Illustration, like all contemporary commercial arts, is marketed, via portfolio websites. A professional website is the portal to professional engagement with the use of print portfolios being far less prevalent than it once was.
The building of a portfolio website has been part of the level 6 programme for some years, but the practicalities of this changed on an annual basis due to developments in software as well as changes in requirement and trend. This constant technological development meant it was difficult to manage the provision of this essential element on the road to professional practice. Not only is it essential that we are able to provide our students with a working website portfolio as well as the skills to build, maintain and develop it. In a short number of years industry standard software changed several times and the rise in online wysiwyg (what you see is what you get) CMS grew to match and then supersede software as the preferred route toward website building. Whilst the period of this transition caused us problems as we battled to provide students with up to date provision, the eventual development of online CMS has been ideal for our student's needs and we are now able to take advantage of these systems. No longer do students need to master the foreign language of HTML coding or the ins and outs of new complicated software - in essence, students had to study coding / web building in addition to their specific course - but with a wysiwyg CMS they can focus 100% on their subject (and importantly, we are able to regain the 20 credits that were once given, through necessity, to the provision of coding and other purely technical understandings), safe in the knowledge that creating, maintaining and developing their own professional standard site is as easy as creating social media posts.
Adobe Dreamweaver. Once the industry standard software for building a website. Incredibly complicated and code intense, this required a lot of delivery and was, for a while, the sole content of a 20 credit module. After 12 weeks some students were left with a functional website but often not. Learning dreamweaver in order to build a simple portfolio site was a bit like training for a marathon in order to run a 5k.
Adobe Muse. Adobe's short lived web building platform seemed to offer the solution to dreamweaver's complexity, providing as it did, a near wysiwyg approach to web building and an interface that was far less daunting to the beginner. However Muse was rendered obsolete before it was fully developed.
Online web hosting, building and management systems (such as Squarespace, Weebly, Cargocollectiveare) are now widely available and cheap, offer an easy route toward having a website via a very shallow learning curve and are now the recognised industry standard. The fact that we are in an era where websites no longer strive for gimmicky interface or function and standard approaches to layout, navigation and presentation are the preference and it's never been easier or more appropriate for students (or professionals for that matter) to rely upon these standardised online services to create their online portfolios.
In the last few years we have been able to provide our students with websites and CMS (content management system) free of charge due to the support of 34sp.com who provide students with hosting and the Weebly site building platform. This has meant that we have moved from level 6 students spending 12 weeks / 20 credits in order to maybe have a site to all students having a site from week 1 of level 4. A huge step.
This level 4 introduction now means that, by level 6, students are as experienced as any professional illustrator, if not more so, in the presentation of their work (both final and process) via their site.
Here are some example sites from current students.
When lockdown hit we had many problems to solve, not least of which was the practicalities of viewing and assessing student work.
Both formative and summative assessments, pre-lockdown, were based upon physical viewings of work, whether process and development or final outcome. Our use of Turnitin has always been rudimentary as the system is built around deliveries of written content and not the visual work that we assess.
Without time to plan I decided that all work would be presented and assessed via student sites (these were already in place, so it was, as far as I could see, our only option. I'm still not sure what other courses done). For clarity, this meant that not only final outcome work would be presented via websites but every part of the process leading to an outcome would need to be included.
Upon making this decision I realised that this is in fact a move toward professional practice. In a professional context an illustrator works, delivers developments and receives feedback as well as presenting their portfolio via their site. The website is more than a portfolio, it's a shop front and workshop. This quickly begged the question, have we been doing it wrong all this time, creating an experience that in no way prepares students for the professional world that we claim to be readying them for?
We prepared ourselves for teething problems with this new dynamic but no such problems arrived. Students took to this mode of delivery with ease and in fact, it has brought several benefits:
Helped students to recognise the importance of and instilled an evident sense of pride in process.
Removed focus from outcome
Forced students to consider how they present all aspects of work in order to elevate it
Instilled professional practice and approaches
Website based delivery also removed the need for the end of semester rush to print work that has been our experience for years. Students no longer need to budget for print either in financial or chronological terms.
fORMATIVE ASSESSMENT AND DAY TO DAY REVIEW
Practicalities of viewing student's work via their sites.
Using collaborate or teams meant that it was easy for students to share their work with teaching staff as well as eachother. Here's how a normal session worked. Each student is asked to create a fresh webpage for each component of a module. In session each student would share this page, on screen, and talk through their process, decisions and thought process up to that point. Students were encouraged to use any number of systems in order to clarify their work - for example they might collate research via pinterest and then embed that pinterest board within their site
Rather than mentioning reference or inspiration in either written word or in their verbal presentation, they were encouraged to incorporate visual reference using images and/or video. In other words, we did not dictate a standard form of delivery but encouraged students to consider this as part of the creative process that they could take advantage of and make their own - as in a professional context. We were both surprised and heartened by the standard of response that we received from all year groups. It's no exaggeration to say that level 4 students were able to present process and outcome in a way that was out of reach of level 6 students on a couple of years ago.
With all aspects of work and process being presented, students received feedback from lecturer and peer group - in fact, there was a notable rise in peer feedback over the previous in studio version of similar 'round table' interactions where feedback was predominantly lecturer-centric; student being somewhat stuck in the role of receiver.
In terms of formative assessment points we added a peer review form (created in Microsoft Forms, part of our office 365 accounts that I discovered), based upon ILOs, into the mix (below).
Accessed via Blackboard, students were asked to fill these forms in whilst each presentation was underway. As forms were anonymous, it was quickly apparent that students were far more confident to add their honest feedback. This turned out to be a fantastic way of providing actionable and ILO specific feedback but also of providing students with a practice based confidence stemming from having their comments discussed, appreciated and agreed with. Further more, in this way we were able to clarify the assessment process and the module ILOs which may have a positive effect on NSS.
Student responses to this process have been unanimously positive (feedback gathered via another microsoft form) and the process, as it stands, has been developed in conjunction with student input.