By Bethsheba Achitsa
Published April 20, 2009
Where artists and creative professionals form part of the learning community, the children are seen to be confident, focused, independent, bodily aware and socially cohesive, so says Research in Art and Design Education: Issues and Exemplars, a new book published by Intellect Books in the United Kingdom and the United States of America in 2008.
Research in Art and Design Education: Issues and Exemplars is a collection of research papers that attempts to give an overview of the current state of research in art and design education.
The 212-page book, edited by Richard Hickman, addresses all the key phases of art and design education from pre-school to university level on the premise that though the arts spectrum has a lot to be celebrated about, research in the area remains underdeveloped.
With growing interests in art-based approaches to research in art education, there are signs of emerging sophistication and self confidence in the field. Researchers continue to build upon existing strengths which makes sense as they employ tools which they are familiar with. However, Rachel Mason’s paper cautions against the tendency to embrace such methods. Instead she suggests that systematic methodologies be employed to enable this field which has been conspicuous by its absence to move from small-scale to larger funded studies that will contribute to the development of a well-functioning community of art educational practice.
Anne Bamford’s essay raises timely issues about the character and direction of research in art education, while Richard Hickman’s contribution sets a case for the use of the arts as a means of gathering and reporting educational research studies.
Further on, Rafael Denis states that other than rejoicing at the arrival and growing acceptance of arts-based enquiry within education, it is also important to acknowledge the traditional approaches of research. He addresses this as he makes a survey of the 19th century drawing manuals. On the other hand Fiona Candlin’s essay explores the most recent historical development of practice-based research in the UK.
While the purpose of research is to create a new vision of certain educational phenomena, Martyn Denscombe highlights why teachers can never make good research reports. Whereas the nature of their occupation demands that they carry out research within their work, the same environment makes it rather difficult for them to do so: the classroom approach tends to oversimplify and compromise the nature of teaching and the nature of research.
If students do not posses the skills they need, the content they wish to represent is simply not likely to emerge. Representation requires the skills needed to treat material so that it functions as a medium or something that mediates content.
In a positivist research, the researcher is expected to be detached from the proceedings; he or she should be a side line observer, impartial and not involved in the events unfolding before his or her eyes. This is particularly difficult for student teachers who are conducting their research as they have a personal stake in the success of the daily proceedings of the classroom events. Their role hinges them to subjectivity rather than objectivity; it requires them to use discretion and make judgments based on feelings rather than clear facts
It should be understood that when a researcher is in the field she or he is the learner and not the imparter of knowledge. Teachers as researchers therefore need to stand aloof and become listeners rather than talk, become an observer rather than give directions.
Dealing with research, most essayists have tried to address the theme of relationship between participants and their research studies. This is clearly outlined by Kristen Ali Eglinton in her work with youths from New York City and the UK. Through her essay, she seeks to offer a holistic and relational understanding of young people’s use of Visual Media Culture (VMC) focuses on ethnography, weaving in ideas about young people’s engagement with VMC, the role of space and place and about how to access the local lived spaces where young people, VMC, place and space intersect.
Eglinton suggests that researchers need to understand how the youth are using visual media cultures and the cultural forms around them which without understanding the researchers will always be limited in their understanding.
Similarly Bamford carries on about the younger generation as she comments about the environment. She states that children need to be placed in creative learning environments and be supplied with resources and opportunities that encourage play, critical thinking and risk-taking. They also require programmes that are child-friendly and provide occasion for guided practice and independent learning. Early childhood programmes seem to be most successful where there are strong links between government and community bodies and the child is placed at the centre of service provision.
Where artists and creative professionals form part of the learning community, Bamford says, the children are seen to be confident, focused, independent, bodily aware and socially cohesive.
In the last chapter Mei Lan Lo offers the reader a cross-cultural study of art-teacher education in Taiwan and England. This study reveals crucial facts about the nature of study that students in the two countries undergo. While that of England is more student-centred characterised by small discussion groups and independent study while teachers act as facilitators, in Taiwan the mode of study is teacher-centred, characterised by whole class lectures, teacher-led question-and-answer sessions and written assignments.
Maybe this is so because in Taiwan, the administration of teacher education is exclusively controlled by the ministry of education, while in England the ministry delegates some of its power to seven other education agencies.
Mei’s essay was not intended to single out which system is better rather it is aimed at enhancing and reassessing the strengths and weaknesses of each system to find a way forward.
While the book is written from a British perspective, it displays a more international dimension compared to the other books in the arts and design education series. Research in Art and Design Education: Issues and Exemplars consists of reports from countries like South Africa, Australia and Canada as well as other English speaking nations.
It remains significant to researchers in the other fields as the essayists also discuss how to present one’s research findings. At the end the editor provides a glossary of terms used in the book, a characteristic of a good research paper. At the end of each essay the essayists have also provided the readers with notes which give them a better understanding of what is discussed in the chapter.