Tuesday 20 September 2011

Showing my new research focus at the "E-learning Update"

I presented on "Visual Arts students multimodal choices with Carbonmade" at the E-learning update conference today. This presentation gave the background to my current research direction, field research and findings:

A major change in my research direction has been necessitated by student's wide variety of choices in the written fields and imagery of their online portfolios. This should not be suprising for students (a creative class) who have made the unconventional choice of taking Visual Art. However, they all received the same curriculum, used the same software and had the same guidelines. I will be using three student case studies to explore the most varied example of online portfolios; "drawing", "mixed-media" and "media-interest", respectively.

This new approach path has been taken after analyzing screengrabs of each and every online portfolio page that 18 grade 10 students created using Carbonmade. I then used screengrabs of their educator’s free (“Meh!”) Carbonmade membership to list all the choices his students could have made. NVivo 9 software was then used to define and code all students’ choices from top to bottom, left to right for all the three kinds of Carbonmade page: "Home", "About" and "Project Folder Artwork". 

After tabulating the variations for each field choice, it became apparent that explaining guideline variations for the entire group would be impossible, so I have chosen to rather focus on the most distinctive student examples.

After following this process, my research questions now are:
  1. What are the modal choices that the online portfolio software, Carbonmade, affords?
  2. What are the multimodal choices that grade 10 Visual Arts students made with Carbonmade?
  3. What are the resonances of students' online portfolio choices?
  4. What problems did the educator perceive with select modal choices and how can these be explained by the contradictions and tensions that result from a change to the traditional class’ rules, division of labour and community in the new Visual Arts class’ online portfolio activity system.
Although I will be using Activity theory to answer the last question, my research's primary focus has shifted to using Multimodal Theory to explore the choices that Carbonmade affords users, the choices that students make and their resonances. 

Carey Jewitt in "Technology, Literacy and Learning(2006) shows how Multimodal Theory and Activity theory can be used to study the multimodal meaning-making resources that new technologies support. I hope to follow in her footsteps...

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Problems and limits of traditional, analogue portfolios

Written for students of visual creativity.

David Hockney's book; "Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters" and the debate its Hockney-Falco thesis stimulated, should have encouraged drawing educators to introduce their students to the camera obscura, lucida and other optics as alternatives to groping for the image through "eyeballing", as Hockney described it (page 23, 2001). But just as drawing students are unlikely to be exposed to alternative drawing methods, most visual creatives are not formally exposed to the benefits of digital media as an additional portfolio medium to the traditional, analogue one. However, it is important for their students to fully consider all the limitations (and related problems) of relying solely on analogue portfolio media. Here follows a list of the limitations and problems for the student's consideration (plus the related benefits of having an online portfolio):

A. Difficult to assemble 
There's a reason that analogue portfolios are mostly collated only twice a year; they're often difficult to consolidate, frame and mount for presentation. This is likely to result in it being difficult for your teacher(s) to have an holistic view of your progress and for you to gauge the presentation of your year-end exhibit. Field research showed that a Visual Arts educator perceived a major benefit of students' online portfolio use being the resulting affordance to benchmark their progress and take pre-emptive action where they were unlikely to have sufficient work for year-end exhibitions.

B. No back-up
You don't have to own a Jackson Pollock to know that an original, physical artworks is often impossible to replace. So, if your artworks are stolen, damaged or destroyed right before your exhibition, it becomes impossible to physically prove your accomplishments to examiners! However, if you had kept a record of your work in an online portfolio, this would provide your a useful reference point for marking.

C. Poor distribution
Post-Google, those with access are very likely to use search engines to find background information on you and view images of your artwork. It is important to consider that by limiting your work to analogue media, you rely on your audience being close to the work for viewing purposes. By contrast, an online portfolio provides an opportunity for internet-connected audiences to easily view your creative work. Plus, you can study the digital audience of your artworks, its reception and how best to grow an audience for your artworks on the internet.

D. Lack of contextualisation for most artworks
In Secondary or Tertiary Education, students’ work is often contextualised by exhibition context and very often only feature the work's title and date. A benefit of online portfolio production is that it affords many options to label your artwork thoroughly. For example, Carbonmade affords options to add an "artwork title", "tags", "client tags" and a "folder description". By completing some, or all, of these tags appropriately, you can properly contextualise your artworks for ideal viewers; whether layperson or art historian :) . For example, you could add your "artist's statement" under folder definition or list any clients you have worked for under clients tags.

E. Limited opportunity to exhibit non-drawing work
There may be limited scope for you to include works done with reproduction (i.e. photography) and/or digital media (i.e. animations) tools in Visual Arts and Fine Arts exhibitions. If you need an outlet for other visual cultural interests, you can use an online portfolio such as Behance, DeviantArt or CGI Portfolio  to showcase designs and photos; potentially benefitting from ratings, comments and reciprocal links from other members.

