Thursday, 10 April 2014

Student learning at MoDA: our findings so far

In my blog post of 13th January 2014 - New ways of working with students visiting the Study Room, I mentioned that I would get back to you about how our new way of working with students is progressing.  Here are the  findings so far of a MoDA project involving Year 1 BA Hons Fashion & BA Hons Fashion Textiles students at Middlesex University.

The aim of the project was to introduce the students to the idea of museum objects as potential sources of inspiration for their creative practice.  The students were asked to produce an Inspiring objects/Creative journeys blog.  This would comprise of a combination of images and reflective notes which together would document their creative journeys inspired by the objects they encountered during two sessions at MoDA. 

Those students that managed to do this successfully did more than just describe the objects and images featured in their posts. There was evidence that they were able to analyse the material i.e. say why they liked it or were interested in it, and to discuss how one object had then led to interest in another. In other words they were able to show how their journey and ideas had developed over the course of the project. This became particularly interesting when they were able to make connections between the objects they had looked at and their own work and/or experience.  The quote below illustrates how one student was able to do this successfully:
 “I chose to look at the screen printed curtain because I enjoy screen printing and the type of effect you can create using this technique. This led me on to looking at other examples of screen printed fabric and wallpapers I found on the V&A and Whitworth Art Gallery websites. I particularly liked these other designs from the 1960s, and their bold use of colour.” (extract from one of the student blog posts)
After the students analysed their chosen object in Session 1 we asked them to think about relating to that object on a personal level - did it remind them of a person or place? Did it connect to their own creative practice in terms of style or technique? One of the requirements for the finished blog was that it included a minimum of four images that related to the personal connection identified. Unfortunately it feels as if this aspect of the project was rather forgotten about by many which is a pity.  Exploring how one might connect with an object can often lead to the development of some really exciting ideas.

In the sessions some of the students discussed how the objects they encountered reminded them of particular relatives or houses they had visited in childhood. These connections can prove to be a rich seam as far as inspiration is concerned; it would have been great to have seen further exploration of this using photographs or other objects from their own personal collections as illustration. If we were to repeat the project, we would make more time to focus on the idea of identifying and exploring these personal connections.

The quote below is typical of how some students responded to ‘personal connections’:
“I imagined it (MoDA object) hanging in the hallway of a big wood-panelled house with a dark and heavy atmosphere.  Which is how I think about Art Nouveau in general.  It’s like a darker version of ‘swirly and feminine’.” (extract from one of the student blog posts)
This student connected with the Art Nouveau tapestry she looked at by imagining the type of interior in which it could be displayed. The description of this interior is incredibly evocative.  Perhaps the next step could have been to find images of this type of interior and include them as part of the blog.  Who might have lived in this type of house?  What sort of clothing might they have worn?  This could have taken the student's research on to the next level and showed their ideas developing.

In between the two MoDA sessions we set a homework task that required students to source more relevant images from a number of museum websites and archive databases identified by MoDA. We wanted to introduce these sites as they are great sources of imagery and inspiration for future work. We also wanted them to extend their research beyond MoDA’s textile collection and for the objects they found online to shape their second MoDA session. Many of them had been able to include a range of images they had found on some of these websites. This gets particularly interesting when students move beyond simply describing their findings and are able to discuss how it relates to their first MoDA object. Students who were then able to relate these images to their second MoDA session were particularly successful at conveying the idea of the ‘creative journey’ as mentioned above.

Overall, evidence from the student blogs seems to show that as a result of their encounters with objects all did embark on a 'creative journey'. Further anecdotal evidence indicates that some students were sufficiently inspired to have reached a point in their journeys where they were on the cusp of developing some form of creative output.  This of course is a very exciting development for us as MoDA staff working with the students, and gives us confidence to continue to use and develop our new way of working with objects.

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