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Making the course work for you - The Open College of the Arts

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Making the course work for you thumb

Making the course work for you

stephanie belbin you are here
Assignment 4: You are here

As a tutor for the OCA I have at times had expressed to me a frustration from students on aspects of the course projects being a bit “vague”, or to put it another way, that there isn’t a clear set of instructions, such as “do this, now do that, in order to produce X,” and I thought it might be beneficial to current students to discuss this topic in a bit more detail.
Embarking on a period of study will inevitably involve a certain amount of adaptation on the student’s part in terms of their working methods, and this can seem daunting, especially for those having a career change. However, I want to highlight that far from being a negative thing, this is actually an opportunity to experiment and develop a side of their creativity which may be as yet untapped. It is also an opportunity to make the course work for them, to act as a building block in order to achieve what they want to achieve, and as I see it, this is precisely the reason why the instructions in projects are kept open. The project exercises and assignments are essentially the base for a student to work from, and rather than restricting a student’s development by putting expectations of “you will produce X”, projects are open enough to allow their individual creativity and motivation for their own development to grow and go in new and exciting directions.
stephanie belbin contemporary ceramics
Exercise: Contemporary Ceramics

A good example of this is in the work of Illustration Level 2 student Stephanie Belbin. Stephanie came to the course with an already developing sense of her creative voice, however, far from stifling this progression through focusing solely on what is being asked of her, she has used the exercises as a building block to continue to develop and adapt this voice, going beyond the instructions to produce work which not only fits the theme she’s working with, but displays an ability to consider her work within the wider context of professional illustration practice.
Take her results from the Caricature and Character exercise, Stephanie worked on developing a caricature of the singer Miley Cyrus (see below), but rather than stopping there she then produced an animated gif from her illustrations, a technique learned from an earlier exercise on animation. This shows an ability to go beyond the instructions and produce the work that she wanted to produce in keeping with the theme. In her Contemporary Ceramics submission Stephanie went beyond the exercise instructions to produce her designs ‘in the flesh’ (see above), to test whether her ideas would work beyond a drawing or digital mock-up. And one last example is her production of a downloadable book of interactive maps (see above), referencing the theme ‘you are here’.
What Stephanie’s work demonstrates is the availability for students to make the course work for them, and enable them to develop the skills they need to produce the work that they want to make.
Exercise: Caricature and Character

India Ritchie, OCA Tutor.
Image Credits: Stephanie Belbin

Posted by author: India

8 thoughts on “Making the course work for you

  • Personally I had assumed this was so that we, as students, were able to begin to find our own methods of research and development as we progressed through they course. I also believe that if there were such a rigid set of instructions it could both manifest issues relating to being unable to open up our own development, and people would complain about the restrictions resulting in each person having the same end results – in turn having no artistic approach.

  • I welcome the opportunity which the courses offer for self development and experimentation. I think the flexibility allows us to follow our own path of curiosity, and to make use of the materials we have at our disposal. Tutors and other students can provide helpful guidance if one is unsure about an aspect of the work.

  • Thanks for this explanation, I’m still trying to get my head round how I should interpret the course materials. It’s reassuring to hear that we are not working to tick lists but towards finding our own creative voices.

  • This is refreshing and good to hear. I am half way through Drawing 1. I find that each unit brings different levels of opportunity to do what interests me. I suppose as we each bring different levels of skills and interests to the course this is inevitable. I am enjoying it and hope that the final assessor is of a similar opinion to my tutor who is amazingly supportive!

  • This is a very timely topic. As someone who has not had much experience in the arts, it is daunting to consider exploration into something so unknown. My career has been entirely medical for 23 years- scientifically based, with adaptation to a patient’s specific needs used once a particular diagnosis had been reached. My struggle is not about wanting to experiment or explore- I have always enjoyed that. My struggle is to know what the Assessment team considers as standards.
    When you have never been somewhere and do not know the possibilities, it can literally be terrifying to be told to go further. “Am I going the right way? What am I missing? Am I interpreting my tutor feedback properly?” I struggle with trying to connect the course material with my tutor feedback and then to connect that with my own understanding of the material and research, and then finally to connect that to what the Formal Assessment team is looking for.
    I think I have done much more in my course material than I ever have in the past- and that is a true statement, regardless of anyone else’s opinion of my work. I think my tutors see that there is potential in my work to go even further, and they are guiding me there. I don’t believe the course material gives enough guidance as to the standards that the Assessment Team is searching for. What are the criteria? Are they grading to a set standard, or using a bell curve? How do they compare one student’s work to another, and is that even an appropriate choice?
    I want to go as far as I can, and learn as much from my tutors as possible. I also know that it takes time and research to be able to expand. I did not get to my level of expertise as a medical professional overnight- it has taken that 23 years of practice, and there is still much I don’t know. How far I go is only limited by my desire to press onward. My understanding of what is asked of me is limited by the course material and directions regarding Assessment.
    Having open-ended course material is key to learning and growing. However, the “hoops to jump” to succeed with Assessment should be clearly laid out, and transparent.

  • Rather than ‘hoops to jump’ there are doors to go through; as provided by the course materials which are designed to introduce the student to the multiple cultures of art practice which they’ll be locating their own work within. It’s up to the student to walk through and then set about their own discoveries. The course materials are catalysts to further discovery not textbooks of everything you need to know to pass the course. The tutors are there to advise you on your development out of their own considerable experiences.
    The assessment criteria give an indication of the aspects of the work which will be assessed and rewarded; ultimately compared against contemporary practices as experienced by the assessors.
    Probably the most important quality to communicate to the assessors is that of conceptual development, both in terms of how one interprets and assesses ones own work and the appreciation of the culture it takes its place within.
    In addition to the substantive outputs the burden of that communication is carried by demonstrating ones depth of engagement with the culture through thoughtful writing and analysis about ones own work in addition to the most wide ranging researches one can muster across all the mediums and available influences.
    If one works in that way the assessment will take care of itself. Also it’s important to remember that assessment grades are not carried forward in Level 1 and 2 so there’s plenty of opportunity to develop and refine ones approach across the levels.

    • As someone who is close to the end of the degree course (but not to the end of study), I remember Christian Lloyd (Course Leader, Vis Comms) telling me over a beer that the ‘penny will drop’ at some point about the work and my place within it. I have to say that Christian wasn’t quite right in respect of my experience; it has been a whole series of pennies which liken to your analogy of doors opening very nicely. And thanks for all the advice along the way Clive.

      • Your work’s come a long way conceptually, you already had the skills and presenting at a conference sets a seal in recognition of your development, now forward to the MA!

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