As lockdown eases, Miriam Dunn speaks to David White, Head of Digital Learning at the University of the Arts London (UAL), about the key, post-pandemic takeaways for tutors and what the ‘new normal’ might look like, come September.
Miriam Dunn: What have been the main challenges of teaching art remotely during lockdown?
David White: Many of the challenges are not specific to the creative disciplines, such as keeping a sense of community and fostering moments of connection beyond ‘transmitting’ information. The materiality of many arts practices don’t translate into digital spaces directly but students can still make work from home and share the story of those processes online.
MD: How have art educators adapted their teaching methods to accommodate the coronavirus? What have they learned during the process?
DW: The main thing we have learned is that we can’t simply ‘practice mirror’ from face-to-face to online. That tends to lead to a parade of online ‘webinars’ which can be difficult to concentrate on. We are learning to transpose our teaching into online spaces in ways that take advantage of new modes-of-engagement. This often involves using those ‘live’ teaching moments online for discussion rather than to only take on information.
Digital facilities in the library, London College of Communication, UAL, Photography: Alys Tomlinson
MD: What part has new technology played in facilitating remote teaching methods?
DW: The high levels of reliability and access to the network have been the big factor. If the pandemic had hit 10 years ago the Web would have fallen over. So it’s less about the tech being ‘new’ and more about it working well. It’s also significant that almost everyone already knew how to engage in the online environment. We were all extremely digital before the pandemic which is why we could move the whole of the university online so quickly.
MD: Has 3D technology, in particular, proved to be a valuable resource during lockdown and if so how?
DW: This is still a difficult area, not because of the technology in-of-itself but because beyond basic internet access there is little parity of tech-ownership across our students when they are forced to work from home. We can’t teach using VR or intensive 3D tech unless all of our students have the potential to access that type of hardware or software – which would normally happen on-site. Having said that there is a lot of interest and so it’s a question of how we provide access.
Student Ella Williams presenting, BA Film and Screen Studies, London College of Communication, UAL, Photography: Alys Tomlinson
MD: What support structures are in place for students who are struggling to adapt to new ways of working?
DW: As I’ve hinted it’s not a particularly new way of working for most students. Before the pandemic it was commonplace for students to work online, especially when undertaking group work. More broadly though, learning how to study and work online is crucial for anyone looking to work in the creative industries so many of our courses see ‘learning to work online’ as a key element of what they teach. We also provide advice and guidance to course-teams on how they can best support their students via a network of specialist Digital Learning and Academic Support roles.
MD: What do you expect the new academic year to look like? Are you anticipating a ‘new normal’, with smaller classes, more virtual shows and remote working?
DW: Yes, exactly that. We are working to move from an emergency response to this ‘new normal’ where we mix the best of what online has to offer with increasing access to physical spaces. There are many things we have learned over this period which we want to build into what we offer on an ongoing basis.