Saturday, September 18th, 2010
Collaboration, co-creation, communities of practice,the ‘virtual studio’, mobile learning and digital literacies were the emerging themes of the 6th Designs on E Learning conference which was held this year in the stunningly beautiful city of Savannah Georgia, otherwise known as ‘Slowvannah’, and hosted by the impressive Savannah College of Art and Design, SCAD (they even have their own art deco cinema!)
The opening reception set the scene, and was held in one of the beautiful garden squares that dot the historic centre of the city; it was great to be out in the fresh air at the start of a conference for a change.
This is the only international conference focusing specifically on learning technology in art and design, and had a good attendance of around 100, mostly from the USA but with a good scattering of presenters and attendees from the UK, South Africa and New Zealand.
A major theme was that the ‘virtual studio’ can offer real advantages and affordances over the physical one, and that the potential for an ‘augmented studio’ is immense. Darrel Naylor-Johnson of SCAD explained how art has always been affected by technology from the days of using animal fat for cave painting thru the invention of oil painting to today. He maintained, quite rightly, that the virtual studio, or at least the augmented studio, can have advantages over the traditional one. He gave examples of how repetitive activities can be better demonstrated using video recordings than ‘real’ demos – which typically only the students right at the front can see, and showed an augmented reality video that superimposed a clock face on a drawing class that made the technique much easier to visualise.
Keith Bailey of Penn State demonstrated their ‘Assignment Studio’, a drupal based interface to facilitate the sharing and managing of art works between staff and students. This has had real impact, students can curate their own digital galleries and it has saved up to 40% of tutors time in download/uploading of files for assessment purposes.
Nancy Turner of UAL argued that creating digitally literate graduates should be at the cornerstone of any university education, especially in art and design. She saw the key drivers of e learning being student expectations, diversity and declining resources of staff and space, but argued that the most significant factor was the need to provide students with arena to develop digital literacy. In this she foregrounded the idea of co –creation of projects between staff and students, citing the work of Elizabeth Saunders on the collaborative design process with non designers. She then posed the key question of how often do we collaborate with our students in the curriculum design process? This is a really important issue, and its great to see someone raising it as a vital part of the curriculum and course design process. She also highlighted the work we have been doing together on developing the 5 C’s of digital literacy - curation, critique, creation, collaboration and communcation
Several presentations explored this idea of collaborative co creation in depth, and were really inspiring in terms of how they had brought together disparate groups of students to work with tutors in a non hierarchical way.
The Face Book project was was a brilliant exploration of identity and digital presence, and investigated people’s first impressions of others in social media an how they ‘profile’ each other. It led by Jenna Frye and Christopher Morgan, and was a collaboration between Morgan State University, which is public with predominantly African American students and mostly black and MICA, a private college that is mostly white. The project took advantage of student’s familiarity and use of facebook but critically engaged with it to investigate how profile pictures generate stereotypes. The students submitted profile pictures and then selected a collaborator by choosing from these images without any other information about the other participants-like in facebook
Each student then had to profile their collaborator solely based in their profile picture then sent it to partner, they then had to write profiles of each other again based solely on the photographs. Finally they shared their real profiles with each other. They then made a ‘poetic portrait’ of their partner, and all the collaborative ‘portraits’ were then put together in a book using blurb where they can be ordered as a book. The Face Book opened up an honest debate around race and stereotyping in Baltimore, and began to break down segregation between what were previously completely separate worlds – some of the students met up in ‘real life’ and began to build connections between the 2 colleges.
Another great project was LINKED, another co-creation between 2 institutions. it was presented by Helen Armstrong and Zvezdana Stojmirovic, both graphic design professors. Their central concern was how could co creation gain more importance in the creative process? They identified the emergence of the ‘amateur creative’ and participatory culture, and focused on how to bring the energy of this into the classroom. They had a fascinating position based on Dmitri Siegel’s idea of the ‘Templated Mind’, arguing that users today expect to contribute/interact with media in a ‘Templated way’ – flikr being a great example – where the technology provides a understandable framework into which participatory culture can emerge – a kind of formal structure into which informal content can be arranged. They identified a real tension between proprietary market based artefacts and individual social and peer produced ones, and argued that ‘rather than endorse global universal visions we can encourage the expression of local voices’.
The also drew on Yochai Benkler’s idea of modules of work – small units of independent work that get contributed to larger project as an underlying principle for a participatory design project between Miami university and Maryland institute College of Art graphic design students. The project had 5 key concepts in that it had to be inclusive, modular, accessible, critical and type-driven. Over 4 weeks they each made their own individual ‘letter’ which fitted into the word LINKED, these 57 variations on a theme of type were then edited into a 17 second animation of the word. Here is the the final collaborative piece on Vimeo
What I really liked about both of these projects was that the technology was not the focus of the work but rather an enabler of it, and that both projects dealt with the issues of the social politics of technology in really interesting ways. For me this was a real insight, and a great example of how to get students to begin to question the digital environment and think about what impact it has on social relations, but doing it in a situated way through an authentic collaborative learning experience.
Do you have any examples of this kind of project that critically engages with the social politics of the web??