If you pardon, we will mend: An exploration into students’ engagement in arts-infused practice as preparation for work with children. Case Study from Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Inclusion
Lisa Shepherd, Senior Lecturer in Education, FEH, UoN
Statement of the problem
Integrating creative arts approaches in higher education (HE) is high-impact educational practice (Kuh, 2008) which can improve motivation and attendance (Kokotsaki and Hallam 2007; Younie, 2013; Girardi, 2013; Griffiths, 2013; Schwabenland, 2013; Marciniak et al., 2013; Sellers, 2013; Bond & Clark, 2013) support students to better retain knowledge (Burton, Horowitz, & Abeles, 2000), develop skills in critical thinking (Downey, Delamatre, & Jones, 2007), encourage team working (Girardi, 2013; Hopkinson, 2013; Amas et al., 2013) and support personal development (Dehouske, 2006; Russell-Bowie, 2009; Dimitra and Hallam, 2011; Amas et al., 2013; Bond & Clark, 2013; Younie, 2013; Beaumont, 2013; Sellers, 2013; Griffiths, 2013; Hopkinson, 2013; Yates & Twigg, 2017). In addition “using the arts and humanities for learning is a collaborative and embodied experience” (McIntosh, 2013, p.6) which deepens understanding of course content (Sinding et al., 2014) and the complexities of professional practice in the field (Hafford-Letchfield et al., 2012; Trevelyan et al., 2014). However student perspectives of engaging in arts-infused teaching can pose challenges to participation with a perception of activity as “childish and irrelevant” (McIntosh, 2013, P.5) to academic study. This case study report will explore the issue of negative student perceptions on arts-infused teaching practice, context of the teaching scenario will be given, followed by an exploration of both the issues and potential solutions highlighted in the relevant literature. The chosen activity implemented will be described and reflected upon before findings and recommendations are outlined.
Engagement in creative arts activity offers children and young people opportunities for personal, social and emotional development (Piaget, 1962; Singer, D. G., 1986; Sutton-Smith, 1988; Smilansky & Shefatya, 1990; Singer, J. L., 1995; Mills, 1998; Warren, 2008; Gladding, 2011). Practitioners who work with children and young people require a level of competence and confidence in their own creative ability to foster creative expression in the children they support (NACCCE, 1999; Craft, 2002; Dehouske, 2006; Russell – Bowie, 2009; Chien & Hui, 2010; Aubrey & Dahl, 2013). Leading an undergraduate module with third year students studying Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Inclusion I used arts-infused activities to examine theories of participation, play and the benefits of engagement in the arts. The module supports students through the process of designing, delivering and evaluating a creative arts project exploring inclusion with a community group.
In review of the module students gave mixed responses with some students describing sessions in highly positive terms whilst others found the approach challenging. A shared response from students was to question the value of the seminars in helping them to gain knowledge and develop understanding relevant to the assessment items for the module. In other terms they often asked ‘but how does this relate to the assignment?’.
It is an essential part of the role of university educators to continually develop their teaching approaches with the aim of “increasing the level of student engagement and retention of knowledge whilst maintaining educational quality” (Coakley & Sousa, 2013, p.1). It is desirable to provide course material which enables students to move along Bloom’s taxonomy from simply recalling knowledge to being able to analyse knowledge and synthesise this in the development of original ideas (Bloom, 1965; Krathwohl, 2012). Students may arrive at university with expectations of the university as depicted by popular media; large lecture theatres, wood panelled offices and eccentric professors, this fantasy depicting the very height of academia in their minds. The reality of small group seminars, diverse pedagogical approaches and the complexities of managing their personal and academic life can be jarring. Yates and Twigg (2016) found that engagement in creative activities as part of learning fostered confidence and developed students professional skills in team working, listening, collaboration and reflection. Despite positive findings on the learning gained from engaging in creative activities one student complained about not receiving any “formal teaching” (Yates & Twigg 2016, p.54).
