Rebecca Heaton on Art and Design Education

Investigating cognition in the creative arts.

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#EdDConf16

On 25th June 2016 Cambridge University EdD students collaborated to participate in the annual Education Doctoral conference. This years theme resonated around the concept of reflexivity. The thinglink below shares a research community contribution from participants in the Well-being and Creativity Research Group. I had the role of collating the groups contributions into this thinglink design to share our contributions during a presentation. In this post I will summarise the conference experience and will discuss how aspects of the conference resonate with my own research on cognition. 

Using the thinglink above I hoped to generate an artefact that would fuel aesthetic discourse around our groups key contributions. The artwork which hosts the groups content is a visual metaphor for our evolving EdD experience. All members of our group are on individual and collaborative research journeys, these journeys can be turbulent and frequently change direction, as a result of reflexivity the map like structure articulates this. Maps can be read or interpreted in different ways, you can take different routes to reach similar destinations and you can be influenced by people or experiences en route, this parallels with a doctorate. Different themes and events hold significance for each group member and these are shared through hotspots on the multimedia thinglink.

Conference Key Themes:

Word cloud

A few of the key concepts that were explored at the conference include: a) The meaning of reflexivity in a modern world, b) Reflexivity of the self, practice and professions and c) Physical and digital writing strategies. The word cloud above also depicts other themes discussed.

Professor Pat Thompson started the conference with a keynote concerning reflexive strategies in the contemporary world, a significant statement made was that we are all reflexive beings in todays life. Her presentation focused on how to deal with this in relation to research and how research can assist us in making informed choices about educational practice. The three images below further illuminate the messages touched upon.

Image one illuminates different forms of reflexivity, to contribute to this I am aware that reflexivity has been defined as a cause and effect process (Scott and Morrison, 2005) which can affect both the researcher and researched. When writing reflexively, through an artistic, poetic or as I believe technologic self, fluidity in research stories can be articulated (Reed-Danahay, 1997; Spry, 2001). This blog for example acts as an element of my personal reflexive self, in which as Pat Thompson suggests different modes of reflexivity may emerge. It would be interesting to analyse blog content in relation to reflexive forms to identify how I use this within my own research practice, an area in which the conference has evoked my thinking.

Image two moves the keynote story forward to consider how blogging the doctoral self contributes to the reflexive process. Suggestions made included scholary presence, knowledge sharing, the valuable nature of slow thought and pleasure. I can empathise with these ideas, blogging has enabled me to explore who I am as an art educator, this identity is still emerging. It  provides a platform to share thinking as it develops, enables a step back, self reflection and brings pleasure, if I’m honest tension also emerges-mainly in relation to what content or how much to share. But the ability to blog is proving so valuable to me as a multi-media tool to engage all components of myself: artist, teacher, researcher, learner, writer etc. in my doctoral story. To contribute to the consideration of how blogs can be used and analysed in higher education myself and colleague Helen Caldwell have recently published an article exploring this domain. Caldwell, H. and Heaton, R. (2016). The interdisciplinary use of blogs and communities in teacher education. The International Journal of Information and Learning Technology. 33.3, 142-158. 

Image three determines a selection of the different categories doctoral blogs can come under, this led to discussions about how social media and a digital presence in general influences and impacts upon the doctoral self. Grushka (2007) discusses how exhibitions provide glimpses into artists’ worlds, enabling interpretations and reflections on the self and society whilst providing validation of self knowledge. As an artist and blogger, I feel this transcends across to my own discipline, if Joseph Beuys is correct stating we are all artists, then we are all able to exhibit our reflexive self, it is how we do this which becomes influential.

The messages shared in Professor Thompson’s keynote were revisited, revised and remodelled throughout the conference. EdD community groups presented, as identified in the thing link above, posters were shared and student presentations made. The conference became a web of connectivity and reinforced the value of reflexive collaboration in EdD journeys.

Conference Cognition:

In relation to how my own cognition developed through this experience I can honestly say that I am beginning to understand some of the ways in which I think (Sternberg and Sternberg, 2012), I am gaining awareness of my own consciousness as an art educator (Eisner, 2002). For example the narrative of this blog is helping me to make cognitive connections between my ideas whilst helping me to build an identity and awareness of my own culture and position in it. Learning connections are being made by writing and sharing digital content, this is fuelled by the reflexive process (Sullivan, 2005), I am capturing the movements of my mind in a two fold reflexive process by reflecting on experiences then reflecting upon these reflections. This strategy, which I have only just become aware of (an example of miscognition (Tavin, 2010) perhaps) is the entity which is helping me to understand how I am learning and engaging actively with my own transcognition (Sullivan, 2010).

References:

Caldwell, H. and Heaton, R. (2016). The interdisciplinary use of blogs and communities in teacher education. The International Journal of Information and Learning Technology. 33.3, 142-158. 

Eisner, E. (2002). The arts and the creation of mind. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Grushka, K. (2005). Artists as reflective self‐ learners and cultural communicators: an exploration of the qualitative aesthetic dimension of knowing self through reflective practice in art‐ making, Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 6:3, 353-366. DOI: 10.1080/14623940500220111

Reed-Danahay, D. (ed) (1997). Auto/ethnography: Rewriting the self and the social. Oxford: Berg.

