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Digital meets Handmade: Jewelry in the 21st Century

Digital meets Handmade: Jewelry in the 21st Century

Heller, L, and D. Millerson. Craft, Pedagogy and the Digital Challenge—A Jewelry Perspective. Digital Meets Handmade: Jewelry in the 21st Century, Fashion Institute of Technology, USA, 2018

As educators in the Material Art & Design program at OCAD University in Toronto, Canada, we have observed an increasing interest in “maker culture” as seen in the enrollment in our craft-oriented classes and in the rhetoric around contemporary studio learning by administrators. The re-engagement with craft is matched by the escalating involvement we have with the digital revolution. Our tools are becoming digitized along with our communication methods, our documentation and our social spaces. Our jewelry program has led the way in integrating digital technology into the curriculum but there remains a divide between the ways in which traditional and digital approaches are taught in the studio. This divide is seen in the use of separate classes and spaces for teaching traditional or digital fabrication along with the limited accessibility of 3D printers that tend to be operated by technicians rather than students. Teaching with digital technology also requires the learning or updating of skills on a constant basis and an ability to impart how traditional and digital fabrication methods can work together. The need to consider the place of digital craft in relation to traditional craft in potentially de/re-skilling practitioners is of paramount importance as we prepare students for professional practice in jewelry.

In this PowerPoint, we present perspectives on the teaching and learning of digital craft tools at OCAD University based on a current research project that began in 2017. Through a series of interviews with faculty, technicians and administrators who teach or facilitate digital technology, we have started to define some of the challenges and strategies for negotiating the space between traditional craft teaching and the use of digital tools. In a subsequent study conducted with our Faculty & Curriculum Development Centre, we have surveyed the experiences of students who are engaging with digital technology.

The findings from this investigation have been extensive, but we have initially identified six themes that have helped us to analyze our data. The first, “Resisting Binaries,” speaks to the reluctance of interviewees to parse the difference between the analogue and the digital. “New Models of Learning” addresses the ways that the use of digital resources has expanded options for learning, such as videos on YouTube. “2D/3D Translation” looks at the challenges of moving from screen design to 3D printing. “The Impact of Time” discusses the disconnect between the time digital processes take in relation to our expectations. “Concerns of Agency” questions the loss of control when outsourcing production. Finally, “Need for Communication” highlights the language employed and interactions between stakeholders.

Digital processes have been an exciting development at our institutions, but they have also led to the need for re-training, concerns of sustainability, and the desire to look at more complex paradigms. In a climate where crafts-based programs are often challenged to explain their relevance in contemporary post-secondary education, questions around the use of digital technology are compelling and time sensitive. This is a prescient moment for investigating a new paradigm for the pedagogy, theorizing and activity of making jewelry.

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