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Postdigital Possibilities and Impossibilities Behind the Screen: Visual Arts Educators in Conversation about Online Learning and Real-world Experiences

Visual Pedagogies and Blended Learning

In: Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy
Authors:
Kathryn GrushkaThe University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia, kath.grushka@newcastle.edu.au

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Rachel BuchananThe University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia, rachel.buchanan@newcastle.edu.au

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Michael WhittingtonThe University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia, michael.whittington@uon.edu.au

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Rory DavisThe University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia, rory.davis@uon.edu.au

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Abstract

Through an ethnomethodological and dialogical encounter with Australian classrooms in the lived experience of two visual art (va) educators, the authors seek to learn how working between online and studio learning approaches shaped teacher perceptions of student learning during the outbreak of covid-19 in 2020 and 2021. The research has two phases. Phase 1 sees the two va educators create learning narratives. These narratives, reported in summary in the article, through both material and digital form became the baseline data. In Phase 2 these themes were reworked as conversational questions. These questions then became the stimulus for a critical reflective online video conversation between the two va educators. The resulting discussion around the borderlines looks beyond specific apps, platforms, or products that the teachers used, their successes and failures and examines the digital, non-digital, material, social relations and pedagogical realities and futures that may or may be possible in the context of the postdigital va secondary classroom. These educators have had little time to assess the shift from a strong and well researched studio-pedagogy to their virtual creative learning futures. The challenges of this shift are revealed through their personal experiences.

Abstract

Through an ethnomethodological and dialogical encounter with Australian classrooms in the lived experience of two visual art (va) educators, the authors seek to learn how working between online and studio learning approaches shaped teacher perceptions of student learning during the outbreak of covid-19 in 2020 and 2021. The research has two phases. Phase 1 sees the two va educators create learning narratives. These narratives, reported in summary in the article, through both material and digital form became the baseline data. In Phase 2 these themes were reworked as conversational questions. These questions then became the stimulus for a critical reflective online video conversation between the two va educators. The resulting discussion around the borderlines looks beyond specific apps, platforms, or products that the teachers used, their successes and failures and examines the digital, non-digital, material, social relations and pedagogical realities and futures that may or may be possible in the context of the postdigital va secondary classroom. These educators have had little time to assess the shift from a strong and well researched studio-pedagogy to their virtual creative learning futures. The challenges of this shift are revealed through their personal experiences.

FEATURE
FEATURE

This article comprises a video, which can be viewed here.

Citation: Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy 2022; 10.1163/23644583-bja10027

  1. This article is part of the special topic ‘Visual Pedagogies and Blended Learning’, edited by Natasa Lackovic and Aihua Hu.

1 Introduction

Postdigital education theory is based on the premise that the digital revolution and classroom learning may be better understood as a machinic autopoiesis where becoming as teacher/learner is now defined by an assemblage of machines, social relationships, communicative energies together shaping human subjectivity. This shift in thinking goes beyond describing the latest tech marvel, or the next sociotechnical imaginary encounter, to explore the processes, relations and material conditions engendered by the presence of technology and how such educational apparatus constructs learning and the learner. This shift is problematic for the arts and their performative pedagogies. In considering (im)possible futures where new imagined actions are possible (Valerio, Bastos & Tateo, 2021) visual art (va) teachers must confront the realities of this ‘new normal’ learning world and work towards new possibilities. Postdigital visual art education is grappling with learning management systems that work within algorithmic constructs to predict possible responses based on a deterministic mindset that implies learning can be preprogramed (Buchanan & MacPherson, 2019; Goodyear & Ellis, 2020).

This article explores the visual art postdigital classroom. It explores the emergent problematic when blended learning digital pedagogies collide with material pedagogies for the visual art educators. How has working between online and studio learning approaches impacted teacher perceptions of student learning? To answer this question, the educators consider how the machinic assemblage of blended learning spaces both controls and influences their own becoming and that of their students. Blended learning is presented as a techno ecological learning continuum which spans the real to the virtual from studio classroom spaces to virtual online learning environments. As the adolescent learner is an active producer and consumers of technology across both formal and informal settings the visual art educator must consider how the overlap and dwelling together of blended learning ecologies open-up possibilities.

2 Postdigital Education

A postdigital perspective suggests that the digital revolution is not impending, but rather has already happened. The future is here, our relationship with digital technologies has shifted to one of dependence, more obvious in the absence of technology than in its ubiquitous presence (“Oh no! The wifi’s out!”) (Jandrić et al., 2018). Discussion of how contemporary human-technology relationships bring forth learning implications is called for (Knox, 2019). Whilst educational rhetoric calls for schools to increase the use of digital technologies (Buchanan, 2020), many students (in highly technological countries) can already be considered postdigital. Young children incorporate digital technologies into their play, and this is now part of the way that they learn about the world (Edwards, 2013). Older children and adolescents not only have high rates of ownership of digital communication technologies, but they use social media as part of their identity formation (boyd, 2014). The traditional narratives of identity and agency available to young people ‘are being complemented by new possibilities that are the direct outcome of their participation’ (Mallan, 2009, p. 53) in a postdigital world.

