My DCAF Workshop and Reflection

Workshop Date: 8 May 2019

The First One Was So Good I Had To Do It Again!  Honest.

This was my second time facilitating the DCAF (Digital Creative Attributes Framework) workshop and this time a lot more planning and promotion had gone into it, so I had high hopes with a good turn out!!

I was not disappointed!  We managed to overfill a room with loads of students, despite May and June being the busiest months for them.

The last time I did it, I was testing the water to see if this would be a mutually beneficial workshop for both myself and our students, as I am quite interested in how and why students learn any particular digital skills .  This time, I did it for a couple of specific reasons – one was for an article I am writing on digital learning, hopefully to submit to Spark later on this year. Another reason was to get some materials to help with my PhD proposal in the area of art practice and learning, with (possibly) a particular focus on the digital.

I was grateful for the reinforcement from our very fine Teaching and Learning Exchange Team!

So before going any further with my reflection of this awesome workshop, I would like to say a big thank you to my lovely colleagues:

Peter Beare, Digital Learning Coordinator

Hannah Hyde, Digital Learning Engagement Support

Darren Gash, Digital Learning Manager

John Jackson, Educational Developer (E-Learning)

A total of 23 students from various MAs and BAs at LCC attended, so it was both challenging and exciting.

It was challenging because it was a mixture of students from different subject areas and levels meaning different digital learning expectations and goals, so it was suitably difficult to brief the whole group at once.  This, however, brought the excitement because it was reassuring to know that DCAF attracts students from a wide range of disciplines, it also allowed us a slight insight into the thinking of different groups of students.

What Exactly Is DCAF?

Here is the link to all the information:  https://dcaf.myblog.arts.ac.uk/

DCAF stands for Digital Creative Attributes Framework and here is what the DCFA handbook says:

The DCAF provides a shared language around digital which can be used across colleges and subject areas.  The framework focuses on how we support the development of creative and collaborative practices in the digital environment.  Importantly, it is a tool to develop teaching and reflect on learning, not a policy checklist.

Technologies change quickly, but the attributes we develop through creative and collaborative work in the digital are more stable.  The DCAF provides a set of digitally inflected attributes that are valuable for students to develop during their time at UAL. It is underpinned by a firm belief in the importance of criticality for understanding and making best use of digital technologies, which should not be understood as neutral tools and spaces, but as part of the fabric of our social and political lives.

(Teaching and Learning Exchange, 2017)

There are 2 attributes in total, each represents a common behaviour, mindset or quality we have within any given digital environment.  Let me list a couple of my favourites:

Making things happen:  Productivity 1: Actively finding and learning how to use digital tools and spaces suitable or specific tasks.

Personally, the most importantly word in this is ‘finding’. From my experience, students have no problem whatsoever in learning how to use digital tools and spaces to achieve their goals.  The problem is, however, sometimes they are told by others that they ought to learn a particular set of digital tools because they are the best for the job, which isn’t necessarily the case.  What some students are lacking is the ability to find out by themselves what digital skills would truly have lasting benefit for their overall developments. So it would be interesting to see how important this is for those who attended our workshop today.

Making things happens:  Agility 1: Effective switching between digital tools and spaces

What this indicates is that our students don’t necessarily need to be an expert in every single digital tool and space available within their disciplines.  What they ought to develop is an awareness of what is out there and what these tools and spaces can do for them. Most importantly, they ought to know how and when to use which tools and / or spaces and when to switch between them.  This is a mindset that I believe most of our students already have within their subconsciousness, it is a quality that organically develops as our students become more experienced and knowledgeable in their respective disciplines. Sadly, it is also an attribute that most do not realise and value because too often, our students are chasing perfection and expertise in using particular pieces of software; usually driven by some misconception that being technically good at particular pieces of software equals being skilled as an artist or a designer

I can talk about my interpretation of the DCAF all day long but I am not going to, because this is not the point of this reflection, the point is to offer some, hopefully, useful thoughts for other colleagues who might want to give DCAF a go with their students.  I say GO FOR IT! Do it, your students will love it because my students today did!

Before running a DCAF workshop, you ought do the DCAF map first, here is what it looks like and what the attributes are.

