In this post and accompanying illustration, Melanie Grandidge a 2020 graduate in Illustration from the Edinburgh College of Art describes how a student’s social health, measured by the extent of their social support is just, if not more, important to successful digital teaching and learning as having access to the right resources and materials…
The first online meeting I had with my tutors and classmates felt so odd. We were still getting used to just the thought of this big change. The first group meeting outlined changes to our assessment requirements and how the transition to online submission would go. Being able to see everyone’s homes and for them to see mine felt almost intrusive. But after that very strange week when I cleared my studio desk and tried to set up a space in my flat, it was heart-warming to see the smiling faces of my class altogether again. I was lucky enough to have very sympathetic and understanding tutors who were incredibly supportive in helping us get through this strange time to the end of our degree.
After that first group meeting, I had a one to one tutorial to discuss how I was going to change my projects to work without facilities and to fit into multiple online viewable PDF documents instead of the degree show format. This took some time and whilst I was trying to figure out a new plan, I had to move into a different flat quite suddenly. Luckily, I moved into a flat with three other Edinburgh College of Art students (two from my course) who were going through the same things and trying to finish their degree online. This resulted in a very busy kitchen table and consequently orange juice on my laptop (I learnt to put glasses/mugs on a different surface than the device with your whole degree work on it). Luckily, I had everything backed up and the laptop recovered remarkably well! Nevertheless, having friends with me going through the same problems helped me so much as we created a smaller version of what I loved in the Illustration studio- a community. We were able to ask each other for advice on our work when we were stuck or simply a shoulder to cry on when we were struggling. I think the pandemic ultimately put everything into a strange different perspective where what really mattered most was having friends and family close (ironically). I was incredibly lucky to have friends with me as we still had many fun memories from that strange time being stuck in the house.
There were some bittersweet positives to only being able to go out once a day. For starters, I saved a lot of money. As only one person from each household could go into the shop at once we started doing group food shops which made us feel like a real family. Because we only went to the shop once a week, I saved a lot of money. I wasn’t popping to Sainsbury’s anymore from the studio for a snack or going to a café to draw and drink coffee. With less social events, I had more time to concentrate on my uni work. I would hardly ever have anything planned for the day and I was on furlough from my part-time job, so I had all day every day to work on my projects. This was good and bad as I would never have any time off apart from the one walk/run a day, so a healthy work/life balance was tricky. Despite this, I felt as though I built my own consistent routine. I was eager to keep up morale for myself and my flatmates, so it was the little things that helped give my day routine. I took up running with my flatmate and we often did this in the morning to give us energy for the rest of the day. I also started making nicer breakfasts and making a coffee which boosted my mood. On from that we would sit at the kitchen table finishing off work, scanning in sketchbooks and putting our life together on small resolution A4 landscape PDF’s. I think for students going into next year with hybrid teaching, I think it’s important that the university supports students to make sure they have a desk at home or access to one safely in the university. I found that having a separation between meal times, breaks and uni work was important to keep a healthy routine and a positive mind.
Ultimately, if you’re lucky enough to have nice flatmates and a good desk or workspace setup, most people can eventually adjust to working from home. Despite this, I found it difficult to be motivated and to have confidence in my work. Now that we weren’t having a degree show, it felt like no one was going to see my work anyway. With working from home often being a struggle, I think it is important that staff attempt to compensate for this by being there for students when they need them. However, apart from many aspects, the main thing I struggled to do my work to the same standard as, was facilities. Some students have better setups than others, so I think it is important that this is accounted for and there is support for students who don’t have good home working environments. For the next academic year, I think it is important that specialised facilities remain open if possible with social distancing and safety measures. For Illustration students, the print workshop for example, is a wonderful place where some of our best work is often produced and where we make our biggest mistakes and learn the most. Even with an organised booking system, I hope this stays open for future students as I dearly missed it at the end of my final year.
I found it helpful how we could sign up for extra meetings with our tutors if we needed it for when we had something specific to get advice on. When we had group sessions on blackboard collaborate, it was useful to have the chat function as we could ask questions as well went through and whilst they were current and on the mind. It worked well when one tutor would carry on with the main talk whilst another tutor answered the questions in the chat function. This helped the meeting to run smoothly and efficiently whilst not being interrupted. I think it is important staff listen to their students and take on any suggestions they might have. Our tutors scheduled additional meetings when it became apparent that some students were feeling confused or lost from a previous group meeting. I found that the tutors created more clear and detailed written handouts and emails because you couldn’t get any clarity in person in the studio.
Whilst online teaching cannot truly replace in person meetings, with a good healthy routine and well scheduled online teaching, I know other students can do well despite not having the full facilities they once had. Even though this situation was devastating, I still finished my degree well, made some fun unusual memories with my flatmates and learnt very well how to adapt quickly.