Scran Learning Materials
1. Author details
|Job title:||Lecturer in History of Art|
|Institution:||University of Glasgow|
About the authors:
Worked as a museum curator in London and Glasgow before moving in 1987 to the University of Glasgow where I established the postgraduate Decorative Arts Programme. Lectured in design and architectural history at the Glasgow School of Art 1991-2001, then returned to the History of Art Department at Glasgow University where I am now developing new courses in 19th and 20th-century design history. I have in the past developed object-based and archival learning materials using the rich public collections in Glasgow. These have related to my undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and to my curatorial activities.
Over the past couple of years I have begun to teach using Powerpoint and to acquire -by trial and error- basic image-processing and editing skills. My next step is grappling with moving-image sources. I’m interested in widening access and in providing more student-centred resources using IT, particularly at Levels 1 and 2 of the university curriculum, and this project is part of my steep learning curve with the design and construction of web-based materials!
2. The materials
A web-based ‘Visual Library’ of images and text related to international exhibitions in the period 1851-1938. The resource can be searched either by a specific exhibition, or by themes that span the whole period such as ‘empire’, ‘souvenirs’ or ‘display design.’
Created to support an HE course in History of Art at the University of Glasgow entitled: Design, Politics and Commerce: International Exhibitions 1851-1951.The course is aimed at second year students and is being developed currently into an Honours option. The resource is to be used in connection with the course for lecture revision, preparation for small-group seminars and for independent research related to essay assignments. I also hope that students in related disciplines such as Social and Economic History, Scottish Studies or Sociology will also be able to make use of the materials as a free-standing resource.
Why did you want to create these materials?
Images are essential to the teaching of art and design history, but owing to copyright restrictions there are problems in making them widely available to students, unless one is using a resource like Scran. In general there is also a shortage of accessible textbook material in the field of Design History which is a relatively young academic discipline. At Levels 1 and 2 only the keenest students are going to engage with the kind of specialist studies appearing in academic journals like Design History. Scotland’s design history is particularly under-researched and under-published which means that students are tending to ignore or overlook resources on their doorstep, even when these are of international significance. While there is an extensive secondary literature relating to major international exhibitions in centres like London and Paris those which took place in Scotland are less well covered so that it is difficult for students to revise or follow up on such material when it appears in the lectures.
How will your materials benefit learners?
This resource should cut out much of the time-consuming and often complex process of extracting the images on this topic from Scran, while also providing learners with both an interpretative framework and contextual detail drawn from my own research into this topic. For those wishing to research or study the field in greater depth there is information that will allow them to pinpoint the location of original artefacts or images, the bulk of which could be consulted in Scotland. There is great potential for primary research in this field of enquiry.
How will they improve on previous methods of teaching this topic?
- The images can be made available to students outside the context of the lecture theatre, thereby facilitating preparation and follow-up.
- The user can be more proactive in consulting this website than a published resource. For example, through searching the website, material can be organised chronologically or thematically.
- Specific images, events and themes can be extracted more easily than having to trawl through a variety of published sources or archive/ museum listings.
- The majority of images have been related to more than one ‘theme’. This should help users to appreciate how a single image can generate multiple readings.
3. Creating the materials
- Identifying the potentially relevant Scran records. (This was an ongoing process as I had to develop lateral ways of thinking and sophisticated methods of searching Scran to tease out some of the images.)
- Editing the selection of Scran images and identifying complementary images from sources for which I could obtain copyright permission.
- Consolidating my general research on the topic and the specific context of particular images.
- Writing text for all images and identifying the ‘themes’ to which each could be related.
- Scanning, photographing, downloading, cropping and resizing images.
- Consultation with colleagues in Glasgow University Media Services and HATII (Humanities Advanced Technology Institute) over the most suitable structure for the website, and where to host it. Discussion of how to implement the advice and how to create html files with our part-time Departmental Web-Officer.
- Creation of templates (Departmental Web-Officer) and html files (me).
- Design of the front page and user interface by a colleague in Media Services who also advised on template design.
- Linking of the html files and images by the Departmental Web-Officer.
What tools did you use?
- Flatbed scanner
- Digital camera with zoom lens
- Laptop and desktop computers
- Computer applications:
- Microsoft Word
- Adobe Photoshop
What additional support did you need in creating the materials?
- Advice on the feasibility of translating my ideas into the form of a website and on the proposed site plan/ navigation.
- Design of the front-page, ‘banner’ graphics and user-interface.
- Advice on page-layout.
- Design of templates.
- Insertion of links between all the html files and images.
- Instruction on the use of Dreamweaver.
- General technical support to resolve minor, but time-consuming problems such as locked or unreadable files, and moving material between different applications or between Mac and PC computers.
What are the main skills required in creating materials like this?
- Basic familiarity with Word, Photoshop, Dreamweaver – or their equivalent.
- Above all, a systematic approach to the naming, storing and editing of the materials throughout the project. It is so easy to loose track of niggling details that need to be followed up, and of the multiple versions and sizes of images.
- Project management skills, including an ability to identify and delegate specific tasks.
- Patience for the mind-numbing aspects of processing/ reviewing large numbers of files and images.
- In terms of writing skills, an ability to format ideas and information in small, compact chunks which can both stand alone and be inter-related.
- An ability to relate the scope and structure of the project to the curriculum and to specific teaching and learning objectives.
Describe any difficulties you experienced and how you went about addressing them.
In my naivety I had not realised that there were problems in using a search-engine or putting my material into a kind of ‘database’. The implications of this were that I did not have a clear idea of how much work would be involved in linking all the html files so that each one could be searched by both particular exhibition and up to four themes. I also had not realised that the images for each page would have to be saved in three different sizes, nor that a web-page could look so different depending on a computer’s screen-size and browser.
I underestimated the time it would take to search for and extract all the relevant material from Scran, partly because of inconsistencies in the terminology and cataloguing of the resource.
With a tight time-schedule I found I was still selecting images and writing text at the same time as the site was being created, which made it difficult to keep track of which files had been created and which images resized.
With no prior experience of using Dreamweaver or creating a website I ended up repeating work unnecessarily, and failing to delegate effectively. By the time I had worked out exactly what was involved I was so embroiled in the process and in my own cabalistic way of working that it was difficult to hand over some of the straightforwardly mechanical tasks.
Initially there was also some confusion over the respective roles of the two individuals with whom I was working most closely on the project. This was resolved by a series of face-to-face (rather than virtual) project meetings. I experienced persistent problems with working between Mac and PC computers that were only resolved once well into the project, with help from the University’s excellent Humanities IT support system. (I can imagine the difficulties that might be experienced in solving such ongoing technical hitches by someone working in a small organisation or institution without good IT support.)
What would you do differently next time?
- I would try to streamline the processes involved by completing the image selection and writing before the construction of the site.
- I would delegate some of the more ‘mechanical’ processes from the outset.
- I would define the roles of my collaborators more clearly.
What hints and tips would you offer to a colleague planning to create a similar resource?
- Talk to as many different people as possible – both for technical advice and for experience of teaching with websites - before defining the project. There is no one way of doing anything!
- Try to schedule a block of uninterrupted time to work on the project. It makes it easier to keep track of all the tiny details.
- Prioritise tasks and try to identify elements of the project that can be delegated to others. Define clearly the respective roles of those involved and organise the occasional project meeting.
Recommendations – please note any reading, software, websites, online courses etc that were useful to you.
Photoshop and Dreamweaver were invaluable. I found the Victoria & Albert Museum’s British Galleries site and the Chinese Civilisation site funded by the US National Endowment for the Arts particularly stimulating for ideas about interactivity and structuring the site.