An example DCAF map from a student

You basically stick the 27 attributes on an empty map based on how much each makes sense to you and how much you care about it.  I had loads of fun doing mine, but it was also very exposing that it hurts… I actually felt a bit naked at the end of the process.

I knew I was going to put my own DCAF map in front of a room full of people, so was I tempted to falsify the result to make me look better than I actually am?  To pretend that I care about some of the things that I actually don’t? You bet I was! But if I want my students to be true to themselves then I needed to lead by example, so I went all in!

The big discovery from my own DCAF map is that I don’t practise what I preach…oops.  Moving on then…

What Hat Are You Wearing?

I knew that by offering a finished and somewhat polished DCAF map as an example to our students wasn’t enough, as the thinking process is just as important as the end result. Therefore, Peter had kindly offer to do a live demo with me – he decided to wear his Digital Learning Coordinator Hat and guided our students through his thinking process of where to place some of the DCAF attribute cards.  The particular hat he decided to wear doesn’t represent him 100%, as most of us wear different hats in different situations.

This is a very important message we wanted our students to understand before they start working on their maps, because what digital attributes we care about and when, whether they make sense or not, is and should be a fluid situation.  Indeed, we all ought to be pretty good at a set of basic digital skills as defined by our overall circumstance and our interests, but these shouldn’t set a hard parameter of what we should and shouldn’t care about.

When I did my own DCAF map, I was wearing my digital technician hat with a bit of commercial photographer inside me.  With that, being able to Effectively switch between digital tools and spaces (Ag1) and Becoming skillful in relevant digital tools, spaces and practices (S-E2) are both attributes that I both care about and make a lot of sense to me.  

On the other hand, Understanding how to share your work at various stages of production (Cm2) and Telling the story of your experiences through an online profile or portfolio (St1) are not so important for me with the hat that I was wearing.

If I were to wear my hat as, what I would describe as a hardcore fine art graduate from Goldsmiths College, I would care about a totally different set of attributes. This is because the nature of Fine Art as a subject is a lot of personal – I had to learn to take every bit of criticism to heart and defend every little decision made. I was also taught to show as much of my bleeding heart as possible in my practice.

Therefore, attributes such as Identifying and connecting with people who can help support your practice (S-E3) and Learning to cope with and respond critical feedback or comments received online (Re1) would make much more sense to me.

You see where I am getting at here?  When we change the hat we wear, what we care about also change accordingly.  This is not always, but more often, the case. The beauty of the whole Framework is that the wording is both precise and generic.  Through doing the DCAF maps, hopefully at different stages of our students’ developments, our students could be encouraged to identify what they care about and what makes sense to them at each paticular moment in time.  Importantly, the DCAF should give them a realatively clear roadmap showing them what areas in the digital they want to further develop and to celebreate the aeras they are already good at, depending on what hat they want to wear.

So What Happened During The Workshop?

Students dived right into it, most of them worked individually, some students from the same course chose to work together in small groups of 2 and 3.  Either way, everyone was really engaging with the task at hand.

When I went round to speak to them individually, one of the comments that kept coming up was that the students didn’t know learning digital skills could be so broad and not specifically tied to any particular set of tools or practices.

I think an important factor that both myself and students took away from today’s workshop is that being savvy in a digital environment, any digital environment is as much about being good with the actual tools (software), as it is about having the ability to understand how to make their ideas or work tangible and understandable for their target audience. Being technically good with software is one thing, being digitally good is a totally different skill altogether; a skill that is much harder to master but once succeed, it should be much more rewarding.

In my opinion, the most important goal is to understand how we can seamlessly make our digital skills to work for our ideas and never the other way around. We shouldn’t have to compromise how far we want to push our ideas just because we lack appropriate digital skills to execute them.

Sadly, this along with a lot of the qualities outlined the DCAF are somewhat overlooked by our students when academia has been, in recent years, rapidly commercialised when quantifiable skills such as software accreditations are often the talking point among students and their sponsors / parents.

In order to be technically good with software is a somewhat linear process, whilst it might be a necessity, our students would go much further with their practices if they could also be digitally good. This means they should have the ability to negotiate, compromise and be resilient with feedback that could be both constructive and tough to digest, particular in today’s digitally saturated society, a lot of the exchange of feedback and criticism happen through a screen of a digital device, so people could be a lot less considerate and things can be much more open to interpretation.

