Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Teaching Online

In the past I had sought out a number of paths towards studying online and had enrolled onto short programs organised under the 'Coursera' banner. These courses were written and taught by lecturers at institutions around the world and in structure were quite similar.

I actually enrolled onto these courses to learn how such courses are organised, administered and what kind of experience learners may receive.
On reflection, the experience was mixed to say the least. Some of the courses were ridiculously easy and yet others demanded a number of hours of dedicated study in order to complete. When I first began my investigation the courses were free and I automatically received a digital certificate stating that I had successfully completed the course along with a type of transcript which stated the exact % of my overall 'grade', a kind of GPA I guess. Later, these statements were removed unless a fee was paid. However, it was still possible to audit the course for free, but no certificate was provided for this.
Apart from the huge fluctuation in the level of difficulty in the courses I took, the most annoying aspect was the peer assessment (the only assessment). I assume it was possible to partake in the assignments for free as many participants did not take the assignments seriously and submitted silly pieces of work as their submission. I did smile when I opened an assignment that had been designated for me to grade, only to find a single sentence that called into question President Trump's sanity, but I wondered how much attention my own assignment was receiving, considering I had spent two evenings putting it together.
I came away from this 'fieldwork' with a mixed opinion of online learning.


I didn't expect that, as we moved into 2020, I myself would become caught up in online teaching in a much more involved way. The COVID 19 virus spread around the globe and eventually caught up with me here in Vietnam.
As we began our usual 12 week semester, I only met the students once face-to-face in the classroom before the government announced the closure of schools and universities country-wide as part of the lockdown that was ultimately successful in its attempt to prevent the spread of the virus.

In contrast I had to watch as my home country, the UK, dithered and procrastinated while the virus spread about the population. At one stage the UK Prime Minister considered doing nothing, allowing the virus to 'move through' the population, as though if everyone stayed still and quiet the virus would slip through without noticing the people around it, and without infecting them. Later this was changed to 'of course, many of our loved ones may die', and eventually to the knowledge that if nothing was done there was a strong possibility of a terrifying death toll. The result of this lack of action means the UK now has the highest death toll in Europe while Vietnam, early adopters of the lock-down approach, have none.

The move to online teaching was not easy or without problems. This is to be expected. Entire courses that had been designed specifically for face-to-face delivery now had to be adapted instantly to online/virtual mode. Some courses could not adapt. Courses that required specialist equipment based on campus were impossible to run virtually. However, most courses found a way to move forward and most of them thrived. This success was down to the energy and education of the teaching staff. The ingenuity, imagination and resourcefulness of my colleagues has been astonishing.

For my part, I was teaching an art/design history based course relating developments in art & design to developments in materials and technology and also the changing attitudes of society set against developments in history. This means looking at a lot of case-studies and getting through a lot of material in class. Usually this has been achieved successfully via class discussion. As each topic was opened out a discussion was provoked that explored the various aspects relevant in each case without it being presented in a boring list-type format. The most difficult part of this process to replicate online was the spontaneity of the discussions and the most enjoyable aspect for me as a teacher was the unpredictable direction of the discussions. There was no script to follow so I would tend to analyze and deconstruct each issue as they arose, quite exciting. Hopefully this helped to demonstrate to the students that these issues are not pre-scripted and it is essential for them to look at each case carefully and respectfully before constructing a personal opinion, later backed up and supported by evidence.

The main platform I I had to us for my online teaching was 'Collaborate Ultra' and I had up to 25 students online at the same time during my sessions. I would upload a prepared lecture for the students to read through beforehand. This would give them time to become familiar with the proposed topics, names, dates, terms and would allow them the opportunity to conduct some research prior to the session (an approach adopted from flipped learning).

