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Commits (2)
Title: Free the students—or at least their tools
Author: Larisa Blazic
Section: Dispatch
This is a report from a strange place—England, 2018—where higher education institutions are imploding as I write these lines. Even though the very idea of Free Software in such circumstances may be a logical choice of tools for a variety of visual communications, the notion of an industry standard, the mantra of many educators preparing their students for the labour market arming them with proprietary software employability skills, is still strongly felt in places of knowledge production.
A look at "the industry standard" may be a useful way to understand the Libre Graphics educational landscape of the past eight years. When we teach visual communication, we speak about harmony, balance, composition, rhythm: basic visual elements to convey a message. These are all based on a wide application of visual literacy, in the European scholarly tradition, mostly based in early 20th Century art and design theory, history, and practice. Educational efforts go deep. Indeed it is a very thorough and rigorous examination of the discipline, albeit somewhat limited in scope as tools are not quite considered worth such an examination. Instead, in most cases, software skills are offered as an add-on diploma or a proprietary certification.
“Industry standard” is usually a list of software packages dominating commercial creative production, thus often found on essential skill lists when job hunting and reinforced by the rather timid notion of a must-have knowledge for successful professional life that can be found in most major professional publications. It is a way to keep all other tools considered "non professional" and thus deemed inferior. So much so that a much-praised British graphic designer, Jonathan Barnbrook, whose most notable works focused on ethics and politics in the discipline, admitted total lock-down in proprietary hardware and software after his talk at the V&A's London Design Festival only a couple of years ago.
From 2012, the cap on tuition fees at English universities wa raised to an incredible £9000 per year for UK and EU students on a BA degree, rising to £9,250 in the 2017-2018 academic year. This has had its most damning influence on the perception of education as a commodity, where one acquires knowledge in most miraculous consumerism divorced from any notion of human learning processes. This condition encourages students to be anxious to get on and away into professional life, pressured by the weight of debt, never really quite considering how professional life may toss and turn them in many different directions where flexibility may be the most precious skill of all. In these circumstances ethical concerns focused on tools of any kind are hard to come by. Meanwhile, the industry’s homogeneous skill-set persists[^1] and changing perceptions are paradoxically slow in a super-fast-forwarded technological landscape.
When the Network of Free Culture Aware Educators in Art, Design and Music first ran at Libre Graphics Meeting 2013, there was a recognition that teaching Free Software as an individual educator's choice was far wider than first thought, with educational institutions lagging behind, except in a few remarkable examples. However, Free software is silently entering the classroom. IT support teams, the mean of alienating staff and students from the tools, are installing Libre Graphics software on university machines, Libre Graphics video tutorials are becoming available on "professional/industry acclaimed" learning platforms and students are happy to test them and try them on individual recommendation. The speed of adoption is slow, but things are changing.
Therefore a projection for how things could be for Libre Graphics adoption in higher education may lie in establishing a series of educational activities focused on the examination of a diverse range of tools for creative production, exploration, and experimentation before undergraduate studies. By introducing a wider range of softwares, encouraging play and curiosity when developing and practicing design skills at an earlier stage could well lead to confident and courageous young creatives with solid understandings of logic behind the softwares employed in creative production, making them more flexible and open to new knowledge. With more informed students, we can hope the industry standard will become less a directive and more a suggestion.
[^1]: Dziobczenski, P. R. N., & Person, O. (2017). Graphic designer wanted: A document analysis of the described skill set of graphic designers in job advertisements from the United Kingdom. International Journal of Design, 11(2), 41-55.