Analysis of school systems use of digital technologies suggests that educational systems can likewise be considered postdigital (Fawns, 2019). Teachers’ work has been datafied via professional standards accreditation processes that make them countable, measurable and able to be ranked (Clarke & Moore, 2013). Learning analytics platforms, used in schools are designed to ‘mine data about learners as they go about educational tasks and activities in real time. Together they provide automated predictions of future progress that can be used as the basis for intervention and pre-emption’ (Lupton & Williamson, 2017, p. 785). Students are being continuously monitored in a multitude of ways, including their progression from preschool to further and higher education, their physical activity, use of digital devices, social media, and their physical location can be recorded in perpetuity as well as tracked in real time. School lessons (even where digital technologies are not used in teaching and learning) are bounded by digital data – attendance, assessment and achievement, lesson planning and student wellbeing information are all collected and collated digitally.

3 Learning Ecologies

The concept of a learning ecology within new materialist ideas is a reterritorisation of the normalised concept of an ecology understood from an environmental perspective. It has emerged from the writing of Guattari, in his book The Three Ecologies (1989/2008). It speaks to the idea of a techno ecological condition where a multiplicity of human and non-human agents have come together in what is now seen as a new ecological paradigm (Horl, 2017). The concept of ecologies of learning has emerged to engage with the ideas that learning is an assemblage and an ongoing adaptive affair. Learning ecologies acknowledge the relationships of connectivity, both human and machine and the interdependence of all participants. A personal learning ecology is made up of a multiplicity of overlapping and intermingling ecologies (Barnett & Jackson, 2020). This is true for both the learner and the teacher. The emergence of this concept in contemporary educational thinking draws significantly on the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari (1987). It emphasises that an individuals’ subjectivities are constructed continuously when thinking and learning. Previous learning encounters are assemblages that build upon our colliding past and present memories. These complex relationships, connectivity and interdependence sustain us towards a future becoming reliant on individual growth, renewal and resilience.

Learning systems are value ladened within a socio-genetic perspective and their adaption can be understood as an ongoing process of change (Shapiro, 2019). Learning systems in education represent one of many collective machinic assemblages in society and work as an element of a control society. They are ‘a machinism that has technological, social, semiotic and axiological avatars’ (Guattari, 2008, p. 34) accessed through codes and manipulated via algorithmic forces. This new machinic or eco-logic is made up of the environment and its machines, social relationships, and human subjectivity. Knowing and becoming in this new assemblage is no longer solely understood as represented through language but draws on ways of knowing and being across multiple operational entities towards markets driven not by production but sales, it is a world of meta-production (Deleuze, 1995). It includes perception, sensorial, affective and computational modes and they are dependent on the ever-increasing digital ways of communicating through virtual design objects, visual modes such as such as video, film, media, animation, photography, and cyber worlds all with performative capabilities. In this new machinic, language and its signs are no longer dominant, and identities are driven by the vast collection of non-linguistic machines of subjectification (Guattari, 2008).

These new machinic or techno-learning ecologies work relationally to capture, control, manage and influence consumers, whether teacher or learner and their socially driven behaviours. Education could be described as just one of many sites of confinement in which the quest is for continuing education and continuous assessment and certification which work to control. This cybernetic world and all forms of media go beyond the original understanding of media as social communication forms to cyberspaces and techno-spheres.

Guattari (2008) speaks to our techno-ecological sense which is process-oriented and expands our learning and thinking, to the notion of a self as becoming formed by cybernetic interactions and feedback that connect to living organisms and social structures. As both the teacher and student are learning through these digital media spaces and employ multiple forms of educational software it is timely to consider the value of the learning outcomes of techno-learning ecologies and how teachers perceive their students engage and learn in these spaces. Goetz (2021) reminds us, that digital literacy, techno-objects and interdisciplinary approaches must be considered as dimensions of future learning ecologies and that they present as territories, aspects of machinic phyla that are but elements of the shared creative odyssey.