Despite an array of research studies identifying positive outcomes for students “the potential for learning through the arts and culture for professional fields such as medicine or education has not been fully realized and remains in the margins” (McIntosh, 2013, p.4). Arts and culture infused practice may include embedding creative arts activities into taught sessions, utilising artistic or cultural artefacts in teaching, visiting arts and/or cultural venues and working with professional artists and/or community members. Academics in the fields of education, social work, nursing and business have successfully implemented arts and culture infused practice into teaching providing evidence of developing students confidence, skills, understanding and ability to work collaboratively (Dehouske, 2006; Russell-Bowie, 2009; Phillips & Bellinger, 2010; Keddell, 2011; Hafford-Letchfield et al., 2012; McIntosh and Warren, 2013; Trevelyan et al., 2014; Leonard et al., 2016; Yates & Twigg, 2016; Cramer et al., 2018). Considering teaching and learning in HE, beyond the embedding of arts-infused practice, facets of personal development are not often recognised by module learning outcomes and this can lead to students questioning ‘how does this relate to the assessment?’. This is a question with which I am becoming increasingly familiar, I wonder if others teaching in HE is experiencing the same?
In various sectors the arts remain perpetually on the margins (NACCE, 1999) but in the education sector the last 10 years has seen a gradual erosion of the value of study in and of the creative arts (Cooper, 2019). Students attending university in the UK today have most likely experienced education in school and college which “educates them out of creativity” (Robinson, 2006) stifling free thought and creating an attitude which sees drama, dance, art, theatre and music as the soft options for study. With this in mind it is understandable that when students studying non-arts based subjects encounter the arts in teaching at university they struggle to reignite that open, playful and curious inner child.
Furthermore there is a pervasive belief that engagement in creative arts activities is only valuable to younger children, feeding into perceptions of arts-infused practice as childish. The Henley Review (2012) made recommendations for the government to “consider how initial teacher training and continuing professional development could better foster links with cultural organisations and artists” (p.63) indicating a growing awareness of the value of creative arts practice for those who will form part of the children and young people’s workforce, but perhaps also further feeding into this limited perception around age appropriateness. The growing recognition of the value of crafting for wellbeing (Burt & Atkinson, 2012) and the mindful nature of adult colouring remind us that creative arts activity does not just service us in childhood but has a place across the life span. Nonetheless “learning through play and storytelling in later life can seem both a retrograde and challenging step” for students “feeling childish and irrelevant” (McIntosh, 2013, P.5) to their university studies.
In addition some students may find elements of art-infused practice challenging for personal and cultural reasons. Cramer et al., (2018) took social work students on field trips so they could engage with fine art to enhance understanding of the complexities of real-world experiences “and connect them with practice” (P. 354). The whole party were due to visit a museum with a collection from the holocaust but some of the students found it so repugnant that a museum would curate items from such an event they had to be offered an alternative activity (Cramer at al., 2018). Similarly when using poetry to explore issues of sexuality with an ethically diverse class of students Schwabenland (2013) noticed tensions arose around the material being discussed due to differing cultural backgrounds and faiths in the student cohort. Schwabenland’s work involved post graduate students, which is not entirely relevant to the study in question, however Hopkinson (2013) also identified that poetry can bring about “unpredictable and emotional responses” (p.106) as students make connections from their lives to the text.
Anxiety and confidence can also have an impact on students engagement with unfamiliar teaching styles (Bond & Clark, 2013; Spencer, 2013). In their literature review of the implementation of high-impact learning practices in undergraduate education Wawrzynski and Baldwin (2014) identified that students can feel intimidated or frustrated when they encounter practice which deviates from the traditional teaching styles they are used to and that a high level of support is required. Being asked to create, rather than consume, particularly when unfamiliar with arts practice, can bring about anxiety (Cramer et al., 2018) for participants. Additionally some common facets of arts-infused practice; working in a group (Stuart, 2011) and engaging with emotive materials can bring about catharsis of unexpected feelings for participants (Amas et al., 2013).
