Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Trying to put together lectures

Putting together slides for lectures is always a challenge. In the old days of slide projectors you never had text, everything was spoken and students made notes. Because I’m ‘old school ‘ as the jargon goes, I still try and keep text to a minimum, but the arrival of EStudio is forcing a rethink.  I’ve never really been a fan of PowerPoint, but it is given to us as standard with the Microsoft Office suite. In some ways the fact that you have some control over backgrounds, fonts etc makes it worse. Not enough to ‘design’ but too much to ignore. I always start with puzzling over how much the technology is shaping the content. That said, in the end I have to get on with it, as I am expected to have a slide show supported contextual studies lecture every week, as well as presentations designed to help introduce practical modules.
The introduction of EStudio (which is a replacement of what was Moodle) has been undertaken as a standardisation exercise right across the college. In reality it doesn’t seem to look or operate anyway differently to the previous Moodle system that I was using when teaching on the Digital Film Games and Animation course two years ago.
What it means is that all course content can be loaded up to an intranet and accessed by students on line. This has been standard practice for years in most institutions, but has previously been done on an ad hoc basis at the art college.
The problem for me is that most of the EStudio content is so boring. Briefs and timetables, module descriptors and codes of practice etc. If I was a student I would want lots of ‘how to’ videos, filmed in the same environment that I was working in, so that I could see where materials were stored, watch best practice in mold making for sculpture, check on settings for welding, how to make good canvas stretchers etc etc.,  as it is I couldn’t see anything that I would have considered useful when I was a student. Paperwork didn’t interest me then and from what I can see, current students are not interested in paperwork either, except for when it comes bearing a mark. Then they are suddenly really interested in why so and so has 2 marks more or less than them.
However my lectures will go up once they are prepared. This means that they go up without me. I’m not able to do my rambling preambles around the point. Not able to make noises, clap, jump up and down and do all that stuff you do to make sure people don’t fall asleep. Above all the fact that some points are very subtle and that I have to feel my way round them, engaging the audience in a story that perhaps has no single ending, means that the PowerPoint will in some ways feel like a disused theatre set. You can wander around it but will have no real understanding of the play that was acted in front of it.
My first lecture this year will be used to kick off the first year practical programme.

Slide one:

With each slide in PowerPoint comes a notes area, something I haven’t really used before, but as students will access this on line, it seems a good idea to put an explanation in. I will put these in red, it will be easier to sort out from my rambling text:

Note: You will initially be focused on drawing – but you will also have workshop inductions as part of this initial module. So how to start? Here are some thoughts to help you – drawing is fundamental to many art practices, but you will also have to think about how you can use the various facilities and materials available to you.
Why do we start like this?
All of you will come to this Fine Art programme with existing ways of working and ideas as to how you might want to develop your practice. So on the one hand we would like to acknowledge this and give you a chance to present to others what you have been doing, however on the other hand your experience of different working processes will be very different and you may not have had a chance to explore other ways of working, or to think about how different materials and workshops might change or open out new and more challenging areas of practice.

This relates to what the students will be doing on day one. They have all been asked to do something for a ‘holiday’ project and to bring this in. This piece of work will be used as partly an ‘ice breaker’ as it allows students to introduce themselves and their existing practice to each other, and it will also be something that can be transformed into other things using the various approaches and processes introduced during these first few weeks. (I’m personally never sure about holiday projects, I would rather just ask people to bring in a piece of art they had made that they believed in)  Not that this matters too much, as students will need to let go of their existing ideas about these artworks they bring in, because the processes introduced will transform whatever the starting point is into something completely different. (Well hopefully they will, but I have run this project before and a few people have been known to stubbornly keep their initial concept going right to the end).

Slide two

I have decided to use a chair as a substitute for whatever it is the students will bring in. It makes the point that anything can be transformed and more importantly that everything can have meaning. There are no notes as the slide is all text.

Slide three

Note: Scale will be an important issue. Try and push this to extremes when exploring the potential of your initial starting point.

This doesn’t really tell the story I will verbally tell, but it will have to do. I like to get students to look underneath their chairs, get down on the floor and do stuff that means that they get their head into where they might find new or unusual viewpoints from which to see the everyday. Scale change is just one issue.

Slide four

This slide of Lucas Samaras chairs is the key slide. Students should be able to get the idea that they will be doing lots of drawings of something and using these to inform what they might make. They should also be timetabled to do several inductions into workshops while this project is going on. Their images will then be further processed in a classic 2D to 3D dialogue. Medium specificity will also be an important issue for them to think through.

Note: An initial exploration of possibilities using drawing, then taking the idea through different materials.

Again this note is very sparse. I would elaborate considerably in the talk, however part of me feels that without the banter of students asking questions I cant really explain beyond this in the note section.

Slide five:

This slide brings up the fact that students will be expected to play.  I particularly like Wurm’s ‘One minute’ sculptures, they open out the performative possibilities and are very cheap.

Note: The importance of play. Pure un-directional play can be very rewarding. But there is often a logic to this, even if it looks as if the logic is slightly odd or 'not as we know it Jim'. Take one aspect at a time and push the implications. What happens if I extend this aspect, or repeat this, or bring these things together, or make it out of unexpected materials etc.
Canhavato’s chair is made from decommissioned weapons collected since the end of their civil war in 1992. The throne is a product of the Transforming Arms into Tools project - whereby weapons previously used by combatants on both sides are voluntarily exchanged for agricultural, domestic and construction tools. Think about how the materials you make these transformations in bring with them new sets of meanings associated with their own provenance. 

I’m not going to put the entire PowerPoint up, I’m just trying to give an idea of what is being done, however these are the last two slides.

Slide 16

Slide 17

Once the talk is over students will work all week drawing and being taken out group at a time to begin workshop inductions. There will be three to four staff working across 80 students for most of this time. I shall just be there for the initial two sessions. The following week I will be giving a introductory contextual studies talk, 'What is art?'

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