4 The Artist and Materiality

Art and materiality in the postdigital world may have its own ontology (Deleuze, 1995; Guattari, 2008; Chierico, 2016). The contemporary artist has long understood that the traditional distinction between the human and its others is blurred as the unity of the subject has dissolved (Haraway, 2008). Braidotti (2013) suggests that rather than perceiving this situation as a loss of cognitive and moral self-mastery, or a loss of traditional education as we have come to know it, she argues that the posthuman helps us make sense of our flexible and multiple identities (Braidotti, 2013). These ideas are useful when considering the problematics of the relationship between the artists and the traditional materials of production beyond the art studio into the techno-ecology.

Like Guattari, Haraway (1991) contends that the world of the human, non-human, machine or instrument are all material-semiotic actors. Thus an ‘object of knowledge’ be it an artwork or a video are ‘active, meaning-generating axis of the apparatus of bodily production’ (Haraway 1991: 200). The student as a material-semiotic actor is no longer outside the assemblage directing the proceedings, but their learning as becoming emerges through the complex conversations they have with their material, virtual and visual communicative tools, their peers, and their teacher(s). At first glance this seems all possible within a blended learning context but how do educators engage with such complex conversations between the players, all with differing intentions and none observed in physical proximity where visual art educators have learnt to ‘read’ their students’ bodies, observe processual thinking, material acts and semiotic shifts in the act of making art and becoming? Overtime visual art educators observe students’ specific ways of acting, the possibilities of self as imagined shifts in meanings and through productive and reproductive acts (Sieland & Chimirri, 2021).

In coming to terms with such a postdigital problematic for visual art educators Guattari (2008), offers up the ideas of being as a living machine, or autopoiesis (producing self) as a starting point from the original theoretical work of Maturana & Varela (1980). Their original work spoke to the idea of ecologies as solely an adaptive biological domain. Guattari (1995) extends this theory beyond the biological; to talk of autopoiesis as a machinic assemblage. The assemblage is made up of many and possible fields all players in our adaptive becoming. It is a radical ontological conversion. The machinic assemblage depends on exterior elements of which human and non-human become ontological referents. Machine and human are now inextricably linked. A machine’s proto subjectivity, for example, the mobile phone or computer, installs itself in the universe of things. It has internal and material consistencies; it accesses semiotic forms and evolves (updates). The body now has an essential performative adjunct and must perform itself in a techno-terrain and data structured world, always accessible, the machinic world is an endless enabler for the sensing self. From a cybernetic perspective the machinic assemblage, as a living system, harnesses the material apparatus of humans, such as our bodies, material environment and energies; semiotic, diagrammatical algorithmic components; embodied thinking, individual and collective mental representations and information in what Guattari (1995) calls ‘desiring machines’ producing a subjectivity which requires the addition of transversality. The machinic assemblage works to shape both the artists and the artmaking.

5 Blended Learning and the Artroom

As the postdigital world continues to build complex eco-social learning systems (a trend that has accelerated during the recent pandemic years) the push to find efficient and effective ways of shaping online learning have been foregrounded. The concept of blended learning has had significant take up both in schools and university settings as it is seen to offer both traditional, face to face and online scenarios to accommodate diverse learners. va education research speaks directly to the significance of the arts as performative and processual (Grushka & Donnelly, 2010). The va curriculum in Australia speaks to the globalised and digital world and has taken up the many viewpoints from philosophy, religion, science, architecture, history, design to virtual realities while considering the historical and contemporary forms artmaking now takes. It draws on different domains of thought, actions and sensibilities that exist within the present and past cultural legacies of societies and their literacies.

While the unfolding of these techno-learning ecologies is underpinned by an acknowledgement of the uniqueness of all learners the rise of commercial digital learning platforms and their inbuilt assessment systems infiltrate traditional school systems and deploy themselves as range of data algorithms to manipulate data, control cybernetic processes for market advantage (Buchanan & McPherson, 2019). What today counts as relevant knowledge generation is skewed by the same systems and values ladened ways of knowing which prioritize ways of knowing such as the visual arts and their material performative affordances which have become almost invisible in digital policy rhetoric. This is the borderline territory that the va educator now inhabits, not just working within the digital performative space, such as animation and video, but also in its intuitive materiality exemplified in painting, sculpture and drawing. It is important for teachers to reflect on their own e-learning pedagogies and how to build reflexive and embodied learning opportunities for students. Such a reflection raises questions such as: What are the benefits of a blended -learning visual multimedia environment with its image, storage, capture, and processing facilities within educational software? Questions then emerge about which teaching and learning strategies inform ‘knowing when doing’ in va education (Grushka & Bellette, 2016). How do the flows between objects, relationships, purposes, activities and student intentionality operate across the blended learning environment? Where are the most valued sites of meaning making?

