Desituated Art School (a provocation)

Recently I had an interesting conversation with Professor Susan Orr in which she highlighted the current importance of rethinking the ontology of the Art School in the context of COVID and lockdowns past, and maybe future. This encouraged me to consider how the identity and approach of creative disciplines, especially ‘making’ focused disciplines, might need to shift where there is little or no access to physical spaces. This, I believe, is an important question to ask even when we do find our way back into our buildings.

Lockdown has highlighted that teaching online has significant advantages over working in-buildings. This includes, flexibility, forms of inclusivity, expanded forms of access, international/transcultural opportunities and the potential for more open and connected forms of education. Clearly, we lose a lot when we are denied our buildings but that doesn’t negate the importance of the question posed by Prof Orr.

The Digitally Engaged Learning conference

My submission to the Digitally Engaged Learning Conference responds to this in the forms of a short video-based provocation. It is designed to facilitate discussion in my session on how we might reimagine, rather than replicate, our institutions online. I’ve focused on the Art School here but I believe the ideas I raise apply to any higher education institution which is predominantly thought of in terms of physical spaces.  

The Digitally Engaged Learning Conference is fully online and free to attend. It takes place 24-25 September 2020, hosted by Parsons Design School. This is the link to register.

References in the video:

Other influences on this line of thinking.

Earlier in the year I was lamenting the narrative that universities were ‘shut’ when teaching was continuing online – only the buildings were shut. I had this in mind when reviewing the data from a survey we undertook with staff and students about the effects of COVID on teaching and learning. It struck me that much of what students appear to consider ‘teaching’ online is a mirror of modes which take place in our buildings. Lectures, seminars, tutorials. Asynchronous activities and the provision of recordings is much appreciated in terms of flexibility but generally not thought of as part of teaching.

In this sense the physical building, and the teaching modes associated with it, are still what defines ‘teaching’ even when we are fully online. Online is not yet conceptualised as a teaching location in its own right when students are taking part in what is considered to be a face-to-face course, even when the design of the course involves a significant amount of online activity.

I have also been influenced in my thinking by colleagues who have been exploring what it means to teach creative subjects online. Tobias Revell has been defining the Desituated Design Studio. Tobias and his colleague Eva Verhoven have been running design studios fully online and across multiple locations internationally. Their approach doesn’t start with the building as a paradigm but with modes of interaction. The work of Dr Mark Ingham, who is a Reader in Critical and Nomadic Pedagogies, is relevant too. Mark’s work isn’t about digital per say, it’s more of an ideology which looks for the liminal spaces in which learning takes place. The value of liminal moments is keenly felt socially but is it always understood in pedagogical terms as well?

It’s time to reimagine

My headline from Lockdown is that we (including students) often have a too narrow conceptions of what constitutes teaching. We need to expand what we think of when we say ‘Art School’ or ‘University’ to integrate online or our students will not see the value of much of what we now offer.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *