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3 Empirical Findings

3.0.1 The previous section describes the general changes that made it desirable to look again at the sector. This section records the situation as described in the institutions visited with respect to the provision, arrangement, supervision and funding of equipment.

 

3.0.2 Perhaps the most important introductory point to be made is that there are many individuals, at all levels, within art & design in HE who are very enthusiastic about the future uses of digital technologies and who work extremely hard under unfavourable conditions to enable students and their peers to share their vision. A recent report to the JANET National User Group on the Art & Design Community also identified this.

"The notable finding was the enthusiasm of the people to whom I spoke. They were full of ideas for projects, teaching plans and methods for communicating their art and ideas to the world."

 

3.1 Computers & software

3.1.1 Given that the anticipated lifetime of systems is around three years, every unit felt that the present funding situation raised very serious problems both in the short and the long term. With increasing "efficiency gains" being demanded, the scope for funding new equipment or replacing outdated equipment was disappearing, if it had not already disappeared. The likely future scenario, in most cases, was a static stock of ageing hardware running outdated software unless some new initiatives could be found.

 

3.1.2 Many units reported that the quantity of workstations at their disposal is below the minimum level at which new material can be developed and integrated seriously into teaching. Put more simply, there is no point in developing modules around the technology because there are not enough computers for the students to use. The reality, therefore, is that most students receive a very basic introduction to the use of computers but very few are able to progress beyond this level to make its use an integral part of their work. The exceptions to this were units which had successfully argued for new courses in a sub-discipline of multimedia and new equipment had been specially funded by the institution.

 

3.1.3 The vast majority of computer workstations (i.e. SADCs) seen on visits were supplied by Apple Macintosh and the company's products are still favoured by the vast majority of artist and designers. Several institutions had a pool of IBM PC equipment, but not a large number of IBM PCs were being used in teaching (except in certain areas such 3D modelling and animation). There were very few Unix workstations (i.e. HPADCs) and these were usually restricted to postgraduate students and staff.

 

3.1.4 Most institutions have created a variety of clustered pooled facilities based upon different levels of functionality. At the low-performance end there are pools for word processing and similar text based operations only. These typically use compact Macintosh machines (many over five years old) and machines in the LC range. At the higher-performance end most institutions provide a number of multimedia authoring workstations, each with a range of image processing, sound processing and editing software. Most institutions also provide medium-performance pool rooms catering for topics such as graphic design and publishing.

 

3.1.5 The policy in many institutions is to only purchase machines suitable for multimedia authoring with the intention to relocate any machines thus displaced to lower-performance pool rooms. A basic multimedia workstation for multimedia typically requires 32 - 40 Mb of memory, 1 or 2 Gb hard disk, a facility for large volume off-line storage, and a range of image processing, sound processing and multimedia editing software. Such a workstation currently costs around £5,000 - £6,500, the costs split evenly between hardware and software. Ironically, while the cost of processing power is declining, the memory and processing speed required by most new software is increasing even faster, hence the cost of usable equipment is still rising. The cost of such workstations is nearly always borne by the unit from its own funds. The exceptions are where special project funding is obtained from within the institution (which had happened in two of the sites visited).

 

3.1.6 The provision of computers on staff desks is extremely uneven for a number of reasons. With limited resources, providing student pool rooms is usually given priority over the provision of machines for staff. There are also reasons associated with the different culture of art and design professions. It is impossible for a lot of artists and designers to undertake professional or research work in their offices. They need to use studios, workshops or rehearsal rooms which they often privately maintain away from the college premises: a dilemma therefore exists between their using the computer for administrative work or using it for creative work.

 

3.1.7 Within some universities, the IBM PC is the machine that is generally recommended within the institution for purchase and is the only machine that is centrally supported. IBM PCs are also more commonly used by administrative staff, including those in art and design who often have to use this equipment in order to maintain compatibility with institutional systems. When this happens their equipment is no longer compatible with that used by the academic staff they work with.

 

3.1.8 There were particular problems expressed concerning access to high-quality input/output devices. High-resolution and large-sized scanners, gesture-based input devices, 3D scanners, high-quality printers, data projectors, 3D prototyping, and high-quality video output were all mentioned as desirable resources, yet usually beyond the budget of any particular institution to acquire. Some units suggested that such equipment might be shared between institutions within a region.

 

 

3.2 Networks

3.2.1 The majority of institutions had completed the installation of network cabling for the art & design areas (usually within the previous 12 months). In only two institutions visited was this not complete. Priority for the provision of network outlet sockets was, typically (in descending order):

1. administration and academic managers

2. libraries

3. student pool areas

4. teaching staff offices

5. workshops and studios

A typical ratio for the provision of network outlets was 1 outlet per 5 ftes, though much more generous provision was found in a few institutions.

 

3.2.2 Particularly within universities, the provision of network outlets is often a separate exercise from the provision of workstations to connect to these outlets, the latter usually involving a different budget holder. There is typically very little coordination between these two activities and, because of the continuing deficit in the provision of workstations, network capacity can be provided but not initially used.

 

3.2.3 By the nature of the material used in art and design (high resolution images, video clips, audio recordings, etc.), students and staff regularly handle larger file sizes than many other disciplines. This gives rise to particular problems. For example, the need for a storage strategy which will decide the responsibility the institution accepts for file storage, and the kinds of mass storage media the institution will support.

 

3.2.4 The bandwidth that is available to the art & design unit is made up of three components:

(a) Within the art & design area

The bandwidth within the art and design unit is typically 10 Mb/sec.