6 The Inquiry

The article presents an ethnomethodological and dialogical encounter of the lessons learnt from two Australian classrooms applying an inductive qualitative Gioia method. It includes observational and analytical insights from two research supervisors and two doctoral research students (who are va teachers) drawing on their lived experience as ‘knowledge agents’ (Gioia, et al, 2012, p. 17). It focuses on the reflective and lived experiences as narratives of the two va educators (with combined teaching experience of over 30 years between them) as they discuss their digital and material pedagogies and the impacts of working between online and studio learning approaches on student learning with the experience of covid-19 in 2020 and 2021.

The inquiry has two phases. Phase 1 sees the two va educators (Michael and Rory) create learning narratives as responses to the special topic proposal of: ‘How visual pedagogies relate to online and blended education and what this holds for general and digital educational futures?’ The va educators provided their background experiences and learning ecology contexts related to their lived experiences of online learning across 2020–2021. Thus, their voices were inserted in the very early stages of the participatory study in the form of ethnographic reflections. This research is based on the reflections of Michael and Rory in their roles as va educators. In observing students’ experiences the educators were able to make sense of the different pedagogical possibilities of studio and blended learning. This work is informed by an ethics of care and the ethical principles of respect and non-maleficence; thus, to protect the students in their care, their respective educational institutions are not named.

Michael and Rory have different school contexts and experiences of blended classrooms based on the directives they were given by the administrative leaders of the schools that employed them during the pandemic. Through the multiple shutdowns over two years, the expectations of teachers and students working remotely was inconsistent across the private and public education systems that Michael and Rory work within respectively.

In Michael’s educational experience it was expected by the independent school system that all online classes would have a class page that would include specific learning resources such as a news page, course overview, PowerPoints/slides as well as adobe software, video links, google drive links, online class and student folders, social functions as well as zoom links that would be accessed by staff and students for every lesson. Each Lesson would be a live Zoom class that integrated all these online resources. Working in the public school system, Rory’s experience was very different. Although the Education department determined when schools were operating face-to-face and when they would be operating online, each school was able to determine the provision of learning in these modes.

In addition, Michael and Rory supplied digital examples to deepen the insights about their actions and experiences (see figures 1 and 2). Their narratives and examples became the baseline data which was subsequently analysed for emergent themes by the researchers. In Gioia method this is presented as a 1st order analysis with the themes emergently generated. The Phase 1 emergent themes then formed the basis of Phase 2. In Phase 2 the emergent themes were reworked by the doctoral students as ‘knowledgeable agents’, into a series of conversational questions based on the Phase 1 data. These conversational questions then became the stimulus for a critical reflective online video conversation between the two va educators about what they understood might be happening at the postdigital pedagogical border territories created within studio, online and blended learning constructs. While Rory and Michael were working in very different contexts this dialogical approach allowed for not only a deeper exploration of the themes but provided them the opportunity to explore the commonalities in their experiences more deeply.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Screenshot of Rory’s teaching resource – a lesson that has been upload to YouTube

Citation: Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy 2022; 10.1163/23644583-bja10027

Figure 2
Figure 2

Screenshot from the instructional Powerpoint provided by Michael to guide his students in portraiture

Citation: Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy 2022; 10.1163/23644583-bja10027

The analysis of the dialogical conversation between the educators focused on dwelling in the liminal learning spaces both outside (teacher), within (teacher/student) and behind the screen (student). This was an abductive process (Gioia et al, 2012) which combined inductive analysis with the theoretical concepts that frame the study. They considered their reflective pedagogical insights, about themselves and their students as a ‘pedagogy of perception’ (Deleuze, 1990, p. 70) in order to interrogate behind the image(s), the digital platforms and the student artworks, in order to discover insights via their minds eye. Deleuze sees this as a form of constructivism and its communication as a form of expression which moves beyond object and subject to ‘other’ as the expression of a possible world (Deleuze, 1990) dwelling in these online and material spaces. The recorded conversations as the analytical insights of Phase 2 open up the pedagogical processes to possibilities that are discussed for strategic and political possibilities (Gioia et al, 2012).

7 Findings

Emergent problematics when blended learning digital pedagogies collide with material pedagogies for the visual art educators have been articulated and elaborated in the conversational video. How has working between online and studio learning approaches shaped teacher perceptions of student learning? To answer this question, the educators considered how the machinic assemblage of blended learning spaces both controls and influences their own becoming and that of their students. The themes that emerged in each phase are presented below.

