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4 Strategic issues within Art & design units

4.0.1 In this section the author has attempted to bring together various threads in the report to provide a framework of issues which any unit should consider when attempting to develop a coherent strategy.



4.1 Information Strategies for Art & Design

4.1.1 Within the context of greater integration, harmonisation and collaboration it is important that art & design units articulate clearly their own strategy with respect to computer and communications technologies. There is certainly a strong belief outside the sector (and, to some extent, also within it) that art & design has been particularly poor at promoting its interests in wider forums. Whatever the reasons for this may be, it is not a criticism which can be ignored and this report is mainly directed to ways in which this weakness may be overcome.


4.1.2 A strategy for computer and communication technologies in relation to art and design must encompass both the viewpoint of administration & management, and the viewpoint of teaching, learning, & research. Within each of these areas there are different issues concerned with "information" and "practice".

Within this diagram each of the four terminal nodes raise a different set of issues:


4.1.3 Most institutions (within the UK) discuss computer and communications technologies within the framework of an "information" or "information technology" (IT) strategy. Adopting this approach accentuates issues concerned with information and obscures issues surrounding practice. This is a problem for everyone, but it is a particular problem for art & design because of the prominent position that specific practices play within teaching, learning and research. These practices tend to be sidelined when there is a strong centralised push towards developing an Information Strategy of the kind recommended by the funding councils.


4.1.4 By focusing on information attention is drawn to the common attributes of computer use (data is coded in a certain way, it is kept in files and folders or directories, it is stored on disks and tapes and transmitted over networks). From an institutional perspective it is natural to concentrate upon information because it provides a common set of concepts across all disciplines and leads to controlled discussion and simple strategy documents. Unfortunately such an approach can be too simplistic and will fail if it ignores the relationship of information to practice. For the reasons outlined above, it is likely to fail most seriously in art and design.

Recommendation 1: Art & design units need to develop a local strategy with respect to computing and communication technologies, based upon their sense of the essential nature of art & design education and within the context of their wider objectives. When developing such a strategy particular attention should be given to the support of art & design practices as well as the dissemination of information. Units within larger institutions should promote their strategy within the context of any institutional strategy.



4.2 Administration and Management

4.2.1 Most institutions have clear policies with regard to what information is kept, who is responsible for maintaining it and who may have access to it. What is a lot less clear is the complex of legal and regulatory restrictions relating to digitised data. All data will be subject to laws covering libel, privacy (e.g. the Data Protection Act), obscene publications, etc. There are also many issues surrounding intellectual property rights (e.g. copyright law) which need to be specifically interpreted in the context of multimedia. There are also legal issues with regard to world-wide web (www) servers which may contain official information about courses, fees, etc. and which may be legally enforceable. There are also regulations covering the use of networks (particularly JANET) which restrict certain types of use. Work from art and design units in particular may be in conflict with some of these regulations. Most units seem aware of these issues in general but would welcome more information and advice.


4.2.2 Networking applications, such as email and access to centralised records systems, can make life simpler or make it more complex, depending on how they are integrated into practice. Implemented badly they will lead to problems such as information overload and fragmentation of decision making. If it is done well they will simplify the administrative duties of staff and lead to more effective decision making. Evidence from other subject areas suggests that in some departments where all staff are regular users of email, discussions can take place via the email system prior to formal meetings which can then be held less frequently and with greater effect. This relies upon all staff having and using their email accounts on a daily basis and there are a number of problems in achieving this. It can, however, be introduced for specific groups and extended as conditions permit.

Recommendation 2: Art & design units should initiate and support collaborative projects to collect information and provide guidance on the legal and regulatory aspects of material held on computers and should make this available to the sector. Units should also investigate ways in which electronic communication systems could enable them to reduce dependence on physical meetings and facilitate more discussion and less paperwork.



