James Shaw's story – Bath Spa University

James Shaw teaches on the Skills Bootcamp in Creative Computing and brings his freelance skills and design knowledge together to support students.

Over the past few years, James Shaw has worked with Bath Spa University in various ways, including working on projects for The Studio, being a creative mentor at EMERGE, and teaching on the Skills Bootcamps. James also runs his own freelance graphic design business. He’s currently completing a Master’s in Graphic Design at Falmouth University to help build on his existing design skills and take them in a new direction.

Giving students an insight into freelance work

I set up my freelance business five years ago, which predominantly works with startups and small to medium-sized enterprises. I support these small businesses with brand design and internal brand materials, both nationally and internationally. Businesses are beginning to think more about the balance between freelance work and full-time roles, and a lot of our Skills Bootcamp students have expressed interest in freelance roles or starting their own businesses. Towards the end of the 12 weeks of the Skills Bootcamp I start discussing freelance opportunities with my students, suggesting places to look for work and signposting them to the different directions they can take.

This is something I’ve done with the previous Skills Bootcamp cohorts and I’ve found my students appreciate hearing from someone who has experience in the creative freelance industry. They benefit from hearing about what I'm currently practising in my business and always want to know more about what I’m doing and the live projects I’m working on. I’m able to give them real insights into the world of freelance work, and seeing them get excited about what’s happening is really interesting to me.

“We emphasise for our students to not throw away ideas they think are bad, because these often inform future projects.”

Getting involved with the Skills Bootcamps

I actually completed a six-week bootcamp a couple of years ago covering advice and guidance, as I wanted more support around my teaching skills. Although it was short, I got a lot out of it and received useful directions and resources from the teachers. I think the short 12-week programme builds your skills and is a really cool and interesting approach to teaching. When Bath Spa University reached out to me last year and told me about this upcoming opportunity on the Skills Bootcamp in Creative Computing, I jumped on board.

I bring my skills in ideation, design development and design process to the course. We’ve found a really nice balance between the more creative side of the course, which I cover, and the web development and tech side, which my colleague Amira teaches.

We’ve developed the course so the 12 weeks are designed to act like a real life project process, in which students can document their weekly progress and learn a different skill each week. I also support the project management side of things and help the students to plan their projects.

One of the most important parts of the design process covered on the Skills Bootcamp in Creative Computing is ideation. Ideation is the process of creating ideas freely without any judgment, especially in UX design. Unfortunately, it’s very common that if you're at a team meeting, people will just naturally think of something in their head but they won't say it because they think it's a silly idea. But actually, those are sometimes the best ideas. Our job is to create an environment that allows our students to generate ideas without judgment and give them the confidence to share those ideas. There are a lot of techniques and tools within ideation that can be put to students and put to teams to generate a lot of ideas, from simple eight-minute activities to more complex mind mapping around a given brief. We’ve found that all the ideas that have turned into prototypes and projects have come from the sessions around ideation, so we’ve increased our focus on this.

“I think 12 weeks is a good amount of time to develop your skills and your ways of thinking, whilst also fitting learning around your busy schedule.”

The success of the Skills Bootcamps

The evolution of learning

What I enjoy about teaching on the Skills Bootcamp in Creative Computing is that no two cohorts are the same because we get students from all walks of life. There have been teachers, electricians and even chefs who have wanted to focus on a completely different career path and have brought their existing skills to this course. So in a way, we learn from them as well. It’s also exciting how the course is constantly evolving. We’ve developed the core content but we listen to our students and can cover topics such as ideation and UX testing in greater detail if that’s what our students are interested in.

We’re aware that a lot of our students have busy lives outside of the course. However, even those who've had to juggle the responsibilities of childcare or work alongside the course have had just as successful outcomes. It’s really rewarding when you get feedback from students and they talk about what they've learned, or how they've implemented something that you've discussed, even if it's something really small. The fact that we can deliver something this impactful over 12 weeks online is really impressive.

Getting people into work

I think these 12-week programmes are really important and fit well into my ethos about careers. I believe you can improve your existing skills by completing these shorter courses alongside freelance or part-time work. Anything that supports student development is beneficial in my opinion, especially if they can get a lot out of it at little or no financial cost to themselves. Some job descriptions are even starting to mention Skills Bootcamps, as employers are realising the value of these courses. I saw one recently that wanted either background experience or the development of working within a creative Skills Bootcamp such as UI and UX design. A lot of our students have gotten jobs and it’ll be exciting to see what they go on to achieve.

The move towards a digital environment

I think the course being online is great for those who are lacking in confidence, as they may not have applied had the sessions been face to face. Presenting and pitching your ideas in person is a daunting task and would have put a lot of our students off, however, now they can present digitally. Even those who were reluctant to present and talk to the group with their cameras on eventually came around because of the security that being online offered.

The past couple of years have also seen a huge shift towards businesses scaling down their in-person working, instead favouring remote work. This Skills Bootcamp provides the students with a set of digital soft skills that they may not get anywhere else, such as learning the tools needed for online interviews, how to navigate Google Meet and how to present digitally. Learning how to work online is a completely different experience than what most of our students are used to, but completing this course prepares them for the ever growing digital environment.

“We’ve found that those that really don't like being on camera or aren’t confident in speaking have been able to overcome that during the online sessions.”

Advice to those considering a Skills Bootcamp

People skills underpin the 12-week course. Students learn how to talk about their work, work as a team and how to talk to other people. If you're rethinking a career or bolstering up an existing career, getting that confidence to talk about your work, apply for these jobs, and go forward with ideas is really important. Before I applied for the advice and guidance bootcamp, I had it saved on my desktop for so long and kept putting it off. However, I knew that it would support what I was doing currently and would only build on my existing skills so I bit the bullet and applied.

There are no right or wrong answers as you’re there to learn and explore ideas around UI and UX design. We, as lecturers, are there to support the students in all aspects of careers and skills throughout every stage of the 12 weeks. To make it less daunting we split into smaller groups and teach one on one, which also allows you to make the course your own and focus on what you want to learn.

Outside of teaching hours, the Skills Bootcamps students also have a Slack channel which they can use to contact us about topics they have questions about or want more resources on. More importantly, it’s a place where they can talk to each other at any time, and we’re in the process of setting it up so that students from past cohorts can chat and see what they’ve all achieved. It’s really nice to see the students support each other and build this online community. A nice example of this is ten students from our most recent cohort have set up weekly Friday meetings online. During these, they get together and explore topics covered on the Skills Bootcamp in greater detail. They’re planning to meet up in person in the future and it’s amazing to see the friendships and networks that grow from the course.

“If you’re really thinking about applying, then it's obviously something that you want to pursue. My advice is to just give it a go and see what happens.”

About James

One of the things I really enjoy at the moment is discovering and uncovering creative opportunities within mundane things. I’m currently doing service design for a project to rewild a local pond and get the community involved in the restoration. Outside of work I’m a very creative person and try to look for creativity in everything I do. I’m very interested in the creative initiation of projects and getting people involved which is why I enjoy working with EMERGE. Working with EMERGE allows me to support creative businesses and individuals and help to see them succeed in securing opportunities.

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