7.1 Phase 1: Binary Differences between the Online and Studio Classrooms

The phase one narratives described the impact of the pandemic induced school shutdowns which necessitated a rapid switch from studio-based classroom pedagogies to online pedagogies. The narratives describe a ‘murky landscape of uncertainty [as] we begin the first of four wholesale shifts from physical to the virtual’ (Rory). While both forms of teaching and learning rely on visual pedagogies, there are different affordances associated with the different modes. The materiality and sociality that is a part of studio learning becomes truncated in the translation into a digital only space. While all the classrooms under discussion are postdigital the narratives reveal that studio learning ecologies and techno-ecologies were experienced very differently by the educators. While the conversations were not premised on there being a dichotomy between the two ecologies, the narratives of the educators reveal that they experienced the different modes of teaching as a binary, where each mode opens possibilities that are shut down when teaching in the other mode.

7.1.1 Student Engagement

Student engagement is experienced and measured very differently in the studio versus online. Rory noted that ‘the students at our school had engaged very little with online content’ over the period when lessons were being delivered online. Michael (who, in contrast, had most of his students showing up for online classes and who reported high level of engagement) found that Zoom pedagogy had its limits. After hours of lessons on Zoom ‘several students found the virtual classroom distracting and actually asked if they could detach from sound and video to concentrate on their art making asking for feedback via the chat function’ (Michael). Engagement in online learning becomes difficult to measure – it is harder to determine via Zoom how focused students are; students accessing the online content becomes a crude proxy for engagement.

7.1.2 Communicative Norms

Communicative norms differed between online and studio classrooms. Michael notes that in Zoom lessons he was able to use the mute feature to minimize disruption, stating that ‘the technology gave me as the teacher full control over the relationship of the communicative space’. In the technologically mediated space of the Zoom classroom Michael was the arbitrator of communication and able to control students’ verbal contributions in a way that is not possible in the studio. While this meant not having to deal with interruptions it also meant that the classroom lacked the students’ experimenting and ‘being curious’ in the participatory environment of the studio. Rory felt that in online teaching he was talking to and not with his students. Communication in online teaching was experienced as being one way and planned rather than being spontaneous and dialogic.

7.1.3 Material Conditions and Materiality in Art Making

The communicative norms were shaped by the material conditions underpinning these differing postdigital classrooms. Rory teaches in a public school which encompasses students from a range of socio-economic backgrounds. Many students lacked the technology required to attend and participate in online lessons (i.e., webcam enabled computers and broadband internet). To compensate, Rory recorded lessons and uploaded these to YouTube so that students could access these from a variety of devices and did not need to depend on having a high spec device or unlimited broadband. In this context, communication was one way rather than being dialogic. For Michael (who teaches in an exclusive private school) students’ access to technology was not an issue, but he found that materiality still impacted online teaching and learning. He notes that ‘the absence of the physical studio meant that the potential for the students to express themselves through their material choices were limited in so far as what the ecology affords them’. Lacking access to specialist art supplies (such as paint, charcoal and even pencils), some students used lined paper and others printer paper, but for many students their choices were constrained which meant ‘that the material practices of learning leaned towards computer and lens based generated art…because this was widely available’. It is not to say that digital art is immaterial, but rather it is a materiality that is less tangible and relies on access to specific digital programs (such as Adobe software packages) and digital devices. In this example, materials conditions and materials students could access (either in the studio classroom or in their homes) shaped their learning dispositions.

7.1.4 Learning and Teaching Dispositions

Michael notes that in the online classroom more than half the students choose the teacher (rather than student) directed project. He attributes this to students’ access to step-by-step video tutorials explaining how to make an artwork. The online learning environment constrained and shaped students’ choices in contrast to what would have occurred organically in a studio context. Michael states that there was an ‘absence of an embodied, embedded, extended and enacted experience for student learning through materiality’ in the digital classroom. This context shaped the learning choices that students made.

The state education department mandated teaching mode (online only versus face-to-face) also shaped teaching choices. For Rory the return to teaching in a physical classroom was:

viewed as permission to double down in the physical, tactile artmaking activities with our students. There were many conversations with my faculty that went like this: “The kids in this class hated online learning so I am going to do something practical to get them engaged back in learning”. This meant that the online learning platform we had established during the first shutdown was in hiatus for around about a year while we collectively jumped on the hands-on learning bandwagon.

rory

Not only are students’ choices impacted by the mode of learning that they are participating in, but teachers too have their pedagogical choices and possibilities shaped by the mode chosen by the education department. The learning and teaching dispositions identified in the narratives are also shaped by the differing classroom dynamics of the online and studio classroom environments.

