This is a very strange time for me in terms of teaching. If fact I’m doing very little work on the studio floor. Most of my time is spent either writing and putting together lectures, or focusing on those other aspects of the job such as assessing or interviewing. It’s also the end of the dissertation supervision process; (something I will return to at some point), I will though have to mark them of course in the near future.
I still find assessments hard. The four learning outcomes for this last one are weighted, one at 15% others at 10%, 25% and 50%. These differences of course are supposed to relate to relative weightings in importance, but I can never get my head around this. We were assessing the module, ‘Fine Art the Individual and the Social’, my feeling is that what the module does is help students identify what sort of practitioner they are. Are they someone who responds to the social conditions around them or are they someone who depends on mining into their own lives and their own responses to making. It’s a very crude division of course as every individual is part of the social group, but early on in an artist’s career it’s a good thing to test yourself out as to approach. For some students it’s simply a question of deciding whether or not they are an observer or an engager. But I’m supposed to give a number to a weighted outcome that is an assessment of a particular ‘skill’ that the student now has. But these are not measurable skills. How do I know what has happened in someone’s head? A switch might have turned on because of this experience and I might be able to guess that it has from a change in the type of work being done, but it’s not something you can give a mark to.
Perhaps it’s all about conversations. Each time I actually have a conversation in front of a student and their work, I feel as if something is being passed on. Just the way you speak about work opens out opportunities. You might be elliptical and circle round things and always allude to things ‘off stage’ so to speak and this might be the best way of getting someone to realise how their work operates and yet on another day you might be very direct and to the point and just use ostensive definitions. It’s about what works and what is memorable. Confusion can lead to clarity, just as clarity can lead to confusion. But how can I give a mark based on the fact that I believe the student’s understanding is ‘off stage’ at the moment, but that I also think that’s the best place for it, as a too clear understanding might lead to a loss of magic and mystery. All I can say is I think/believe based on my gut feeling that a student is doing something right and that they are doing things that suggest that they might make a good/interesting artist. However, I have to do my job and that means I have to conjour up a number. Kant as always has a good phrase for this, "An intuition of the bare two-oneness", his point being that before the full blown system that we call mathematics was an intuitive phase, one within which the rules were worked out but which operated on pure intuition. I would say that is how my maths operates when it comes to giving numbers to students during assessments.
I’m also interviewing. Interviewing takes me back to Foundation days, either because I’m looking at ‘A’ level students who ought to take a Foundation course before going onto a BA or finding students from foundation courses that are simply not covering the range of basics that I would have thought they ought. It’s not all bad news though. I interviewed a couple of students from Greenhead College in Huddersfield this week and they had very strong ‘A’ level portfolios. John Standeven an ex-Leeds foundation student is head of art there and has been doing a fantastic job of passing on some of the key visual thinking skills that all art students ought to have before setting out on a degree programme. It’s not the qualification that’s important, it’s the experiences that students have while they are on programmes. As always it’s about passionate individuals who can communicate.