Furthermore despite the widely accepted notion that creativity is a part of the human condition (Bandura, 1997; Lucas, 2001; Kaufman & Beghetto, 2009) the concept of artist remains tied to perceptions of high skill levels and professional exhibiting of outputs. This perception can lead to students, who are not training in the arts, feeling that they cannot offer quality experiences (Anderson & Albin-Clark, 2013; Hopkinson, 2013). On Dehouske’s (2006) Aesthetics as Learning course “a complimentary relationship develops between the students appreciation and understanding of theory” as they “discover their own expressiveness” (p.188). Whilst engaged in the creative work on Dehouske’s (2001) module many of the students considered themselves to be creative individuals for the very first time.
It is also notable to consider how the stress students can find themselves under impacts on their engagement in challenging pedagogical approaches. Hockings (2009) identified that some students may be seeking surface-level learning approaches which allow them to remain passive and not challenge their own sensibilities in an attempt to manage stress levels.
If educators are enabling their students to have as best an opportunity to engage with the teaching materials offered as possible, regardless of the challenges posed, students expectations and perspectives must be taken into account and worked with rather than feared (Morgan, 2012). In order to mitigate negative student perceptions of arts-infused practice, first and foremost academics must ensure that their use of arts and culture does not come at the expense of the rigor of teaching (Warren, 2013). This perhaps extends to the choice of arts activity itself, Dehouske (2006) suggests students cannot gain understanding of the perspectives of children by engaging in the kinds of arts activities used with children. She advocates that “students can and should get in touch with their own experiences” (Dehouske, 2006, p.182) in order to find the “artist within” (Dehouske, 2006, P.295) through high quality age appropriate arts activity.
When learning experiences are perhaps considered to be informal, educators can help students to formulate links to the theoretical underpinnings of approaches through discussion and questioning which challenges preconceived notions and ideas (Anderson & Albin-Clark, 2013; Wawrzynski & Baldwin, 2014). Despite our knowing that creative opportunities offer students space to explore material in original ways and learn about themselves (Gardner, 1983) it is important critical thinking skills and pragmatic application of ideas to practice also form part of arts-infused practice within higher education (Nelson, 1999). If the links between experience, theory and practice can be made clear for students they will feel more confident embracing unfamiliar learning approaches.
Examining the literature discussing different arts-infused teaching across the HE sector there are several similarities to approaches, examining these in more depth may serve to offer further enlightenment on how we can mitigate students negative perceptions. Several practitioners discuss the need to create an environment for learning which is conducive to learning through ensuring clear boundaries (Younie, 2013; Schwabenland, 2013; Hopkinson, 2013; Spencer, 2013) and providing a containing structure (Stuart, 2013). Hopkinson (2013) suggests the learning environment for arts-infused projects must both provide a feeling of safety and containment for students whilst also challenging them to step outside of their comfort zone. The structuring of work across a term is also important to gradually introduce students to more unfamiliar and challenging creative experiences generating a “psychologically safe and supportive environment” (Dehouske, 2006, p.299). This must be considered when designing any interventions which invite students to move beyond passive learning and invest part of themselves in learning activity.
Many educators delivering arts-infused approaches apply a framework to structure modules and enable learning (Dehouske, 2006; McIntosh & Warren, 2013; Yates & Twigg, 2016). Frameworks and approaches are applied to create structures which support learners orientation onto the module and introduction to relevant concepts (Cramer et al., 2018). In particular the application of a constructionist approach featured in several pieces of the literature examined (Dehouske, 2001; Cramer et al. 2018). Constructivist learning environments offer students experiences within which they construct their own knowledge and define their own conceptual reality (Fire & Casstevens, 2013). Taking a constructivist approach models an approach which can later be applied to the facilitation of arts experiences for children and young people, provides an overarching structure and offers students opportunities to connect with learning experiences on a personal level (Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy, 1999; Dehouske, 2001). Conversely it could be considered that the freedom a constructivist learning environment offers does not provide adequate structure for students potentially provoking further anxiety.
