Saturday, 20th December 2008



Learning Curve

Jan Patience reveals how a technophobe led the way in a multimedia school project


The Willie Rodger Gallery

There is a delicious irony in Willie Rodger, Scotland's leading printmaker and a man who doesn't have an e-mail address, being in the vanguard of a pioneering technological breakthrough in delivering education.

Self-confessed Luddite that he is, the former art teacher has embraced the changes with gusto and the result is a virtual exhibition of original prints using traditional techniques by 158 school pupils across Scotland.

Although most of them have never actually met him, for the last six weeks the pupils from nine schools, ranging from primary seven to secondary six levels, have all been In the Hands of Willie Rodger via Glow, the groundbreaking Scottish schools' intranet.

At the recent official launch of their virtual exhibition at Learning and Teaching Scotland's headquarters in Glasgow, the cheers and deafening cries of "Thanks Willie!" from pupils and teachers from as far apart as the small crofting community of Back on the island of Lewis all the way down to Dumfries spoke volumes about just how much the young people had enjoyed the experience.

In what she described as her first ever online speech, Glasgow's poet laureate Liz Lochhead opened the exhibition in front of an actual audience after they had listened to pupils talking online about their experiences.

With Angela McEwan of Media Matters Educational Consultancy, Rodger spent last month giving online tutorials and workshops via Glow. Each of the classes had been studying a DVD produced by McEwan in which he patiently explains the secrets of his craft.

The DVD and accompanying CD-Rom came about due to demand from art and design teachers, who had all told McEwan they would like to share Rodger's approach to his craft with their pupils. The masterclass was a natural progression.

"Scotland is the only country in the world with the potential to link up schools like this," explains Angela McEwan "The technology has really only become available now and Willie is the first person to do this sort of thing."

"Classes were assigned a task by their teacher and having watched the DVD, they had a masterclass with Willie from his studio at home. They worked on printing techniques as they progressed towards their final print.

"Willie also gave a tutorial with each class and commented one-to-one on their work. Being Willie, he printed off all the work of these pupils, annotated it and fed back comments, with the others watching and listening to his comments."

One of the most inspiring things, according to McEwan, was the way in which the pupils interacted with each other, via the chat facilities.

As for the man himself, he described the experience as succinctly as he cuts into lino to portray mankind in all his glory with the deftest of touches. "It's taken 50 years off me," he grins.