During the actual session I would begin by reviewing the previous session in order to set the scene for the current one. Then I would choose some of the slides to discuss in more detail, encouraging the students to comment on certain aspects. In the beginning I had one or two students using the microphone to speak but it quickly changed to typed comments and questions in the chat box. One reason for this was the bandwidth. Although the students could be hosted together, if all our videos were active, people speaking and slides being shared at the same time, the system stuttered a little. I did initially try to break the students into groups but the task of duplicating the session and repeating everything several times was ridiculous. This meant the spontaneity that had been so successful in class was almost impossible. However, it was possible to work through the sessions, clarify issues, answer questions and check that the topics had been understood. I was flexible with the time, prolonging the session until I felt everyone was satisfied and confident to move on with the assignment.
Following the online session I uploaded more background information to the topics covered online and posted a couple of videos along with provocative questions that acted as a catalyst for a more leisurely conversation in the discussion board.

Besides the extra time needed to cover these approaches, I also received almost double the usual number of emails from students. At first I feared these emails may have been written due to something lacking from my delivery of information online but it turned out that the majority were seeking reviews of their assignment drafts. If students are actively seeking to improve the depth and refinement of their assignments then I consider this as a positive sign.

Other teachers found alternative ways of adapting to online teaching, depending on the nature of their course and their personal teaching style. I feel it is important for teachers to be individuals, for students to feel a noticeable change in the rhythm and character of the classroom when they enter a different class. This is a reminder that each teacher has different experiences, background, often comes from a different culture. All of these differences help to enrich the students' learning and that, I feel, is our goal.

It was a new and rewarding experience but I have to say, hand on heart, I look forward to meeting students face-to-face in future.





Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Dialogue with the Landscape, a Guest Blog post

I recently had the opportunity to contribute a post to the blog of Garry Barker, an artist and educator living and teaching in Leeds, UK - my home town.

Garry and his work has been a profound influence on me and my work since the 1970s when I first met him at Jacob Kramer College of Art (later to become Leeds Arts University). Garry uses drawing to create narratives about the world that exists around us and simultaneously through his work he creates multiple other worlds.

For Garry's drawing blog I wrote a piece about a drawing project I had been engaged in for a while. As I was about to progress to the next stage in the project it seemed an opportune moment to reflect on what I had done so far before moving on.

My post is now live and can be found here:

Patrick S. Ford: A Dialogue with the Landscape.

While you are there spend time to read through Garry's previous posts, I promise you it will be worth it.

Garry also has another blog devoted to the pedagogy of teaching art. This is also incredibly informative and can be found here:

Art and Pedagogy.


Monday, March 23, 2020

Contemporary Performance Almanac 2020

The Contemporary Performance Almanac is an annual overview of Contemporary Performance created within the previous 3 years and the 2020 edition was the 6th volume of the almanac since it was initiated in 2013.

For the 2020 edition I submitted details of my performance series 'The Path To Enlightenment', with the accompanying photograph that was taken when the work was first performed on the island of Cheung Chau, Hong Kong.

Once again it was great to receive the e-version of the almanac and see the work listed among the other engaging work performed by performers / performance artists from around the world.

Cover of the 2020 Almanac


Artist page covering the 'The Path To Enlightenment' performance


Friday, February 28, 2020

Saigon Canal Walk - Terminalia Festival 2020

Following on from the previous post: Saigon Canal Walk - Planning, 22 January 2020.

On the morning of Sunday 23rd February, I once more travelled to District 1 of Saigon accompanied by Nina, Yiu Lai Lei to mark the occasion of the Terminalia Festival 2020.

This one-day Festival of Psychogeography has been held every year on the 23rd of February since 2011 and brings together individuals and groups who mark the Festival of Terminus, the Roman god of boundaries and landmarks.

To participate in the festival this year Nina and I chose to follow the previous routes of two canals in the city. Most of the city's canals have been since filled in and transformed into streets and boulevards.

The main route follows the edge of a canal that used to carry trade right up to the walls of the old citadel, which was the focus of last year's Terminalia walk. This canal, now transformed into a 'Walking Street' called Nguyen Hue (named after the historical figure), ends at the main road running along the bank of the Saigon River.


