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"Digital Futures": A Case Study in a Faculty of Art & Design
The term 'Observations' has been preferred to the term 'Recommendations' which conventionally conclude Reports on the basis that 'A Case Study' (which by definition is the equivalent of a survey limited to one!) is not really in a position to 'recommend' action but may raise issues of relevance to the ongoing debate about I.T. provision in Lecture Theatres. These 'observations' (italicised in the main text) are collated together (sometimes in a slightly edited version) in this section for convenience.
4.1 (from 2.2.5)The debate on the advantages and disadvantages between the choice of IT equipment permanently installed in the lecture theatre and/or imported by the lecturer is doubtless set to continue awhile. The former inevitably tends to demand standardisation - which may be problematic for some applications or demonstrations - whilst the latter tends to raise problems of compatibility and time. Both demand familiarity and a proper allocation of preparatory /rehearsal time to ensure that the final delivery at least stands a chance of being impeccable. Whilst one can be sympathetic to prevailing conditions which give rise to 'hotbedding' lecture theatre timetabling in order to maximise utilisation at peak times, the advent of IT tends to exacerbate technical hitches which are antithetical to quick change-overs whichever type of installation is preferred. It goes without saying but perhaps needs to be re-stated that the specification of equipment and services - of what is and is not available - needs to be clear at the earliest opportunity together with indications of how any shortfall might be met.
4.2 (from 2.2.7)There is an inevitable tendency for 'supply' of IT facilities in lecture theatres to follow perceived 'need' (rather than a policy or ability to provide an ideal state in all lecture theatres). Given prevailing economic restraints and the rapid development of IT hardware and software which causes costly equipment to rapidly depreciate, this seems a generally acceptable and sensible policy. The continuing breadth of demand upon available resources (both IT and non-digital) inevitably places restrictions on 'ideal state' plans except in particular 'showpiece' installations which can also prove problematic. Both situations place on the individual lecturer a new burden of responsibility, knowledge and need for familiarity (and thus Staff Development) and upon the 'department' (or administrative unit responsible) provision of appropriate maintenance, instruction and technical assistance. The current rate of response to these demands across the sector (as distinct from specialist sections within it) tends not to be keeping pace with the technological changes.
4.4 (from 2.4.5) Where IT and non-digital provision is accomplished in stages (which tends to be the most common form of provision enhancement) it is essential that advance design planning attempts to take into consideration future developments to ensure that all facilities are independently and separately easily available both to the speaker as well as external control (e.g. by a technician in a lighting bay). Not to provide this facility, or to provide it piecemeal, significantly undermines the multi-media capability of the provision which it is the intention of staged provision to enhance.
4.5 (from 2.5.3ii) 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.
4.6 (from 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.
4.7 (from 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!) Also, 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.
4.8 (from 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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