Background and Preparations

Exploring strategies for creating, connecting and interacting on an online platform

The core element of the working group's task was to create a 4 ECTS course on blended learning to be piloted during the project. Students and teaching staff from all the participating institutions would first meet for an intensive week to kick off the course, followed by work on an artistic creation in groups through the internet. In brief, blended learning is a form of active learning, where conventional face-to-face classroom education methods are combined with online digital media approaches.

 Students at an online lecture with Holly Herndon during Blended mobility course 2017.

Students at an online lecture with Holly Herndon during Blended mobility course 2017.

Engaging with digital audiences

Engagement with arts and culture online and reaching digital audiences is a relevant topic to explore. In 2010, a research commissioned by the Arts Council England, found that digital audiences engage with the arts and culture through digital media on a daily basis. This can happen in a variety of ways:

  • finding out information about artists, performers, events and exhibitions

  • viewing and listening of works of art or performances

  • educating oneself online about arts

  • being part of online clubs or societies

  • uploading or streaming one’s own material

  • taking part in online discussion on art and culture

  • downloading software or apps related to the arts

  • using the internet as a source or a database of arts and by publishing something related to the arts

The Arts Council England (ibid.) found that there are several benefits of online engagement for audiences that are relevant for artists to know. These are:

  • Access to arts and filtering opportunities.

  • Learning: Educating oneself, educating others about arts.

  • Experience: Participation in online arts or receiving it online.

  • Sharing: Sharing own or others’ work with others.

  • Creating: Making one’s own artistic online creations.

Artists communicate with the digital audiences in multiple ways, for example:

  • By online streaming.

  • Through social media.

  • Through interactive designed web spaces and pages such as interactive online orchestras.

  • Interactive audience engagement projects such as Jacob Collier’s “iHarmU” or Ze Frank’s web participation projects.

  • Virtual community building, for example Eric Whitaker’s Virtual Choir.

  • Via net-arts or multimedia arts drawn upon the internet archives or reflecting on the online societies through arts.

  • By creating a digital presence as an artistic internet persona/alias etc.

Artists as citizens – Embracing changes and communicating with wider audiences

Online arts communities can be categorised as either independent virtual groups or groups existing as an extension to an already established offline community (Waldron, 2018, p. 109). Virtual communities are spaces for shared learning. Waldron (2018) explains that they are genuinely socially-constructed and continuously collectively re-constructed. Youtube, for example, can be viewed as an artefact, but “it also serves as a visible example of online participatory culture in action” (ibid, p. 121). Digital spaces, indeed, are vehicles for creating collectively shared artistic experiences.

To consider the relevance of embracing and reaching digital audiences of arts and culture through different strategies online, it is necessary that the higher arts education creates such standards of education that support the students in becoming excellent communicators in the changing professional field, also online. Joseph Polisi (2005), the president of Juillard School of Music has stated that “the ultimate goals as artists is to be effective communicators” (p. 37) in large and small communities across the globe and have social awareness of societal factors affecting them. Polisi (ibid) continues that in higher music education, this means that:

We must be open to change, to new ideas, to innovative teaching approaches, from so-called flipped classroom to the use of digital media in enhancing the classroom experience to apps, distant courses, and even distance lessons (p. 77)

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Blended learning: Taxonomy for users

New technologies and media are continuously shaping educational practices and standards (Cocquyt et al., 2017, p. 18). Whether delivering digital and technology-based education fully online or with a blended learning model, engagement in online and blended learning activities have been studied to increase adult learner-participants’ experience of social connectedness (ibid.). However, online interaction does not happen by itself, and therefore, it is important to consider ways of designing learner-centred online environments that support interaction and participation (ibid.).

In Friesen’s (2012) report on defining blended learning, it is stated that “blended learning” designates the range of possibilities presented by combining Internet and digital media with established classroom forms that require the physical co‐presence of teacher and students” (p. 1). Drawing upon Friesen’s (ibid.) presented taxonomy, the chosen form of blended learning for the NAIP Blended Mobility course was an enriched‐virtual model, which involves one or more occasions of the physical co‐presence of a teacher and students to enrich an otherwise virtual experience. There are a wide range of possible combinations that afford this kind of contact, and in this course, the physical meetings were organized as a kick off to the virtually-mediated course work. The rest of the physical teacher co-presence meetings took place in form of local coaching sessions with greater frequency at the beginning, middle and conclusion of a course.

Point of departure

This project’s Blended Mobility Programme is partly based on the experience of a course that was developed during a Strategic Partnership including some of the same institutional partners, during 2014 – 2016. This project was limited to music practice and had the title Connected Improvisation. The objective was to hold improvisation sessions on an online platform every fortnight over the spring term of 2016, following an intensive improvisation course where several acclaimed music improvisers gave masterclasses and workshops. The focus was put on exploring technologies to create an online class-room where students and teachers could play together and improvise in real-time. In the following project the focus was shifted to the concept of the online platform as a space for artistic creation and collaboration in a wider sense.

Preparation

As a starting point the emphasis was to research how the internet reflects in our creative practices and how we can incorporate that knowledge into the way we deal with creative processes in arts education. It would not be our aim to explore technology but rather try to understand how the digital and the internet has affected our worldview, our behaviour, our communication and therefore the way we make and present art.

The aim of the course was to facilitate second cycle arts students to explore strategies for generating material for artistic projects, using digital tools. Furthermore, the course aimed to facilitate the students in mediating their artistic material through online platforms, focusing on interactivity with an online audience. The students from different institutions worked in small mixed groups where they asked and answered questions about online processes within artistic co-creation, production and mediation such as:

  • How can the internet be a place of creativity for professional artists?

  • What performance platforms are there on the online environment that can serve an artist’s professional practice development?

  • What is live and what is archive?

Key concepts for the work were: connectivity, interactivity, co-creation, new audience. The emphasis being on creating a framework for creating and mediating music and performance material.

Outline of the developed elective course

The course stretches over 15 weeks, starting with sessions with mentors in the home institutions in the first two weeks. In the third week a meeting in one place for three to five takes place where the students form groups consisting of members from at least two institutions. The rest is a combination of group work over the internet and mentoring sessions in the home institutions with local mentors. Each group should first submit a proposal for a collaborative project which is evaluated and approved, and then realized/ produced by the groups using the internet as a medium. The students also submit video blogs and a personal reflective report at the end of the course. Guidelines for project proposals, mentoring and reflective report have been developed and are submitted with the course description as part of the working group's output.

The collaborative projects build on artistic material for an intended online audience in a selected virtual space. On this platform, the project may include real-time interaction with the audience or other form of audience participation, presented in an online space of the group’s choosing. Most of the sharing of group work processes takes place on a selected online classroom such as Google Classroom or a closed Facebook-group, depending on the consensus of the group of students. The projects are presented in the shared online platform and evaluated in a local mentoring session with peers and mentor.