Really had been looking forward to the Easter break – a lot of design work to do and more time for that, a nice break with an aim to return full of energy for the last term with my webdesign and animation students, looking forward to seeing all the hard work pay off for them in their final major projects. So much for that…
Yesterday I was called for a meeting with the team leader and the head of department – to be told that my 2 day animation course would need to be cut back to 1 day for the rest of the academic year. This now means that our students are being left with only 1 day of support from tutors (and time in our computer rooms) to finish off their final major project – and those of us teaching on the day which has now been cut have now lost our teaching hours.
We have also recently lost Tony King – the best technician the college ever had who was working hard to keep our computer setup working well for us and our students – I have Tony to thank for being able to teach the webcourse with actual internet access – rather than having to run against badly configured websense blocks all the time. So technical support for our 6 mac rooms is now done by 1 technician who is only working 2 days a week – more doom and gloom for now and next year… and another sign of how little importance is given to our courses….
In addition to doing freelance webdesign – I teach part time in adult education. My work in both areas gives me great pleasure – and I enjoy being able to interlink the two: sharing my experiences and professional practices with my students, being challenged and inspired by them to explore new angles – while continuing to remain a student of webdesign myself and to work on crafting beautifully crafted websites for my clients. I started teaching at Tower Hamlets College (Poplar) in 2003 – initially only a few hours, then moving on to more and eventually becoming course leader of 2 amazing courses: Digital Animation and Design for the Web . Though I never saw myself wanting the responsibility – I absolutely love my job now and would hate to lose it.
Tower Hamlets College was a great place to work at. When I started there I felt the Creative Arts department was fantastic – a lot of talented and enthusiastic tutors, great equipment (though let down by fairly poor technical support at that time) – and the freedom to run my courses as I thought would be best for our students. Keen to deliver a successful course – we would take the relatively basic units (outlined by NOCN) and create a course outline with plenty of room for pushing further. We want to make sure that our students would get a solid grounding in software skills, develop their creative process and workflow but be also given the creative freedom to push themselves as far as they liked. The work our students produce is a testament to our students’ talent and hard work – and our tutors.
Design for the Web
This course (2 days per week – 1 academic year) has been running for over a decade, started by Jayne Wallett during the early days of Dreamweaver – its main aim initially was to give students an introduction into webdesign and produce a portfolio site for their work. It evolved and developed further with the times and in 2005 I was honoured to become course leader. I was keen to change the course entirely and to bring it up to date with modern practices: leaving behind the WYSIWYG environment and teaching hand coding with a clear focus on good design with web standards and accessibility. Now in my 4th year – I have Laura Moreno teaching with me and the course has yet again improved.
Laura has worked as graphic designer and photojournalist back in Spain – and has since expanded into webdesign. She is a bundle of energy and spreads her enthusiasm to anyone working with her. I love working with Laura both in freelance webdesign and as tutors for the webstudents. Laura brings her expertise in Photoshop (coming from the angle of a professional photographer) and experiences as webdesigner to the course – and with both of us working within the field we teach – our students really benefit and can hopefully learn from our mistakes.
The animation course (2 days per week – 1 academic year) was still fairly new when I became course leader – and though I am not an animator – I love animation! So I was chuffed to take over from Dionne King who had created the course. This course gives students the opportunity to explore animation (2D & 3D) and to gain the skills necessary to take their animation studies further. We started off with 4 tutors with varied areas of expertise – and have now grown into a team of 6:
Roger Endacott Roger is fantastic ;) he has been working at THC for quite a few years by now and loves the energy of the creative process with all its ups and downs. His lessons are inspiring to our students as he jumps between application to help refine an efficient workflow and a good production cycle. Roger is our DVD master and ensures our students produce a good showreel for appliactions - and puts together our final show reel for our end of year shows.
Elroy Simmonsour animator :) Elroy works as an animator and we are lucky to have him on the team to teach anything from story telling, life drawing, storyboarding and drawing for animation – and so much more. Having a professional animator as their tutor – our students are free to ask questions about the industry, get advice on their work as well as portfolios and showreels.
Nick Fusco3D all the way :) taking the students by the hand during their first steps into 3D – bouncing balls and playing with multiple dimensions – Nick covers all the angles. From modeling to animation – to lighting and texturing – our 3D enthusiasts work with Nick (as well as Roger) to create their amazing animations. With Nick’s help – troubled models are rescued, rigs constructed and repaired and characters become alive.
Zara TaylorMiss Multitalent :) Zara’s talent and love lie with anything from drawing, illustration, spray paints to digital work with graphics and animation and she brings her enthusiasm and resourcefulness into the classroom. No problem remains unsolved with Zara around – creative blocks are dispersed with her hints, tips and ideas and our students appreciate her input and support during their learning as well as animation production.
Raoul Brandour sound man :) Ray is a freelance composer and sound designer and has this year finally become an official member of our teaching team. His expertise in sound recording, syncing and composition gives our students the input needed to work on their animations’ sound track and produce a well designed output.
the decline of our adult courses
Please note that these are my personal assumptions and views – and not those of my employers.
