Thanks to a Higher Education Academy Travel Award I was able to travel to Leeds College of Art today to attend their “Research, Scholarship and Pedagogy: Working with students to develop undergraduate research in Art & Design” event.

The workshop included presentations from both staff and students on their experiences and approaches to research and scholarship in art and design. By attending, I was keen to hear and discuss with colleagues where in the art and design curriculum the key principles and methodologies associated with practice-based research were taught or facilitated. More specifically I was interested in hearing directly from students about their experiences and perspectives as a result of participation. A strong thread throughout all of the presentations was the passion and commitment by all in developing mutually beneficial and respectful partnerships: something that was discussed further and at length in the afternoon group session.

Some presentations detailed collaborations and engagements with external organisations and bodies, and, interdisciplinary and inter-level working relationships on projects. Others detailed the impact on student experience when staff had used innovative and collaborative approaches with them in the delivery of teaching. While the presentations ranged widely in discipline, level and approaches the commonalities were clearly evident. The meaningful involvement of students as partners in exploring notions of research and scholarship within the curriculum can not only resonate in innovative outcomes, but also serve to break down barriers between student and teacher. This was further evident in the presentations themselves (which I feel had the greatest impact) when students talked about their preconceptions of staff, learning, their role and how these had been altered by their involvement with staff on projects.

There was much discussion both over lunch and in the afternoon group discussion session as to what were the key components for successful and meaningful engagements. Collectively, and maybe not that surprisingly the foundation of the ‘relationship’ was agreed as key. Three main components were common across all discourses: 1. Building and re/defining boundaries and roles were essential – recognizing what each stakeholder required and needed was vital. 2. Flexible Environment – the ability to arrange or alter environments, and / or create opportunities to facilitate interactions. (Effectively demonstrated during one of the presentations were all attendees had to alter the room – inclusive of re-carpeting it!). 3. Language – communication to build sharing, shared understanding and consensus. Confidence and trust, building a sense of belonging and that students felt valued were also listed as key components.

It is important to encourage debate and discussion, in particular with relation to involving students as key partners in learning innovations and research based approaches to both discipline specific and pedagogic strategies.  Sharing information on the impact this approach has had on staff and student experiences within and across institutions will hopefully open discussions about future approaches and innovations possible.

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