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In my own experience of teaching academic writing to undergraduate students in a number of creative practice disciplines (i.e. students who have a ‘practical’ component that is studio based) there seems to be a certain reluctance by the students to invest into writing in the same way as they do into subject specific skills.

This is actualy something I researched into further as part of my docotral thesis, which was all about the role of writing in undergraduate design education in the U. One of the findings was that students do not seem to see writing as a skill that needs to be practiced, but rather something almost instantenous: you write it and then it is done, so then you hand it in. The idea of re-writing bits, editing others out, going out to do a bit more research, overall all the preparation work and the honing of this as a skill – all things the students would do if the outcome is something studio based, whether thrown pot or animated film – is one that does not seem to occur to them, because they see it as removed from their practice.

As part of my PhD I introduced some assignments to students of Three Dimensional Design at Manchester Metropolitan University that were aiming to link their practice to written tasks, and were located in the studio rather than on the Contextual Studies/History of Art and Design side. These were not academic essays, but rather were meant to accumulate into a reflection on their practice, actual and aspirantional. Some details can be found in this case study written for the Writing PAD network.

Recently I have been thinking about exploring the idea of making in order to ‘get your head around’ more academic processes/research/writing a bit more – especially in the context of making artist’s books. More details about this project as it develops.

Thinking about this has made me realised that I have used little strategies like that in my own work (as a student and since then) to order thoughts or turn content into something more tangible (will probably post some examples on this blog in future categorised as ‘Alternative Presentations’).

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When it comes to finding out what other people are researching in regards to object learning, a first point of call, particularly in the area of design is the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning through Design. Based at the University of Brighton and working in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the Royal College of Arts (RCA) the projects taking place here are looking at object scholarship and object-based learning.
A particularly good starting point is the book Museums and Design Education: Looking to Learn, Learning to See (2010, edited by Beth Cook, Rebecca Reynolds and Catherine Speight, Ashgate).

There are a number of ways in which Higher Education can get access to objects, some of which I will blog about more in future. but just to get this started a (probably very incomplete) list:
Most obviously probably are museums, which often, but not always, collect and give access to objects. Here you can find curated exhibitions, where objects have been pre-selected and arranged in a formal display. Some you might be able to touch and handle, possibly in specially arranged sessions.
Museums also tend to have lots of objects that are not on display. It may be possible to get access to objects from a catalogue, or even explore the museum stores. This depends on the access policy of the museum and if you are working with students probably space and numbers.
Universities often have their own museums, galleries or collections. Here access to objects is usually easier for students, because it is probably part of the mission of the collection, and they often grew out of teaching collections initially.
Some of these teaching collections are handling collections, where rules of access are slightly different and objects may be handled without gloves, in some items can be taken apart or even borrowed.
But objects to be used in learning and teaching don’t necessarily have to come from a formal collection, they are all around us, so they can also come from personal collections of enthusiasts or simply the home – a possibility that should not be discounted.
And then there are also the virtual objects, images that are accessed through the internet, books or magazines, which bring their own problematic, because here we obviously do not have a three-dimensional or even tactile encounter, but they probably should not be discounted.