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Reflecting on Arts Practice
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2 February 2011
Before reflecting on my practice as a whole and the theoretical principals I have learnt, I feel it necessary to include some introductory information regarding my new job role of ‘Arts Learning and Teaching Online’ (ALTO) UAL college coordinator, as a result of these changes I have refocused my learning and teaching research to concentrate on my new role which builds upon my earlier secondment and fellowship research around online learning and teaching.
As ALTO college coordinator I will contribute to the successful completion of the ALTO Project, the core of the project is concerned with the creation and sharing of Open Education Resources (OERs). The role provides a rare opportunity to observe and contrast how learning content is created, used, shared and re-purposed by staff and students within specific courses across the university and with partner institutions.
The fundamental challenge of the ALTO project is to facilitate ‘institutional change’ promoting online collaborations that address ‘the four Rs of OER and teaching and learning practice’ David Wiley (2008):
Reuse: the right to reuse the content in its unaltered/verbatim form (e.g., reduce repetition)
Revise: the rights to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself
Remix: the right to combine the original or revised content with other content to create something new
Redistribute: the right to share copies of the original content, the revisions, or the remixes with others
As part of my ALTO role I will work closely with a specific group of staff and students exploring the use of online ‘resources’ and ‘learning objects’ within the curriculum of the course using Brookfield’s (1995) four critically reflective lenses: The autobiography, our student’s eyes, our colleague’s experiences and Theoretical literature.
Before attempting to understand or view perspectives of others, I first need to understand my own, the educational theory I’ve read to date has brought about a conceptual change in how I view my practice and I can now step back and reflect on the larger picture.
For my reading review I questioned ‘how students and staff perceive and engage with open learning in the arts and how tacit and explicit knowledge can be communicated and experience online.
‘…. With the reduction of contact time and increasing class sizes, open online learning could prove essential as the dynamic of participation changes, for example tacit and explicit knowledge is structured in new ways, peer learning is encouraged, less onus is placed on the teacher and the student becomes a lot more empowered in the community of practice.’ (Reading review extract)
To explore the notion of ‘how’ and ‘why’ rich media resources could be integrated into learning and teaching methodology I first looked at my own experiences.
Although the following example only demonstrates a basic saving of time with reduced imparting of information, it highlighted and reaffirmed the potential, effectiveness and acceptance of our students to use rich media in their learning.
Example: Fine art video students were asked to watch a 10 minute video resource I posted on process.arts: http://process.arts.ac.uk/content/final-cut-pro-getting-started-1. The video demonstrates the basics of getting started using Final Cut Pro (video editing software), students pulled out their head phones, sat quietly and watched through the video, they followed the instructions, following along to the directions given, at the end they were ready to start their projects. My usual approach of demonstrating these basic tasks to the group at the beginning of class often takes twice the time and students seem to be less focused and confident about their ability, in contrast to when they are self directed. For the remainder of the class I would continue to teach as a group and offer one-to-one to those who would like to continue, primary focus would be technical understanding of the processes.
Through this experience I changed my teaching method to include a different style of interaction by reducing the time I spend ‘imparting technical information’ and instead I tried focusing on the students ability to work intuitively and independently to try and ‘work things out for themselves’ given the correct support and guidance. This approach resulted in more meaningful one-to-one exchanges about ideas and practice. There was a better understanding of how technical knowledge could be tailored to fit into the idea; ideas were driving the learning, not the process.
“Reification shapes our experience. It can do so in very concrete ways. Having a tool to perform an activity changes the nature of that activity.” (Wenger 1998: 59)
I made the following changes to my teaching approach:
- Meet with students individually to discuss their ideas and view their preparation, this is very important, ideas and processes can change quite radically at this point, there is a sense from the beginning of mutual understanding of each others practice.
- Confirm a plan of action with the student on how best next to proceed.
- Produce effective rich media online tutorials to Impart ‘generic’ technical skills to enable the students to begin their projects independently.
- Ask students to view online resources I have recommend prior to any planned teaching sessions, send resources to them via UAL email.
- Reduce ‘demonstration’ type classes in favour of Independent working, thinking and research in a ‘community of practice’ learning environment where formal and informal learning strategies are encouraged, e.g. student ‘buddying’ where conceptual or technical connections are found.
