In this post and illustration, recent Edinburgh College of Art graduate Hannah Riordan reflects on her experience of learning digitally during the final months of her degree and highlights the challenges and opportunities that it raised for assessment, student engagement and well-being…
Like most 2020 graduates, I was gutted to find out my studies would not end in a way I had expected. The prospect of the physical ‘ECA’ degree show was what had kept me motivated to keep up my work ethic and produce the best illustrations I could. So, when I found out that the degree show understandably would not take its usual format, I couldn’t help feeling disheartened. I obviously recognised that me not having a degree show was a very small and insular problem in comparison to all the suffering that was happening in the world as a result of the pandemic. This just made me feel guilty as my issues were so insignificant, yet I was still upset by them. Needless to say, the initial move to online learning was a strange mix of emotions.
The first week of online learning consisted of moving my things out the studio and figuring out how I could rework the physical projects that I had intended to complete into something that would work for a digital PDF submission. We were given a week extension to compensate for this time, however making the digital PDF submission took so much time in the weeks leading up to the hand in. So, in hindsight I think a larger extension would have been fairer.
We used the blackboard collaborate system class meetings about assessment requirements, individual tutorials, group crits and for the Viva part of our assessment. As a side effect of verbal communication being slightly harder in these meetings, I found the written resources we were given to be a lot more thorough. I found these resources a very helpful point of reference outside of contact hours. I also felt that the chatroom capability on the collaborate system was extremely useful. We used it to address questions and feedback as and when we thought of them whereas in a traditional pre- Covid meeting, we would have to wait until there was an opportunity to speak without interrupting someone to voice ourselves.
One part of the ECA experience that I really did feel the absence of was the ECA onsite spaces and resources. Leaving the glass windows and castle view of the studio to work within the 4 magnolia chipboard walls of a dark student flat was certainly a downgrade. I didn’t realise how much of an effect my working environment could have on my creativity and productivity. Spending almost 24 hours in the same room without the appropriate facilities definitely made it feel like the magnolia walls were closing in sometimes. Obviously, this was unavoidable issue. It would have been impossible at my time of study to use the ECA facilities within the government guidelines. However, for this year’s cohort things could be different. I think it is important to keep facilities like studio spaces and print workshops available for students even if the nature of spaces will have to adapt to fit within the current guidance on social distancing.
I am hopeful that my year will still find a way to have a physical celebration of our hard work and achievements over the past academic year, once the world has gone back to some sort of normality and we can do so safely.