Students Teaching Us a Thing Or Two

Posted by Beverley Peterson | 8th Oct 2014

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As a family business running a busy studio as well as bringing up children, we at Pixel Air, have a vested interest in the community. When the Knutsford Studio got in touch with us towards the end of the summer with their proposal, it just felt like a good thing to do.

Asked if we would be interested in offering work experience placements to some of their new GCSE and A-Level students, we jumped at the chance.

A Brief Introduction

Part of the Knutsford Academy, students at the Studio at Knutsford wishing to follow a career specialising in digital technologies can work on their 5 core GCSEs (English, Maths and Science), whilst enjoying an industry-led course in Computing, Design, Broadcast Media, Sport and Leisure or Performing Arts, learning work-place skills alongside their regular learning.

The Future of Learning

When we, as a family, consider the career pathways that our children might pursue in the future, we recognise that University is not always the only or best option. When we heard about the Studio at Knutsford, it’s teaching and courses really appealed to us on a personal level. To have the opportunity to send our children into a high school, and for them to also be gaining work experience at the same time as studying for their GCSEs seems like a wonderful idea that we would like to know more about.

There is an amazing pressure on school-leavers to go to University and gain fantastic degrees and present impressive CVs with all sorts of qualifications to their future employers, but we have certainly found out for ourselves, as employers, that actual work experience speaks volumes louder.

Of course, this isn’t the case with all courses, and we know that University is an amazing experience in itself, but it is good to know that future students might have other options. Furthermore, those that do wish to go to University, can base their decisions upon a foundation of industry-based learning, rather than having spent the last few years sitting in a classroom and just talking about the workplace.

We feel very lucky to have the chance to offer the students at the Studio an opportunity to acquire the skills that we would like our own children to leave school with, whilst also finding out as much as we can about how the school is run and discovering more about our local community.

Born to Code

Going back a ‘few’ years to when we were in school (which wasn’t actually all that long ago), we were lucky if we had a computer to share with a peer, once a week in an IT lesson where we were taught about spreadsheets and using CD-Roms.

Going onto University, there were no web design courses. Some students opted for the Graphics Design course and pushed the boundaries to specialise in Web Design. You had to be a real enthusiast to push the boat out and practically educate yourself in coding and Flash design.

We are well aware that things have moved on since ‘our day’. Our own kids are well adept at using an iPad at the ages of 2 and 4 years old already, and their primary school is well set up with laptops and wall-mounted computers  for web-based research and independent blogging. However, we wanted to know at exactly what level and expertise students are expected to be now through their regular studies.

Our Students

We received our 2 new work placement students this month – 15 years old and brimming with confidence and enthusiasm. With impeccable manners and much appreciation, the students were very keen to work on some of our live briefs, having been given some logo design as an introduction to our office environment. We are hoping to involve some of our clients in being able to offer them some proper feedback on the work that they do for them.

The boys’ knowledge and their conceptual thinking has so far surpassed our expectations and they handled design work in Photoshop brilliantly, uploading their logos to their school server without a problem and talking about getting involved in a bit of coding on their next visit to the office.

It is genuinely refreshing to have the students working with us and bringing in their fresh ideas with an approach that we, ourselves, have long forgotten about since leaving school. It was lovely to see them go away with their logo design brief, start making sketches, talking together about concepts that we would never have thought of, and then presenting their ideas to us as a finished Jpeg.

Next Steps

As well as working with our current students over the next few months and setting them briefs and blog posts and research projects to work on – all of which we hope to publish on our main site – we are looking to engage the Studio as a whole, and to offer our services as a reference point for all of the students.

With a selection of other local businesses, we will be presenting lectures and short talks to some of the students about the true stories of what happens in business and how a design office is set up and run. It is through doing this that we hope to encourage the students to get involved in local businesses and to learn through experience as well as within the school walls.

We see no reason why all students shouldn’t feel that they come to us, as a business and as people who started out just like them, to get advice, to conduct interviews and to have their work criticised. It’s apparent that quite often students leave education with a warped sense of what goes on in the real world, heading home with a bunch a coursework folders which they got top marks for, only to discover that they don’t really have the confidence to get out there and speak to business managers or to find that they are shot down at the first interview for their lack of experience. They might suddenly realise that actually they don’t have 2 weeks to collate a sketchbook of ideas and that by the end of the day, they need to have five templates ready to show a client, not one.

We want our work experience students to leave us with a little portfolio to which they can direct their future employers which will show the live briefs they were given and worked on as part of a normal working day, and the honest (but dazzling) references we give them.

And we hope that they will continue to be in contact with us for many years to come, to come to us for advice  and then to no doubt give us advice in the future!

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