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2. The lecture series
"Digital Futures": A Case Study in a Faculty of Art & Design
2 The DIGITAL FUTURES Lecture Series
2.5 Problems encountered and overcome
2.5.1 It is a matter of conjecture whether any of the 'problems encountered' were exactly 'overcome' - to judge by some of the student assessments (see section 3.3 below) some problems were insurmountable. Obviously the initial problem of lack of equipment was 'overcome' to a point where no aspect of the course had to be abandoned as impossible but this was not true of the follow-up workshops where antiquated technology couldn't meet some students' expectations. The riddle remains to be solved, of course: that a successful demonstration of a facility tends to increase rather than satisfy the demand to be able 'to do it yourself', at which point the lack of multi-facilities increases frustration. The radical version of this argument would be to suggest that IT equipment in the Lecture Theatre shouldn't surpass anything that isn't available to the audience!
2.5.2 If one was seeking a third 'Great Irony' in terms of 'overcoming problems' it might be that during the 'Digital Futures' Lecture Series a new Lecture Theatre was in the process of being built and 'kitted' just across the street from the Bonington Lecture Theatre: a new complex of the Boots University Library, the Bass Management Centre and the Lady Djanogly Lecture Theatre. The complex promises to be 'state of the art' and lecture theatres in the Management Centre and the new Lecture Theatre certainly achieve that. But the final irony might equally be the very complexity-made-simple of 'the model Lecture Theatre' itself! The User Manual for the Lady Djanogly Lecture Theatre (the closest I have got to the equipment to date!) is admirably user-friendly: "Welcome to the Lady Djanogly Lecture Theatre" it starts. "As you step up to the Lectern Area facing the audience you are faced by 3 main items:..." (One is tempted to suggest "Panic, Panic, and Panic!" and hope 'the audience' isn't in place the first time one does this!) Even with the help of this exemplary guide (extracts Appendix 2.5.2) and the Staff Development support sessions being arranged, practice and rehearsal become even more essential ingredients of any presentation. To muff your lines in Bonington whilst sticking wires in the wall with matchsticks (I exaggerate!) is one thing: to muff them in the Lady Djanogly will be quite another!
2.5.3 Minor changes in the programme brought about by the desire to avoid 'problems' were many and varied:
i. of accessing Internet sites live:
There was the predictable problem of delays on accessing Internet sites or very occasionally key sites (previously tested!) not being accessible for one reason or another. Where these were crucial (for example Search Results or giving URLS which students might like to visit) it was necessary to circulate them on the Distribution List (see 2.7.8 below) or provide paper-based copies as handouts. In general a course declaring a 'digital future' was more dependent upon paper than the title might suggest!
ii. of using a multiplicity of media:
This problem has been outlined in section 2.4.4 above. It resulted less in 'strategic changes' than unusual contortions by the lecturer but did tend to decrease the number of changes of channel envisaged in the planning of future lectures. The other 'media' changes which occurred are as noted above: greater use of video than anticipated (2.4.6) and greater use of paper (2.5.3i). The latter included issue of Computer Services' Help Desk Information, User Support Team guides on how to undertake specific functions, and Formations 'pre-prints bank and e-journal' publicity. The bridge, it seems, between the everyday and I.T. is still frequently made of paper. The need for attractively designed 'handouts', preferably in colour and essentially in sufficient numbers for one per person attending the lecture, should not be under-estimated (nor under-costed); few web-sites currently make anything separately available but assume that the screen image is sufficient. This then begs the question of adequate local colour printing facilities and course budgets.
iii. of interactivity and training:
This was a marked 'strategic change' during the course of the lecture series. To some extent it was occasioned by the low starting base of the students' experience of I.T. and the tendency for art students as a group to be generally "studio" (i.e. hands-on) based. Increased provision to workshop sessions was arranged and for the majority e-mail (including Distribution Lists) and accessing/using the Internet became the main target and achievement. Others, usually but not exclusively those with a good initial I.T. skills, were able to make progress in developing their own websites. This change is detailed in section 2.7 below.
iv. of who's who?