The area in District 1 that would be the focus of this year's walk



Google maps version (red circle indicates start and end points of the walk







Nina and I began our walk at the junction of Nguyen Hue and Le Thanh Ton (almost opposite the City Hall) and began walking South East towards the river. As we prepared for the walk, we first looked at the City Hall that stands roughly where the wall of the citadel would have stood and tried to imagine ships and barges bringing goods up the canal from the river. As we considered this bustling trade, a road-washing truck made its way along the street, spraying water in all directions. It appeared to be pushing the water before it as it progresses, almost like a bow-wave. As the truck passed it left a film of water that spread across the road surface like a shallow wave, providing a poetic reminder of the barges that used to make their way up the old canal, heavily laden with goods from other parts of Vietnam or from overseas. The water quickly evaporated in the heat of the mid-day sun.







The shops, cafes and restaurants along Nguyen Hue are stocked with a variety of products such as:

Sake from Japan... 


Plush unicorn toys from an imaginary land...




A little further on we found a white, modular structure reminiscent of Metabolist Architecture or, perhaps more appropriate for our canal setting, stacked tea chests. Following this line of thought they have obviously been emptied of the tea and ready for their return or to be used for some other purpose. 




We found a quick-fix 'No Parking' sign that, in the present context, took on the form of an inventive sailing boat ready for launch with its small, white single sail.




The links to trade continued, rows of sewing machines cast our minds to the silk trade, bearing in mind the strong local tradition of silk weaving. The terracotta container also spoke to a possible trade in oil or wine. All connections such as these suggest international trade between cultures. 





The visual connections to France are never too far away in Saigon. This window is an absolute delight.  We wondered what the room inside may have looked like...an office perhaps? 





At the end of Nguyen Hue the road merges with Duong Ton Duc Thang, which runs along the bank of the Saigon River. We imagined the ships and barges that would have turned into the canal from the river and in sympathy with our line of thought we saw the 'Elisa' floating restaurant. It appeared to be moored in readiness for the disembarkation of passengers or the unloading of precious goods. 





There are several well-placed Hotels along Ton Duc Thang, with rooms facing onto the river and many of them feature restaurants and splendid entrances enticing clientele to visit. At one establishment we found a monument to a Merlion, a mythical creature half fish and half lion, though this particular example seemed more agile, graceful and less top-heavy than the one found in Singapore. As we passed it was enjoying a constant, cooling spray of water.





Suddenly we were confronted by a large, fierce-looking stone lion. At first we assumed this was a Chinese lion but close by we found the Venezia Restaurant and decided this guardian must be the Lion of St. Mark, though this unfortunate creature had lost its wings and had also misplaced its copy of the Bible somewhere. No wonder it looked so annoyed!







From this road junction we turned North West along the river and walked until we reached the next Junction. Here we turned along the inside of the road and passed the Vietcom Bank Tower outside of which we found a rock placed decoratively near the entrance. On the rock was carved a stylistic rendering of the building along with the building’s name in red. The large rock, accompanied by several smaller pebbles could perhaps be a relic discovered and dragged from the river or from the sea beyond. 





At the same junction facing onto the waterbus station we found the area deep in transformative construction work. One area was being used for temporary storage of street-cleaning equipment. One such garbage truck had been left upside down. Within the syntax of our current line of thought, we immediately saw the detached wheel-house of a sailing ship. Within a split second this area became a shipyard with its associated fragments of ship components scattered around.





Not far from our discovered 'shipyard' the area is overseen by the dominant statue of 13th century military leader Tran Hung Dao. These days he stands commandingly on top of his pedestal, surrounded by a protective moat, perhaps overseeing his fleet.





After following this road we turned into the road Thi Sach in order to make our way back towards the site of the old citadel. This street is probably not the exact line of the old canal but after attempting to transpose the canal locations onto a current map I found that the closest road is actually blocked, removing the possibility of tracing the route continuously. We therefore decided to shift the route slightly to allow a continuous perambulation.

Along Thi Sach we found the inescapable Hollywood reference to Vietnam. Such an apocalyptic welcome, combined with a dark interior did not tempt us inside on this lovely, bright day. Above the entrance I noticed the familiar Taoist symbol attached, similar to the Pak Kua mirrors that can assist in reflecting bad energy away. However, this symbol appears to have been placed upside down when compared to the usual configuration. A fitting symbol to accompany an apocalypse?





