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Casting About: online support for casting and mould-making

Plasticman photo: Debbie Whitmore, courtesey of NTU

Author: Richard Arm
Institution: Nottingham Trent University

Keywords: practical skills, web-based, digital resource, mould making, casting


Richard Arm, a senior technician on the Visual Arts team at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), won an ADM-HEA Teaching Fellowship in 2009-10.  Here he reports on the development of ‘Casting About’ a web-based resource for students developing skills in casting and mould-making.

Aims

The aim of ‘Casting About’ was to establish and implement a unique, web-based, open-access digital resource to support students’ acquisition and development of practical workshop skills in art and design subjects.    The ADMFTS award and co-funding from NTU, enabled us to develop an effective and ergonomic tool to complement our traditional teaching methods in the area of mould-making and casting methods and materials.

The tool is available at http://www.castingabout.co.uk

Impacts on learning
Feedback suggested the video tutorials in particular have played a crucial role in the development of students’ practical skills and in meeting students’ expectations.

Feedback indicates that the availability of on-demand specialist knowledge broadened the creative scope of our students. The consolidation of specialist knowledge as an open-access website enabled us to widen participation across the department, further stimulating and energising the local, creative learning environment.

In April 2010 a final year fashion design student, who had no previous experience in the area of casting, wrote, ‘I never knew I could do any of this. If I had known what I could do here from the beginning, it would have changed my approach completely.’   Making our students aware that they control their own learning, and by giving them the means to learn at their convenience, ensures our students do not experience frustration caused by access to learning. Biggs (1999 p.27) called this 'self-controlled learning’ and it is a practice well documented in educational literature.

In particular, feedback suggests, the website addressed feelings of frustration, previously caused by the lack of access to specialist technical support and learning resources.  These issues are especially important when compounded with increased demand from larger cohorts and reduced funding.  A final year Fine Art international exchange student commented: ‘I found the videos with subtitles really helpful because I can control the speed I learn and refer back to them if I forget or don’t understand anything.’

The future
To establish an effective and cohesive network of professionals capable of reproducing similar resources in the future, I have identified three instrumental changes that our research, experience and feedback suggests need to transpire.

It is appreciated that these changes may be ‘painful growth’, but it could have a profound influence on creativity within the institution, with even wider sector implications.

1) Devolution of IT Services author administration of online materials and resources.  In order to propagate inspiring and relevant support for students, it is essential to empower subject specialists in the creation of new teaching learning materials.

2) Support, assistance and involvement in the design and facilitation of creation and embedding electronic, practical skills support.  Repositioning of internal funding and ‘buy-out time’ procedure to allow existing staff to concentrate and prioritise their efforts during non-term time.

3) The creation of an ‘Action Group’ made up of a number of skilled, existing staff.  Experienced in design and production of web-based multimedia resources, this ‘Action Group’ will help foster and incubate creativity within this area. The group’s main responsibility will be to provide the drive and the means for subject specialists to produce new resources.


Conclusion
Regardless of specific course or genre, the production of similar supplementary, digital, teaching and learning resources is transferable.  Using technology in the support of learning practical skills or imparting information is crucial to the continuation of excellence and growth within the British education system.

Every good practitioner is aware of the need for institutional change in order to accommodate changing occupational demands and student expectations. Indeed, it is well documented in pedagogic literature, but the importance and urgency for expansion of these ideals was effectively summed-up by BECTA in 2008, ‘The strategic leadership of organizational change is critical in realizing the benefits of technology’ (BECTA, p.6).

However, the importance of technology and the role it has to play in institutional reform can begin with a handful of teachers who recognize the needs of a ‘digital generation’.

 

Biography
Richard Arm is a senior technician on the Visual Arts team in the School of Art and Design at Nottingham Trent University (NTU).


References
BETCA (2008) Harnessing Technology: Next Generation Learning 2008-2014
Online.  www.becta.org.uk. Date accessed 20.08.2010.

Biggs, J. (1999) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Buckingham, Open University Press.



Listing image photo: Richard Arm. Workshop interface; a dedicated computer terminal to support learning at point of contact
Main photo: Debbie Whitmore courtesy of Nottingham Trent University. 'Plasticman', Richard Arm in midst of student work