This was more a problem of Central Administration and Computing Services computers than those used in the Lecture Theatre but it had a knock-on effect on the course. The practice of listing courses as codes or a student's registration number being their e-mail address may make for ease of administration but is a restraint on developing the use of e-mail: needless to say few students could recall (or initially even locate) their registration number and if they didn't 'sign' e-mail (or used a nickname etc) this necessitated a time-consuming 'Who-is?' paper or database search to locate, for example, AF6022400! It also inhibited e-mail contact and collaboration. An element of 'consternation' of 'who is whom?' was, in part at least, the order of the day across the whole sequence of the course, largely occasioned by the numbers participating and these unhelpful I.T. elements.
v. of on-going I.T. developments:
Enhancement of IT applications is an everyday occurrence. Although no major developments became imperative additions during the period of the Lecture Series, new (or newly discovered) websites were explored where relevant and 'new' applications (e.g. pop video CDs with video) included in demonstrations where appropriate.
vi. of developing team-work
As noted in 1.3.6 above, art students tend to stem from a non-lecture tradition of 'individual working' as a result of which collaboration/assistance in the lecture follow-up-workshops was slow to develop. Existing friendships (both within the same course and (rarely) across course boundaries) resulted in some collaboration and the aficionados building web-sites began to exchange information and tips; development of this feature outside of these conditions, however, remained guarded. This natural reservation was more successfully breached by e-mail (especially the Distribution List feature, see section 2.7 below which, once set up, didn't require users to know the ubiquitous registration numbers).
2.6.1 An interesting post-script to 'problems overcome/avoided' listed in section 2.5 above is provided by the ever mounting presence of 'legal problems' associated with IT(including in the Lecture Theatre). As the impact of IT becomes ever greater it seems likely that significant resources of time and expertise will be/are being devoted to regulations foreseeing every possible 'misuse' which may fall foul of copyright, defamation, obscenity and data protection - all very complex legal issues in their own right. There are distinct signs of nervousness within the Universities, of preparing the paperwork and accepted Codes of Practice as a "reasonable care" defence in any test case which might, and surely will, arise somewhere at some time. The trick at the moment seems to be to ensure that it's not 'you' who prompts the first case! To the individual novice student struggling with e-mail, Lists, and Net searches for the first time - or even to the more experienced student attempting a first page of scanned images and HTML code - such considerations remain somewhat dark threats even if covered in a registration document (provided as likely as not during a general Induction Course but in practice probably unread or not understood at the time of issue). In practice the responsibility for 'knowing' and 'guiding' will rest largely with the lecturer.
2.6.2 Within the 'Digital Futures' Lecture Series such issues were frequently 'mentioned in passing' in the general context and were brought directly to the attention of individual students as the situation demanded (in particular in two cases where proposed assignments arising from the Lecture Series would in one instance clearly have breached copyright and in a second which might have breached the 1959 Obscene Publications Act). As the Robert Mapplethorpe printed image proceedings in the West Midlands currently amply demonstrate, the definition of 'obscenity' is likely to remain a continuing problem for the visual arts and ironically becomes exacerbated by the increased range of visual reference afforded by IT in the lecture theatre! The dividing line between "education" and "obscenity" of a particular image is not really elucidated by a current (Nottingham Trent) regulation forbidding use of "inappropriate" images, though one can understand and be sympathetic to the sense and sensitivity which lies behind such enigmatic phrasing. No complaints regarding any material shown as part of the 'Digital Futures' lecture series were received from students and care was taken, when any website or video-clip being accessed was remotely challenging, to give adequate warning and 'appropriateness value' in the introduction. But that is not to say that this problem was 'overcome'!
E-mail played a vital supporting role in the Lecture series. In all some 672 individual e-mail letters were exchanged, averaging approximately 5+5 per enrolled student. The narrative embedded in these e-mails records the detailed story of the Lecture Series and is summarised below.
2.7.1 At the first lecture on Monday October 6th (3.00 - 4.00 p.m.) details of e-mailing and the intention of forming a Distribution List for all participants were given together with simple guidelines on sending an e-mail. Needless to say experienced users registered almost immediately (the first at 7.16 p.m. on the same day) and tended to ask complex questions - " are we gonna cover FTP in one of the lectures and converting files sent through this e-mail system" but proof that the system could work for the novice too was apparent by 4.23 p.m. on the following day:
Letters received were replied to individually and the mailer put onto a 'Digital Futures Distribution List' which grew fairly rapidly in the early days. The module was open to both experienced and novice users and also attracted some aficionados who were not formally registered on the course but played a lively and contributory role . All participants were required to confirm their registration in this way which the experienced ones did immediately, posing questions at length  and the cannier ones later, briefly, but with a winning compliment . Once a student had successfully sent an e-mail they were also registered onto the course Distribution List.
