Are personal recording devices impeding students’ experience of ‘being in the moment’, and if so, does it matter?

Image by Vladimir Agafonkin


Image by Vladimir Agafonkin

Recording, be it audio, video, or simply snapping pictures of everything and anything we think we’ll want to remember, has become part of our routine. For the student experience within the context of an art and design environment, this habit of whipping out our devices every time we want to remember or document something has implications. What are they? And why do we so readily forget to be in the moment and delay our experiences to a time and a place we might feel more comfortable processing the information recorded?

In advance of the ‘Being Lecture Captured’ discussion at London College of Fashion, Sarah Kante reflects on her own experience of being a UAL student, and offers a provocation to the Pedagogic Research Hub.

Personal recording devices are everywhere. Do you carry a smartphone, a tablet and a camera with you wherever you go? Yes, me too. For most of us, these devices are an extension of our experiences – technologies and us interconnected. We rely on them to capture what is happening around us, to remind us, to direct us, and we rarely think twice before using them. Just as wider society records itself as never before, so do students.

One can argue that these digital devices are, of course, useful in whatever situation you might find yourself. In a lecture, tutorial or a crit, during a presentation or in the studio, we are increasingly recording what others say and show – often to reflect upon and improve our own skills after a presentation, or to remember interesting facts, images and so forth… These gizmos have become essential to our creative arts research methodologies, in our development as students, and in our emerging arts and design practices.

We might have been trained from an early age to record as much as possible in our education: taking notes, and listening, later reflecting and learning in our own time and space. Whilst our practices demand research, documentation and experimentation – all things that rely heavily on some kind of recording – being an arts and design university student demands interaction. With our surroundings, our peers, our tutors and lecturers, and our practices. Reactions and decisions have to be made and triggered: delaying them means we miss out on experiences a recording can never bring back.

Recording and documenting is part of art and design practices, but so too is being in the moment. Experiencing and critically engaging with something in the present is not the same as looking at, or listening to a digital representation afterwards in the safety of our bedrooms. Being out of our comfort zone triggers creativity, and by recording everything and delaying the experience, do we lose something of huge importance: being in the moment?

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Being in the moment is about being focused and giving your undivided attention to what is happening around you. It is about relying on your wits and memory to make creative associations and to react to the setting, the discussion or the problem at hand. While the outputs of our practices might not be about fluidity and action/reaction, the process usually is. Creation is about action, reaction, imagination, risk, uncertainty and fluidity, movement and adaptation. Passiveness and delayed response can be part of the process – and reflection is imperative – but the moment you are in when coming up with a new idea is extremely important. Recording removes all that is around whatever is recorded. You have the “end product” but none of the context.

Recording, to a certain extent, freezes art and design practice and ignores the movement and fluidity inherent to creation.

There are many different perspectives when it comes to recording, from the staff or the students’ points of view, as well as division based on our own recording practices.

I had a chat with an international student who started recording lectures in order to improve his English, and to develop his confidence in class. Here is what he had to say:

I am using a portable small voice recorder during lectures for self-reflection of lectures at my flat.

Initially, I recorded because I had a difficulty understanding native speaker’s English fully as I am an international student. Although my listening skill improved dramatically, I still bring the recorder and record lectures. However, I am thinking of using Evernote instead of my recorder, as it has a recording function.

I think that I can understand the lecture more and find out new things from reflection of lectures after reading books, writing an essay and having discussions with course mates. Recording helps international students concentrate on a lecture.

The recording of a discussion doesn’t help my listening and speaking at the time, but the recording gives me two good influences to improve my experiences in discussions: I don’t need to be nervous about taking notes and/ or words I don’t understand so I can concentrate on my opinions on the topic, and the review of the discussion using the recoded data improves my performance for next discussion. I only really needed to record lectures and discussions in the first three months, because recording helped my listening skills so much.

 

Through recording and actively reflecting upon lectures, this student was able to develop the skills and confidence to take part in all aspects of his learning experience – thereby being in the moment. However, there may also be instances where a reliance on recordings is detrimental to a student’s experience, such as language development, as they remain passive recipients and never become fully present in class; impeding their creative and critical engagement, intuition, subjectivity and imagination.

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I also talked to Judy Willcocks, who heads up CSM’s Museum. We started chatting about the College’s teaching collection, and how she supports student’s object based learning practice, she then shared a few experiences of recording objects:

“We have beautiful stuff, like real William Morris wallpapers that are almost 3D they are so textured. Students are able to stand and gaze at this material, but instead they immediately get their cameras out and take pictures. I’m showing them a 15c illustrated manuscript, a fabulous thing, and they take pictures. Students are looking at objects through the lens of a camera. It absolutely does my head in.

It’s a massively precious gift to encounter these objects for real. The goodness that you can glean through the engagement with objects is being massively denuded by looking at digital representations.

We are sidestepping the spirituality of objects by immediately photographing them. I get swept up by the materials, that’s the reason I love what I do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-recording. The high quality digitisation of a recently found artefact that enables that object re-entry to the academic forum of international research is the kind of digital recording that rocks!

 

Whilst recording is essential and a part of the digital literacy required of arts and design students, Judy points out we might lose out by immediately going for our cameras and recording devices when confronted by material objects which require our undivided attention. Overlooking the materiality of an object, its presence and looking at it through a lens, we might simply forget to be in the moment – or how to be in it.

As arts and design students, we are required to react and engage with our environment. Our experiences as students and as arts and design practitioners are steeped in the present and the materiality of our surroundings. Being in the moment is experiencing fully what is happening around you, interacting with places and people; creating is about reflection, yes, but more importantly context. Recording can never capture your surroundings, the context you were in or the things outside the frame that might spark a great idea.

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Looking at recording and personal recording devices in an arts and design setting can be slightly overwhelming. Because our process usually starts with some kind of recording, be it a sketch or a picture, notes or audio recording from a lecture, it is almost impossible to separate what is ‘personal’ and what is ‘practice’ recording: what we do to improve our language skills or what we use as a starting point for a piece or reflection. Every one of us records on a daily basis, and we are all probably guilty of sneaky recording, without even realising it.

But what matters, is to be aware of our habit of recording. Realising when it might impede our attention, when being in the moment is more important than remembering every little detail, and when it might not be appropriate.

And please, do not forget the issues around recording. Attitudes and reactions can change quite dramatically when you have devices all around you recording your every word. Some students might feel comfortable with it, but some might refrain from participating in a discussion because of it.

The one thing to remember is to always ask for permission before recording. Be it your lecturer/ tutor or the other students in your class, letting people know you are recording or taking pictures will make everyone more comfortable with the process.

 

Interesting references and links

–      Student Guidance for recording http://digitalpresent.myblog.arts.ac.uk/2013/02/06/student-guidance-for-audio-and-video-recording-of-lectures/

–      Staff Guidance for recording  http://digitalpresent.myblog.arts.ac.uk/2013/02/06/staff-guidance-for-audio-and-video-recording-of-lectures/

–       A look at Lecture Capture: http://www.universitybusiness.com/article/lecture-capture-fresh-look

– Being Lecture Captured http://digitalpresent.myblog.arts.ac.uk/2013/11/10/being-lecture-captured-an-lcf-pedagogic-research-hub-discussion/