7.1.5 Sociality and Proximity

The experience of flipping between exclusively online and studio modes of teaching and learning highlighted for these va educators the affordances presented by each. What became clear was the impact that the lack of physical presence and proximity in the digital classrooms had on teaching and learning. Michael described how the digital classroom led to learning that was predominantly teacher controlled, rather the participatory learning environment that characterizes the studio classroom. The virtual classroom:

lacked the physical communicative actions of students and teacher participation. This would be experienced through their physical interactions during the process of the artmaking and was missing the experience of peer, teacher and student critique that would have been the reflective process in developing an artwork.

michael

The ecologies of studio learning include co-constructed learning, peer-to-peer conversations and practice modelling and the phenomena of peer observational acuity. Michael describes the pedagogical practices that did not transfer to the virtual classroom: developing students’ observational acuity skills; real life observational drawing; measuring with pencils; the shared experiences of mark making and material expression. The lack of these meant the ‘shared, embodied, material experience is lost’. This resulted in students producing works that lacked proportion and perspective. He states: ‘Had I been physically present the student would have opportunity to mimic the exemplar modelled as well be directed to attune to the environment for progress’. The proximity to other learners and the sociality engendered by this is a crucial aspect of the studio classroom that was not able to be accessed in the online classroom.

7.1.6 Blended Learning and Future Uncertainty

With the pandemic still not over, the future is unknown.

Another wholesale shift back to the classroom after three months of remote learning. This is where I find myself now, uncertain of how to avoid that moment again, of standing in a classroom I value so highly that can so quickly be made obsolete.

rory

The narratives end on a note of uncertainty, yet they do not present studio ecologies as being better than techno-ecologies. Digital classrooms offer students the opportunity to participate asynchronously, to re-watch instructions in their own time. Whilst the virtual and studio classrooms were experienced as a binary due to the health-based mandates and the on/off logic of the education department, Michael and Rory see the potential of blended environments that encompass the affordances of both teaching and learning modes. The classroom studio environment is an equalizing space, giving all students access to artmaking materials, it allows the educator to differentiate to meet the needs of students whose reading/writing ability varies enormously (which proved to be a barrier when trying to instruct students in the technological knowledge required to access online learning). In the virtual classroom students’ relationship with the teacher is mediated by the screen, truncating the classroom into one way communication from teacher to student and separating students from one another. Zoom fatigue affects concentration and focus and embodied modalities are replaced by a limited repertoire of artforms. However, postdigital practices allow for the best of both learning ecologies. In postdigital cultures students use of ‘mobile device[s] and social media is changing how they represent their understanding of the world around them’ (Rory). To go beyond the binary of the virtual or the studio classroom would allow va educators to ‘incorporate meaningful tactile artmaking whilst embracing the digital to enhance their documenting, journaling and sharing’ (Rory). Blended learning allows for the development of a liminal space that incorporates students’ digital curatorial practices with the tactile, hands-on experimental learning offering in the studio classroom. It is with the hope for this future that the narratives end.

7.2 Phase 2: Reflective Analysis

By drawing on the emergent themes of Phase 1, the va educators then tackled the questions they felt needed elaboration, to delve deeper into the liminal postdigital border spaces which they identified as carrying a degree of pedagogical uncertainty as they began working consistently in the blended learning spaces. Within these unknowns – materiality, the natural flow of creative intuiting and discovery when working with the spectrum of visual art materials, and the necessity for co-emergence of imagination and conceptual ideas, along with the more pragmatic elements of their profession such as student engagement, assessment and learning access were foregrounded.

The va educators developed a series of questions which they then took into the zoom space and together had a conversation about the questions. While the narratives were developed independently, the reflective questions were dialogically co-developed. The conversation reveals how the blended learning environment thrust into to the centre of va classroom pedagogies during the covid pandemic years was evaluated. This online learning became a necessity and for several school terms the va educators had to work within a complete online environment. They had little time to assess the shift from a strong and well researched studio-pedagogy to their virtual creative learning futures. The challenges of this shift are revealed through their personal experiences with future possibilities revealed and documented in their YouTube zoom video conversation (see Video 1).

Video 1
Video 1

The YouTube video of the conversation between Michael and Rory. (See here.)

Citation: Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy 2022; 10.1163/23644583-bja10027

The first question in the reflective conversation was: ‘What would you say is the most troubling space for you moving forward?’ The key emergent conversational points were around studio learning environment, how it provided a fluidity where opportunities to respond to questions from students and teacher clarification about assessment had a more responsive and embracing flow. They called this teacher intuiting trouble shooting. This occurs in the natural classroom and is a result of the perceptions of the teachers gathered over time and across the physical learning space where everyone interacted physically. Both teachers were very aware of zoom fatigue and the inability of the online environment to provide an engagement for all learners. Some thrived, others did not.

The issues of technology availability and distribution across the private and public sector were also explored. Technologies and the myriad of software tools were unevenly accessible across school sectors and geographical locations. Having access to a large repertoire of technologies was not necessarily a given benefit for all learners but having a limited significant degree of technological access was.