An element of practice which recurred frequently in the literature is that of reflection, the capacity to examine one’s self and engage in a critical dialogue, a process in which a student interrogates their own thoughts and takes this learning forward into application of learning (Barnett, 1992a, p.198). The process of reflection facilitates students in challenging their long-held beliefs, through re-examining personal viewpoints students can enhance their grasp of complex issues and concepts (Brookfield, 2010). Furthermore the gap between theory and practice can be navigated through reflection (Severinsson, 1998; Johns & Joiner, 2002) as students find new meaning in their experiences and apply this to practice (Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy, 1999). Reflection is embedded within arts-infused teaching in HE to deepen understanding, make meaning between theory and practice and encourage students to attend to their own personal journeys (Dehouske, 2001, 2006; Russel-Bowie 2009; Yates & Twigg, 2016). Students may be invited to not only reflect on their learning but also the process by which their learning occurs, eliciting ongoing reflections can offer further academic outcomes (Cramer et al. 2018). On Russel-Bowie’s (2009) community and arts course reflection was used to examine three different aspects of practice forming an integral part of the framework applied to the programme.
The form reflection takes has an impact on its value in practice, Dehouske (2001, 2006), Russel-Bowie (2009) and Yates and Twigg (2017) facilitate written reflection opportunities as part of arts-infused practice. Written reflection offers students opportunities to construct their own understanding of experiences (Dehouske, 2001, 2006) and has become an established part of practice in HE (Bolton, 1999). In Yates and Twigg’s (2017) study the opportunity to complete self-reflection sheets in seminars sees students charting their own learning journey through the module in relation to their confidence in and understanding of the role of creativity in the lives of young children. Furthermore Bolton (1999) suggests reflection through creative writing enables “dynamic learning from practice” (p. 193) developing understanding, facilitating stress relief and offering opportunity for interpersonal learning.
To develop the written reflection sheet for the intervention I took Johns Model of Reflection (2001) and adapted the proposed questions to better reflect the activity of the implementation and be more ‘user friendly’ for the students (See Appendix 1). Johns (1995) developed the model drawing from the work of Carper’s (1978) four patterns of knowing; aesthetics, personal, ethics and empirics and added a fifth, reflexivity. Under these headings he proffers a range of questions to support the reader in navigating the model (Johns, 2001). It was these headings which drew me to the model for this exercise believing that they encourage personal reflection whilst simultaneously enabling the student to make connections to the academic and practical applications of their personal learning and development.
Based on the findings from reviewing the literature it appears that, alongside considering containment in planning and the application of frameworks, reflection in a written form has been successfully utilised as part of arts-infused practice to help students assimilate theory and practice.
Following a review of relevant literature, a 2-hour intervention using arts-infusion activity was planned.
The intervention involved students in activities to decorate a mask in the image of an aspect of themselves, although free expression was also encouraged. During the making activity I took the role of facilitator, I did not prompt any discussion instead allowing themes to emerge from the participants. Following making the mask a sheet devised for capturing reflections based on Johns (2001) model was given to each student to complete. Students were able to complete the reflection sheets outside of seminar time and there was no expectation for them to be shared with the tutor or other students once completed. The seminar was observed by a colleague who knows the module well, they are given a mask and encouraged to take part in the making activity and to complete a reflection sheet if they wish.
A recurrent theme within the literature was the used of reflection as a tool to deepen understanding of both the materials explored and the students own learning process (Dehouske, 2001, 2006; Russel-Bowie, 2009; Yates & Twigg, 2016). Prior to the intervention eliciting feedback on arts-infused experiences across the module had been completed verbally through questioning and creative approaches such as offering gestures and sculpts. The author hoped that engaging in written reflection may support students to more clearly see the links between activities and the relevant theory, assuring them of the academic rigor of approach. I was particularly interested in facilitating reflection through creative writing (Bolton, 1999) but felt that this would perhaps be a step too far for students who are seeking surface engagement in familiar modes of learning (Hockings, 2009; Wawrzynski & Baldwin, 2014; Cramer et al., 2018). In addition, Bleakley (2000) identifies issues of ethics, subjectivity and confessional writing can prove to make this approach appear “sloppy” (p. 14) which would be counterproductive to the aims of the implementation.
