OTTeR – Teaching and Technical Resources – is a portal designed to support students at CSM by providing information about workshop staff, facilities, accessibility and crucially, video tutorials. Developed by Ray Barker, Muz Mehmet and Angus Main, it features a range of videos that reinforce workshop inductions, and equipment and technique demonstrations, but hopes are to make it comprehensive, covering as many disciplines as possible. CSM’s technical specialist, Ray Barker, spoke to us about OTTeR’s development so far, its crossover with Lynda.com, and the way digital tools like these support student learning.
Where are you up to with OTTeR?
We’ve recorded a lot of footage over the summer. When the workshops were closed to students, we filmed technicians undertaking various processes associated with their workshops in order to produce bespoke and specific video guides. So we’ve now got a huge amount of video content that needs to be edited. We’ve got letterpress, photography, printmaking, ceramics, digital manufacturing, jewellery, metalwork, woodwork, knitwear – although ironically nothing for digital media yet and we’re the people who made it! We’ve got filming planned for physical computing, animation and fashion. I think everybody’s really enthusiastic about this project. It was actually Muz who took the initiative a few years ago and started producing these slightly wobbly, handheld videos to support the print workshops. What we’ve got now is something a bit more professional, hopefully.
What are your objectives?
First of all the aim is to support workshop inductions. Staff who give inductions to students either in a type of process, or about a piece of equipment, are constantly having to repeat themselves after they’ve done the inductions to whole groups of students. There’s a number of reasons for this, for instance some students might not be able to see or hear what’s being shown, or their first language won’t be English. Consequently, there’s a constant drip-feed of students coming through and asking workshop technicians the same questions over and over again – it can be really tiring.
Secondly the students are sometimes using kit or employing processes long after the initial induction and would appreciate a simple video reminder – rather than waiting for a technician to be free. The students can also use the video guides as a way to clarify or reinforce their learning soon after an induction – so there’s lots of ways to work with the guides.
That was the motivation behind this: to support all of these workshops so that students then had a video reference they could rely on that was focused on the real physical context of their learning space – and consequently it relieves all of that focus of the technician repeating information, and instead they can then engage with students about what they’re trying to do at a deeper level, rather than the process through which they’re trying to do it. That’s why we wanted to produce the videos.
And of course we are producing these videos to support those students whose first language isn’t English. Our medium-term goal, once we’ve got the first tranche of workshop videos completed is to provide further support to students whose first language isn’t English. We haven’t decided quite how to do this yet, but to have transcripts of the videos so that students can read and pick out the technical terms is one idea. Because if you’re learning English as a Japanese student, then a spigot or widget are not the first words that you’re going to learn. So we’d like a glossary of technical terms translated, maybe through leveraging Google translate or free online tools.
The other purpose was that it appeared there wasn’t a single resource within CSM that gave access to general workshop information for all of the workshops around the college – simple information like ‘when is it open’? On the printmaking section of OTTeR, we’ve got ‘opening hours’, ‘how do I book?’ (with online booking that links into an online booking form). Students can then see a timetable about availability of the various printmaking facilities and also crucially, who the people who work there are, what they look like, and who to speak to. It is basic but invaluable information, especially for first year students who can find it intimidating to walk into a room and not know who to go and see. They now have access to a resource that can guide them through the process of using our workshops at CSM, and incredibly we’ve never had this before. It’s not a world-first, and there are many other examples of this kind of resource, but for us it is new and exciting.
However, it’s an organic process and we’re still developing it. It’s being cobbled together by myself and my colleague Angus – and so it’s still a little bit light. We’ve managed because we’ve got the skills in-house, we’ve been able to leverage those skills to actually put this thing together. We’ve built this on behalf of all our workshop staff as a kind of a gift to them as we’ve got the technical skills to do it, and they do need something like this to support their workshops.
Crossover with Lynda.com
Ironically our area – media – doesn’t lend itself so well to these workshop videos, which is where there’s a crossover with Lynda.com. Lynda provides an incredible resource for software mainly, but not exclusively. We encourage students to use it as much as possible. Again, because it reduces the pressure on us and it provides students with different methods to support their learning; now we’re supporting 4,500 students we can’t show them on an individual basis how to run Photoshop. Nevertheless, I do a Digital Skills workshop with graphic designs students and I don’t really teach them anything other than how to support themselves really.
The main thrust of it is ‘yeah we can spend two days and I can show you how to use Photoshop but actually that wouldn’t help you that much’. So we teach them how to learn, really. How to pick up digital skills. The main thrust of our skills workshop is not to be as frightened of playing with software because you can’t break anything, but to try stuff out because it’s not as difficult as it first appears. And if they do get stuck in the middle of something then they’ve got a number of resources that they could draw upon. OTTeR is one, Lynda is another. And there are other ways: you look at the manual, you look in the software help files, you go to Google, you go to YouTube, you look in a book. So what we’re trying to do is encourage students to find a solution themselves because then they’ll actually learn something. We’re trying to use digital skills to aid them in their learning, because that’ll be a lifelong process they will continue after they’ve left university.
What feedback have you had?
It has been fantastic actually. We’ve had a lot of extremely positive feedback. When we showed some of our team before we released it in the first week of term, they said they wished they’d had this when they were at college. Academic staff said it is wonderful, and that they’re never really quite sure what to tell students, and now they can look it up themselves so they know they’re giving the right information – sometimes they don’t have to tell students at all, academics can just refer students to the OTTeR site. It’s there for everybody. Everybody’s now singing from the same hymn sheet, as it were. The only negative comments we have had is that we wish there were more videos on there. We’re trying to do something about it, trust me, we are working on it!