In additions, being digitally good is also about knowing how to filter what digital tools and practices would benefit our developments and not be blindly influenced by our peers and social media of what is trendy at the moment.  Make no mistake, being influenced is vitally important and this is why there are DCAF attributes specifically concerning Connectivity and Curiosity:

Positive and negative influences can often be confused, therefore, it is important to have positive and critical engagement and professional networks online. Being able to explore and experiment with unknown territories is also very important.  However, this comes with risks and responsibilities that not everyone is fully aware of. What I am trying to say here is that the online world could be much crueler than the real world and there are trolls who enjoy nothing more than willingly causing others pain.  Whilst we ought to encourage our students to go all in in their respective digital environments, are we doing enough to support them

Hopefully the DCAF activities (particularly the 2nd one) would give us some indication of what can we, as their educators, do to support them better.

DCAF Results Analysis:

This is by no mean a detailed analysis as a lot of the actual meaningful analysis should follow once my colleagues have had a chance to look at what I have produced and hopefully some engaging discussions will follow in due course

I will attempt to highlight some of the attributes that clearly stand out for various reasons.

DCAF activity one:

As mentioned above, students were asked to place the 27 attributes cards on a map according to how much they care and how much each attribute make sense to them.

My data analysis of activity one

These attributes make sense at varying degrees and our students care about them very much:

Pr1 / Pr3 / En2 / En3 / Ag3 / Cm1 / Cm2 / Cm3 / Cn1 / Cu2 / Cu3 / St3 / S-E1 / S-E2 / S-E3

Whilst the following attributes still make sense to our students, they care about them less:

Pr1 / Pr2 / Pr3 / En1 / En3 / Cm1 / Cm2 / Cm3 / Cu3 / S-E3 / Re3

The following attributes make sense to our students, but they neither care nor not care about them:

Ag2 / St2 / Cu1 / Cu2 / Re2 / Cm1 / Cu2

These attributes still make sense to our students, but they don’t really care about them:

Cn1 / Cu1 / Cu2 / St  / Re1

Our students are neutral on whether these attributes make sense, but they still care about them at various degrees:

Ag2 / Cu1 / Cu3 / St2

Some of these attributes appear on multiple places as our students both care about them a lot and don’t really care about them, as well as making a lot of sense and not making much sense to them.  This might seem confusing but in actual fact, it couldn’t be more straightforward – digital learning as a whole is messy and complicated.

As I mentioned earlier, our students feelings and requirements toward any one of these attributes could change depending on the different stages of their developments or even different projects they are working on

It is worth you taking a closer look at my graphs for a more detailed picture of where the attributes appear on the map and you will have a better understanding of the complexity.  Most of the attributes begin to drop off or disappear altogether when approaching the scale of either I don’t care and / or non sense, this means the Framework as a whole makes sense to our students and they care about the attributes.  This is not just me saying it though, below is some of the remarks our students made when they were working on their maps:

“I never thought of digital learning like this.”

“There is so much on here that I haven’t thought about, it’s a lot to learn.”

“This graph (map) shows the kind of areas that I need to improve on and it’s not just software.  The graphs gives me an overall picture for me”

“Some of these are not useful for me right now, but it is going to be useful when I go onto my 3rd year in Sept when I need to start polishing my portfolio.”

DCAF activity two:

Students were ask from where and whom they will learn the skills / knowledge as described in each attributes.

Things I’ll learn on my own:

They are happy to learn all 27 attributes to an extent with one exception:

Cm2

They are particularly confident to learn these on their own:

Cm3 / St1 / Cu3 / S-E1 / Re1 / Re3

Things I’ll learn from my friends:Students are happy to learn these attributes from their friends:

Pr2 / Cm1 / Cm3 / Cn2  /Cn3 / St1 / St2 / St3 / Cu3 / S-E1 / S-E3 / Re1 / Re2 / Re3

Students are particularly keen to learn these from their friends:

Cm3 / Re3

Things I want my course to teach me

Unsurprisingly, students want their course to teach them EVERYTHING, a particularly high percentage of demands of:

Pr2 / En2 / En3 / Cm1 / St3 / S-E3

There is a slightly less percentage of students wanting their course to teach them:

Pr3 / Re3

Things I want UAL to teach me (Technical workshops etc)

Again, students want the rest of their university to teach them ALL of the attributes outlined in the DCAF, with a drop in demands of the following:

St2 / Cu1 / Re1 / Re3

Particular high demands include:

Pr1 / En3 / Ag2

These results are not actually surprising at all in terms of our students knowing and wanting to learn these attributes from multiple sources.  The emphasis on where to learn any particular attribute is also pretty aligned with my personal experience working with them.

