Art, Education and Entrepreneurship is a course by Nordic Visual Studies and Art Education (NoVA) and Aalto Ventures Program (AVP). We followed one of the course teachers, Jaana Brinck from NoVA, throughout the course to learn how a multidisciplinary arts course is planned and executed, and what goes on behind the scenes.
Laying the groundwork
Art, Education and Entrepreneurship first saw the light of day as an intensive, 4-day pilot course in 2019, funded by Aalto Teaching Lab strategic funding. Headed by Jaana Brinck from NoVA, and Håkan Mitts and Johannes Kaira from AVP, the pilot was a success. Elaborating from this experience, the course was made part of the curriculum, to be arranged again in 2021 as a full-sized course. Together, Jaana, Håkan and Johannes planned the course to be a multidisciplinary experience that would help students understand the potential of art and education in creating business and making an impact. “The help from Johannes and Håkan has been invaluable. We planned the whole course together, and we’ll also teach it together. I think we’ve developed many new practices for our teaching through conversation and exchanging ideas,” Jaana says.
The teachers thought there should be a very concrete assignment for the students to work on. They decided on creating a submission for an open call by the City of Helsinki and the Governing Body of Suomenlinna, who were looking for an augmented reality (AR) application as a history teaching tool for grades 5-6 on Suomenlinna. The task of the student groups would be to create — and, if they’d want to, submit — a valid entry to the competition, showcasing their creativity and understanding of combining pedagogical, technological, and business sides of the design, as the call criteria required.
The course is off to a good start. The students have been divided into three teams, each with at least one business student and some technical competence to complement the strong focus in arts. “It’s so valuable to have students in the course from outside ARTS too and to have their skills and knowledge available. Even though many of the art students are quite multidisciplinary themselves,” Jaana says. However, having students from various backgrounds can be a challenge as well, as people come to the course with very different prior knowledge. Some of the content is bound to be old news for some, while others are hearing it the first time.
It’s so valuable to have students in the course from outside ARTS too and to have their skills and knowledge available.
Despite the different backgrounds — or perhaps because of them — the student teams have produced the first drafts of their concepts for the competition in just a few weeks. Next week, they’ll do their first presentations of the finalized drafts.
Jaana is impressed by how well the students have grasped the multitude of requirements for the assignment, and happy that all the drafts seem feasible. “The content is the most important, but the students must also understand the school context and how to apply AR-technology in learning and business. But they’ve done a great job so far.” To help the students understand the school context better, they’ve had a visiting teacher from a primary school, who gave an online presentation on how they’re teaching history. The students have also had the chance to interview other teachers.
Despite the course being taught online, the students were able to visit Aalto VR Hub in small groups
The only real issues at this point are related to something that the course staff can’t really influence: COVID-19. All the sessions of the course are online, which isn’t optimal for a course with a heavy focus on teamwork, site-specific design and user-centricity. “There’s so much to talk about with the students, but the online channels don’t fully support a proper discussion and free collaboration. It’s also been a bit tricky to reach and collaborate with primary schools, who do not allow visitors at the schools during the pandemic,” Jaana says.
Even if the collaboration with outside parties could be going better, Jaana is very happy with the collaboration within Aalto. As with students, different backgrounds bring different perspectives into play. “Working with Johannes and Håkan has really made me think things differently and more thoroughly. We’ve all learned from each other and having them around helps spar ideas and share the workload. We have been also getting important support from Emil Lindfors from Aalto Studios and Timo Ovaska from the Teacher Services team.”
The course is now about halfway through, and the City of Helsinki has officially published the competition, so the students now know exactly what’s required of them. Over the next six weeks, the focus of the course will be on entrepreneurial capabilities and the guest lecturers will be talking about topics such as making an offer and putting a price on one’s work. Last week was evaluation week, and the students had the chance to get mentoring from Håkan and Johannes on entrepreneurship topics.
By now, the students are quite far in their assignments already — one team is even already working on a technical solution, and the others will start to experiment soon too. Yet, this course does not go into specifics in creating technical solutions from scratch but highlights the idea of how to apply AR in learning creatively. One tricky aspect of the content design is that it should be convincing and innovative, but still left open for a co-creation phase. The call emphasizes that the schools can participate in developing the content before starting to utilize the solution.
The students were tasked with creating an AR experience for teaching history, so they used VR experiences as a source of inspiration
The course is getting to a phase where the emphasis is heavily on crafting a viable entry to the open competition. Unlike a regular course assignment, the entry must be very specifically formatted to be taken into account in the competition. “It’s quite technical even, the criteria are very strict. We must even consider public procurement legislation. But for many art students and architects, these kinds of competitions are an important way for getting work assignments. One of the important aspects of this course is to learn how to create this kind of document, including counting one’s own workload, prizing and budgeting,” Jaana says.
Even though the stakes are getting higher, Jaana is rather happy and confident. Students are collaborating well, and so are the teachers. She admits that it’s a bit tough sometimes to teach such a hands-on course online, and not being able to visit Suomenlinna and schools is a letdown, but she not letting that slow her down. “It may not be optimal, but we are working with the situation the best we can and learning a lot from the student feedback,” she says.
For many art students and architects, these kinds of competitions are an important way for getting work assignments.
The course is coming to an end, and the students have submitted their assignments. Jaana is really happy with how the students performed. “We wanted them to make an assignment that fills every requirement for being a real entry to the competition, and that’s what we got. All the teams did a tremendous job,” she says.
At first it seemed the task might have been too open-ended for the students, and they asked a lot of specific questions about how to do the assignments and how they will be evaluated. The teachers on the other hand wanted to give them a lot of liberties to not get three assignments that are exactly alike — and it paid off. Not only did they get three very different, high-quality submissions, but the students also reported having learned about project management, scheduling and entrepreneurial capabilities.
One thing Jaana learned herself is that the course would have needed more allocated contact teaching hours. “All the lectures were quite packed with content, and the students didn’t really have time to work during the sessions but had to do most of the teamwork on their own time,” she says. There was quite a lot of content for a 5-credit course too, but that was openly communicated to the students and taken into account in the assessment.
As the themes of the course are very important, it seems only logical that the course will run again in the future. For future iterations, Jaana hopes the course could be even more transdisciplinary and have more students on board with know-how in technology. “This course was first designed to be a site-specific design course with contact teaching and physical meetings, and we all are really looking forward to that in the future. But we will certainly take the best learnings from this online experience and employ hybrid teaching methods for more flexibility in the teaching arrangements and collaboration,” she says.