Eight students attended the session, which is just over half of those registered on the module. Those who are dedicated and interested in in the field attend regularly and made up the attendees on the day of the intervention. Despite their commitment these students still face barriers to engaging in art-infused teaching methods; when the activity was introduced I was greeted with a subtle but palpable groan.
The role of masks in creative group work was introduced and students engage in some discussion around their own relationships to masks expressing fear or being ‘creeped out’, having made some in the past as participant in creative arts activity or being in a supportive role in other contexts. A video is used during this introduction but unfortunately the sound does not work. I try a few things to try and resolve this but am unsuccessful, a student accesses the video via the online resources which have been made available commenting that it ‘sounds good’. I give an overview of the video content highlighting a salient learning point and encourage the students to access the video following the session.
Moving into the mask making activity marked a physical movement across the room denoting a change in approach alongside acting as a threshold to safely contain any thoughts of feelings which may arise during the creative activity (Bion, 1963). This shift is embedded in response to findings from the literature highlighting the importance of ensuring effective boundaries are used to create an environment conducive to learning. All students moved into the mask making area quickly, they started to explore the materials available without prompting. Some showed a little apprehension about touching the mask shapes which have been provided stating that they find them a little ‘creepy’. There was some excitement about the materials with students expressing that they ‘love feathers’ or saying ‘ooo there’s paint’.
When given the prompt to make the mask in response to an aspect of themselves, some stopped their exploration of the materials and expressed that they now did not know what to do. In response I said that it was up to them if they wished to use the prompt or not, if they wanted to work without a theme or to an alternative theme that was fine. Some started working on their masks straight away, others took a couple of minutes to peruse the materials before beginning and one sat looking at their mask for a good few minutes. They did not say anything and appeared to just be thinking on what to do. The student next to them prompted some discussion about what to do, offering suggestions, with this support the student started to work on her mask.
During the mask making activity the students were focused with some limited discussion between them. They discussed the sharing of materials with calls for ‘is there a blue’ or ‘red’ tube of paint across the table and they also talked about their masks as they made them commenting on what looked good and making suggestions for development. Initially I did not take part in the activity, but one of the students asked, ‘are you not going to make one?’. I responded by asking if the student would like me to join in, three of the students said that they would so I picked up a mask and started to draw on it. In the role of facilitator and lecturer this felt uncomfortable, it was the shift of focus away from observing proceedings to engagement in a creative process which may cause me to access personal material in a context within which I do not deem it appropriate. In this moment I felt a sense of hypocrisy; I was asking students to access creative activities in a setting within which they may not deem it appropriate, but of course they are in the role of student and me lecturer. This incidence will be explored further in light of the relevant literature in the reflections section.
The students spent more time than was expected on the masks, I choose not to move them onto the reflection phase of the activity instead encouraging some verbal reflections during the clean-up. Three students offer their reflections discussing; how they at first did not know how to begin but were ‘ok once they were into it’, their general enjoyment of the activity and how they might or might not use a similar approach in practice. I gave the students the reflection sheet to take away with them to complete. I offer reassurance that this is not an assessed facet of the activity and it was not necessary to share their reflections with teaching staff but suggests reflecting on their participation in the activity would be beneficial.
Facilitating the implementation session and reflecting upon it through the peer observation process illuminated on the knowledge taken from the literature review. Issues of technical difficulty and time management highlighted the need for careful consideration and organisation when facilitating art-infused teaching (Stuart, 2013; Hopkinson, 2013). Although the video use was with within the introductory discussion phase of the session so it’s failure could be mitigated easily I am acutely aware of the need to test technologies in advance, this would have been a much more difficult situation to manage if the video was a key source of stimulation for other activity.