4.3 Teaching and Learning

4.3.1 While there are a number of projects to make relevant electronic images and text available either via CD-ROM or Internet, there is little evidence that this has had much impact on teaching in art & design. This is partly because staff are unwilling to make it an integral part of a course when there is a lack of usable equipment located in the right place. There is also a degree of scepticism among staff concerning the quality of images compared to traditional photographic and printing technologies. However, it does seem to be the case that many students are using the www, particularly in the theory or discourse related aspects of courses, and it would be useful if more data on this type of activity could be collected and shared.


4.3.2 There are also decisions to be taken concerning the location at which electronic information services should be delivered. Frequently they are located within a traditional library, but this can give rise to problems of access and in relation to existing regulations (for example, the loan policy for CD-ROMs). It has also been argued that the information should be made available first in the workshop or studio. A further view is that institutions should plan an extended intranet which would provide such information on demand and through which students can access the data anywhere within the institution or from their home.


4.3.3 A large number of issues were raised with respect to the relationship between art & design practices and art & design education. Computer pool rooms look different from other workshops and studios. The equipment is usually located on desktops with little space for other work, with no consideration for the immediate environment (e.g. the provision of pinboards) and little opportunity for group collaboration or review. This makes traditional teaching methods (such as critical review) difficult to carry out.


4.3.4 Most tools within art & design workshops and studios are under the control of students who act under the supervision of technical and academic staff. This relationship to tools is central to the culture of much of art & design. The computer originates from a different culture where it is presented as "infrastructure" and subject to centralised management and control. Given the ease with which computers can now be assembled, maintained and extended by their owners there is no longer the need for such centralised control. Responsibility for the equipment can easily be devolved to the art & design unit, to staff within the unit or even to individual students as the various practices demand.


4.3.5 As students and staff acquire equipment of their own they will wish to use this in conjunction with equipment owned and managed by the institution. Currently, in many institutions, this is discouraged if not prohibited. In the longer term sensible strategies of shared responsibility for provision will need to be developed in institutions.


4.3.6 Many units provide a common first year module which aims to provide all students with sufficient skills so that subsequent modules can expect them to be reasonably self-sufficient with respect to using the equipment and learning the basics of new software packages. Such a module suggests that there should be declared levels of competence for students and staff, both generic across all sub-disciplines and subject specific. There is also potential here for greater efficiencies of staff time but this is often dependent upon customised teaching rooms, with a special tutor's workstation networked to a significant number of students' workstations and projection and amplification facilities.

4.3.6 Many units are moving, or have moved, towards a modular course structure and there is a degree of uncertainty about the future extent of modularisation. It is likely that courses will, in future, have to be far more accessible with respect to presenting information about themselves and, where relevant, providing content-related material on demand to students. While such academic developments should not be technology driven, there are technological implications of such schemes.

Recommendation 3: Art & design units should consider the location, configuration and environment around computers so that traditional teaching and learning practices can take place.

Units should consider the need for a common first year module teaching generic technical skills with relation to digital technologies. This could be extended to a wider consideration of the relationship of communication technologies to student centred learning and modularity.

Units should develop strategies so that responsibility for the purchase, installation, and maintenance of computers resides with those who use them in practice. These strategies need to allow for the integration of equipment owned by students and staff



4.4 Research

4.4.1 A lot of attention is focused on the relationship of research to teaching, particularly within the 'new' universities. In practice, research projects often set their own agendas and have their own tightly prescribed set of objectives and deadlines. In many cases there is no clear link between their immediate outcomes and undergraduate teaching. This is not to say that they do not have a beneficial indirect impact on teaching through increased technical expertise, the dissemination of new ideas and awareness of technological change.


4.4.2 Art and design units have historically been isolated for a number of reasons: their origins as specialist colleges, their physical locations, their different methodologies and, some might say, their chosen isolationism. Their move into the higher education sector occurred at a time when competition was paramount and this has exacerbated the isolation of some units. It is now possible to begin to overcome this historical legacy: to look forward to a period of collaboration in which barriers are falling and the role of art and design, in collaboration with other disciplines, is recognised as crucial to national development. A reliable communications network that links individuals and workplaces in all colleges is central to this development but so is a willingness to work closely with other disciplines.