(b) Within the university

Where the art and design unit is located on the same site as the computer centre the link to the rest of the university usually operates at between 100 - 200 Mb/sec. Where the art and design unit is a remote site the bandwidth can drop to 64K b/sec in some cases, but 2 Mb/sec is now common and there are several plans for upgrades to 34 Mb/sec or higher.

(c) To the outside world

Links to the outside world are typically between 2 and 34 Mb/sec.

 

3.2.5 On average, the provision of networking to the desktop was found to be significantly better within specialist colleges than within the universities (though the latter do vary considerably). This may be explained, in part, by a number of recent funding council initiatives to address the needs of these colleges. Within universities, networking was found to be significantly better if the art & design unit was located on the same site as either central computing services or the computer science department. Art and design units located in remote sites (which many are) had relatively poor networking but this is probably true of all remote sites. The technology which has the potential to overcome the problems associated with geographical distance has too frequently been implemented in a manner that has exacerbated them.

 

 

3.3 Funding issues

3.3.1 The CHEAD survey presented an argument that the equipment funding formula was outdated and disadvantaged art and design as a discipline. Though this problem persists, it was not raised as a major issue mainly because of the general decline in capital funding which has led to reduced equipment funding. Several units received no capital funding allocation during 1995/96, leading to almost no new equipment purchases.

 

3.3.2 A number of university based units felt that they did not receive significant benefits from the centralised provision of computing and communication services in their institution. Some institutions had adopted an Information Strategy which, they felt, did not take into account the views of art and design. It was suggested that managers of art and design units have been particularly poor at articulating their case with respect to such strategies, but the counter view was also expressed that institutional managers have not been particularly interested in accommodating what they see as complex and expensive demands. As a result, institutional strategies are frequently seen by the art and design unit as a crude attempt to normalise art and design practices with the rest of the institution.

 

3.3.3 Cases were quoted where "top-slicing" led to facilities which meet the needs of most of the rest of the university but not the art and design students, whose needs were expected to be met from the funds of the art & design unit. For example, where institution-wide pool rooms are established art and design students find the machines underpowered, without the necessary peripherals and containing inappropriate software. A further example would be centrally funded maintenance contracts which cover only IBM PC equipment and do not cover Apple Macintosh equipment which is used predominantly in art and design.

 

3.3.4 Several units had tried hard to acquire equipment through means other than their own institutional funds. The following approaches were known to be proceeding, though their respective costs and benefits have not yet been evaluated:

(a) donations of second-hand equipment by leading industrial companies;

(b) costs partially recovered through revenue raised by short courses or selling computer time commercially;

(c) equipment acquired as the result of a successful bid for a funding council supported project;

(d) equipment acquired as the result of a successful bid for EC funds;

Though examples of all of these were found they were at a relatively low level when compared to the scale of the shortfall.

 

3.3.5 No institution visited had declared a formal policy on students acquiring their own computers but it was known that some institutions have included a statement in certain course documents to the effect that students are expected to have their own access to appropriate computing equipment. In reality, a number of students who were keen to use the computer as a medium for their work have acquired their own equipment and this sometimes leads to their attending college less. In general, this was not yet considered a major issue and institutions still operate within the assumption that they would attempt to provide whatever computing and communication equipment their students needed.

 

3.3.6 There is a strong feeling in many institutions that, while employment opportunities in the European "media industries" are growing, art and design students in the UK are falling behind some countries with respect to the provision of appropriate computing and communications facilities.

 

 

3.4 Technical & professional support

3.4.1 In specialist colleges there were usually a number of technical or professional support staff who were accountable to the college and this system seems to work well. In universities there was usually a centralised computing service which took responsibility for the provision of networking and various professional and technical services.

 

3.4.2 The biggest variable, in the universities, was the extent and quality of the technical and professional advice that was available to the art and design faculty. This may be in the form of art and design technicians who had taken on new responsibilities, IT professional staff recruited especially for the purpose, or art & design staff who had taken on this responsibility. The situation varied from a complete absence of such people to a unit with six people within a devolved structure. The experience of several institutions was that having technical/professional computing positions accountable to the head of art and design was the most significant factor in implementing a distinctive and successful strategy for computing and communications that addressed the genuine needs of art and design.

 

3.4.2 In those units where there is no technologically literate person accountable to the head of art and design, or in times past when no such person existed, there tends to be a low level of communication, sympathy and trust between the art and design unit and central computing services.

 

 

3.5 Research funding

3.5.1 Particularly since the Research Assessment Exercise in 1992, in which many art and design units were able to participate for the first time, there has been a growing awareness of the significance of research funding in relation to technological developments. One of the possible side-effects of research funding is that the host department gains equipment and expertise which can be used more widely.

 

3.5.2 Many units felt that, without a specific research council to apply to, research funding has been difficult to obtain for art and design. Research council bidding is highly competitive and is not designed to provide genuinely equal opportunities to disciplines outside of the main remit of the council concerned.

 

3.5.3 Until recently the research and development needs of art and design were seen to be catered for by funding projects that were essentially art history projects (e.g. the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme and Electronic Library projects). More recently art and design units have been successful in bidding for development projects that relate more to their specific practices, (e.g. the CTI Art & Design and the JISC Technology Application Programme). These are not classified as "research" projects (in RAE terms) however and there is still no specific research funding for art & design.

 

3.5.4 There is a belief in some units that, particularly in the area of multimedia content, the main opportunities for funding lie in Europe rather than the UK. Unfortunately, UK art & design institutions are poorly prepared to take advantage of these opportunities. It is difficult for institutions to finance the bidding process within Europe, which is often supported in other countries within a nationally funded project. Because of the historical lack of funding, projects are taken from the UK to Europe which are not well developed. European funds usually meet only a proportion of the total cost of a project and anticipate support through national and/or institutional funding that is not easily found.