- Face-to-face, group and one-to-one discussions centred on ideas, problems and practice.
- Explore online media as means of continuing learning and teaching through the ‘community of practice’ developing formal and informal approaches to learning and teaching through presentation, communication, feedback and discussion of work and ideas using online rich media and resources.
Shreeve, chapter 4 (2008) helped me reflect on my practice and general approach to teaching, I strongly relate to the paralleling and collaborating strategies associated with category 5: Integrating:
Paralleling: ‘The tutor is in effect carrying on their own practice whilst teaching and sharing that with students’
Collaborating: This strategy is about joint activities that remove the distinction between the tutor and the student. It recognises that there is little to separate the neophyte practitioner and the tutor and the sense of power relations between them is diminished’
Shreeve’s strategies have influenced conceptual change in my practice; I am keen to explore how rich media online resource environments like ALTO can inform these strategies and enhance practice online by exploring how this approach can help course alignment and enhance deep learning.
Although technology is just a means to an end, academics will have to start thinking of how curriculum and teaching methodology could be adapted by integrating technology to better meet the needs of today’s learners and the learning styles. (Njenga and Fourie p206)
Its generally unknown how OER content is going to be repurposed and reused, its thought ALTO will attract a mixture resources, mostly granular in nature, similar to those uploaded on process.arts.ac.uk, although these standalone pieces of content are interesting they are difficult to assess in terms of ‘usefulness’ regarding learning aims, objectives and outcomes. Therefore these ‘informal’ learning resources could be dismissed as having little or no academic significance or use to the curriculum framework.
The ALTO project could facilitate the gap between ‘formal and informal’ learning online by encouraging the creation and use of ‘learning objects’ (collections of learning resources) thematic content to inform and enhance learning activities, aims, objectives, outcomes and evaluation. (See (http://ocw.mit.edu/ a leading example of this in practice)
Questions I will be exploring as part of my ongoing practice:
- How would a discipline-based, cross-university online community of practice help to overcome perceived UAL staff reluctance to create and share teaching resources in an OER environment?
- How can the student voice influence the use of online resources?
- How can rich media OER content be re-purposed by staff and students?
- How are OER resources evaluated in terms of pedagogic relevance?
Shreeve, A. (2008). Transitions: variations in tutors’ experience of practice and teaching relations in art and design. PhD Thesis, Lancaster University, Lancaster.
Biggs, J. (1999). What the student does: Teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research and Development, 18(1), 57-75.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Njenga, J. K. and Fourie, L. C. H. (2010) The myths about e-learning in higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), pp199-212
Brookfield, S. (1995) Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
David Wiley (2008): http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume45/OpennessasCatalystforanEducati/209246
 The students are now familiar with the process.arts site and are engaging with it in many different ways, as users and contributors.
 Different conceptions of teaching’ by moving away from teacher-centred and content-orientated to a student-centred and learning-orientated approach (Kember’s 1997)
 Advantages of learners in the community passing on this new knowledge quickly allowing bridges to be formed across the gap between learners - Communication gap Pg 8 - Wood, Rust & Horne 2009
I am interested in exploring how students and staff perceive and engage with open learning in the arts and how tacit and explicit knowledge can be communicated and experience online. This reading review tries to examine and reflect on these processes with reference to the first chapters of the following sources: Communities of Practice Learning, meaning and Identity, Etienne wenger (1998) and Jean Lave & Etienne wenger (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate peripheral participation.
Legitimate peripheral participation
There are specific ways of understanding learning, Lave & Wenger describe ‘Legitimate Peripheral Participation’ (LPP) as an analytical viewpoint on learning, it questions how and where learning and teaching happens, and examines the informal approaches we take through everyday ‘sociocultural’ experience. In their book Lave & Wenger (1991) use historical instances of apprenticeship to illustrate the notion of legitimate peripheral participation and describe the framework of ‘situated learning’. LPP and the notion of apprenticeship provide a useful agenda to which I can analyse and reflect open learning in my own practice and the practices of others.
