This report is a somewhat personal experience of the “Designs on eLearning – International Conference on Teaching and Learning with Technology in Art, Design and Communication,” held in September 2005 at the University of the Arts London (UAL). Billed as the first international learning technology conference focusing on Art, Design and Communication, the themes of the conference centred on the issues of education in the creative disciplines: what the experts know; what students need to know and need to be able to do; and how technology can be an opportunity to explore and innovate in creative and teaching practice. E-learning issues common across many subject disciplines arise in the Art and Design domain, for example, working with large numbers of students; issues of language and writing; differing patterns of engagement in lifelong learning; going global; how/what to assess and bridging the expert/novice divide.
Elizabeth Rouse, Pro Rector for Academic Development and Quality at the University of the Arts London (UAL), gave the Welcome Address and acknowledged the timeliness and relevance of the conference. This was followed by Bill Rammell MP, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, who explained the Government’s interest in the continuing evaluation of e-learning and in the dissemination of good practice. Bill suggested that e-learning should not be technology-led, but should be designed to meet learner needs and preferences. He concluded by highlighting challenges and opportunities for the future, such as the integration of leisure and education; wider participation; flexible approaches and personalisation; and new ways and places to learn.
The Keynote was given by Judith Mottram, Professor of Visual Art at Nottingham Trent University, who suggested that the aim of Higher Education (HE) is transformation, not simply knowledge transfer. She argued that this is a challenge for all subject domains and not exclusively in the e-learning context. Professor Mottram identified three kinds of knowledge – strategic, tacit and discipline-specific – to be evaluated when considering what students need to know, and argued that there is an overemphasis on practice rather than knowledge/content in Art and Design in HE. The outcome was the identification of challenges for e-learning in Art and Design, including how to address the need for ‘learning by doing’; creation and curation of content that includes expert knowledge, for example, vision and colour; and tacit knowledge of what it means to be a creative practitioner into the public domain.
The range of topics in the parallel streams included underlying generic themes centring around language and motivation; working with large numbers of students; Personal Planning and Development (PPD) and reflective learning; pedagogic frameworks; content creation and management, and innovation and developing strategies. Contexts for learning included: colleges; universities; museums and professional design practices.
The sessions that I attended included a presentation by Associate Professor John Fraser from Richmond, the American International University, on the implementation of a conversational framework for distributed (across 12 countries) online collaborative design groups. He described the design of collaborative activity in a rich social context, successfully adapting Laurillard's conversational framework model for a design context, noting the importance of scaffolding and staff/student feedback.
Conference delegates listen to the keynote speeches
I also enjoyed sessions on the use of WebLogs, for example, Liam Birtles's discussion on his use of WebLogs in professional planning research and development units on the Interactive Media Foundation Degree at the Arts Institute at Bournemouth. He suggested that online portfolios that incorporate WebLogs offer the opportunity for developing reflection and evidence of progression throughout a course, thus avoiding the tendency for these activities to be done at the end of the course. Ben Kelly and colleagues from University of Wolverhampton looked at student perceptions of online critiques. Further sessions presented staff development and support issues around using technology and institutional change; assessment; and developing VLEs for Art and Design courses.
Poster exhibitions were ‘RecordingCoach’, Jim Davis; ‘Tools for Reuse and Rapid Custom Development’, Savannah College of Art and Design; and ‘College Students’ Perspectives of the Current Trends of Design Courses and eLearning in Taiwan’.
Conference chair, David Rowsell
Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. The social/networking opportunities were excellent, with participants attending from across Europe, North America, Australia, Taiwan and Israel.
An animated group discussion at the conference reception in the UAL gallery
An online conference is planned for March 2006 and another International conference for 2007. The conference was organised by the Information Technology Research and Development Unit (ITRDU) at UAL led by David Rowsell, who summed up the issues and set challenges for future discussion; the committee was chaired by Robin Shaw.
Conference website: http://www.designsonelearning.net/index.php