Making the decision to take part in the activity or not as facilitator proved tricky, it was felt that the students perhaps experienced myself as an outsider through my initial non-participation and there was certainly a level of uncomfortableness felt through the fact one person in the room was not participating. On one side I feel strongly that it is not appropriate for a teaching professional to engage in activity with students which may elicit personal material, even if this is through metaphorical means. On the other hand I am drawn back to Russel-Debowie’s (2009) discussion of teachers connecting with their own ‘inner artist’ if they wish to facilitate children to do the same and can see the benefits of easing student anxieties by being willing to take part in activities which I am asking them to do. Additionally, Younie (2013) and Hopkinson (2013) both advocate authenticity and honesty when facilitating students through arts experiences. Perhaps in this context it was vital that I assured my students of the validity of arts-infused practice by partaking, maybe the message this act gives is one which contends against the perceptions of marginalisation, immaturity and lack of value associated with the arts.
Something which I perhaps overlooked in my planning of the implementation was that I would not necessarily be able to view the students completed reflection sheets. I assumed that they would be completed during the session and discussed anonymously. In the work explored in the literature review the written reflection element of the work forms part of an assessed workbook which is viewed by the lecturer (Russel-Debowie, 2009; Yates & Twigg, 2016) and can be commented upon in feedback. On this module students are expected to complete some written reflection as part of their second assignment, a project report, however this is on the experience of facilitating creative arts sessions in community settings. I wonder if a development based on this experience maybe to embed a short written reflective exercise after each arts-infused lecture which supports students in developing their skills in reflection and can be submitted as part of their assignment so I can view and comment upon it whilst maintaining confidentiality.
Evaluation of findings
The overarching findings of this experience focus around the complexities of the nature of this type of practice, it requires a lot of thought and hard work to successfully embed arts-infused learning into teaching, particularly in a marketised and regulation driven arena such as HE (Brown, 2015). When students express displeasure at this innovative way of working, desiring instead to engage in surface level learning, it can be disheartening for the lecturer impacting on their confidence to continue innovating in their practice. Yet there is an element of trial and error inherent in this work, which one can see in the literature from educators who have spent many years honing their teaching practice. Even with the limited size of the implemented activity I can vision several developments which need to be implemented and reviewed.
From an institutional perspective teaching staff are encouraged to “create a unique learning and teaching model” (The University of Northampton, 2015, p.4) which develops changemaker attributes in students and supports the universities mission to have a social impact in the county (The University of Northampton, 2015). The arts-infused learning experiences I am crafting and implementing across my teaching remit meet these strategic aims and I feel encouraged by the institution to try new approaches. However another institutional aim which must be considered is that of giving students an experience at university which is of the highest quality (The University of Northampton, 2015). Although I would personally contend that arts-infused experiences offer “a personalised, emotional connection that transcends quality” (The University of Northampton, 2015, p. 5), the student voice must be heard and in this case students are perhaps communicating that this teaching is not what they want. As educators how do we manage the perceptible groan that comes when we ask students to step outside of their comfort zone and try something different; listen to it and give students what they want or support students to develop by giving them a little nudge outside of their comfort zone?
As demonstrated in the literature review arts-infused practice in HE offers students many benefits both in academic and personal development. From examining the literature and considering my own experiences I would suggest that arts-infused practice is embedded into teaching but also considered in light of the commercialisation of the higher education sector. Modules utilising approaches should give careful consideration to students’ perceptions by; maintaining academic rigor and explicitly communicating this to participating students, mapping activity in all forms across a module to learning outcomes, make tangible links to assessment items and engaging in an ongoing reflective process both for the students and with the students in the development of the module.
On a personal note the implication of approaches based on research into literature has helped to reignite the flame which fuels my continued development of teaching practice through employing arts-infused approaches. The interest in exploring this topic came from experiences which had knocked my confidence and dampened the enthusiasm I have for the field. Although not perhaps as tangible a finding as identifying a new framework or approach to implement confidence plays a vital role in the continued development of practice. Through the process of peer observation (See appendix 2) I have certainly developed my confidence and been prompted to further reflect on my teaching practice. These facets of personal development will have a big impact professionally as I continues to research, plan, implement and review innovative approaches which offer students an enriching experience during their university studies.
