Will Vaughan & Trish Cashen

Part 1: Development of Student IT Skills
Part 2: Training of Art History Educators

Part 1: Development of Student IT Skills

Will Vaughan

1.1 Requirements

It is essential for students to continue to develop their IT skills while studying for two reasons. First, in order to keep up with developments in the subject and play a full part in this. Second, in order to graduate with the kind of skills that they are likely to need in their professional lives, irrespective of whether they stay working within the discipline or not. In order to establish what skills are required it will be necessary to do the following:

1.2 Define minimum Standards of IT competency

For example, this would include the ability to search in libraries using electronic means, how to use e-mail and the world wide web effectively, how to handle text and image databases.

1.3 Develop Means for Advancing the Subject

This would include the development of specific skills to apply to the subject area. This would include, for example, skills in image capture and presentation, the ability to use databases for collecting and collating art historical material, the development of skills in specific analytical areas such as statistical analysis.

1.4 Coursware development specific to the subject

It would be important to continue to identify areas in the subject that would profit most from IT courseware development. This would include both informational packages, and ones that helped the student to test their knowledge and to challenge their assumptions and conclusions in a constructive manner.

Part 2: Training of Art History Educators

Trish Cashen

2.1 Requirements

In order to integrate IT skills into the teaching and learning process at third level it is essential that the relevant skills are passed on in the context of art history courses, by the academic lecturing staff rather than by central IT training personnel. Certainly basic skills such as word-processing and introductions to useful programs such as email, databases and statistical packages could be handled by IT trainers, but to progress beyond the basics it is imperative that these skills are extended by art historians in the context of subject-specific study.

The major problem with this approach is that many professional art historians do not themselves have very advanced computing skills. Clearly, as advanced information skills become an important part of academic life, university lecturers must improve their skills in order to develop their own careers. This problem needs to be recognised and attempts must be made to address it.

A major obstacle facing most lecturers is pressure of time - they must be convinced of the benefits of spending time acquiring additional skills. Perhaps the best way to do this is by making a specific case which clearly shows the benefits of using IT. This is best done by another art historian, or at least by somebody with an advanced awareness of how academic art historians work. Simply persuading lecturers to learn IT skills is not enough, however: they must also receive institutional support, whether in the form of time off from other duties to pursue training, or through other local incentive schemes. This presupposes support for such a program from heads of Departments and more senior members of the university hierarchy.

Investigating strategies to convince art historians of the benefits of advanced IT skills could be one way in which ACO*HUM might further its objectives. This might take the form of developing pilot study materials which were demonstrably useful to members of the discipline - e.g. digital collections of images and texts for teaching, or even training materials (either computer-based or designed to be taught as seminars with support materials) aimed specifically at humanists with relevant examples drawn from art history.

2.2 Delivering Standard Core Skills

Another way in which ACO*HUM could assist with updating lecturers skills would be to identify and point out suitable products which exist already. A good example of this is Netskills, a network skills training package aimed at academics in the UK. The project has developed an on-line web tutorial for self-study, tutorial material including overhead slides for use in presenting seminars and it also runs regional workshops targeted at specific subject areas. If similar projects exist elsewhere they should be identified by the working groups and evaluated as useful models. At the very least the working group should be able to suggest which skills would be desirable in order to attain the standard of teaching art history with integrated IT skills which is eventually envisaged.

Rather than embarking on producing a range of training materials for art historians, it would probably be more useful to liaise with members of the other key subject areas in the project and to pool resources.

It seems unlikely that the working group could oversee the production of a suite of courses aimed at art historians and it might be more realistic to concentrate on developing some products which would give art historians an incentive to learn how to use them, as well as producing some guidelines aimed at relative novices (e.g. what skills are likely to be useful in the context of art history and how they can be exploited - giving examples of work currently being done by art historians elsewhere).