For example, with Proactivity (Pr1 / Pr2 / Pr3), students are quite happy to learn all three on their own, but they would want more support on Pr3 from their course, whilst wanting more assistance with Pr1 from digital workshops

Another example is Communication (Cm1 / Cm2 / Cm3), students are particularly happy to develop Cm3, something that cannot really be taught.  However, students rely a lot more on their course tutors to help them to develop Cm1 and Cm2.  Traditionally, these are not skills that students would typically seek help from technical workshops

The Group Discussion

The group discussion at the end of the workshop has highlighted a number of interesting points that are perhaps being somehow neglected in our overall teaching approach.  Nevertheless, they complement the attributes in the Framework and the results from today’s activities.

Whilst most of our students like the digital workshops currently on offer, they feel they could be somewhat detached from the real industry requirements.  Indeed, these workshops teach them how to use certain tools and features on particular pieces of software, but students are not always able to translate these skills into their own practices.  They would like to have (more) master classes and / or live briefs from real practising industry experts, so our students can learn workflows commonly expected / used in their respective industries. Our students also think that the digital workshops could be much more educational if students were able to work on their actual work rather than working on the same tasks set by the workshop tutors

They welcomed the idea of blended learning / flipped classroom, something that has long been talked about.  All students were in agreement that if we were to ‘prescribe’ them a list of online resources / videos that could teach them the basis of the software they need to learn, face to face contact time could be better used in working on their individual projects. However, they would only be interested in these onlines resources if they were short and to the point as they don’t want them to replace in person workshops. There is value to both types of learning and students want to see more of both happening simutaneously.

Some students feel that the current digital teaching they receive, both from technical workshops and their course tutors, can be too basic, particularly those who have worked in the industry before. Blended learning could help to solve this problem as beginners could start to build a foundation at their own time before attending face to face sessions.

My understanding of the overall of what our students were saying is that they feel the digital provision at the moment is good enough, but they want something that is more personal, something that is more aligned with the industries they want to get into.  Most importantly, something that can improve their employability, which is what the DCAF is ultimately designed for. If you try to understand the Framework in great details, you’d know that not only do they cover the so called hard skills like being proficient in the Adobe Suite or other software and digital tools.  They also cover a digitally minded attitude, flexibility, ability to learn and adapt to new technology, as well as the universal required skills such as communication, engagement and resilience.

Overall, I hope this workshop has been of some use to our students and I believe it has, because students were taking photos of their maps for their own records.  Some even asked for spare materials so they can do the activities again at a later stage.

I hope this workshop and to a larger extent, the DCAF could positively influence our students that learning digital doesn’t and shouldn’t be restricted to learning more software regardless of the actual relevance to their developments as artists and designers.  I am fully aware of the fact that this might be an uphill struggle, particularly when a degree costs £30k+. Our students and their sponsors might lack patience and audacity to invest their somewhat limited time in ‘learning’ things that are harder to quantify, precisely those outlined in the DCAF

Today’s workshop, however, paints a slightly different picture than the one we are used to seeing or assuming; maybe, just maybe, our students are willing and prepared to take ‘a risk’ to learn something that is far less tangible but most certainly more robust.

Interestingly, for someone like myself, who was fortunate enough to only have to pay a small amount to go to university, a lot of the things described in the DCAF were things that we were encouraged to develop anyway.  So maybe we ought to forget about the little annoying obstacle called tuition fees when planning what kind of teaching would really and truly benefit our students and just go with our hearts.

Reference:

Teaching and Learning Exchange (2017), Digital Creative Attributes Handbook.  London:  University of the Arts London.

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