BA Textile Design: nomadic and connected learners

social media at the loom

As part of an ongoing study into the ways in which personal digital devices are used by CSM students within their daily ‘living and learning’, a cohort of BA Textile Design students shared their experiences. This article acts as a pithy interpretation of the data, and pulls out some insights for further investigation.

The BA Textile Design students are a group of nomadic and connected learners. All of the respondents use laptops and mobile phones with the vast majority also using digital cameras (98%). These young designers choose to study in multiple locations around Central Saint Martins, such as the course studio, library, workshops, open learning spaces and the canteen. Several students are ultra-mobile learners; tuning into their studies on the move, eg on a bus or train, as well as using mobile phones as creative tools that are intrinsic to their research.

Museums and galleries are visited weekly by 33% of respondents, and well over half of the group undertake research in both spaces each month. As expected, all of the students study at home, whilst there is an even split between those who sip cappuccinos at a café whilst dipping into their studies, and those who choose to dip into cakes instead.

smartphone amongst other chosen material artefacts


Themes that emerged which will be explored further include:

Smartphone as creative collaborator  There was a greater range of manufacturers represented in this group’s collection of mobile phones than seen with other student groups in the study, but the iPhone was still in the majority with 65% penetration. The smartphone is used as a creative tool in many ways, eg; trend research, documenting ideas using the notes function, following news on Flipboard, and in particular it is valued as a camera when travelling.

Camera and Instagram (to take quick snaps of work and things that interest me, to record sound and picture)

Smartphone as personal assistant  A form of dependency or reliance on the smartphone to enable the organisation of many parts of the students’ daily activities shines through from the cumulative data.

ical, sync it with other mac products – easy to use, lets me know my timetable. Reminder function – set alerts and times, helpful. Clock/alarm – rely on it to wake up. Notes function – also syncs to my email.

Personal blog publishing  A high proportion of the students regularly read fashion or art blogs, and explore Tumblr in general.  Of the respondents who have created their own blogs, a number of engagement models emerged: online portfolio, digital sketchbook, establishing new social connections, documenting work for critical reflection, project specific online space, and sharing work with friends and family.

to keep track of the work i make, to process my thoughts and let friends and family back home know what im getting up to.

knitting: stitch counting using smartphone as calculator

The results from this study regarding personal blogs are synergous with the findings from other groups. Given the multiplicity of ways in which blogs are being used to support arts and design education at the College (digital portfolios, personal diaries and sketchbooks, international group collaboration, and so forth), it would be valuable to share with the wider student community ways that blogs can be exploited as a flexible and meaningful tool to support their studies.

The smartphone as creative collaborator is a relationship with technology that merits further exploration in the specific context of textile design at the CSM. The course is comprised of 200+ students from multiple cultural, social and economic backgrounds, with a wide range of motivations for exploring textile design. As ownership of personal mobile devices is increasingly prevalent, it would be beneficial to gain deeper understanding of current adoption practices in order to:

  • sensitise ourselves to future trends
  • enable the course to share existing valuable practice with all students, and more widely
  • further develop arts and design pedagogy.

The above highlights certain ways in which this student group is using digital devices, and their participation in this formative stage of my research has also provided insights regarding adoption of social media and digital tools – initial findings from the data will be shared in the forthcoming weeks. The picture painted in this post may well appear alien to some of those textiles students who did not take part in the study – further inquiry planned.

How young makers within arts and design are using their personal devices to support learning is an aspect of digital literacy that the University is keen to keep exploring as part of the Digital Life programme. CSM colleagues and students who wish to help shape the understanding of 21c digital literacy within arts higher education, should contact Chris Follows – manager of UAL DIAL project. A group get-together is planned for January 2013, and your insights would be much welcomed.


BA Textile Design

BA Textile Design case-study

DIAL Project

Digital Literacy definitions