Tower Hamlets College in regards to adult courses teaching creative arts used to have quite a good reputation – so I have been told – and word spread fast. Recruiting students for the courses never seemed to be an issue as word-by-mouth advertising worked well and not many digital creative courses were around elsewhere at the time. In the past few years however – the funding has changed fundamentally forcing the college to cut all evening classes and focus more on younger students. Recruitment for our courses suffered hugely.
With digital skills being more and more in demand and more and more courses being offered overall – but less access to courses for adults at THC – the landscape was changing around us. Recruitment via advertising and promotion started to play a more and more vital role – but failing us… With the evening classes cut – potential students had to find us via different means and had to rely on adverts in papers, course listings (in magazines such as Floodlight or online sites such as HotCourses) as well as the college’s website.
Amongst some other issues – this is where my grievance lies. I know how fantastic our courses are – confirmed by a huge number of our students who appreciate our efforts, time, patience and support and leave happy, having learnt a great deal. Though there are a lot of courses out there – our courses are still very unique, in my opinion – as we have professionals who work in the area they teach on the teaching team. I believe 100% in my team and the courses we have on offer. I do not believe that there are not enough people around to fill our courses year after year – quite the opposite.
However, things seem to have changed for the worse at THC. Funding issues and general course criteria for the adult courses have changed, affecting recruitment to some extent – which is in my opinion not a major factor here. Communications seems to have broken down between departments – wrong information is being pubished about our courses – student advice seems to have deteriorated, giving out insufficient or entirely wrong information. Advertising – though slightly improved over the last year – does not hit the target and fails to succeed in bringing in new students.
The college website is as bad as you would expect – or worse… Though it was updated in design and function only about a year or so ago – it is simply awful. Teaching webdesign – this is obviously something I care about a great deal – so I am likely to be more critical. But I am simply tired to hear from each new group of students how they could not find our courses or any detailed information about the course content on the site (apart from a course title after downloading the adult brochure). The structure and display of information is simply confusing and not thought through at all — I don’t even want to think about the design and visual appearance itself….
taking pride in our students and their work
One of the aspects which gets to me most is the fact that we have some amazingly talented students who produce outstanding work of highest quality — and this fact is basically pretty much ignored within the college. The end of year show which exhibits the work of the Creative Arts department is getting quieter every year. The college management does not seem it worthwhile attending and promotion has shrunk – again another avenue of promotion lost.
Looking at the promotional material – even only looking at the promotion for the Creative Arts courses – I am sad to see how poor the quality of design is. Some of the leaflet and brochures I’ve seen are so bad that we would not have accepted them had they been project submission by our students – and I am not exaggerating. Poor and distorted graphics, horrible colour schemes, your standard boring photos of uninspired student representatives with forced smiles in and around the college…. a price list of fees with no course information at all as “brochure” for our adult courses….. I could go on…
It is a great disappointment to me that our students are not given the opportunity to promote our courses. This would benefit both parties as our students would have a portfolio piece showing their work being used officially and the college by making use of such a valuable asset. I know that we as their tutors are immensely proud of the work our students produce – and though of course not all students excel – every year we have a number of outstanding talent taking part in our courses.
I am glad to say that we always have an external exhibition at the end of the year to celebrate our students and their work throughout the year. This however is done by us individually – not via the college – as we believe it is important for the year to finish with a bang :) Here are last year’s photos:
now & the future
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post – I have now been told that the animation course has been cut to be held on 1 day instead of 2 for the term 3 this year. Further changes will be made before the next academic year starts – and it very likely we will be required to lower the level of our course content and delivery. I enjoy teaching beginners and would not object to this at all had I not spent so much time and effort into working with my team to refine and improve our courses over the years.
We have worked hard at optimising our potential in order to deliver good teaching to our students, working around college restrictions, making the course content as inspiring and useful as possible. I have even given up some of my teaching hours this year in order to bring in experts for our students and have a better animation course. and now….? – Apparently none of this matters – conflicts are avoided rather than confronted – communication is poor – no one seems to have any say in what goes out as promotional material and there seems to be nothing we can do about how this is done – leaving us feeling utterly helpless, stuck in a college system where middle or higher management (or however the correct terminology for people in charge is) does not seem to know what is going on in our department at all – or not care a great deal…
Having the day cut on the animation course is now punishing our students and part time tutors for the shortcomings of a college system that is failing the adult students. And being told that we will possibly need to lower the level of our courses as recruitment and retention are not good enough for college targets – despite the fact that it is clear marketing and student advice are simply not working for the adult courses – is depressing and will just undo a lot of the hard work we put in and shortchange our students….
our courses online :)
to view our animators work – also check out our channel on Vimeo :)
Though both course sites (created by myself independently from the college) are in dire need of a revamp (you can imagine why I have been reluctant to spend the hours required for this) – please do have a look regardless – it is worth it for our students work :)
Who knows whether there will be many more additions in future at all… worrying times…
I really wish I could take our 2 courses – uproot them and take them somewhere where our students would feel more supported and our tutors received more appreciation…
Feeling helplessly stuck in a rigid system – I would appreciate any thoughts you might have …