Digital resources and network learning: a course on Art History in the UOC

Joan Campas, lecturer in Humanities, UOC
Cèsar Carreras, lecturer in Humanitites, UOC

This paper should be included in the wide context of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), ( a non-presential public university, structured around a Virtual Campus, where all the University activities are carried out through telematics - except, still the exams. That is why the reflection, experimentation and production of hypermedia within the scope of Humanities are part of our everyday tasks as lecturers of this University.

It is worth mentioning the basic requirements of our students in order to put our kind of University within a context. The UOC student needs a 486 or Pentium PC, a CD-ROM reader and sound-blaster card, a modem and a software package to be connected to the Virtual Campus, and the Microsoft Office software. When the student is registered in the UOC, he/she is assigned to a tutor, who gives advice to the student through his/her studies, taking part in the evaluation meetings. The tutorís figure becomes a key element for fostering discouraged students, therefore, a permanent point of reference and communication.

Furthermore, every student is assigned to a consultant for each subject every semester. The consultant gives the priorities and timetables for the subject contents, puts forward some activities, suggests some assignments and projects, invites students to take part in debates... This way provides a real continuous evaluation, which encourages autonomy and co-operation among students along the semester. Tutors and consultants are part-time collaborators in the UOC since they are lecturers in other Universities from Catalonia. They are co-ordinated by a group of full-time lecturers from each department, who are responsible of defining curriculums, searching for telematic applications, criteria and procedures in non-presential learning, testing possibilities of learning in the network on the basis of new programming languages and software.

Our Virtual Campus allows members in the community to relate with all the components in the learning process (students, consultants, tutors, material) through e-mail, as well as it supplies other activities such as administration and entertainment.

After this briefing about the pedagogic and telematic environment of our University, we would like to introduce our proposal of planning, diversity, elaboration and pedagogic use of hypermedia material in the network. We will do so applying it to a very specific subject, Universal Art History, a subject of 8 credits in the Department of Humanities. Since the work of art is the core of the current subject. In the other words, due to the fact that the image is the essence in its contents, a suitable typology and treatment of the material should be applied. Therefore the subject content is presented in three complementary formats: a CD-ROM, a multimedia study of a key work of art by Gaudi and a course on-line implemented in web pages.

The CD-ROM contains explanatory texts and comments cards for almost 500 works of art included in the course. The CD-ROM navigation is designed to jump easily from images to text, and the other way around, and from the summaries to the complete text. It also allows users to search periods and authors, to locate geographically the works and to refer them chronologically.

The multimedia course about the Crypt from the Güell colony by Antoni Gaudí is a monographic study in which video, audio, text and image is incorporated. It was designed from the conclusions obtained from a visit with a group of students on how to present this work of art. From these results, we thought about what a multimedia course about the Crypt could offer students after emphasising some relevant aspects. Consequently, the different screens, videos, images, audio as well as a virtual tours enclosed pretend to provide a wider variety of goals than the ones that a normal presential visit could offer. We do not attempt to substitute virtuality by presentiality, but to take advantage of some multimedia assets in the field of aesthetic analysis with the double aim of making easy the learning process and reconfiguring the ways of learning.

The course on-line on web pages is designed as a working tool that consists of four sections, which covers all the didactic resources developed for learning through the network. First of all, information about exhibitions and activities that puts students in contact with the current cultural reality and lets them follow the main artistic manifestations. Secondly, a set of complementary information to the CD-ROM, which deepen in interdisciplinary themes, combining work notes with manifestos and texts by a myriad of authors, and comments on digital resources and Internet addresses. A third section includes hypermedia assignments, which experiment with application of new tools, languages and software in the analysis and study of art history. Finally, the last section pretends to stimulate the interaction among the different components of the course by undertaking virtual activities, and personal relationships through presential activities and itineraries recommended.

The images on the CD-ROM and the ones proposed in Internet, conform, then, the virtual lab on which the practices are carried out. Since students have the program Paint Shop Pro 4.1 (or Microsoft Photo editor or similar), they can analyse images applying some ideas offered in the didactic material. Likewise, they can present assignments, research projects and works of art analysis in a hypertextual format using an editor of HTML.

The assignment in groups consists of the creation of a large hypertext of work of art analyses and its correspondent hypertextual dictionary, following the model provided by the Gernika by Picasso. Each student will undertake the study of a particular work of art, which he/she will link, with the ones done by his/her classmates according to common aesthetic concepts or in comparative studies. This activity stresses the importance of co-operative work through the network with the construction of these hypertexts that will enrich the virtual lab of the Department of Humanities in the UOC.