After my first musings on this subject (which can be read here), some decisive action was called for and I decided to run a number of workshops open to students to see whether my (at this stage very vague) ideas made sense to others.

Planned as originally four workshops (although we revised that to five) held during November 2011 (sorry for not getting a chance to write this up sooner), I opened this to all the students I was teaching/supervising in that term (which included first years, third years and MA students), as well as all the third year students that were in the process of researching and writing their ‘Design Project Report’ – a substantial research report. I also invited two recent graduates who were both thinking about continuing with a Masters.

Although some 250 students were approached, only four showed an interest and in the end only one of them, a third year Animation student, was able to attend all five sessions. The two graduates were also regulars, one attending three of the five, the other all sessions.

The workshops were focusing on the concepts of focus, relevance, academicness, context and structure, with projects being introduced during the weekly hour. While I had thought that we would be able to make together, it soon turned out that there simply wasn’t enough time, so the sessions ended up more as a show and tell, with participants showing what they had done during the week and then me introducing the new activity and showing examples. Here are some examples of participants’ work:

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While this was of course a very small sample size, the feedback of the participants was positive (I had asked them to fill in questionnaires each session), they thought the sessions and activities were both fun and useful. One of the recent graduates urged me to integrate some of the sessions into the curriculum, saying this would have helped her immensely with her third year research project.

The third year student who attended regularly and was very engaged with the making activities, she always had something to show she had done during the week, improved her mark from a lower 2.2 to a mid 2.1! While there is of course no way of proving that this was due to the sessions, I believe it shows that the simple fact of engaging with the subject matter more can make a significant difference when it comes to academic work.

Due to the feedback, I have since included some of the activities in both first and second year undergraduate modules, which are still in progress.

Recently I was talking to my sister about an article I was writing that she kindly had a look at for me, and while trying to come up with a better title for one of the subsections, I found myself wondering whether it could be objects that are the ‘missing link’. I teach study skills and contextual studies to creative practice students at university, and have increasingly come up against students wondering how all this theory (and almost worse: writing) is relevant for them, if all they want to learn is how to design, paint, animate, take photographs, make films, etc. So I have been trying to link creative practice with an academic dimension in the context of Higher Education. A tactile approach came up again and again in both my personal practice and my teaching: experiential learning, object-based learning and making of some sort to work through theoretical issues.
This blog is meant to collect mine and colleagues’ research on this potential of tactile means in academia, particular in the arts, design and media field (though not exclusively so). What I will not do is try to explain why I think the academic dimension is important, I will take that as a given for the purpose of this blog (so be warned).
The categories and tags I could see us using (and this will undoubtedly change as the research progresses) include looking at object-based learning and ways to encounter objects (in Higher Education), highlighting some interesting collections (and their presentation) of both universities and museums, thinking of strategies to create objects that link
creative pursuits to theoretical content, as well as sharing literature and ideas encountered at conferences.
If you want to become involved, please comment or get in touch with me to become a contributor!
Thank you for reading.