Challenges to learning and teaching relations in higher education studio environments

University of Brighton Faculty of Arts Student magazine article.


Project Holders: Alison Shreeve and Ray Batchelor 
Institution: Bucks New University - Faculty of Design, Media & Management 

1. About the project 

Could you briefly outline your project’s aims? 

We are posing the research questions: how are positive relations for learning constructed in the studio? What conditions might lead to less productive learning and teaching relations and how might we circumvent them? 

In addressing the questions, we hope to provide insights which will be of value to students, and to tutors in developing productive learning and teaching relations; to generate practical resources to support this objective; and for the findings to provide the basis for papers, so that they can be more widely disseminated, specifically: 

  1. Learning resources for students (video vignettes), dissemination through student union and through Blackboard
  2. Staff development materials (video vignettes) and workshop designs
  3. Academic papers for journals such as Art, Design and Communication in Higher Education
  4. Conference presentations and workshops e.g the Higher Education Academy Annual Conference, Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) Conference, Learning Development in Higher Education Conference, etc.
  5. Potential project or workshop and seminar day at Bucks in conjunction with the Higher Education Academy / subject specialists.

2. Project progress

What would you say has been the key success of the project?

Interviews with tutors have thrown up some fascinating insights into different ways of thinking about how tutor-student relations in the studio can be made effective for students. Analysis so far suggests that there are issues around gender, around age - the difference between the ages of tutors compared with students; differences in the ages of students relative to each other and to tutors; and so on. 

Further, it would seem that there are three overlapping conceptual arenas in which students and tutors model these relationships, and that these, inevitably, overlap. Provisionally, we identify these as: the university; the discipline; and – this last is harder to label – ‘human’ relationships, those derived from family-like ties, or more diffuse notions such as ‘adult’, or ‘child’. 

Have there been any unexpected benefits as the project progressed, could you give some details?

Simply having the kinds of issues which are emerging in mind has helped inform some day to day reflections behind course development (a Programme of Masters courses in art & design, for example), responding to student feedback, addressing issues identified by tutors, and so on. 

Could you give details of any unexpected hurdles you encountered during the course of the project?

From a practical point of view, we were clear that we did not want to bias the data from students by conducting student interviews ourselves, and enlisted the help of the Student Union in identifying both volunteer student interviewers, and interviewees. In practice it has proved hard to generate this data by this means, and such interviews are being completed now (November 2011), when we had hoped they would have been available for analysis much sooner. 

More fundamentally, we now realise that we under-estimated the inherent complexity of this territory, and that our findings will, in all likelihood provide valuable pointers to further research in this area, rather than neat, unproblematic conclusions. 

3. Impact on teaching and learning

How do you believe the project has impacted on your teaching?

At present, only as a reflective tool, but we are optimistic that the concrete outcomes envisaged (see ‘Aims’, above) will have significant effects.

How do you believe future students may benefit from the project outcomes?

By clarifying some of the conceptions which inform these kinds of relationships and sharing them with both students and tutors in practical ways, we hope that some of the ‘stresses and strains’ which have been identified can be addressed, or better still, avoided; and that more productive relations can be built up over time. 

What would you consider were the potential wider community benefits from your project?

Twofold: firstly, we hope the practical materials will help students and tutors in the sector address some of these issues themselves in terms of their day to day workings, and work more effectively towards productive relations; secondly, by highlighting the critical issues around this largely unexplored area, we hope that further debate will be stimulated in the wider pedagogic research community, and that further lines of research will be opened up. 

4. Collaborative aspects of the project

How have students responded to the project?

At an individual level, students have been happy to collaborate with the student interviewers and can see the value in research of this kind. At an organisational level – that of the Student Union – there has been full co-operation, but practical issues of finding the time, and prioritising this work sufficiently have led to difficulties.

Contact Information

Alison Shreeve, Head of School Design Crafts and Visual Arts

Ray Batchelor, Learning and Teaching Coordinator - Visual and Material Culture

back to Art Design Media Learning and Teaching Projects 2011-12



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24 Jan 2012