F. No easily accessible feedback record
Educators seldom place feedback directly onto their students’ work as this would impact on the originals. However, a benefit of online portfolio pages is that your educator could use a social bookmarking tool, like Diigo, to comment on your pages, limiting the viewership to you (or select Diigo users). This could make your educator’s feedback easier to track and, hopefully, follow.

G. Digitisation for further study or job applications
Early exposure to digitising artworks could be beneficial for students who may need to submit digital portfolios as part to their university or job applications.

While your digital copy will never be the same as the analogue work it was sourced from, it can serve useful purposes when placed in an online portfolio. So, is there more to gain than what's lost in the "medium shift" translation of artworks and their use in online portfolios? Please share your view by commenting on this post. Ta.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Teaching 10 new activities with online portfolios

Written for Visual Arts and Design educators interested in teaching online portfolio creation.

The DOE Visual Arts syllabus' timetable offers two weeks for educators and students to focus on "presentation". Research at a well-resourced, elite private school in 2010 showed that an online portfolio curriculum enabled its educator to teach students new aspects of presentation, which included: profile writing, digitization, online portfolio creation and how creative professionals and hobbyists use this new cultural form. 

These new learnings could be just the start of what students can explore in class
 using their online portfolio software's affordances. For example, their educator could teach them how to do ten new activities:

1. Label artworks for thorough contextualisation.
Unlike traditional student exhibitions, where the title and date for each artwork are typically provided, Carbonmade can be used to thoroughly contextualise students' artworks. This is relevant as online portfolios are likely to be viewed by new audiences. More thorough labeling can be achieved through following educator's guidelines to describe artworks with a description similar to that used art historians. For example under "image title": "Painting of a skull from the: ‘Vanitas Project’, 2011. Oil paint and charcoal on primed canvas. 420 x 295 mm". Students should also be encouraged to use the tags titled: "folder description", "tags", "client tags" and "image description" and to think about these tags' inter-relationships.

2.  Preview an exhibition.
If kept up-to-date and used throughout the syllabus, a student's online portfolio can be used as a preview of his or her prospective year-end exhibition. It can also be used to identify extra-mural designs, photography, craft or other works that could be included in the exhibition, but are ordinarily neglected in Visual Arts education. 

An educator could even use his or her insider mindset to change pedagogy; using the best online portfolios from previous students to introduce current students to their new project and highlight how it can be used to build the desired future portfolios (and year-end exhibitions, even).

3. Search online portfolios for artworks of interest.
Under http://carbonmade.com/portfolios, students can be shown how to search online portfolios using "area of expertise" or other fields of interest. They should also be shown how to use Carbonmade's featured portfolios section to find impressive portfolio examples by "career type".

4. Put learnings from one's favorite online portfolio examples into practice.
Students should be encouraged to apply learnings from the best examples they find; for example, the illustrator Josh Power's site includes; a personal logocustom-labelled folder covers, an illustrated profile picture and humorous profile description that ties in well with his portfolio's imagery. These activities can be used to create new curricular exercises or suggest extra-mural activities for keen students.

5. Create an holistic portfolio.
The best portfolios are holistic; their art exemplifies their profile description and their creative choices differentiate their portfolios from the "run of the mill" average. To help students reflect on achieving an holistic experience, educators might use innovative assessment strategies. For example, students could be encouraged to contact the creative professionals whose portfolios they admire to do reviews of their student portfolio and provide tips for creating better online portfolios.

6. Choose a copyright license for one's art and portfolio.
The rise of the internet and remix culture have contributed to changing the traditional copyright paradigm of “all rights reserved”. Many varieties of copyright now exist; by teaching about the licenses available on Creative Commons, educators can assist students to make appropriate copyright licensing choices for artworks.

7. Deliver better-looking search results for one's name.
Since it is likely that students' peers and parents may search for them by name under http://carbonmade.com/portfolios, it is important for educators to instruct students to check their name's search results and to recommend measures to create the most relevant, best- looking result.

8. Promote one's online portfolio using other services.
Good students with a mature attitude could be encouraged to share their portfolios online through social media, such as Facebook, MySpace and Google+. Students can also re-create their portfolios on portfolio services that offer social network functionality, like deviantart.com and behance.netThese activities provide opportunities for learning about  media distribution, including: developing an audience for one's work, responding to comments, learning from webpage usage stats and thinking about how best to create inter-relationships between different online services.

9. Act as a responsible online portfolio audience member.
In addition to being good online portfolio creators, students should also be encouraged to be pro-active digital citizens. For example, they should be told how to flag content and contact site administrators if they encounter offensive content or which authorities to talk to if they receive unwanted attention.