Firstly I would like to recommend that the field of arts-infused practice in the UK is further developed if we wish to begin the journey of re-valuing the arts in education. A top down approach, with universities leading the way, would start to develop confidence in educators of the academic value of the arts across all subjects. If those, who could be considers to be the elders of education, clearly state that the creative arts have value across the lifespan and are a means of making learning accessible at all levels, the message and best practice would trickle downward, perhaps even filling some of those holes which represent the challenges of educating the 21st century learner.
There are several recommendations the author suggests in support of the overarching recommendation outlined above:
It is important to make visible the practice which is already happening across the UK, a network may serve to both share practice and support development. This could take the form of an online blog and chat forum which showcases practice and encourages discussion between members on successes and challenges. Further to this the network could also develop live events such as conferences and working groups. A network is suggested to build educator confidence, offer support and ensure that practice shared is current. Additionally this digital collection of materials becomes a supportive archive for educators to share with stakeholders who need assurance of the value and rigor of practice.
Collaboration across disciplines could support the development of high-quality experiences, involving professional artists or working across faculties/subject areas to bring together the specialists in the field can help to develop courses which embed arts infused practice. Teaching projects explored in the literature review often saw work crafted by those with dual skills in the arts and their subject area. The creative arts are accessible to all but there is also an arts industry full of highly talented and rigorously trained individuals. Engaging with professional artists would lift the profile of seminars for students; ‘this is not my usual lecturer doing something different, this is a professional from the field working with me’. This approach would also serve to develop students understanding of the value of working with professional artists in their future careers.
Another area I would perhaps like to explore further is the possibility of embedding artistic means of assessing students into non-arts subjects. It requires careful thought on managing student anxieties about being assessed in an unfamiliar form and how much of a role artistic skills demonstrated have on grade achieved, but it could highlight to students how the arts can be used to not only explore but demonstrate their knowledge of underpinning concepts and theories. Assessment in this mode already forms parts of various programmes across the sector, even in her limited experience of HE the author has seen elements of photography, graphic design, filmmaking and creative writing form part of undergraduate student assessment, mainly at level 4. What if a painting replaced a 2000- word essay on the nature of childhood in the UK today? Or a critical examination of literature took the form of a musical overture? If we can dance our PhD (Bohannon, 2011) perhaps we can also draw, paint, sculpt, stage or rap our assessments across higher education.
To summarise I would like to highlight the key points of learning which came from my engagement with the literature and the execution of the implementation to offer colleagues an overview of my exploration. I have collated this into an image depicting a student and lecturer engaging in an arts-infused learning experience. The key aspects of what impacts student perceptions and what lecturers can do in their facilitation to mitigate these perceptions have been highlighted (see Figure 1). For clarity I have also provided a more detailed tabled list of the text in the image under the headings of student perceptions and lecturer facilitation (see Figure 2). I believe the symbolism in the image enhances the list and the two should be viewed together.
Figure 1: Arts-infused practice in HE
Figure 2: Collated table of key facets of student perceptions and lecturer facilitation of arts-infused practice in HE
In Shakespeare’s (1992) A Midsummers Nights Dream Puck’s final soliloquy apologised for the magical journey the audience have been taken on, describing the rest the play as a “weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream,” before he suggests that perhaps the magic can heal; “Gentles, do not reprehend: If you pardon, we will mend:” (Shakespeare, 1992, p. 154 ). On concluding this report I was drawn to this quote, it could be interpreted that Puck is referring to theatre itself, the use of metaphor to explore themes, the arts. Maybe if they could take form the arts would apologise for at times being inaccessible and elitist, for more often than not posing more questions than there are answers and for pushing us to view, feel and explore that which makes us feel most uncomfortable. If we the gentles, the educators, society, can pardon the arts by giving it the respect it deserves then maybe it can offer the innovation, creativity and development which will offer healing in not only education but across sectors.
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