The apprenticeship model relates well to the formal framework of art education where artist practitioners ‘externalise' practice, pass on knowledge in often ‘replicated’ industry like environments such as studios and workshops etc, teachers deliver formal and informal presentations, demonstrations and tutorials mostly one-to-one, face-to-face or in groups. Art education has a long tradition of ‘learning in situ’or learning by doing’’ the University of the Arts is regarded as primarily a making university and has a traditional structure of ‘old timer’ (professional artist/practitioner) teaching the ‘newcomer’ (the student) the master and the apprentice, the level of participation could be regarded as full. Lave & Wenger describe LPP as a way of talking about these relationships. To analyse the traditional structure of the practice of the university as a whole would be too much for this review and Lave & Wenger suggest the same regarding traditional schooling and emphasize there point by describing legitimate peripheral participation as not being “an analytical viewpoint on learning” but a “way of understanding learning” (Lave & Wenger 1991: 40)
On reflection, its clear learning and teaching in this environment involves a continual exchange of tacit and explicit knowledge, I am particularly interested in how we utilise this tacit and explicit knowledge. Lave & Wenger argue learning is not centralised, LPP is ‘about being located in the social world’ and the same dynamic of learning is structured into everyday life and can be experienced in groups or alone ‘learning can happen on the periphery’. How can this notion be applied to art practice and open learning?
Where is meaning located and how is it constructed?
(Wenger 1998) argues ‘practice is about meaning as an experience of everyday life’ through the process of living a constant ‘negotiation of meaning’ is performed and through practice we experience life. We practice to create meaning by:
“Taking what we know through everyday ‘doing’ extend, redirect, dismiss, reinterpret, modify or confirm – in a word negotiate a new – the histories of meanings of which they are part. In this sense, living is a constant process of negotiation of meaning.”
(Wenger 1998: 52-3)
Wenger describes ‘participation’ and ‘reification’ as a duality of two constituent processes of the ‘negotiation of meaning’ fundamental to the human experience of meaning and thus to the nature of practice.
Negotiation of meaning
I would argue a ‘negotiation of meaning’ is taking place in the process of capturing and sharing tacit and explicit knowledge online, content is made open and accessible online where users comment, contribute, repurpose and reuse. Through participation the creator/s and the contributor/s become members of a community of practice, the ‘negotiation of meaning’ is taking place, through the process and convergence of participation (users) and reification the embodiment of the ‘the resource ’ (the online content).
Participation and Reification
I am interested in the different types of participation involved in open learning or ‘social learning’. Wenger describes participation as being both ‘personal and social’ (Wenger 1998: 56) its not collaboration or ‘ just engagement in practice’ that one can turn on and off as and when you feel like. Activate participation and negotiation of meaning can be achieved alone, a contributor of an online tutorial for example or as Wenger suggests, a child doing homework, a doctor making a decision, a traveller reading a book. “The concept of participation is meant to capture this profoundly social character of our experience of life.” (Wenger 1998: 57)
In a ‘teacher centred’ art school environment practical studio based learning is negotiated between staff and students through a process of formal and informal exchange. With the reduction of contact time and increasing class sizes, open online learning could prove essential as the dynamic of participation changes, for example tacit and explicit knowledge is structured in a new ways, peer learning is encouraged, less onus is placed on the teacher and the student becomes a lot more empowered in the community of practice. Open learning provides many new and expanded communities of practice by sharing the experience of ‘negotiation of meaning’.
Wenger describes reification as ‘making it into a thing’, for example the online tutorial is a thing an illustration of an action or process is objectified, ‘with this comes negotiation of meaning’. Studio experiences and actions are reordered, reshaped and experienced a new, with the potential to change the nature of the activity itself through ‘shared experience and interactive negotiation’, a new teaching dynamic is introduced.
The duality of meaning
Wenger argues participation and reification are complementary and mutually reliant on each other and one cannot function without the other, the correct balance of each is essential, for example by giving form to tacit and explicit knowledge a new tool is created, the two process must evolve along side each other for ‘negotiation of meaning’ to take place.
Wenger, Etienne. (1998) Communities of Practice Learning, meaning and Identity. USA: Cambridge University Press
Lave, Jean & Wenger, Etienne. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. USA: Cambridge University Press
13:29 on 2 February 2011 (Edited 13:31 on 2 February 2011)