2. 7.2 An effective e-mail facility and in particular the individual and personal attention it affords and encourages running alongside the largely impersonal formal lecture makes for a very effective balance between general, universal information and personal development. It offers an opportunity for the traditional "Are there any questions?" at the conclusion of a lecture (which can so often result in an unwelcome and distracting question, an embarrassed silence or a collective pressure daring anyone to delay ending the proceedings further!) to become a genuine opportunity to personalise the lecture. In particular it meant that the more advanced student was not disadvantaged by the necessary pace of the general lectures and specific questions, usually of a technical nature, came thick and fast: on creating files , forwarding e-mail , and HTML editors , [8,9,10]. Inevitably technical problems were encountered even by the aficionados, bouncing mail being their most common problem as their fairly lean space allocations were exceeded . Attempts were made from the outset to get experienced students to swop information and assistance  with limited success.
2.7.3. The e-mail system available to the course (and individually to all the students on it) at the time of the Lecture Series was quite antiquated and difficult to use (see Statement by Computing Services, section 3.1.2 below). A delay in installing a new universal system for students - and one sympathises with the complexities of developing a new scheme of 28,000 individual mailboxes! - meant that novices had additional difficulties to overcome and the interface was something less than attractive. Bearing in mind that these end-users were art students the combination of these two factors did make for some difficulties:
it tended to exacerbate rather than minimize technophobia concerns;
it looked unattractive on screen;
it depended on the ubiquitous "registration number" for identification which resulted in time-consuming searches (as one experienced wag used to put as his Subject: 'It's Phil Kelly but you can call me AF600640'! );
it meant that laggards really could 'lag' through inexperience, technophobia or personal choice (which was the case with the very last 'initial registration' received in mid-January, 2 weeks before the conclusion of the course! ).
2.7.4 The general informality of e-mail (including vocabulary, tone, spelling, smileys:-) is perhaps one of its greatest assets though exactly how far it is taken is doubtless a matter for the individual lecturer: behind it the essential tutor/student relationship remains a formal one. From the moment of initial registration this varied considerably according to the student - from the jokey "May I call you Barry? Oops I just did"  to the more formal but friendly "From Houri to Barry with regards" . As one student observed in a seminar "I always seem to speak in Americanese when writing e-mails but at no other time..." The informality - providing it isn't abused, which in this series it never was - can act as a useful antidote to the necessary formality of the lecture.
2.7.5 The e-mail adjunct to the lecture theatre I.T. facilities also played an important role in both personalising and to an extent changing the content of the lectures and thus the application of the Lecture Theatre equipment. One student, clearly not a novice user of e-mail, sent a polite but surprisingly critical e-mail after the second lecture (which needless to say the lecturer thought had gone rather well!) : "it would be great if you could speed things up a bit in class" . The immediacy of individual conversations made possible by e-mail meant this was a view which could be sensibly addressed and some resolution reached ; later mailings also meant that this particular student's somewhat unusual digital experiments - "would you happen to have a spare Persian font knocking around?" [18, 19] could be supported although they were unlikely to feature in the general lectures. The same student even volunteered a Report on the Lecture Series - see section 3.3.4 below.
2.7.6 The e-mail facility also helped greatly with the administration of the Lecture Series: the flow of up-to-date information about student's whereabouts, progress, problems, delight, concerns was much greater than could have otherwise been the case and meant that valuable "lecture theatre time" was not lost in administrative functions which were largely undertaken outside of the lecture slot. The range of application and information was about as wide as it could be:
administrative functions [, 
organisation of lectures and workshops 
student preferences 
absence though illness of students ,  and staff 
absence through confinement 
special conditions relating to overseas students , [29-31] and even a measure of remote assessment .
In such instances it is possible to conceive of a situation where students for one reason or another unable to attend all the lectures in-situ, could complete the course through the medium of video-conferencing (perhaps not surprisingly not yet available in the Bonington Lecture Theatre) though whether this would always be welcome in the case of a confinement is not guaranteed!