The second question asked, ‘Are students capable in the online blended learning space capable of knowing what the teacher is looking for in their learning’? Again, the conversation was a comparative one between the benefits of the studio learning environment and online learning. While they were aware that there were benefits in a student being able to rewind a zoom tutorial or uploaded procedural PowerPoint the limitations, they experienced in the online learning spaces were problematic. They spoke to the concept of video silences, video absenteeism (dropping out), and engagement as continually problematic. This was best expressed as the inability to have proximal and opportune conversational moments with students as they were learning. They spoke to the online environments limited capacity to manage open ended questions with fluidity and a degree of discouragement for impulsive responses or a tolerance for the potential for learning held in leftfield questions being accommodated in this more structured learning context. It was described as a loss of playfulness – an affective reaction to the confines of the online classroom.

Question 3 saw the va educators tackle the future possibilities for va education in the blended environment. ‘What do you hope the future of visual arts education will be, will look like, as it continues to shift online’? The va educators like all contemporary artists are very aware of the power of working with new visual technologies. Virtual Reality (vr) and Augmented reality (ar) are certainly exciting spaces for the students’ artmaking but again, both expressed the need to develop these technologies in studio-based learning environments rather than in isolation. This concept of studio learning parallels professional media arts spaces where teams create and problem-solve together. Online assumes that the student can engage anywhere at any time and that this flexibility is the key driving factor of learning success. Gaps exist in student access and technological knowledge and skills, even in postdigital systems, that mean a dependence on online learning will disadvantage many. Blended learning ecologies offer a way forward. va educators can use the studio environment to ensure that all students can access the emerging artmaking technologies of vr and ar.

Both the va educators’ narrative and reflective conversation show that the future is not fixed. The recent past has involved switching between online and studio classrooms, while the rhetoric around curriculum reform suggests that the future is online. The lived experiences of educators suggest unease with that prospective and a preference for the fluid possibilities of blended learning.

7.3 Discussion: Digital Creative Ecologies of the Postdigital Blended va Classroom

These educators’ experiences raise questions which connect to existing theoretical concepts. The use of postdigital theory allows technologically mediated educational processes to be considered in a manner that sidesteps the technophilic or technophobic positions that characterise much of educational technology discourse. This discussion is further informed by the concept of machinic learning ecology that acknowledges that learning in online settings is shaped by a new machinic logic where computers and mobile phones deploy multiple machines and their algorithmic mechanisms in concert with the social relationships. They operate to both inform and communicate desires and all are wrapped in the very essence of our human subjectivity. Indeed, digital learning like our daily everyday life, is now confronted by an entire scope of possibilities and actions, which carry complex ambiguities of any or all situated learning encounters (Sieland & Chimirri, 2021). For teachers this raises many questions about the way they have engaged their learners during the past year, the limitations they consider exist for themselves and their students and the possibilities of yet to be imagined learning ecologies for the visual arts.

Jandric (2021) reminds us that the intersections between biology, information, and society must be carefully considered. The possibilities of new epistemically insights are significant, but we should beware that knowledge takes many forms and while biotechnical information is important it is far from the only valuable form of knowledge. Questions linger about whether the push for online educative forms is indeed one that allows learners to shape their own learner ecologies or teachers to offer the best epistemological learner experiences when constrained by pre-designed online modes of encounter. What are the issues that arise for va educators and their students faced with using systems that challenge their unique material and studio thinking learner resilience?

In a postdigital world the learning spaces of analogue and digital are no longer two different things (Cramer and Jandric, 2021). The challenges of educational politics which mandates switching between them while treating digital and analogue environments as dichotomous can be seen in the experiences of Michael and Rory. In this paradigm it is very easy to see the benefits of a blended learning environment where both can be encompassed. This research however demonstrates the pedagogical realities that confront the va educator. While va educators offer both material and immaterial digital expressive learning mediums, from animation to painting and drawing to video. From the experience of two va educators there are some significant impossibilities for studio learning when the pendulum shifts towards an emphasis to online learning. Their experiences indicate that the educators’ perceptions of student learning have been shaped by the contrast between studio and blended learning.

Artmaking and its embodied acts allow for flows of time, abstract ideas which emerge and are to be experienced as divergent durations and other worlds of durations (Colebrook, 2002). Contemporary art practices that focused on affective and perceptual contexts and meanings value the specifics of material epistemologies that epitomize the studio classroom and privilege practical and bodily experiences as primary ways of coming to understand the world. The materiality of the artefact thus emerges from material explorations and shapes the emergent form of the artwork via the students’ intentionality. Visual art educators focus heavily on the performative value of the visual arts in their pedagogies and consider reflective artmaking tools (such as the visual process diary) to be an enduring asset to all learners as it allows students to drive their learning from personal experience while simultaneously reflecting on their own concepts and intentionality when making meaning. An undue emphasis on the possibilities offered by virtual online classroom shifts the emphasis away from these forms of embodied material-based practice.

