple things which surprisingly made the teaching days a little longer. Personally though, there was a benefit of not spending so much time travelling into work, so no public transport for some months, but this ’spare time’ was surprisingly taken up with more student tutorials. I also became quite fascinated by ambient sound on the internet – I’ll always remember the strange phantom birds caught in the internet feedback loop when assessing with Liv Taylor, and the sight of Jasper Goodall’s empty chair on screen for half an hour when he had left for lunch having left his desktop camera on.
In preparation for the next academic year I think that we are needing to explore when students are on campus physically, what are the studios for? As most of the structural parts of the course will remain online, when the students are with us, what are the important experiences for them, what are the making/production spaces that allow the testing of ideas, or their realisations?
Finally, how do you think that the digitalisation of higher creative education will affect the position of the arts within the UK's education system going forward?
I think that as with many other areas of the economy Coronavirus COVID-19 will speed up change within higher education, not just in terms of the use of technology but also questions around its value, what are students getting for their tuition fee? There will be more of a light turned upon universities and perhaps a drive to re-imagine what education is, similar to the changing scene of the high street?
As there remains so many still wanting to study the creative arts, perhaps their digitalisation will aid the wider awareness of the skills inherently within them - of the importance of creative problem solving at a time when change is speeding up, and might need new ideas, to imagine what kind of normal we want to return to?
Saturday 8 August 2020