4.4.3 The integration of art and design into specific research programmes that are intellectually challenging is of paramount importance. With respect to multimedia and networked services in general, there is a definable need for more funded research and development projects that aim to deliver the multimedia content described in the Foresight and Info 2000 programmes. Such projects need to combine the design and practical skills found in art and design with the technological skills found in computer science and engineering and the human studies skills found in psychology and the social sciences.


4.4.4 The majority of information technology-based products are unattractive, difficult to understand and difficult to use, and they are thereby limited in their commercial success. The usability of multimedia systems is a topic that science and technology has been unable to address satisfactorily within its own disciplines. Artists and designers have a distinctive approach which is oriented towards usable finished products and which can overcome the limitations of other more formal methods. A genuine combination, not just of the skills that each partner can bring to bear but of the methods that each partner adopts, could be particularly fruitful.

Recommendation 4: Art & design units should endeavour to bring to the attention of those research councils which have responsibility for funding computing and communications research the very important contribution that artists and designers can make to these fields, and should explore mechanisms whereby this potential might be better realised.



4.5 Equipment

4.5.1 The art & design sector is fully aware of how serious the problem is with respect to the provision of computer terminals to staff and students. Any estimates of the shortfall, as against some ideal model of provision, is certain to throw up a huge deficit for which there is no easy remedy. Every institution will have to face the fact that in order to develop any kind of purchasing policy, expectations will have to be curtailed, certain areas will have to be given priority and every opportunity to acquire equipment other than through internal funds explored.


4.5.2 Art and design units need to develop realistic policies on the provision of computers for staff. With the increasing importance of networking, and the fact that some benefits can only be achieved if staff regularly use their computers for communication, there is an institutional need for staff to have easy access to networked computers in their office and/or through external links to where they do their work.


4.5.3 At present there is strong adherence to Apple Macintosh equipment in all areas of art & design. Such equipment is relatively expensive and, for some purposes, may not perform as well as some competitors. Particularly in a time of scarce capital resources, alternative suppliers should be considered.


4.5.4 Stronger and better cases could be made to funding authorities, at all levels, to improve the amount of funding flowing to art and design for computer equipment. Such arguments at present suffer from a lack of comparative information and the sector must help itself by cooperating on the collection of authoritative data.


4.5.5 There is evidence that the future of capital funding is bleak. Institutions should be aware that, though there are some opportunities to acquire equipment other than through institutional funding, there are no known examples where these have had a significant effect on the deficit. Few institutions have yet considered what it would mean to look to the private sector for large scale equipment support (though some have) yet this topic will have to be confronted in any realistic strategy.

Recommendation 5: Art and design units need to develop policies on the provision of computers for staff, particularly with respect to part-time staff and technicians. The policy needs to give guidance on where equipment allocated to staff should be kept and the expectation for staff to be network accessible. Units should review any explicit or implicit policy of adherence to a single supplier.

Units should initiate and support projects to collect more data concerning numbers and funding of equipment in art and design units and make this available to the sector and should develop positive strategies to try to attract external funding to provide computer equipment.



4.6 Networks

4.6.1 The Joint Academic Network (JANET) links institutions. The distribution of that network within a particular institution is seen as an internal matter for the institution concerned (as is the distribution of any capital funds). For lecturers and students within art & design such distinctions are arbitrary. The network for them is as good as the service it provides to their desktop. In many cases it provides no service at all (either because they have no computer or no network connection point) and in many other cases it operates at very slow speeds (either because their own connection is slow or because the network within the other unit is slow).


4.6.2 An effective network would enable planning, not as 154 separate colleges teaching art & design, but as a nation-wide sector. Within this sector, institutions that had particular expertise could offer services to the entire sector, rather than just their own students, and could in return draw upon the expertise of other institutions in other sub-disciplines. However, art & design units lack the confidence in the infrastructure to make such a concept central to their planning . One of the major reasons contributing to this attitude is the split of responsibility between funding councils and institutions.