Even in the most disrupted, less-frequented, parts of the street some artistic soul has imparted a friendly sign to greet passers-by. Despite the mess caused by the nearby construction site, a simple drawing can elicit a smile.





This bar / restaurant has employed a barrel motif for its entrance. More symbols of celebration, wine drinking...although the scale of this barrel also suggests the hull of a wooden ship, maybe laden with a precious cargo of Bordeaux or Burgundy wine?





It's good to keep track of the days if your work has a fixed schedule. Most offices have a calendar of some sort. Here we found a calendar attached to a tree. Could this be a make-shift office? The date is correct, which means someone conscientiously keeps the calendar up to date. Good work!





Around lunchtime it's pleasant to seek refuge in the shadows, and even better if you bring your own hammock. A relaxing street-corner hammock underneath an appropriate sign; the sleeper even wears a mask to ward off any coronavirus which may sneak up while he sleeps.





Our walk approaches its end and its time for refreshment. We could have a coffee or a beer here. The bar name seems to sum up the essence of beer drinking quite succinctly.





Our Terminalia Festival walk 2020 came to a close as we made our way back to the start close to the City Hall. Similar to our experience last year, the walk has encouraged us to engage more with the city, and not just with its landmarks. Every pebble, sign, quick-fix solution, pile of detritus contains a story within. It simply requires patience, an open mind and a poetic approach to life. 

A period of reflection as we eat lunch, a break and then what? Where shall we walk next?



Saturday, February 15, 2020

Performance / Recorded Event Map

Looking back at various performances and events that I had managed to record (or obtain a recording of following a live event), the thought came to me that it would be useful to devise a method of overseeing the collection of activities and the idea of a map suggested itself as the most obvious method.
To do this I created a personal Google Map onto which I then plotted the locations of each recorded activity. When each location pin is clicked, a pop-up box presents the title, exact location along with a link to a video recording of the event hosted on my YouTube channel.

Some locations have multiple activities posted and these can only be differentiated by zooming gin on the map. Alternatively, a table of activities can be toggled on the left and from this table each activity can be selected individually.

In my notebooks I have a long list of potential locations that appear to present suitable environments along with the type of activity that could be appropriate and when the opportunity arises I grasp the opportunity on each occasion to realise the concept. Consequently, I plan to update the map as more activities are realised.
The map only displays events and performances that employed video recording. Other events that were recorded photographically are not shown at the moment.

The map can be found here.



Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Saigon Canal Walk - Planning

As the Terminalia festival approaches once again I began to consider another walk in Saigon. On 23rd February each year a one day festival of Psychogeography is held across the UK and the world, entitled 'Terminalia'.

As the festival website states, it is 'a one day festival of walking, space, place and psychogeography' named after 'Terminalia...the festival of TerminusRoman god of boundaries'. 


Many events are group walks and encourage participation but there are also 'private, solitary walks' that are also listed on the main festival website.


I had again been reading about the history of the city and I was interested to learn about the canals that were once a feature of the city. Most of them have long since disappeared, some of them were filled in and became streets or boulevards such as Nguyen Hue 'Walking Street' in District 1.

Thinking back to last year's walk I decided to target the period during which the large old citadel had been constructed and so I concentrated my planning on the canals that were originally built to provide water access to the citadel's main South Gate. 

During the 1790s two canals were dug from the Saigon river up to the walls of the citadel. One was along the course of what became Nguyen Hue (known to the French as the Grand Canal) and a second one further up the Saigon River. After consulting the maps I assembled when I was planning the Citadel walk, I estimated that this canal would have been somewhere in the area of Thái Văn Lung. However, as this street appeared to have been blocked off mid-way along I decided to adopt the nearby Thi Sách as the road to follow.

Once again, in the time I had available to plan the walk I managed to locate the area to be circumnavigated. 
To commemorate this year's Terminalia festival, I will begin on Le Than Ton (which marked the old citadel wall), progress South East along Nguyen Hue, turn left along Ton Due Thang and then left again along the North Eastern side of Thi Sách. When I again reached Le Than Ton, I would then return to my starting point near to the People's Committee hall.