Online: second best?

I read this article with interest today:

A new teaching model for art schools? Distance learning master’s courses announced by Falmouth pose the question of whether creative skills can be taught online [See it here]

The article raises a series of  questions regarding online taught degrees , both at Bachelors and Master’s levels.

Some contributors make much of the importance of the role of place in the students’ experience and how its the coming together in one place that enables people to learn both through the formal lectures and informal networks and activities.

Others argue that online interaction is commonplace now both in commercial and social settings, and can offer a different, but just as suitable framework, for learning as traditional, place based courses offer. Indeed one contributor suggested that online communication can enhance the experience.

“Without the normal cues of expression and body language, you really, really listen and it becomes a very powerful experience.” [quoted in the same article. link here.]

I think this debate is a bit false.  I went to a Secondary Modern school and left in 1974 with no qualifications. After I was injured, and became a wheelchair user, I went to college but found the experience very difficult and isolating.

But in 1987 I began a degree with the Open University and found the experience profound. Indeed I would go as far as to say I found my new self through it. The OU charged me £10 per course as I was poor. By the time I acquired my degree in 1990 it had resulted in my finding paid employment, a new career path and new interests.

Since retiring in 2009 I have completed an online based photography degree with the Open College of the Arts, and now am just completing the low residency MA in Fine Art at Camberwell College of Arts.

Now, I know that I would not have undertaken any of these courses if they had required regular and frequent attendance at one place. Indeed many institutions are physically inaccessible to me (even when they say they are wheelchair accessible, they are not – unless you are content to have to abide by “special” rules that mean you are often physically restricted and isolated from the environment and people).

Moreover each one of the courses I undertook had thought about, and made provision for, interaction. With the OU there were summer schools and some group tutorials; with the OCA there were Flickr groups, online boards and forums (and indeed a group of us set up our own exhibition – see here – with the help of the OCA; and with the MA there are weekly group meetings using Skype’s message facility, as well as residencies.

So, if you asked me which I prefer or value: an online degree or one based at a place I’d say you’re asking the wrong thing. Surely it is the standard of content, learning and student experience that counts whatever the method of delivery.

So I say good luck Falmouth.


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
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