Course design: How do approaches to blended learning vary across creative disciplines post-pandemic?

It is evident that much of the 20/21 academic year has been spent reacting to the challenges presented by the pandemic. However, the research undertaken by Teams Darjeeling and Matcha revealed tentative signs of how course design in creative disciplines could evolve as a result of teaching online.

PUBLISHED ON 30th August 2021 | Photo by La-Rel Easter on Unsplash

Beginning with Team Darjeeling, the team interviewed people working in the professional areas of Contextual Studies, Acting, Graphic Design, Illustration, Textiles and Technical departments. After interpreting their findings using Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism, a key finding was the potential need to purposefully design in opportunities for social interaction when developing blended learning. Whereas students in creative disciplines would normally have plenty of opportunities to interact and collaborate with others when on campus, in a blended course these opportunities are significantly reduced. In order to harness the power of the ‘more knowledgeable other’, it would be necessary to purposefully create opportunities for group work and collaboration when teaching online.

Team Darjeeling: Sophie Allsopp, Steve North, Altea Vidal, Rachael Williams, Joel Porter and Ben Minchell

Team Darjeeling poster

Another important implication was the indication that bringing students together in a physical space can potentially create connections that subsequently enable them to work more effectively online. This raises important questions for course design as it opens a debate regarding when courses should bring students onto campus, how this affects aspects of course design such as timetabling and accommodation. More highlights from their findings include:

Contextual Studies

  • students who have been in their first year in the 20/21 academic year may well have struggled to acquire the interpersonal skills required to enter a professional community of practice.
  • a struggle that has occurred is the interaction that students give the tutor and many feel uncomfortable turning on their cameras and talking to their peers between screens.
  • as students knew more than the tutor on the technology and how to use it, or both tutor and student entered the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) at the same level as the learner; the tutor becoming a student once again as they navigate the different types of technology available to them to teach and how to use them.

Textiles

  • the impact of the pandemic has been keenly felt because of the practical and studio- based nature of this discipline and the adverse effect on the usual pedagogy. It is anticipated that there may be an adverse cumulative effect, if the post-pandemic on line ratio increases to more than 30%.
  • this may affect student’s acquisition of practical skills relevant to industry and also their deep learning through experimentation (active enquiry), play (assimilation of new & old knowledge) and inaction feedback (active knowledge construction and reflection) linked to social constructivist theory.

Technical departments

  • technical tutors found much comfort in the blended learning environment. But this was better within the asynchronous learning environment and although tutors spend up to 5 hours weekly editing and recording sessions this access to sessions allows students to contact their tutors for direct and personal help with work instead of following along with the tutor live and dealing with multiple confusions.
  • many students have created some of the best work tutors have seen, whilst others who lack accessibility to technology have created work that needs much improvement. In this environment there is a clear divide within the class and their relationship with the more knowledgeable others.

Graphic Design and Illustration

  • the findings were a mixture of positive and negative attitudes to blended learning. Online learning can be focused, inclusive, efficient and engaging, if done well, and with enough training on the chosen platform.
  • It is important to acknowledge the transformative power of people being together in a physical space. Even though it may not be evident how much learning is happening, the shared connection between people working towards a common goal should not be underestimated.
  • but the downsides to extended online teaching and learning are negative effects on mental health, the strain on staff, a lack of oversight of student work, and a lack of community and peer learning due to the loss of a shared physical space.

Team Matcha: Benji Peng, Roxane Butterworth, Christina Dong, Chris Carter, Rob Amen and Tanisha Church

Team Matcha poster

In the second project focusing on course design, Team Matcha’s sample of interviewees included educators who taught across nine different creative disciplines. Their research provides a snapshot of the benefits and challenges of teaching creative subjects online during the pandemic.

By taking a cross-section across creative disciplines, the team were able to identify a range of evidence highlighting both benefits and challenges of blended learning. Their findings suggested that while practical pedagogies will always thrive in an on-campus situation, the experience of teaching online had revealed potential benefits of a blended approach to teaching. These include:

  • a flipped classroom approach to course design and asynchronous learning tools can enable a more tailored approach to teaching and learning;
  • blended learning resulted in increased inclusivity as more students can get access to learning materials;
  • online delivery reduced barriers for guest lecturers (both financially and geographically);
  • blended learning induced a stronger push for experimentation regarding the submission of coursework;
  • learning remotely pushes students students to adapt to shifts in the industry, as companies have been gradually moving towards digitalisation and remote working.

Highlights from the data collection in each subject area included:

  • Fashion Design: students became less dependent on technicians, and the quality of visual research was generally higher;
  • 3D Design: recycling and reusing were at the forefront of production;
  • Fine art: smart phones produced incredible content;
  • Pattern cutting: delivered asynchronous lectures ahead of practical sessions;
  • Photography: worldwide guest lectures increased global reach; students used Miro to share and edit work;
  • Fashion Promotion: greater inconsistency in quality of submissions due to students’ varying levels of access to resources;
  • Film and Animation: democratisation of filmmaking equipment; new, exciting direction for independent filmmaking;
  • Illustration: shy students liked using Padlet as they can work individually but still receive feedback.

References

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