Blended Learning

Foundation Studio: Digital Visual Arts (VISA 110)

In my first year in my Instructor I position in the Department, I was granted and embarked on an ambitious TLEF proposal towards a curriculum and teaching restructuring of the large Foundation Digital Studio class (from 100 to 240 students per lecture) that I teach approximately three times a year.  I have taught this course many times and have identified that the challenging areas of teaching the course would benefit from a blended or flexible learning integration to the structure of the course.  The proposal would re-focus theoretical learning, promote independence for skill-based tasks, support the role of Teaching Assistants, and adjust the overall approach and expectation of the students.  I was granted the initiative, and over the summer of 2015 I engaged in many fruitful conversations with Jeff Miller in Education about curriculum and instructional design concepts, and worked closely with Jason Myers and Jenny Wong, (Instructional Designer in IT and CTLT) towards technological planning and execution. Over the span of the grant, I have re-designed components for this large course, to highlight the benefits of a blended learning environment, and created over 60 online technical demonstration videos, each with accompanying quizzes and videos per each module.  In order to facilitate in the execution, I trained and supervised two Undergraduate and two Graduate Research Assistants, in creating online teaching demonstrations, and assessments, an incredible asset for their professional aspirations.  After a first beta-test in January 2016 areas of clarification were identified and over the summer a vast amount of videos were adjusted as per student consultation. In 2017, I completed and piloted the second phase of the proposal, which focused on integrating peer-evaluation as part of the online strategy using ComPAIR.  For Fall of 2017, I will be re-evaluating and creating an entirely new pedagogical approach in my assignment structure, class time, TA class time, and lectures, in the re-distribution of focus of precious contact hours. Access to further information about the project is available in these links:


Project Summary

There have been drastic changes affecting the terrain of learning digital media and imaging for younger generations I currently teach.  Theories of learning such as “information storage” have become irrelevant, as the amount of knowledge is growing in accelerated leaps, a computer can do it better, and knowledge is quickly outdated nowadays. On the other side, cognitive learning theories determined learning as a “way of being”. Discoll’s learning theory of “constructivism” suggests that learners create knowledge as they attempt to understand their experiences. But instead of seeing learning as either linear, as empty vessels to fill with knowledge, or as cognitive negotiators actively attempting to create meaning, how could we facilitate learning that utilizes knowledge that occurs in this new place, outside of the self? Newfound challenges had been revealing themselves in my years teaching Visual Arts 110 Foundation Studio:  Digital Visual Arts.  I realized these challenges presented an opportunity to understand learning differently, motivating me to engage with surprising, messy, chaotic and even abstract potentials of the new domains of information.  The capacity to form connections between sources of information, and thereby create useful information patterns, is required to learn in our new knowledge economy.  I was inspired by George Simens idea of “Connectivism” –Connections between disparate ideas and fields that can create new innovations, because quote “decisions are based on rapidly changing new information that alters the landscape” … “choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality”. How can I use the virtual world as metaphor for learning?  The class that I flipped, “Visual Arts Digital Foundation” is a large introductory studio course that focuses on how the “machine” influences art making.  Through a narration of art history, theory, practice and research, students learn how to read and create Visual Art Works.  The weekly course structure is a a one-hour large lecture conducted by myself that is then segmented off into smaller 20 student 3 hour lab sections led by TAs.  It is primarily a studio course, therefore students are required to execute artworks to demonstrate their research and critical thought process when working with sources from recording devices, then executed in digital formats, using Adobe Photoshop and Premiere software. Usually, technical demonstrations were done by TAs in the labs and approached learning how to use these tools as systematic and something to be conquered.  This approach used a computer in a one dimensional way, to continue to just see learners as ‘cognitive processors’ of skill building.  There were and still are significant changes going on, such as the fact that learners of the generation I was teaching would move into a variety of possibly unrelated fields over the course of their lifetime, and this should influence how we teach.  As well, technology is not an inanimate tool to be learned, but instead is actually altering our brains and how we define and shape thinking.  Instead of knowledge input, humans are becoming knowledge management systems, to know how to reach, when to use, how to find, apply and reanimate, ever-changing knowledge. References: Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), 3-10.


Challenges

The challenges that would inform the methods that would turn VISA 110 into a ‘blended’ classroom were:

