Acting on Tutor Feedback; Organisation, Planning and Recording

I’m coming to the end of EYV now and I am going through the feedback from my tutor and making sure I’ve understood and taken on board the points he has made. One major problem for me during this course has been organisation and time management. You can read about the frustrations of my tutor here.

Having studied at a ‘bricks and mortar’ university and having studied distance learning elsewhere, I have never, ever had a problem with this before. I think I’ve asked for a handful of extensions over time; the only time I specifically recall doing so is when I had a miscarriage. So it’s unusual. There have been personal reasons and misunderstandings on my part about the flexibility of deadlines and when to ask for extensions, but I don’t want to make a load of excuses; I need to understand why this problem has come up.

The main problem I have faced is that when I began studying photography I was just not used to working in this way; it’s (still) taking me time to learn how to approach this sort of work. It feels so fluid after coming from a maths and science background that I honestly struggle with how to approach it.

Past Strategies

I never had any problem while studying at Brunel; the assignments were usually due in quickly, I had other students to work with or at least to constantly remind me how behind they were, and I didn’t tend to get big pieces of work; I could do it immediately and then forget about it until I handed the work in.

My standard approach to studying distance learning courses in the past has been:

  • divide up the number of course text pages to be studied over each time period – always allowing at least an extra week for unforeseen events and two weeks for any assignments
  • try to make allowances of extra time for material that looks tricky
  • put post it notes into the text and materials with completion dates

Assignments, although challenging in terms of content were easy in terms of approach:

  • Before I started the textbook for the assignment I would make sure I was familiar with most of the assignment questions. I read the text with those questions in mind. If I didn’t know the questions then I tried  anticipate what they might be.
  • Carry out any practical work (astronomical observations etc) as soon as possible by booking out the period where the object would be visible and observing on the first clear night (or series of nights).
  • Answer one question at a time, preferably completing a question per day. So if it was mathematical I’d do all the easy parts first and then return to the harder questions to tackle them in stages.

This is how I have managed to get distinctions in the coursework component of every single course I have ever studied and also in the exams of all but one. But it’s not a strategy I can use for photography.

Time Management

I used to use bullet journalling, but I find it frustrating that I am having to copy out the same information again and again. I’ve tried a few apps, the most recent being Things in combination with the calendar app and Evernote to keep track of websites, references and things I want to follow up on. But the list of material I now find myself looking at and researching is huge. And I can see material that I find relevant everywhere, not just in books about photography. I use two computers, an iPad and an iPhone as well as books I own and books and journals from the library. Earlier on in the course there were phrases I’d read or ideas I’d wanted to refer to and hadn’t been able to because I couldn’t remember where I’d seen them and therefore couldn’t reference them. Aaaarrggghh. Thankfully that seems to be over!

Assignment 5

For the assignment I’m working on at the moment, I have a title “Photography Is Simple.” I have to take ten images and each has to show a different aspect of the subject (whatever that subject is). There are exercises in the lead up to this assignment and I’m supposed to use those exercises and the material in the course text as a lead-in to it. But other than that, I’m free to explore whatever I like.

How to approach this?

This is what happens: I think of ideas, I have a huge list of subjects I’d like to explore. But there are so many of them and the more I try to refine them, the more I seem to come up with. Of course, there are different ways of looking at these subjects. I think about themes, about possibilities.

I’ve looked at Making Photographs by Mike Simmons and noted the strategies laid out there – this is in note form.

  1. Generate Ideas: Books, Online, Exhibitions, Artist’s Talks, Brainstorm, Mindmap
  2. Choose Subject: Identify what is being investigated and the relationship to how it is being explored. Think about the possibilities of using photography as a mechanism to explore the subject.
  3. Shape Ideas: Question what the possibilities might be.
  4. Develop ideas through research
  5. Planning:
    • Develop goals
    • Set aims
    • Set targets
  6. Create – Make it happen ie. Action:
    • Timetable key tasks
    • Break into smaller activities
    • Action activities
  7. Assess:
    • Question
    • Explain
    • Move forward
  8. Record: the project narrative

Reflection comes after all of these steps.

I think what happens to me is that I get to number 3 in this list and then start all over again; I have real problems making decisions. I think that getting stuck at that point stops me from actually getting out and taking photographs. I just generate more and more ideas. It’s not a problem with organisation or time management, it’s just endless proliferation of ideas that freezes me. So the thing for me to do before I go back round to the start is to get out to take some photographs – any photographs at all.

Last week I was getting tangled up in ideas for assignment five and getting nowhere, so I decided to take both a polaroid camera and a film camera to the forest. These really work for me – I suppose using them is a form of mindfulness as I actually stop and think more carefully before I press the shutter. With the polaroid I think a lot more carefully just because of the expense of the medium. By the time I’d been walking in the forest for three  hours I knew exactly how I wanted to approach the assignment, had ideas for all ten images and how I could present them and had managed to tie all that in with my constant need to experiment and learn new things.

Published by Sarah Cassin Scott


4 thoughts on “Acting on Tutor Feedback; Organisation, Planning and Recording

  1. I sympathise with you Sarah, especially as I have a similar problem of having too many ideas so that I get caught up in thinking about them and not actually taking photographs. Posting images on Instagram helps except that I’ve realised that none of them actually relate to coursework really but are aspects I’m interested in. Great that your latest strategy of film and polaroid camera has helped.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Like Catherine, I feel your pain. I recently had to go hard-core on my time management due to my partner’s overseas travel increasing significantly and my own music commitment getting much heavier. Evernote pretty much runs my life – everything that looks useful for study goes in there, as well as scans of dry cleaning receipts, school letters, haircut appointments, pdfs. I couldn’t manage without it. After decades of diaries and Filofax refills I’ve gone digital with my Outlook calendar, and that integrates very nicely with Things 3 that I’ve just recently acquired. My main problem now is actually remembering to *use* Things 3, I got so used to carrying everything in my head and Filofax (and dropping a fair bit of it to be honest). Next up is having a look at Getting Things Done. I’m sure there’s an organisational genius somewhere deep inside me (very deep inside me…). There are some great podcasts from The Accidental Creative that talk about organisation/time management/barriers to good work that are worth a listen.

    I am a big fan of photographing first and questioning myself (and the work) later. Otherwise I get too bogged down in words/panic/unease. If I end up with two strong candidates for an assignment topic it’s not the worst problem to have, even if very inconvenient at the decision point. All the best with A5, I like your Polaroid at the top.


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