10. Use the online portfolio for life-long learning.
Ideally, educators should encourage students to think of their online portfolios as life-long, electronic learning portfolios. These can be used as proof of learning for access to tertiary education, work and related opportunities. To support effective e-portfolio development, online portfolios must be included in the entire syllabus' scaffolding, not limited to once-off curricular activities. Ideally, students should be given time in class to update and rewrite their portfolios' content on an ongoing basis, thereby getting used to the importance of maintaining and improving their online digital footprints.

I hope this post helps educators to consider teaching new learning activities in their online portfolio curricula and syllabi. Kindly add your comments; especially if there's any other new teaching activities that you can suggest?

Friday 2 September 2011

Why create an online portfolio?

Written for professionals, amateurs and students in visual creativity.

My interest in online portfolios stems from considering the challenges of collating a physical AND digital portfolio from scratch, following ten years of creative design work. After leaving employment with Virgin Life Care, collating a decade's designs raised key questions;
  • what was the scope of work I should select? (should they be the most recent, a variety or examples, should I include works-in-progress, only work done by me, etc.)
  • how should I give attribution? (for example, a poster for which I did a creative brief, must also credit its photographer and designer.); 
  • how should I acknowledge copyright? (Attributing appropriate copyright can be complex when Virgin Life Care's designs sourced work from Virgin Active SA, Virgin Health Miles and/or Virgin Management.)
  • what other information should I add? (like the design's date, size, media, print run, et al.)
In hindsight, answering these would have been easier if I had created a digital portfolio that required me to list this information. However, neither my Secondary School nor Tertiary Visual Arts education exposed me to using an online portfolio. This was arguably due to there being no free, easy-to-use, online portfolio software before the rise of Web2.0-based media from 2003...

Online portfolio sites are also poorly promoted in South Africa; although I use the internet intensively, I only became aware of them through assisting a Secondary School's Visual Arts Department to prepare an alumnae exhibition. The logistics and costs around organizing a physical exhibition being prohibitive, we decided to source only online portfolios for computer lab display. In researching free and low-cost options to potentially showcase alumnae's work, I stumbled across Carbonmade. In looking through some profiles under its featured portfolios, I then noticed several creative professionals had hyperlinks to portfolios with other services. As someone keenly interested in online media and the Visual Arts, I was surprised not to have seen such services before.

Today, many visual creatives* maintain one (or more) online portfolio(s). This popularity is reflected in the (self-reported) number of members using the biggest services; deviantart.com boasts of 12 million members, carbonmade.com over 393,000, cgisociety over 180,000 and coroflot.com cites 150,000. 

This popularity may be explained largely through creating and maintaining an online portfolio helping each member to ...:
  • collate one's work and reflect on one's creative trajectory;
  • learn from the work of creatives involved in similar work;
  • develop a more distinctive creative profile and better differentiated work;
  • do more (self-motivated) work;
  • personally distribute and promote one's work;
  • develop an online audience and interact with it;
  • improve your work by sourcing, listening to and acting on constructive criticism.
Lastly, developing an ongoing archive of one's work avoids the multiple challenges of creating one from scratch, in an already stressful time of change!

These benefits also apply to students (from architects to product designers, graphic designers to fine artists), who can use online portfolios as electronic learning portfolios (or e-portfolios). These can showcase their achievements to a broader audience, whilst overcoming some of the traditional portfolio's analogue media's shortcomings:
  • Through providing a creative profile and adding descriptors to one's artworks, one can learn to better contextualise one's own art;
  • As an online portfolio is essentially constructed from a database of one's works, it is easy to assemble (unlike a year-end exhibit, for example);
  • The digitized portfolio serves as a back-up of your work (which may be lost to fire, damaged by water, stolen, etc.) for markers to refer to;
  • One's e-portfolio can be widely distributed to anyone with (unblocked) internet access and need not rely on the viewing audience being in the same space as the originals; 
  • By viewing one's online portfolio statistics, one can study its popularity and use audience feedback to potentially increase its viewership;
  • There is often limited scope for Visual Arts students to include works done with reproduction (i.e. photography) and simulation (i.e. animations) tools in their exam exhibitions. The online portfolio provides a platform for students to experiment outside the syllabus' implicit hand-drawing/handmade medium biases and Fine Art-related subjects and themes.
Lastly, submitting digital portfolios is increasingly required as part of the undergraduate and postgraduate study application process. So even if one dislikes the effects of the "medium-shift" from a large, three-dimensional gallery space to a small, 2-D computer screen, one might still need to produce a digital portfolio to access future educational opportunities!

Do you think that these reasons are strong enough to motivate you with creating an online portfolio presence? If so, please add your comment, thanks :).

* I define "visual creatives" as professionals or hobbyists who communicate primarily using the image mode. As a broad category, this encompasses individuals with diverse skill-sets in visual creation: whether its creative direction for an animation, concept illustrations for film sets, renderings for architecture, drawings for an exhibition and more….  The term is preferable to "image creatives", which sounds a bit too PR and fashion-ista for my liking!

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