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About the length of a piece of string

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How hard are you supposed to be working? Over the last 3 – 5 years at the Open College of the Arts there has been what could almost be described as a revolution in the proliferation of ways for students to interact with each other, see each other’s work and discuss their courses. It takes a while though to get to know how to navigate these things and develop an effective distance learning studentship. It is still the case that many students are working on their own at home and wondering just how much work is ‘enough’.
As a tutor I can easily receive two different student’s portfolios through the post for the same assignment of the same course; one with 4 pieces of work in it and the other with 40. For the majority of the courses I teach there are an identifiable number of hours given to the student as a minimum, with the caveat that they may need to do more. Usually (not including level 3 / HE6 courses) this equates to around a minimum of 8 hours per week. This is 8 productive hours a week though and it is often difficult to be efficient about that so you need to factor in time to get yourself in the zone and to recover momentum.
One short but intense 10 – 4 weekend day a week with a couple of evenings of research and regular sketchbook or journal time could be supplemented by the occasional ‘weekend double’ when it came to the final assignment piece or a project that demanded a site visit or lengthy making process. Alternatively you may have weekdays free and prefer to work every morning on practical studio work, and then set aside an afternoon a week for contextual study.
An assignment submission should be the culmination then of at least 80 hours of time spent making and researching. You don’t need to send everything to your tutor – there is no need to prove anything to your tutor about how hard you have worked. The assignment report is solely for your benefit and so you need only send the work your tutor needs to see to give you the most useful feedback possible.
Personally as a tutor I like to support students to develop good habits and so it is important to me that I do get a pretty good sense of what my students are up to in their sketchbooks, logbooks and generally – I don’t just want to see an mini exhibition each assignment hand in time – I want to  be able to piece together a sense of how my students are operating in their studios so that I can feed back on how they are taking initial ideas through experimentation, reflection , making and critical review. However different tutors have different approaches and just like in a bricks and mortar institution, being a student means coming to terms with a variety of tutors and their ways of working.
Don’t be too hard on yourself, remember that learning to be a student is a job along with learning whatever it is you have actually signed up to learn. As you progress you will learn tricks and habits that suit your particular lifestyle and learning style. The goal is to learn and develop as an artist, and at the end of the course to be able to submit a portfolio for assessment that fizzes with passion and inventiveness and that you can feel proud of as a fitting tribute to the hours of study you have dedicated to its production. Although of course there is a wide range at assessment, the vast majority of portfolios clearly demonstrate such an impressive commitment to studying, often in significantly less than ideal circumstances, that I never fail to be moved by the experience of seeing all that dedication and love laid out before me.


Posted by author: Emma Drye
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3 thoughts on “About the length of a piece of string

  • Thank you so much for this, Emma! It comes at a very good point for me. I am just starting POP1 as my third Level 1 course. It really has taken me two courses to estabish that “effective distance learning studentship” you speak about. And there is still the challenge of learning to find my way around the opportunities that exist for sharing work and being part of the community of students. Josie Thomas

    • Thanks Josie – I wonder if we can persuade someone to do a blog which can function as a quick guide to all that is out there. I know there are study days, crit hangouts, online folios and all sorts as well as student led facebook groups, sketch crawls and exhibitions and publications. Following other student’s blogs is great too.

  • Really nice, thanks for that, Emma!
    Totally agree with you when you wrote about developing as an artist, and learning to become a learner…. so true! And the expression “… fizzes with passion and inventiveness…” is simply wonderful and I am going to try and use it as much as possible!

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