Unburdening Myths — Planning for Final Year Projects
For the past three years, I have been working with the final year students on their graduating projects. The project space is challenging and new in many ways for the students. This is the first time in 3 and a half years that they engage fully in a multi-disciplinary project for almost 4 months. Often we work with clients and this too has its own unique problems/advantages. This year I have 30 students from varying disciplines. I have students from Textile Design, Animation Film Design, Visual Communication Design, Contemporary Art Practice, Information Arts & Information Design and Public Space Design. This kind of a wide and varied mix of students is exciting but brings with it the need for a great deal of thinking and planning. The 30 students have varied skill sets, interests and methods of understanding, assimilating and working. It is a no brainer that in this space, a one-size-fits-all attitude will only be an epic fail.
In this situation, one has to be keenly aware and open to learner variability. Every input that we provide as masterclasses, assignments or discussions has to keep this in mind. For instance, a typical day in class has us talking about everything from narrative textiles to sound design in film. My colleagues Matt Lee, Arpita Bajpayi and I spend many hours planning weeks ahead. The photographs that accompany this post shows work from a typical planning day. It is important to us that we remain open to dialogue with the students and are inclusive in every way. Most suggestions for inputs come from the students, and we work in several other factors and try and make these inputs valuable for all. In a later post I will talk in detail about the considerations I had to make when I put together a small talk titled, ‘Image, Metaphor and Meaning’.
One of the challenges of the project space, is the constant deadlines of seminars/juries/examinations. In a period of 4 months, the students have to participate in three such exams. This works out to approximately a seminar once a month! This is somewhat compounded by the fact that that each student has his/her own unique project idea and this means that the output that they produce spans a diverse range as well. This time I have projects that span the entire spectrum of fiction as well as non-fiction narrative, print, installation, textile and artworks.
I find that it helps tremendously to make visual plans, to collaboratively use whiteboards to think through ideas, collate and refine them. Every plan is then shared with the students a week in advance. We also share all reading and reference materials along with the plan. Any details that we share with the students verbally are also documented and shared online. This way if a student misses a session, or would like to go back and refer to a particular reading/visual/artist, this is instantly available.
I am a good planner, this comes to me easily. But I find that I can think better if the plans are given some sort of visual, tangible form. I like to write with pencils on these plans, or use erasable markers, so the plans are never set in stone, but remain flexible always.
I find that the students respond so much better when they know things are being thought through and the communication is always transparent and the plans are as democratic as possible.
Dr. Narayanan recently said something that strongly resonated with me. She said, “Knowledge is produced or co-created and not transmitted.” I believe this to be so. And with the PPDE sessions a lot of what I think and already practice is now finding the right vocabulary.