Without the development of performative and visual competencies and the affordances of imaginative possibilities when making art, the world of unknown encounters narrows within regimes of fixed testing and assessment currently designed to accommodate algorithmic systems (Buchanan, 2020). This is significant as postdigital visual art learning, as the online reality, increasingly carries fewer material traces of learning processes and cognitive encounters which are valued by the va educator.

7.4 The Entangled Learner: Teacher and Student

The experiences of the va educators show the students and teachers as entangled learners in a postdigital education system. Teachers are trying to use the tools available to them to develop visual pedagogical practices that reach students in the classroom and through the screen. Students are trying to make sense of a digitally mediated social world and an educative system that positions them as ever ready to learn. The adolescent learner is an active producer and consumers of technology in and outside of school settings – this provides the va educator a borderline where the two learning systems or machinic ecologies overlap and dwell together with creative possibilities.

Visual art studio learning has a rich history of effective critical, affective, playful and imaginative learning through engagement with material practices and processual thinking (Grushka, 2010). The continuity of artistic experience within offline normalised processes of living is derived from the enduring impulse to handle materials and to think and feel through this handling. Sensation, feeling and thought are progressively differentiated as phases of our embodied relationship to objects in the world shift. Visual art processual learning opens up insights for each student to know their own ways of encountering, engaging and imagining their worlds and those of others. va educators seek to facilitate both critical and imaginative debate and experimentation evidenced in both the Visual Art Dairy and the artworks. va educators tolerate this multiplicity of ideas which present often as liminal learning. In this learning va educators often encourage epistemological boundary crossing and focus on tangential ways of seeing, knowing and being (Grushka, 2008).

While the Electronic Visual Arts Process Diary, Digital editing and the process of learning reflection equip va educators to help students make meaning in multiple modes. Blended learning as border crossing breaks the cycle, namely it upsets the hegemony of digital immateriality and extends our perception beyond the blue screens and sets of discourses surrounding them to touch and intimacy. It positions learning as a shared endeavour where the development of participatory cultures allows students to learn with and from one another.

The studio learning environment, its material opportunities have been already described as limited by a techno-ecology of learning. The complex and inter-relational flow of learning in the studio environment, between teachers and student peers is its greatest asset. There appears to be a genuine concern for what cannot be garnered from the online environment which may be the biggest loss for va educators. While all learning carries performative attributes it is the playful and imaginative opportunities which come from the silences. Lying in the liminal spaces of apprehension, emotions, reflection, tentativeness, and quiet moments of each student which are the shared struggles of creativity. It is in these moments that the imagination is nurtured. In the studio the teacher is able to intuit these learning moments, garnered from the conversations, playfulness and interactions of the students’ unique learning behaviours. Studio learning moments may well be the greatest pedagogical assets of va learning. Indeed, it is the greatest access in any physical classroom as teachers draw on their tacit knowledge of each student and their learning behaviours.

8 Conclusion: Postdigital Possibilities and Impossibilities Behind the Screen

In attempting to address the question ‘How has working between online and studio learning approaches shaped teacher perceptions of student learning?’ we can see that the educators in the study have developed a sensitivity to the affordances of blended versus studio pedagogies. This raises further questions given the reality in schools and universities is that the imperatives driving the implementation of these machinic assemblages have begun to determine, shape and redefine traditional learning. Classroom culture faces an existential threat to the traditional ways of teaching and engaging student learning- for teachers to reassess their strategies is going to be hugely challenging. To face this challenge further research needs to be conducted into participatory online learning and postdigital ecologies which facilitate visual pedagogies. It may well be possible to invent one’s own pedagogical adaptions to the multiplicity of blended-learning operational designs. The pace of global change and policy drivers of educational learning are however redefining what learning might look like in these spaces. These have become troubling spaces for visual art teachers as they privilege particular kinds of knowledge and ways of knowing, doing and assessing. While the visual arts, as an acknowledged curriculum area, needs to be implemented within and against the controls of these educational management systems or machinic assemblages, the fit may well not be optimal. Yet creativity continues to live in these controlled and uncertain times and the benefits of innovative digital pedagogies must be continuously foregrounded and negotiated within visual arts epistemologies. This is a critical step when reflecting on the benefits of blended learning to the field.

This article hopes to expand a conversation beyond aesthetics and modes of learning, to an eco-aesthetic where the world of human perceived senses while bound to the machine can find creative spaces, fluid materiality within control societies and where digital imaginaries already inhabiting the studio learning ecology can find tangential forces.

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