2.7.7 Demonstrations and lecture content which dealt directly with e-mail, the Internet and building websites were all supported by practical workshops outside of the Lecture Theatre (though if this begins to sound idealistic it must be noted that a common theme in the students' assessments is that both workshop equipment and hands-on coaching were inadequate - see section 3.3 below). Demonstrations and workshops in their turn gave rise to a host of additional e-mail enquiries as various problems were individually encountered and in most cases satisfactorily processed. The more complex the problem usually the more testing it is offer assistance remotely but, providing the student also has Internet access, helpful websites are available to give tips and in some instances detailed tutorials. However this in turn requires that the student is not only familiar with the Net but has some experience of avoiding the overload of information or the tendency to get sidetracked which the novice (and not-so-novice) user can be drawn into with frustration as the end result.
2.7.8 The e-mail facility as an adjunct to the lecture presentations - and in particular the Distribution List which can result from it - could be a very effective substitute for, and in some aspects an improvement upon, the ubiquitous 'handouts' which accompany most lectures. For example, in the instance of this particular Case Study on 'digital futures' many of the references were, not surprisingly, net-based and therefore given as URLs. Distributed via a Distribution List on an adequate e-mail system these would appear as 'live' links and access to them would be easy and fairly immediate. This, however, was not the case with the particular mail system the students currently enjoyed so the need to 'paste in' (or print/copy, relocate and re-type) this information was a severe handicap to this service being either easy or quick. The extra I.T. skills and experience demanded by this process were clearly a major barrier to novices and a point of some exasperation to aficionados and the indications are that Distribution List references were not followed as much as they should, could or needed to be. Fortunately this situation should not recur (at least for the same reasons) as the Exchange e-mail system now available to students (and 'Great Irony' Number Two) automatically generates live links (see Computing Services Report, section 3.1.2 below). Despite the short-term disadvantages pertaining at the time, the Distribution List regularly featured solutions to problems (including in some instances external technical advice , a lot on web building and HTML as it became the 'hot' issue ,  which continued throughout the module and encouraged collaboration ; it was also used to encourage membership of Lists . It also caused some hilarity: because the Distribution List was set to display the name of all members in alphabetical order (no mean feat in itself as the registrations were meaningless numbers) and because alphabetically 'Alberet, Claire' was first, the first Distribution List mailings received a string of complaints of which by far the best and most direct was from an outraged AF702940: "Who the hell are you calling Claire?" . The conventions of I.T. as well as the techniques can perhaps only be learned through experience.
2.7.9 The limited mail facilities at this time did not encourage the development of either a noticeboard or a website with, for example FAQs ("Frequently Asked Questions") though clearly both could be useful adjuncts given a more sophisticated system. The new system now in place (see Reports below 3.1.2 and 3.2.1 to 3.2.4) could support both facilities relatively easily and they could feature within the Lecture Series (i.e. be introduced and demonstrated within the standard Lecture Theatre time). In this particular Case Study that option was not felt to be viable and was not attempted and lecture demonstrations were therefore restricted to mail and Internet access and visiting appropriate sites.
2.7.10 The perennial problem of facilities (in this instance IT and lecture theatre equipment) being something less than the student has available in his/her own home does, and possibly will increasingly, occur. Not (m)any students are likely to have video projectors in their student flats (yet!) and given that these particular students were generally at a novice level in terms of e-mail and the Internet the problem was minor in this particular instance. Even so some students did have personal mail and ISP subscriptions which clearly provided them with better facilities (particularly software) than the University was providing , . Experienced students were understandably critical  and this tendency may well be set to increase if investment doesn't meet developments in the field. Correspondence on this subject was received even after the completion of the module , . In one workshop a student demonstrated an interface (at that time completely new to me!) between his mobile phone, his home computer and various Internet sites and this tendency will certainly increase (e.g. e-mail on palm-tops, digital image to remote screen...). An important corollary of this may be that a suggestion that for 'everyday applications' students in the future should purchase/hire their own computers through a cheap loan agreement, leaving the University simply to provide intranet sockets (including one at every seat in the lecture theatre) received a qualified welcome from an aficionado .
