BloggingAn alternative to traditional essays for art and design students Chris Byrne, DJCAD
The problem Conventional essay format• Favours those with strong aptitude for academic writing• Perceived as dry, traditional• A&D has high proportion of dyslexic students• Limited scope for visual thinking• Linear text• Formal structure• Focussed around response to central question
Search for alternatives• Writing PAD• Practice from colleagues in DJCAD and other UK art colleges
Possible alternatives• Mind mapping• Reﬂective journals• Visual essays• Blogs
Alternatives to essay allow (to a greater or lesser extent)• Broader contextual research• Visual thinking made explicit• Intuitive responses and use of tacit knowledge• Reﬂection on relevance of theory and history to practice• Non-linear text• Less formal structures
The risks of abandoning conventional essay• Loss of academic rigour• Wooly thinking, less precision• Unclear focus• Lack of citations and references• Losing the point of assignment• Broad but shallow research• Confusing or chaotic structure
Reducing risk Setting the conditions• Imposing minimum requirements• Addressing criteria• Acknowledgement of sources• Relevance• Critical enquiry
Master of Fine Art Practice Context• Small group, only 15 students in total on the course.• Part of a wider Context Mapping Project.• Blog was only one (optional) element.• Brief quite open.
Master of Fine Art Successes & Issues• Most students who chose to blog engaged with critical writing and analysis.• Students were sometimes unsure which output to choose.• Sometimes a confusion over boundaries between context mapping and studio sketchbook work.• One student was much more visually driven, with little commentary or analysis.
Master of Fine Art Support & Feedback• Workshop at start of course provided tools and methods for gathering contextual information about creative works• Students were able to sign up for one-to-one tutorials most weeks of the course.• Continuing feedback helped guide and shape delivery of the blog project.• Students who successfully delivered the blog beneﬁtted from feedback.
Master of Fine Art Questions arising• Too many choices?• Too open and broad a brief?• Blurred boundaries with studio research processes?
Communication Design Context Undergraduate Level 2• Larger number of students, 59 in total.• Blog is a distinct, mandatory output for the module. A second distinct output, a research poster, was produced.• Brief mentions content of lectures as a starting point, but also allows inclusion of other types of material.• Still a fairly open brief, a bit more directed than postgraduate level.• Students were given a choice of three blog platforms: Blogger, Tumblr or Wordpress.
Communication Design Context Why a blog?• Allows incorporation of audiovisual elements, linking to external sources.• Less formal than an essay or review, more ﬂexible than a paper journal, with possibility to edit, revise or expand sections retrospectively.• Public exposition of thinking and writing on internet, sharing of ideas rather than hiding them away.• Still possible to be critical, rigorous and use academic referencing conventions where appropriate.• less daunting than task of writing an essay, writing appears in chunks, gradually over time.
Communication Design Context Successes & Issues• Most students engaged with the process of critical reﬂection, using the lecture programme as a jumping off point.• A minority did not engage with the lectures in their writing, and/or produced primarily image driven blogs, using uncritical or re-blogged material.• A particular problem with those using the Tumblr platform.
Communication Design Context Support & Feedback• Workshop at start of course helped students set up their blog and create the ﬁrst post.• Seminars allowed discussion of context themes and peer feedback.• Individual written formative feedback to students half way through the module.
Communication Design Context Questions arising• Too many outputs for the module overall?• Too open and broad a brief?• Not aligned sufﬁciently with lectures?• Blurred boundaries with studio research processes?• An exercise in interface design?
Communication Design Context Goals going forward• Reduce outputs of module to one: blog.• Revisit the brief to clarify focus.• Tie the activity into the lecture programme more closely.• Complement studio research without duplicating it.• Restrict blog platform choice to aid consistency.• Emphasise simplicity and clarity of interface style.• Ask students to identify (with tags) the most relevant blog posts for feedback and assessment.
Sources consulted during the project• Atkinson, Terry and Claxton, Guy, eds. The intuitive practitioner: on the value of not always knowing what one is doing. Buckingham: Open University Press, 2000• Bolton, Gillie. Reﬂective practice :writing and professional development. Los Angeles; London: Sage, 2010• Mezirow, Jack. Fostering critical reﬂection in adulthood :a guide to transformative and emancipatory learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990.• Mason, John. Researching your own practice :the discipline of noticing. London: Routledge Falmer, 2002.