Clifford Phillips


A 'Foundation of Knowledge' via on-line learning

To investigate how a knowledge base may be produced to formulate a resource for students entering the School of Art, Design and Media, to help support the academic process. Introduction There have been studies, such as Sarah Cleaver's 'Presence' project which was carried out last year for her MA, that have investigated how new technology can be used to either help deliver or re-order the delivery of teaching materials. Sarah's aim was to '…explore the impact of new media technology within higher educational practice' 1. The presumption seems to be that both education and New Technology can co-exist and even complement each other. Yet many courses within the School of Art, Design and Media: University of Portsmouth, seem to have an IT element only because they have to, leading to a bolt on rather than an integrated part of the curriculum. Students on many courses are not even shown how to use the New Technologies for research.

Through this project and by working with academics from the School I hope to generate a tool that academics can feel is of value to them and to their students, and as a consequence change the attitudes of some academics towards New Technology. At the same time, I do not hope to make New Technology seem like the Holy Grail. I have already started this work to a small extent by implement changes to the schools web site, that have enabled academics to express what they would like to say, and to put images of work created by their students. I have also built in a facility for each course to put information about its Alumni, and by implementing these changes I hopefully have made the technology more approachable, and shown some of the value of it offers to some of the less accepting academics.

It should be accepted that learning has been changing for some time, not just because of the happening of the Internet, although this change perhaps has been accelerated due to the Internet. We should remember that what is actually offered by the Internet is not that new with material being widely available for purchase (CD-ROM), for many years, that has been of arguably superior quality to that delivered (on the whole) by the Internet.

The CD-ROM method of delivery was never as successful as was hoped in the early nineties, which was due to several factors. One was that technology itself was rather unstable with the majority of the world's computers operating on poorly crafted systems. Software for running these computers and the hardware itself was not up to the expectations or demands of the multimedia content makers. Additionally cost has played its part in creating a barrier, with products of this type being marketed to the public in the same way as books, but invariably not delivering the quality (due to low resolution) of the traditional medium. Even when custom technology such as CD-i was introduced the public did not respond to it favourably, possibly due to the reluctance of the public to go out and buy a learning aid, such as those produced by major publishers.

It is now perceived that the Internet is better value for money and is a good learning aid. We can thank Microsoft (or dam them) for this, chiefly due to its Windows 95 operating system. For the first time this offered the masses a multimedia environment that worked, and a free browser that was arguably better than its rivals for viewing the internet (it could do more, and already had many of the plug-ins necessary to view the media rich content). This has prompted many parents to invest heavily in new technology, in a similar way to the explosion in buying home computers during the mid-eighties when silicon became less expensive (Sinclair). One advantage that can be accepted is that the Internet is not static and at some point good material will be found. This is reinforced by the trend of publishers offering additional material to compliment printed material via the Internet and therefore added value for money.

Education has for many years attempted to inspire pupils and students alike throughout their educational careers, but invariably fails when the method of delivery, the academic, varies in quality to such a large degree. Only when the correct criteria are met is the environment good for students. No student is identical and the environmental differences have varying effects upon the individual.

It could be argued that the first criterion is that the student has to want to learn. In education this is normally accepted to be the case. Equally it could be argued that the second criteria is to ensure that what is being delivered is what the student is expecting to learn. Finally, that the delivery method allows flexibility so that the time of delivery is suitable to the student.

The Project
If these criteria are accepted as a reasonable model, then reasonable investigation should be able to take place to question how we are responding to these criteria, identifying further where we are not and make attempts to rectify this. I believe currently that we are failing in many aspects of the criteria and that we need to look fundamentally at how we deliver our courses, possibly to the point of adjusting the teaching methods to suit the new methods of delivery.

Students are not seen to be attending and invariably many academics believe that this reduces the educational quality, by removing the interpersonal concourse and creative energy that this was thought to generate. However, this may be over valued by academics and has not played a particularly major role for many years (personal observation). Possibly due in part to the increased usage of telecoms between the young, with remote communication replacing traditional conversation, and perhaps due to its remote aspect making more dynamic discourse possible.

It may also be true that this does not take place and is not necessary. It is accepted that the general populous is now so visually literate in this country, that many of the old elements in communication are not required. This in turn may have lead us to a point where conversation to discuss creative work and social issues is not perceived by the young as being necessary or important.

However I have observed many students when they have come in to university, having heated debates regarding the latest film, or perhaps about some piece of work they have found on the Internet. When I was a full time student I remember doing the same, though it may well have been about the latest animation or billboard poster. The fact that when students do come in and act in this way, suggests that it is still valuable and valued by the students.

Motivation can never be bottled, but it can be packaged. Primarily it would seem that the Internet could be a great way of fulfilling many of the above criteria, however, the reality is that generally the criteria are not been met. The tools are now available and it is up to us, as educators, to act upon this and find a way of meeting the criteria. We have to challenge our own thinking on how students should be taught, and I believe it is not good enough to simply hand the students a reading list, and to expect them to go to a library or to buy the materials themselves. This obviously has still has value, but more can be done.

I hope to be able to create a delivery method that will enable students to call upon it to easily find concise texts that outline foundational knowledge on the background of Art, Design and Media. To create a tool that can be easily updated, and integrated into the courses. I hope to explicitly avoid the over explanation of topics and while investigating these topics to try to find links within themes that can be worked upon and added to by academics. I also hope to help students to start to understand some of the language that we now regularly use, that I believe acts as obstruction to the learning process.

Suggested methods of approach:

1. Reading list collation and interrogation
2. Liaison with academic and library staff
3. To formulate time line appreciation of how indicative texts are introduced throughout the curriculum of each course
4. Investigate how the library handles information and what happens when a body of students all want the same texts
5. Investigate how new technology may enhance the learning method and identify any shortcomings or advantages that are found via the library approach
6. Question students to appreciate what facilitates them/encourages them
7. Question students to appreciate what discourages and hinders them
8. Investigate an updating mechanism
9. Comparison (visualise in such a way as to allow this to happen) 10. Investigate any precedents that may be available, what type of on-line environment?

Resources Used

1. Sarah Cleaver, Final Major Project report, University of Portsmouth Websites Open University,; (and broadcast experiences on BBC) The BBC website,