Clearly the fates have decreed that I should not only be involved in the writing of a new audio degree as education month comes around, but that I should also be well into my own studies, working towards a Master’s degree in Sound Design. However, in getting to this point, my own audio education has meandered along most of the routes one might take in the pursuit of a career in audio. I’ve volunteered at studios, received on the job (and in the pub) training. I’ve studied at private colleges and run my own studio. Each of these diversions had an intrinsic value and it’s unlikely I would be in the position I am now without having taken them. However, as both a lecturer and a student, I am acutely aware that there are mixed views as to the value of a formal audio education, not just from potential students, but also from employers and practitioners (i.e. this interview from a few weeks ago). So I thought it might be useful to talk a little about the nature of writing an audio degree, from the middle so to speak. (Just to note, I am based in the UK so this relates to the process’s undertaken here. I can’t speak for anywhere else.)
Just to allay any initial fears, I’m not writing a degree on my own. Currently there are three of us involved which will expand to a team of 5 or 6 soon enough who will be directly involved in the writing of the content. And this is just at the very early stages as well, where we’re scoping out the broad strokes of the content. But even at this early stage we’re seeking guidance and advice from beyond the college. And this is a key point really. The content of the degree is not arrived at in an arbitrary fashion, rather guidance and advice are sought from relevant industry professionals, standards bodies, and special interest groups to help specify the appropriate areas of study for the course.
At this stage in the process, as well as having a broad understanding of the audio specific content, consideration is also given to the academic aspects of the degree. Whilst a student might start an audio related degree envisioning 3 years spent in recording studios, on film sets, or desperately trying to record perfect footsteps, the reality is that a certain academic rigour takes it’s place alongside these more hands on pursuits. Formal presentations, essay writing, research projects and dissertations are likely candidates for inclusion in any degree programme. They may not be the most popular aspects of a degree programme (to be honest, I’m almost certain they’re not), but they are the aspects of the degree that will facilitate a student’s self-guided study, and which will continue to be valuable to them long after they’ve graduated, no matter what career they decide to pursue. Critical thinking, content analysis, presentation and interview technique are only some of the transferable skills a student should take away from an audio degree above and beyond their ability to tell the difference between a hyper cardioid and super cardioid polar pattern from 30 paces.
Anyway, back to the degree. The broad strokes of the curriculum form the basis of specific modules which require full descriptors, assignment outlines and learning outcomes. Without wanting to dwell on any one part of the process the learning outcomes are pretty important. They describe what a student should be able to do, the context they should be able to do it in, and the level they should be able to do it at on completion of a particular module of study. They are specific to each module and give the student some clear guidance on what they need to do to pass the module and the course.
About this point in the process the fledgling degree needs to go through a validation process. This is make or break time. Not passing this stage means no degree. A validation panel looks at the course content and aims as well as considering the staff, facilities, and resources required to teach the degree and decides if they are appropriate. Every aspect of the degree is reviewed at this stage by the panel. Getting the green light here means the degree can be prepared for first delivery. Building on all the work done so far individual modules are fleshed out, lesson plans are prepared, content is created, etc. etc. etc. The degree which comes out the other side of this process will likely be under regular review to not only refine and finesse it’s content but to also take account of the constantly shifting quicksand that is the audio industry.
It is this mercurial nature that makes the industry at once so interesting to work in as it is so challenging to educate and be educated in. Having said that I find myself, in the middle as I am, enjoying being both a lecturer and a student. And that’s probably the best endorsement I can offer for a continuing audio education, however you choose to go about it.