|Theory course on visual essay
Name educator: Bert Vandenbussche
Name partner organisation: LUCA – School of Arts
Description of the course:
– Theory course on how visual artists construct visual essays to communicate their research. Course takes in total 6 weeks: we have planned 3 meetings in class (first two weeks and last week) and 3 meetings in small groups of 4 to 5 students (weeks three to five).
– Aim of the course is developing a personal understanding of & way of looking at visual essays.
Aim of testing project:
– Experimenting with the juxtaposition of topics without unifying story by educator.
– Flipping the classroom and integrating e-learning tool for fostering the learning dialogue between students (using padlet)
– Assessing by permanent evaluation (assessment on involvement, not on ‘right’ content)
Group reflections during lectures and home assignments were not compulsory, individual reflections for the postcards were compulsory.
Date(s) of the testing project: beginning of November 2015 till End of December 2015
Target group: students 3rd Bachelor Visual Arts, Graphic Design and Textile Design
Number of participants: 28
Nationality of the participants: Belgian
Sex of the participants: female 20 man 8
Age of the participants: around 21
Amount of meetings with the learners: 3 meetings in class + 3 meetings in small groups (4 to 5 students)
|Number of people reflecting:
| Solo (1 person)
| Small group
(< 20 people)
| Large group
(> 20 people)
|The way(s) of sharing:
| Pictures /
| Other forms of expression
| Social media
| Digital diary
|Place of reflection (where)
|D. Steps taken to implement
How did you organize your testing project (or to put it differently: as this is a testing project for experimenting, what will be different comparing to the same course you run the previous time)?
– First two meetings in the classroom: introduction to the course, discussing two visual essays in group, creating small homework groups of 4 to 5 students.
– Three meetings in small homeworkgroups. Before each meetings students received ‘input’ via padlet (visual essays in form of graphic novel, documentary or pictures of an exhibition + some texts on visual essay), they watched/read the input together, then had a discussion about it. A small summary of the main topics of this discussion was immediately posted on the padlet. No guidance whatsoever by educator.
– Juxtaposition of visual essays in these meetings. They were deliberately chosen from various disciplines (film, photography, exhibition, graphic design, graphic novel), expressing different visual logics (from documentary story to alienating association) and different relationships between image and word (from illustrating to autonomous).
– After each of this 5 meetings, students had to post a personal ‘postcard’ to padlet (for each meeting, one new padlet). Postcard consist of both an short reflection (one paragraph long) and an image. Postcard is meant as an ‘answer’/‘reaction’ to the visual essay discussed in the meeting. Postcard is about what’s interesting/beautiful/troubling/… for them personally.
– Final meeting in group to evaluate the course.
– Students wrote final text (1 page long) about their ‘definition of the visual essay’.
|E. Your assessment of the outcome
In general, how do you look at the results of your testing project?
|Connecting with principles: which principle(s) were you taking into consideration mostly when facilitating reflection with learners? Please add 2 sentences about how you were translating the principle into practice. For more information: see postings on principles.
|Raising awareness within learners to ‘own’ their learning in personally meaningful way
|Developing a relationship between educator and learners based on trust, openness, empathy, honesty, dialogue and feedback
|Co-creating the reflective process
|Managing the steering paradox of intrinsic learning processes
Although I did not consciously intend to ‘manage the steering paradox‘, the reported change in students‘ committment (“from passive consumers to active viewers“, as they said themselves) clearly shows how the planning of the course stimulated students to ‘steer their learning process in an personal meaningful way‘
|Creating the right reflective attention of learners
|Slowing down and value moments of not-knowing,
|Deepening your questions progressively
|Recalling that reflection can never be imposed, only kindly invited.
|Always considering reflection as a broad and deepening process, that should be holistic.
|Being careful how to asses reflection (or not at all)
Students handed in 5 postcards + 1 page text. Evaluation was not based on any ‘right definition of the visual essay‘. Rather it was based on the ‘rhizome quality‘ of their reflections in postcard and final text, expressing intensity and involvement. Leading question in assessing was: “how do students make personally sense of the topics disscussed in the course?“
For this course I was experimenting with the ‘flipped classroom‘: after two introductory meetings in group students had to work during 3 weeks in small groups of 4/5 students at home. Each week students were sent a new padlet-wall with new content, i.e. new examples of visual essays (an antropological documentary, a graphic novel and a text on visual essay in graphic design education). They had to look/read the visual essays in group and discuss them immediately afterwards. Each group had to add a summary of this group discussion to the padlet-wall. After this group discussion students were asked to post on the same padlet-wall one ‘postcard‘, i.e. one paragraph text and one corresponding image about something that interested, surprised, intrigued or puzzled them in any way about the visual essay and/or the group discussion.
During this three weeks we had no extra meetings in group. As educator it made me feel unsure as I was not sure if students could make enough connection between the content (send each week via padlet to the students) and the general topic ‘what‘s a visual essay?‘. From their postings on padlet I could see most of them were actually ‘working‘, but I was not able to get a grasp of the ‘depth‘ of their reflections.
After these three weeks we had a final group meeting, evaluating the course. In general students reported a change in their commitment: “during the first two lecturing classes in group, we felt to be more passive consumers. In the small homeworkgroups however, we were more active, looked more attentively. The discussion in small group also gave everybody the possiblity to engage. You had more personal imput in the conversation.“ They stressed the importance of sharing their views with one another for their personal learning process. The discussions helped them to notice different things in the visual essays and to think in a different way. Although I did not consciously intend to have this effect, all of this clearly shows how the planning of the course stimulated students to ‘steer their learning process in an personal meaningful way‘.
At the end students were asked to write a personal definition (1 page long): “what‘s a visual essay according to you? What are its characteristics?“ I have been asking this final assignment for several years already. The quality of this year‘s texts was the same as in previous years. It proved that the commitment of students in their homeworkgroups was leading to good quality reflection, although I had no ‘grasp‘ of it during the three weeks. This relates to students‘ remark about the positive impact of the ‘openness‘ of the course. “We don‘t felt the need for more guidance. The openness allowed us to get out of it what we want to get out of.“ Interestingly, during the evaluation of the course most students were also questioning the value of this final assignment. One of them expressed this as following: “I have a sense what the visual essay is about, it feels like I know how to start a visual essay. But I don‘t have a clear definition in my head.“ Another student expressed it a little bit differently: „there is a lot of diversity between the discussed visual essays. Although I‘m not able to give one definition, I recognize some recurring patterns.“ Although I don‘t have a
final answer to it, these remarks make me question the reason for this final assignment. Of course as educator I want to know what students have learned during this course. And it‘s always a good exercise to put your learning into words and make it explicit. However, knowing these students are visual artists, the fact that they are aware of a change in the way they look at the topic also indicates significant learning. Learning which actally may be sufficient within the framework of this course. From their point of view, the final assignment was redundant, did not add (a lot) to their learning and was merely a need by the educator in order to be able to assess their learning.