  • Diverse Student Backgrounds Students have varied experiences with the programs, therefore there was no way for a TA to deliver technical demonstrations in lab that would work for all students. Some students were new and needed time and repetition and a slower pace, some felt demonstrations took up too much time and were unchallenging because they had previous experience with the software, though not familiar with the concepts of the class.
  • Distractions Because many of the contact hours were spent on technical demonstrations, students tended to be pre-occupied with technical skill-building rather than main objectives of the course -which are worth more to them of “how to read and create contemporary artworks that demonstrate an affective, ethical, critical and intelligent approach to the digital medium.” Needed to refocus contact hours towards discussions of the value and role of artistic practice.
  • Student Pride & Decision Making Limited contact hours and the time-consuming nature of technical demonstrations only allowed for TA’s to teach one program per project, and in a very specific way. Therefore, many projects looked like variations of the same.  This doesn’t really work for art making where the subjective and decisions reveal much about agency.
  • Life-Long Learners Evolve one-time “skill-building” lessons into life-long learning techniques by developing habits of self-initiated exploration, research and online resource use.
  • Collegiality A community setting is missing from digital art-making, therefore needed to cultivate a sense of collegiality which is very important to studio based research and practice.
  • Student Schedules A 4 hour/week class at sometimes awkward times became difficult for this generation’s schedule reality, (increased tuition, jobs, etc) thus, flexibility in certain aspects of learning could help out with the scheduling pressures. A flipped classroom would enable me to use reduced contact hours in a more fruitful way, replacing one of the contact hours for unscheduled online learning that they could do on their own time.
  • TA Inconsistency Graduate students are admitted into a grad program because of their artistic practice and research and there is no way to deliver technical demonstrations consistently throughout the labs because of the diverse backgrounds. Therefore, a succinct standard of demonstrations was not practiced throughout the different lab sections.
  • Teaching Assistants as a Resource & Fulfillment Specialties and research interests of the TA’s were not utilized because of the strong emphasis on technical demonstrations. Teaching Assistants are valuable because of their role as artists and researchers.  TA specialties, research and contributions as artists and academic researchers were under-utilized on basic skill-based teaching.  As well, I’m sure that overall TA’s felt unfulfilled with teaching an overwhelming amount of skill based techniques.

Methods

As a result of the above challenges, I embarked upon the creation of a technical demonstration library that would enact skill-based video demonstrations for Adobe Photoshop and Premiere as well as Audacity.  The following is an outline of the module components of the technical demonstration library, each section is introduced with an overview and concluded with extra resources that includes further links, and each module has its own video and accompanied by approximately 4-8 self-assessment quiz questions.  As well, in the second phase of the TLEF I incorporated an online peer review activity to cultivate collegiality and a sense of community in the online space.

Facilitation towards a “blended” classroom structure:
  • Eliminated technical demonstrations in lab contact hours completely so that all technical learning would be performed online.
  • Went from 2 to 4 readings and in-class reading discussions for the term.
  • Included a gallery visit that took place during lab time, led by the TA and gallery curators.
  • Extended reflective exercises on their learning, research processes, and personal goal-making, through introduction of online journals.
  • Interactive class workshops, such as a “strategies of approaching critiques” etc…
  • Added in an online peer-critique component wherein students evaluated each other’s works before the project was due.
  • Classes dedicated to set individual TA/student consultation meetings, for discussing upcoming projects before they were due.
  • Doubled the critique time, (from 6 minutes for each student & work, to 12 minutes each student) for both projects (24 critique minutes each student).
  • More broadly, focused in-class time with TAs and instructors to be more valuable and important to the functioning of the class and learning.

PHASE I:  Technical Demonstration Library

Created over 60 technical demonstration videos for three different programs, Adobe Photoshop and Premiere for still and moving image and Audacity for sound.  Using EdX as an organizational tool, the videos coincided with the scaffolding course curriculum, and self-evaluation quizzes accompanied each video.  This moved technical skill-building development to be done at each individual students’ pace and time as homework, and refocused contact hours to cover the core outcomes of the class. Technical Demonstration Library Contents:

Module 1:  Fundamentals (1 hour total) Overview 1.0  Welcome 1.1   OSX Interface 1.2  Digital Workflow and Formatting External Drive 1.3  Raster and Vector Graphics 1.4  Output and Software 1.5  Input Extra Resources

Module 2:  Photoshop (2 hours total) Overview 2.0  Introduction to Photoshop 2.1  Bits, Bytes, Histogram and Density 2.2  Colour Channels 2.3  Resolution 2.4  Photoshop Workspace 2.5  Photoshop Tools 2.6  Getting Started 2.7  Adjustment Layers 2.8  Exporting from Photoshop 2.9  Frame by frame GIF Extra Resources

Module 3:  Advanced Photoshop (1 hour total) Overview 3.0  Advanced Tools 3.1  Subtractive Manipulation 3.2  Addition Manipulation 3.3  Video to Frame GIF Extra Resources

Module 4:  Premiere (2 hours total) Overview 4.0  Introduction to Premiere 4.1  Technical Terminology 4.2  Video File Formats and Codecs 4.3  Premiere Workspace 4.4  Getting Started in Premiere 4.5  Marking Clips for Sequences 4.6  Timeline, Tools and Trimming 4.7  Exporting from Premiere Extra Resources

Module 5:  Advanced Premiere (1 hour total) Overview 5.0 Sequence and Clip Techniques 5.1 Fixing Clip Distortions 5.2 Effects and Transitions 5.3 Audio Techniques 5.4 Advanced Audio Techniques 5.5 Ken Burns Effect in Premiere Extra Resources