Scott, D. and Morrison, M. (2006). Key ideas in educational research. London: Continuum.

Spry, T. (2001). Performing auto-ethnography: An embodied methodological praxis. Qualitative Inquiry, 7, 706-732. Retrieved from: http://qix.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/7/6/706

Sternberg, R. Sternberg, K. (2012) Cognition. (6th ed.) Canada: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Sullivan, G. (2005, 2010). Art practice as research. (1st and 2nd eds.). London: SAGE

Tavin, K. (2010). Six acts of mis-cognition: Implications for art education. Studies in Art Education,52.1, 55-68.

 

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Specificity in doctoral writing

Transcognition and miscognition exist when art educators curate thought

The headline above intends to be specific about the focus of my doctoral study. Capturing the essence of a 5 year study in one headline is not an easy endeavour. Yet to be specific in your doctoral writing is essential to keep the reader focused, to show your own academic confidence and to add specificity to your writing. These were key messages that hit home after attending Karen Littleton’s and Pam Burnard’s session on writing tools and practices at Cambridge University on 2nd June 2016.

Why is academic confidence important in doctoral writing?

When writing a doctorate you are narrating a story, you have experienced this piece of research whole heartedly so it needs to be told in this manner. You choose elements of the story to share so it is necessary to be confident when retelling this, obviously stories can be told in multiple ways, so adding justification to your choice can help to articulate why you told this particular story. Retelling it through different lenses, for example the theoretical, cultural or personal, can also help to identify your confidence showing how you understand multiple perspectives on your own research.

Other ways you can show confidence include providing specific signposts in your work, writing with authority, explaining choices, being specific about which concepts to foreground and background and expressing confidence in your own knowledge exchange. With all of these components to think about it is no wonder writing can seem like a daunting process. However this particular writing session led me to realise that we all narrate in our own way, that ‘writing’ or ‘narrating’ research comes in many forms and what is most important is confident expression of voice, particularly important in autoethnography, my own form of research.

Which voice will narrate your story?

Along with lenses the expression of different voices can also help demonstrate confidence, it can show your ability as a researcher to address your research from different perspectives, make connections between your findings and increase accessibility. Again though, you need to be specific about why these particular voices were chosen to articulate your understanding. When you establish a writing position readers are more able to reflect on personal experiences in relation to yours (Sparkes, 1996).

I see the role of art educators as multifaceted, I could therefore have a voice as an artist, teacher and researcher and could articulate my research journey from each of these standpoints. Voicing autoethnographic research from these perspectives enables my experiences to be related to the cultural context of the art educator (Richardson, 2000), other ways I attempt to achieve this is by telling my story in relation to that of other art educators using participatory research and by using art as a medium to articulate. The gallery below demonstrates some examples of how I have been using visuals and journalling to express a research voice, to act as an artist and to identify myself as a learner.

Another way of considering voice is to think about at which point in time you are articulating your research, are you responding to scenario’s and experiences that occur? or are you are looking back? One could suggest you are being reflexive if adopting these practices creating cause and effect scenarios (Scott and Morrison, 2006). Reflexivity is powerful because it can also engender action (Suillivan, 2005) changing the direction of research.

The role of specificity: 

With research outputs judged on originality, significance and rigour, being specific is essential to make claims and valuable contributions. It is easy as a doctoral researcher to go off tangent, there are always interesting avenues to explore. But writing in relation to your own focus and defending this is key to tightening research stories and demonstrating confidence, Karen Littleton explained. In my own research I attempt to achieve this by mobilising theory around cognition in an art educators practice. For example if I reflect on this post I have mentioned the notion of reflexivity in my artwork helping the articulation of my own learning and thinking, I could be exemplifying here how I am utilising the symptoms and sinthomes of miscognition (Tavin, 2010) because the artwork and blog narration I have created has unconsciously enabled me to create new knowledge about my own research experiences in an unconscious way. I could also suggest this post is enabling me to think about my own writing practices as a doctoral researcher by exemplifying how I am using the transcognitive processes of thinking through a medium, language and context (Suillivan, 2005) because the multi-media blog is enabling me to share the mediums of my practice to model thinking. I am using written and visual languages to articulate and the blog itself is a cultural context for other art educators to interact with. I exemplify here the importance of specificity to make research relevant, focused and rigourous. This leads me back to my opening headline for this post, I have attempted to exemplify here some small ways that transcognition and miscognition exist when I, the art educator, curate thought.

References:

Richardson, L. (2000). Writing: A method of Inquiry. In N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research. (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Scott, D. and Morrison, M. (2006). Key ideas in educational research. London: Continuum.

Sparkes, A. (1996). The fatal flaw: A narrative of the fragile body-self. Qualitative Inquiry, 2.4, 463-494.

Sullivan, G. (2005). Art practice as research. (1st and 2nd eds.). London: SAGE

Tavin, K. (2010). Six acts of mis-cognition: Implications for art education. Studies in Art Education, 52.1, 55-68.

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