4.6.3 There needs to be a degree of collective development if the benefits of networking are to flow. It would be preferable to have a nationally coordinated plan to develop the network both within and between institutions but, in its absence, art and design units could act more decisively to ensure that the sector is properly served. Large discrepancies in extension of the network and its capacity are very inefficient because it is impossible to capitalise on developments when the provision of service is uneven. National guidelines on desirable minimum network standards for art and design units is the only sensible way to progress.


4.6.4 For example, it could be argued that all institutions in the sector should attempt, by 1 January 1998, to provide a minimum service so that still images can be delivered on demand from any art & design unit in the UK to any staff desk or teaching space in any other unit, at any time of the day. It has been suggested that an effective bandwidth of 2 Mb/sec right through to each desktop would be required to achieve this.


4.6.5 A guideline of this kind would be a first step, with a built-in progression so that short video and audio files are deliverable on demand by 1 January 1999. To achieve this it has been suggested that a minimum bandwidth of 20 Mb/sec would be required to each desktop.


4.6.6 There needs to be opportunities for units to develop specific on-line resource centres in subject specialisations. It is unlikely that these would follow the information-based learning approaches adopted in the TLTP programme, for example. The intention would be for these centres to develop useful material to support teaching and learning practices in art and design in conjunction with subject specialists throughout the UK. The projects will need to be properly evaluated so that the true costs and benefits can be identified. The CTIAD would play a central role in coordinating these developments at the national level.


4.6.7 It is still not possible, in practice, to distribute files easily around the network as there are so many different file formats and different compression and conversion software is used by different mail systems. Though this is a general problem, art & design units need to be aware that this could become an obstacle to greater collaboration if the issue is not addressed locally.

Recommendation 6: Art & design units should collaborate to decide upon a desirable national minimum level of network provision and maximum pressure should be exerted within institutions for this to be achieved.

Units should endeavour to persuade the funding councils to continue to support projects to develop and disseminate subject specific materials for art and design.



4.7 Professional support

4.7.1 For reasons indicated above, art and design units need to pay extra attention to developing and articulating their strategies with respect to the use of computer and communications technologies. In developing their own strategy and in negotiating within larger institutional contexts, there is a need for experienced IT professionals who not only understand art & design, but who are sympathetic to its aims and methods and who are trusted by art & design staff. Experience has shown that these conditions only exist where there are professional staff accountable to the art & design unit. Those units within the university sector may need to negotiate with their centralised computing agency in order to exercise the greater autonomy they need.

Recommendation 7: Institutions should endeavour to ensure that there are technical and/or professional staff with experience of computers and communications that are accountable to the head of art and design.



4.8 Art & Design community

4.8.1 The art & design community within higher education needs to recognise that many of the issues covered in this report are best dealt with collaboratively and that the spirit of competition, which is still strong both between institutions and between art & design and other disciplines, is an obstacle to progress within a more integrated world. The support of individuals and units for collaborative and national initiatives is very important if the case for art & design is to be better presented both locally and nationally.


4.8.2 There is a need for better quantitative information on what happens to art & design graduates and more qualitative information on how an art and design education addresses such national issues as employment, the economy, social cohesion and cultural diversity.


4.8.3 The support of the art & design community outside higher education (involving such bodies as the Arts Council, the Design Council, employers of graduates, suppliers of equipment, etc.) is crucial in many ways. There is also a need for a closer dialogue between the sector and units within it and this wider community to ensure that they contribute to the financial viability of educational programmes in art & design that involve computer and communications technologies.

Recommendation 8: Art & design units should support and encourage national initiatives to improve the status and funding of the entire sector. The sector should attempt to persuade appropriate bodies (e.g. the Arts Council, the Design Council, the Crafts Council, regional arts bodies, the Humanities Research Board & the ESRC) to support research into the national contributions made by art & design and its graduates. Art & design units need to initiate a dialogue with the wider art & design community concerning the latter's material support for technological infrastructures.