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Textile Tracks: Providing career guidance and supporting alumni relations using digital tools

Featured image: The Mirage by Lucy Hardcastle Studio for 29Rooms in collaboration with Spark AR for Facebook.

Helen Paine and Samantha Elliott were awarded the Teaching and Learning Fund for 2020 with a proposal originally titled ‘Career Exchange Pilot’ which evolved to ‘Textile Tracks’.

We interviewed Helen to learn more about the project and how they adapted to work online as a result of lockdown.

Helen works on Chelsea’s BA Textile Design course, focusing on Professional Practice and preparing students for their onward journeys post-graduation. This includes prepping them for work and/or further study. She said:

I am passionate to demonstrate the growing breadth of opportunities for Textile Design graduates, particularly when their knowledge of materials is applied in cross-disciplinary collaborative environments. This stems from my research interests in circular materials which I explore in my parallel role at Chelsea as post-doc researcher at Centre for Circular Design.

How did you decide to propose this project?

When I became aware of the Teaching & Learning Fund I put together a proposal for a series of lectures that invited alumni back from the course. The proposal pitched a weekly lecture and Q&A slot featuring speakers guiding students through their career trajectories. They would share knowledge and highlighting both the ups and downs of a career in the creative industries. The aim of the series was to inspire and provide relevant advice that could help shape the next steps for our current BA Textile Design students.

How does your original proposal compare to the current outcome? 

Due to the impact of Covid-19 and lockdown, the proposed face-to-face lecture series (then named Textile Tracks) was unable to go ahead as planned. The format for the lecture series needed to be re-framed as a virtual model. Speakers were contacted individually to scope their availability and interest in delivering the lecture/Q&A using UAL digital tools that would be mostly unfamiliar to them. Luckily, all 6 speakers who had been booked were willing to try digital delivery. Guest speakers were offered 2 modes of delivery which allowed some flexibility:  

  1. Pre-recorded lecture and live Q&A via Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.
  2. Live lecture and Q&A via Blackboard Collaborate Ultra

The series followed the original proposed schedule of once a week on either a Tuesday or Wednesday lunchtime. Live sessions were recorded with permission of the guest speaker and shared through Moodle. Recording live sessions helped widen participation, particularly for those students working in different time zones during lockdown. A link to a recording was shared with students after each session closed, which meant talks could be revisited. This is rarely a possibility with live face-to-face delivery. The Q&A remained an important aspect of the model and students were encouraged to interact with the speaker on a 1-2-1 basis.

Pieces from Tamasyn Gambell‘s collaboration with forest London: Midcentury chair reupholstered in Textured stripe design and cushions from the fractured grid collection.
What was the response from colleagues and students?

Wide student attendance and participation during the sessions encouraged ‘live’ feedback as the lecture series progressed. It was clear that students were engaging with the content and returning on a weekly basis. I was mindful to always invite feedback from the students after each session and received some complimentary emails which were encouraging! A year one BA Textile Design student wrote about Charlotte Barry’s lecture:

I’ve just had a chance to watch Charlotte Barry’s presentation and Q&A, it was really inspiring but also grounded, much needed in this weird lockdown time!  A huge thanks to her for taking the time and being so generous in sharing her ideas and information, she covered so much, I’m still absorbing, lots to think about… It’s so interesting understanding how a textile degree can lead on to so many creative areas.

A year three BA Textile Design student wrote:

I have been loving the Textiles Tracks talks so much, they have been so helpful to me to be able to hear peoples’ stories and ask them questions, especially as I am coming towards graduation and will be doing all this myself soon!

The series was also well received and often attended by staff. Caryn Simonson Programme Director for Textile Design requested that content be shared with Graduate Diploma and Masters students in Textile Design with the aim of broadening the reach of insights to post-graduate students. Caryn has complimented the design of the series and said  ‘ The Textile Tracks model inspired the format for other online interactive sessions including the Programme-wide talks during the Summer term’.

Were there any barriers?

Lockdown and engagement with unfamiliar virtual platforms could have been barriers to the success of the series. However, the willingness of guest speakers to engage with digital tech turned these potential barriers into strengths.

Some of the positives of virtual delivery include:

  1. Enhanced inclusivity – more methods of engagement for students like writing questions in chat and speaking directly on a microphone
  2. Re-visitable content – recorded content can be revisited at any time which enhanced inclusivity for students working in different time zones
  3. Increased interaction – ‘faceless’ digital environment seemed to increase student interaction through Q&A

Mostly students responded well to digital delivery. Student-led contributions through questioning definitely improved using this digital format. It could be that the ‘faceless’ nature of the engagement by posting questions in the chat (which was the preferred method of engagement for most students) took some of the fear out of face-to-face interaction.

Image and design: Amelia Graham. Styling: Supermarket Sarah. Photography: Kristy Noble
How did you collaborate with other colleagues? 

A list of recommended alumni was put together by the research and teaching staff across the Textile Design programme. Longstanding members of the team were able to make recommendations for graduates to connect with from as far back as 15 years ago.

The team also helped by advertising lectures through social media platforms and spotlighting guest speakers. It was a great opportunity to bring together the research and teaching teams in a collaborative effort to draw up a shortlist of speakers and enable them to re-connect with past alumni.

Kate Montgomery worked on the colour, materials and finish (CMF) design of the Aston Martin Vanquish 25 by CALLUM

How do you measure the success of the project?

We sent a Survey Monkey questionnaire to the students for feedback on the series at the end of the Summer term. During the series, one student requested wider representation of international students. This interest in enhanced diversity was reflected in the Survey Monkey feedback with a request to have speakers from across all four textile specialisms. It was felt most speakers to date have been graduates from either weave or print.

Broadly the feedback echoed the feeling of success throughout delivery. 78% of respondents said they found the series either ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ useful. Particularly increased knowledge of resources; reflecting on different career possibilities and hearing about different career trajectories were highlighted as key strengths. 93% of respondents value the opportunity to hear from course alumni and see this as a useful lecture format to move forward with.

Beyond anecdotal and quantitative feedback, it has been a real pleasure to use this opportunity to network and connect with past alumni. We hope that these re-established relationships will help build further Professional Practice content into the course to include live project briefs and industry placement opportunities.

What will you do differently in the future? 

Since half the fund is still remaining we have time to tweak delivery of the series for this coming academic year. Responding to student feedback we will work to:

  • Ensure we continue and increase engagement with a diverse range of alumni
  • Keep a regular timeslot for delivery so that students are aware when the lectures are taking place
  • Manage sessions so there is a dedicated timeslot for Q&A that is not rushed
  • Increase inclusion of recent graduates who are able to provide relevant insights related to immediate next steps post-graduation
Can we watch any of the talks?

Yes! You can watch Lucy Hardcastle’s talk on Vimeo.

How can we follow along with this course?

Follow the course on Instagram: @chelsea_ba_textile_design

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