2.7.11 From the outset of the Lecture Series the effect of IT demonstrations in the Lecture Theatre was to create a high demand for hands-on experience of 'how to do it'. In part this was undoubtably due to a number of specific factors: the subject matter of this particular series, the relationship between content, what was being demonstrated and the students' own professional practice, these particular students being 'studio based' in their main courses. Even so it is at least likely to feature in any lecture series whilst the technology contains an element of unfamiliarity ('magic') to the spectator. Few people today are going to watch a film or video wondering 'how do they do that?' but e-mail, the Internet and various multi-media applications (e.g. audio CDs with video tracks) have not yet reached that level of familiarity. And so such questions were constantly asked (even of PowerPoint presentations!) Given that most courses expect the student to make presentations to a peer group at some stage, there's a healthy interest not only in what the technology can provide but how to manipulate it.
2.7.12 The solution to this welcome pressure was broached as best means would permit through the workshops. Whilst it is clearly unreasonable to expect massive duplication of Lecture Theatre IT facilities it is desirable, indeed necessary, to provide the student with equipment of some equivalence particularly in terms of computing hardware/software. A Faculty of Art & Design is remiss in not providing these at an appropriate level and in adequate numbers even if the reasons why it fails to do so (usually essentially the finance to provide high-end equipment capable of processing images) may sound legitimate. This being the situation in this instance suite facilities were employed from Computing Services and the University's Math's department which gave adequate access to the student mail service and the Internet but, of course, no access to "art" software.
2.7.13 The practical workshops (run as both day and sessional events throughout mid-Semester) rapidly increased experience and facility with e-mail (and thus initial registrations to the Distribution List), accessing the Internet, using Search Engines and, for the more experienced, building websites. Inevitably first e-mails produced the usual crop of catastrophe and comic outcomes, every one a gem [45-49]. One student never did learn not to try typing the whole message in the title but communication of a sort was achieved . The most noticeable feature of 'first e-mails' is the sense of achievement and a real breakthrough [51-54]. In a minority of cases this led to extraordinary developments (e.g. students mastering 'attachments' on an antiquated system  or three students with no initial experience of e-mail, building websites and logging them onto external servers in fulfilment of an assignment , . But for the vast majority development was more painstaking and probably more painful. At both extremes it had a beneficial effect upon the IT used in the lectures: having 'tried it out', questions became more focused and 'information swops' more frequent; that special help-quality feature of e-mail and the Internet began to apply and there may even have been a greater hint of sympathy for the stranded Lecture Theatre speaker when demonstrations temporarily went awry (e.g. a live link not working).
2.7.14 The e-mail adjunct performed a number of other functions not anticipated in the original planning stages. One was that some staff from the students 'home' courses (if themselves familiar with e-mail and the Net) occasionally offered an input ; another that visits to students working in their 'home' facilities were arranged ; a third that arrangements for individual specialist facilities such as Cubase and advanced Photoshop (not available in the Lecture Theatre) were undertaken ; a fourth (less welcome!) was assaults on the laptop I had programmed for the Lecture Series ; a fifth was organising 'competitions' designed to get students using Search Engines ; a sixth was circulating 'The Two Great Ironies' of the course: that the student e-mail upgrade was to be implemented - "Over the coming weekend (7-8 February 1998)...."  and, 25th February 1998, that a new computer installation had landed in the Bonington Lecture Theatre: "The Bonington Lecture Theatre computer is now operational...." !
2.7.15 My final 'observation' on the e-mail adjunct to the IT in the Lecture Theatre may only be specific to this particular instance - this is, after all, one Case Study. But it would be that in its impact, effect and usefulness the e-mail facility and its corollaries were of equivalent significance to the lecture theatre provision: that the one is the catalyst to getting the other to work to best effect (and vice versa). The view, in various forms, that "IT will change the way we teach" is frequently heard but some of the ramifications may not be wholly anticipated. Familiarity with an e-mail culture and the current emphasis upon 'interactivity' in various forms may well change some basic assumptions, not least that 'the lecture' is essentially a Gradgrind pot-filling exercise rather than a tea-party. I.T. 'in' and 'around' the Lecture Theatre could well significantly be made to fundamentally change the nature of the 'lecture', particularly when it is part of 'a series'. It does not necessarily follow that 'the lecturer' undertakes all the follow-up exchanges (any more than s/he would is expected to undertake all the 'seminar or tutorial follow-ups' from a traditional 'general lecture' programme). This may begin to spin 'the lecture' into becoming a multidimensional event. But I appreciate that this is probably a minority, and possibly a wrong-headed, view from a sample of one Case Study.
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