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In conversation: OCA tutor Katrina Whitehead & Fine Art student Ana Barahona. 

I am sure we would all agree that life can get in the way of studying via distance learning and that our time management could always be better. I have already been sat at my laptop since 7am and after answering a few emails and doing a bit of on-line ‘housekeeping’, I ask myself, where has the last hour gone? 

However, as a tutor, it is always encouraging when students have completed their OCA unit within the deadline and there can also be some students who complete their studies despite experiencing some difficult life and personal circumstances. 

I am proud that one of my incredible students – Ana Barahona – has recently achieved completion of her first Fine Art Drawing level 1 (HE4) unit, against all the odds, and I am delighted that she has been able to set aside some time to answer my questions, in order to help any other students who are finding time management a bit of a challenge. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Ana, I live in Nicaragua and I mostly work at an office, but I love making art. I’ve always enjoyed being creative and I enjoy it a lot. 

You live in Nicaragua, so how did you hear about Open College of the Arts? 

I came across Open College of the Arts while looking for an online art degree. The program seemed very interesting and with more possibilities of producing the assignments at a pace that I could accommodate with my work and daily chores.

Why do you want to study a degree in Fine Art? 

I want to study Fine Art because getting an art degree has been in my mind for some time. You may say you don’t need a degree to paint or draw, but learning tricks of the trade and about basic art concepts can really helped develop the creative process. And personally, I feel I can learn much more with guidance from a tutor/professor. Even in art classes that I’ve taken outside of OCA, feedback is very helpful to improve my work.

What did you enjoy about the course so far?

I enjoyed that there is a lot space for exploring and to push myself further. I think I was a bit “stiff” on the first assignments, but I learned that I could push the envelope and learn and explore more. The course offers a variety of subjects to work from and I think that is essential in the development of our own creative process and art. 

How do you find distance learning? 

Distance learning has its benefits (doing work in your own time) and it is also difficult when you have to juggle work, home and studying. The advantage is that once you get organised and set your mind into it, you can really study and develop your skills such as researching and creating more art. 

How do you set aside time to carry out the assignments?

At the beginning it was difficult to adjust. But what worked out best for me was to go through all of the material and assignments that needed to be finished for the section, research the overall subject and plan out from there on. Planning days and specific times to complete the Research Points helped me a lot more and gave me time to complete the exercises and assignments (which would take longer to complete).

Did you have any challenges in your personal life which affected your studies?

Towards the end of the last part of the course, I was out of a job and we had several months of political and social unrest in the country that affected me. I found it hard to want to create and focus on the assignments and I did have some depression that was coming from the insecurity around. Sometimes, I think about what I could’ve done with all that free time and the artwork I could’ve produced. But the truth is, I wasn’t in a place that I felt I could create anything. We may not realise it at the moment, but everything that surrounds us can affect us negatively or positively. Eventually, I was able to start a new job and little by little I completed my tasks and I think that what I was able create may not have been this good. There was more meaning in my assignment.

Did you find OCA supportive during and difficulties? 

I was so afraid to ask for help to student services and to contact my tutor because I felt embarrassed about my situation and I thought that maybe I had just made it an excuse not to create. I was worried that it might be too late, but I finally requested an extension and they were all very supportive about it. I felt relief after I found out I could send my work and complete the course. If you are feeling like you need help, don’t hesitate to ask! It’s scary to ask for help and you may feel embarrassed about it, but trust me it can change for better.

Did you face any challenges with regards to sending work to your tutor? 

I did find some challenges. I couldn’t find a portfolio case so I outsourced it from U.S. and then I found out that it would take about 2 months (approximately) for the package to arrive to the U.K. from Nicaragua. So, my only choice was to send it from the U.S. on my next trip (which was closer to my deadline and made me very nervous). Then, there were some issues with the delivery of the package to my tutor which made me even more nervous as I didn’t want to miss the deadline. I would suggest that you find out on time about your local postal service and try to work around that. Having the blog has definitely been a blessing because the work that I’ve done all throughout the course is there. I have read comments from peers that they find it time consuming, and it is. But the blog is a great tool for personal growth and assessment because we get to analyse our work and our approach to the assignment. It also helps me going back to it from time to time and reviewing how I approached the subject then, what I could improve next time…And of course, in case your work gets delayed in the mail you have some online backup.

Any advice you would offer other students who are struggling with time management? 

I would advise anyone struggling with time management to pause for a minute and try to find a routine that works for you. I watched and read about time management and not everything applies to me. So, making my own and finding what works best for me really helped. Plan and work ahead every time you can. For instance, you can work 1+ hour a day to do Research Points (even work in advance). They can be time consuming but they are also very helpful and doing little by little doesn’t feel so overwhelming. For the exercises you can also work at scheduled times. What matters is that you do them and slowly you will build a good routine and you’ll complete all the assignments on time.

Thank you, Ana, for the time you have taken to write these answers! 
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Posted by author: Katrina Whitehead
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