Harnessing technology at Cambridge Regional College
As part of Origins Creatives, UAL Awarding Body is sharing online exhibitions that colleges across the UK have worked hard to build and curate, to ensure their students are still able to share work in lockdown. We caught up with Chris Baker, Laurie O’Mahony, and Frankie Duck, who teach Games Development at Cambridge Regional College, to find out how they have adapted to the challenges of teaching and exhibiting online.
Tell us about how the pandemic impacted your teaching this year. Did you continue teaching online once lockdown was put into place?
Laurie: Teaching during lockdown was certainly different, with a lot of uncertainty, adaptability and creativity.
Chris: We were fortunate in the fact that we had members of the College that knew Microsoft Teams already, so we managed to get set up about a week prior to lockdown and then transferred to online teaching almost immediately. It was great to be able to continue almost seamlessly!
Frankie: Calls and Screenshare functions allowed me to continue to demonstrate software skills and to check in with students. I found it easily accessible and allowed the students to easily ask questions.
Laurie: Although not having face to face sessions provides its challenges, we as a team were able to adapt and overcome the difficulties we were presented with, whilst supporting learners the best we could during a difficult time.
How have your students managed to stay creative during the lockdown?
Laurie: Learners have really adapted to the overall challenges that the pandemic has brought, with really positive outcomes in their practical work. Exploring alternative software, ideas and approaches in order to continue developing as creatives. Their resilience and determination has been extraordinary.
Chris: Despite the lockdown affecting how work would be assessed, students had put so much effort and enthusiasm into their ideas that we wanted to continue with the Final Major Project. We continued to host group critiques online, shared work, and maintained online sessions or 1:1s to keep students motivated.
Frankie: I believe that having an active and engaged community through Teams kept the creative spirit going and encouraged learners to push their practical abilities further.
When did you have the idea to showcase your student work online, and do you think you’ll continue to have online exhibitions in the future?
Chris: We’ve had a website for Rizing Games, our student development company, for the last few years now and we have showcased work on there since 2018 so it was a natural progression. We usually showcase at events such as EGX Rezzed and at the College itself, so we still wanted to capture some of that experience.
Frankie: The past year the course leader Chris updated the courses website, and with students using itch.io to publish their games online it meant we could easily embed student work into the website.
Laurie: Through marketing the exhibition online, this has the potential to reach a wider audience, so could be helpful to continue in this way moving forward.
How much work went into creating an online exhibition and how did you go about it?
Chris: We spent a month or so designing the website anew as we wanted to give it a fresh look for the expo to really stamp the celebration. I previously taught KS3 Computer Science so I have existing knowledge of HTML and CSS. It provides a lot more freedom to explore how we want to display the students work and customise for each student.
How many students have exhibited their work in the online exhibition?
Chris: At the moment we have 39 students online with their work and still some that aim to send work through. There are a few who are working on personal projects still and hoping to send additional work to keep their portfolio thriving!
Was the work exhibited FMP related, developmental work or work that students have created as a result of being under lockdown?
Laurie: There was a variety of work in this year’s exhibition, from what was initially FMP based projects to developmental work. Some learners really ran with the opportunity to develop their portfolio for their own development and to showcase some of their best work.
Chris: Some students showed developmental work, some from formative units, others decided to showcase personal projects they’ve been developing alongside College work. It was great to see what each student was proud of!
Do you have any tips for tutors who wish to create similar online opportunities in the future, and would you recommend online exhibitions to them?
Frankie: I would encourage online exhibitions as it not only allows future potential students and parents to find out information, but it gives the students satisfaction to see their work posted online. I found this was a confidence booster and a good way to kickstart them building a presence online and pushing their own digital portfolios.
Chris: There are so many platforms and sites out there to enable online exhibitions and it is a great way to get more exposure for your students. It doesn’t even need to be a full website, itch.io is a great platform for showcasing games online and when exported to HTML they can be played straight from the browser, it’s really simple to get set up.
Are there any particular common themes you’ve seen in work produced by students while in lockdown?
Chris: We set a choice of themes for our Year 1 Diploma students of either Sustainability or Myth & Folklore so there was definitely commonality with those in mind, however, the sheer variety of student work within those parameters was amazing.
Laurie: Some learners taught themselves new skills and really used the opportunity to demonstrate some of their best work. Many put a lot of additional time and effort into their practical work outside of normal college hours and this can be seen in the online exhibition.
How have you managed to stay creative and continue to motivate your students during this challenging time?
Laurie: I have managed to stay creative by getting outside more than I would have before, going for long walks and taking along my camera. Finding inspiration in the world around me and exploring new approaches to creative projects.
Frankie: Personally, seeing the students so engaged with their projects challenged me to push my own professional development and share my own work with them too. I think this worked both ways as students mentioned it was encouraging for them to see a different workflow.
Chris: There have certainly been challenging times, but I personally found it most effective to keep in contact and keep talking. I think it helped to talk openly and be honest with the students, work through it all together.
Laurie: In terms of motivating learners, we have encouraged learners to keep exploring and trying different approaches, ideas and seeing what they feel works in their creative practice. Many learners have had to find new creative ways to approach their practical work, and done so with brilliant additions to their portfolios.
What advice would you give to students who feel discouraged and lack inspiration as a result of the pandemic/lockdown?
Chris: Rest. Absolutely rest. More often than not people are holding themselves to similar expectations they would have prior to the lockdown, however, we’re all continuing to work through a global crisis and it takes it’s toll. So rest, talk to people you trust, take time for yourself when you can, and if you’re not feeling particularly inspired or creative at the moment, then that’s totally understandable. Others will be experiencing the same and your health & wellbeing comes first and foremost.
Frankie: My advice would be to not put so much pressure on yourself and to identify specific daily or weekly targets that you believe are achievable. A couple of learners did feel uninspired to work and a change of environment really helped them. Moving away from where they usually play video games and keeping areas tidy helped put them in the mind frame to work.
Laurie: Be patient, kind and understanding of where you are individually. A global pandemic is a large-scale event that will affect each individual differently. Going for a walk locally could provide opportunity to become inspired, whilst also a great time to discover new places you didn’t realise were on your doorstep.
Check out Cambridge Regional College's online exhibition on their Rizing Games website.