Module 6:  Audacity (1 ½ hours total) Overview 6.0 Introduction to Audacity 6.1 Sound Terminology and File Types 6.2 Audacity Workspace 6.3 Getting Started in Audacity 6.4 Basic Tools and Effects 6.5 The Compressor 6.6 Exporting Extra Resources

Appendix A:  Concepts (1 hour total) Overview A.1 Layout A.2 Chronology A.3 Manipulation A.4 Basic Design Extra Resources

Appendix B:  UBC Resources (1 hour total) Overview B.1 EPortfolio and WordPress B.2 Scanners B.3 Printing in the Bining Lab Extra Resources

PHASE II:  Online Peer Critique

Facilitating online social behaviours as a way to enhance collegiality was the second phase of the project.  Using ComPAIR, students were assigned sets of their peer’s  visual arts projects to compare and provide feedback.  After participating in the comparisons and reading feedback, students were then asked to self-evaluate and reflect.  The peer critique and self-evaluation was facilitated before the projects were due, to help students distinguish how their project is visually communicating, recognize and make appropriate changes.

PHASE III:  Active Learning Curriculum Development

The final phase of the project will take place in September 2017, where the class will be fully “flipped” into two hour labs (from three) and one hour of online skill-based learning.  Because of the re-arrangement of contact hours and what the TA’s and I will be doing in them, I will be utilizing active learning techniques for students to uncover the curriculum in impactful and interesting ways.


Outcomes

Thus far, the following impacts have been identified:

  • Consistency in technical tutorials across sections, and flexibility for students at different levels to learn at their own pace.
  • Evolved skill-building lessons into life-long learning habits of self-initiation, research and how to seek out and activate resources and online networks.
  • Refocused class time on theoretical discussions led to a more complex and nuanced understanding of the role of art and media in society.
  • An enhanced understanding of the characteristics of ‘medium specificity’ including disciplinary awareness of experimentation and decision-making as essential to the agency of the artist.
  • Hands on relationship with technology by making -praxis, in order to critically approach and experience the media and tools they are to philosophically dissect.
  • An overall more satisfying teaching experience for TAs as they found ways to engage and articulate their own personal research into the curriculum.
  • Increased in-class participation was insightful for TAs to identify and adapt teaching methods based on responses, revealed knowledge as well as challenges of the course material.
  • Cultivated collegiality by using ComPAIR, and online forum for peer critique for the purpose of artistic practice dialogue.

Further Development:

Comparing previous iterations of the course to the new blended version, my observations show that;

  • self-initiated learning components expanded the gap between high and low grades
  • select students still need one-on-one technical support using the programs

I will address these two concerns with the introduction of formal due dates for certain online components, as well as incorporating time-management techniques into the curriculum so as to show how self-initiated learning habits can be developed.  As well, in the next iteration of the course I plan to facilitate weekly technical workshops to supplement the online resource curriculum, which will focus on particular components of skill-based learning.  I will also schedule extra lab time with technical guidance for students int he class to practice their skills while creating their projects.  Finally, to further develop on the blended structure and use of class time, I plan to develop and facilitate appropriate active learning strategies in both the large lecture and smaller lab sections, to activate course concepts in engaging ways. The most significant change is how I am thinking about in-class time. In past years teaching the class I have dedicated many contact hours to skill-based learning, and assigned homework that would develop sensitivity for visuals to apply when making their own projects.  The flipped classroom has changed the purpose of contact hours, and also structure of assessments, therefore I participated in a Course Design Intensive at CTLT, UBC in June of 2017 to realign project and evaluation strategies to represent the new focus of the class.  As a result, I have fully re-developed the course curriculum, and will introduce new active learning techniques via TopHat in the lecture component.  As of September 2017 the lab component will be fully “flipped” taking up two hours instead of three, and I have developed an entirely new lesson plan strategy for the TA’s to practice in their lab hours.  I have inserted various smaller projects, at the request of students in the survey assessment comments, which also fully develop an understanding of each of the realigned course outcomes.  The larger projects for the course and content topics, (appropriation, medium specificity) have stayed much the same because of course and facility limitations and requirements of being a first year digital course, but with an increase in media literacy development, especially relevant to appropriation and digital media.  The media literacy development will be activated with the new smaller projects. The next revelatory change was the way in which I was using Teaching Assistants as resources, and the types of interactions facilitated with students.  As mentioned, further development into lab time curriculum and active learning strategies will further enhance knowledge retention and analysis for when it needs to be applied in larger projects.  Teaching Assistants are learning how access different learning techniques, facilitate and work within them towards becoming better teachers for their own futures.


Acknowledgements:

Jenny Wong, Educational Technologist, Faculty of Arts, Arts ISIT
Jason Myers, Instructional Designer/Project Manager, CTLT
Jeff Miller, Senior Associate Director, Flexible Learning
Adriana Briseno-Garzon, Flexible Learning Evaluation Coordinator
Silver Burla, Undergraduate Research Assistant