The Artistic Research Teaching Employability Nexus: Extending the nexus to students

By Associate Professor Diana Blom & Professor Dawn Bennett

Writing twenty years ago, Neumann (1996) questioned the existence of a nexus between research and teaching roles. Reviewing the literature up until the late-1980s, she asserted that few academics find a nexus because of the privileging of research over teaching. From the 1990s, however, she found the research-teaching nexus to be bi-directional and multi-level, with many students identifying the nexus as an opportunity for scholarly interactions. Since then, the nexus has been confirmed and extended by drawing in further issues such as learning (see Buckley, 2011) and scholarship (see Musthafa & Sajila, 2014). In the arts, the artist academic also incorporates an arts practice. We have argued previously (Bennett, Wright & Blom, 2010) that this inclusion extends the nexus to encompass artistic research and teaching (ART). This short discussion paper retains the focus on the artist academic and further extends the ART nexus through the addition of employability.

We draw on four extant articles to illustrate how the thinking has developed over the past 20 years. We begin with Buckley (2011), whose UK research with staff and undergraduate students in sport-related degrees found both groups to agree that learning and research complement one another. Both also agreed that “ownership and control of the research process” (p. 316) lay with academic staff, and that research was a privileged activity for postgraduate students and staff. Students, however, held “different views from staff on the nature of learning and research and the relationship between these two concepts” (p. 318), with the differences highlighted by their focus on learning rather than teaching.

Discussion of the research-teaching nexus highlights several issues for higher arts education. These include the centrality of practice-based education. . . to the nexus; scholarship, which broadens the nexus. . . ; curricular design. . . ; and the potential for students to be partners in developing the metacognition required for graduate life.

Buckley highlights the need to introduce the research process in the early stages of undergraduate learning with research focussed on the interests of both staff and students. Drawing on the work of Healey and Jenkins (2009), who advocate for undergraduates to engage in research, Buckley finds that the research process engages students in the skillful knowledge and practices (Knight & Yorke, 2004) that will enhance their employability. This has since become an international initiative to include students as partners in the learning process (see, for example Matthews, 2016 and the Journal of Student Engagement in Higher Education[i]).

Musthafa and Sajila (2014, p. 134) speculate that the missing link between teaching and research is scholarship: “Good scholarship, in the sense of remaining aware of the latest research and thinking within a subject, is essential for good teaching”. The authors return to Boyer’s (1969) idea of four scholarships: those of discovery (research itself); integration (connections across ideas and disciplines); application (applying knowledge in the community); and teaching (pedagogically informed to encourage active learning). The latter scholarship recognises that teachers are also learners, and that with students they can co-construct learning about, and through, research. This theme is further extended by Brew and Jewell (2012, p. 56), who contend that academic developers have a crucial role to play in the effective design and delivery of undergraduate research, specifically managing “the unconventional dynamics undergraduate research and inquiry brings into academic relationships”.

Seeking a stronger nexus between research and, teaching practice in the training of allied health professionals, Asokan (2012, p. 227) emphasises practitioners’ reliance on the “advice of supervisors and colleagues, personal experiences, authoritative theory and texts”. Asokan identifies a “research-practice gap” (p. 227) and argues for curricula in which sources of information combine with evidence-based practice drawn from research. This, he says, will result in both more autonomous decision making and greater credibility of practitioners.

The past 20 years has seen a growing interest in artistic practice as research, driven in part by the inclusion of creative works in the Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) Framework. This has incorporated discussions of practice-based, practice-led and practice-as research methodologies as well as research outcomes and outputs. Working as artists in academia, we (Bennett, Wright & Blom, 2010) drew on our own artistic experience to interview 14 artist-academics from a range of static and performative arts practices. We also reviewed the literature in which artists in academia discussed their experiences.

. . . the centre of the nexus—certainly where it flourishes—is located in the work that circumvents the false dichotomies and silos often separating disciplines, theory, practice, teaching and learning, and careers beyond the university. That this also lies at the core of effective arts practice suggests the potential for the arts to take the lead.

Investigating the research-teaching nexus, we found a strong, multi-directional connection between arts practice, teaching and research at undergraduate and graduate levels. In addition to the challenges raised earlier, however, we highlighted the time pressures of artist-academics who struggle to ‘do it all’; the low institutional value of artistic practice; and the different ‘languages’ of research, practice, teaching one’s practice, and evidencing practice for research evaluation. Engagement with research was not always positive, but positive outcomes included new thinking that emerged from conceptualising one’s practice using a different lens; discussing aspects of practice with the broader research community; and increased advocacy that ‘performative research’ (Haseman, 2007) is a valid research paradigm. From this research, we posited the idea of the ART nexus.

Discussion of the research-teaching nexus highlights several issues for higher arts education. These include the centrality of practice-based education—whether in the arts, health or sports—to the nexus; scholarship, which broadens the nexus because it is multi-layered and multi-directional; curricular design, which might integrate these components from the undergraduate level; and the potential for students to be partners in developing the metacognition required for graduate life. Recent work on employability and graduate outcomes has begun to operationalise some of these aspects by positioning employability as metacognition – awareness and informed understanding of one’s own thinking (see Bennett & Ferns, in press). Using a model of self- and career literacies, the meta-cognitive approach emphasises the alignment of theory and practice as well as the difference between employability and employment (Bennett, 2016a; 2016b).

Conclusions

In writing this paper, we are to some extent responding to questions posed by Neumann (1996) about the nature of the nexus, how it operates and under what conditions it flourishes. We contend that the centre of the nexus—certainly where it flourishes—is located in the work that circumvents the false dichotomies and silos often separating disciplines, theory, practice, teaching and learning, and careers beyond the university. That this also lies at the core of effective arts practice suggests the potential for the arts to take the lead. Practice-based disciplines such as sport, health and the arts are uniquely placed to develop graduates who are equipped to negotiate complex lives and careers. In the arts, there is the potential over the next few years to place practice-based learning at the core of the curriculum, adding the ‘E’ of employability to the ART nexus and strengthening our position by demonstrating the successes of arts graduates across many different economic sectors.

[i] https://journals.gre.ac.uk/index.php/raise/index)


References

Asokan, G.V. (2012). Evidence-based practice curriculum in allied health professionals for teaching-research-practice nexus. Journal of Evidence-based Medicine, 5, 226-231.

Bennett, D. (2016a). Developing employability and professional identity through visual narratives. Australian Art Education, 37(2), 100-115. doi: https://www.arteducation.org.au/index.php/journals/current-issue

Bennett, D. (2016b). Developing employability in higher education music. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 15(3-4), 386-395. doi: http://dx.doi/10.1177/1474022216647388

Bennett, D., & Ferns, S. (In press). Functional and cognitive aspects of employability: Implications for international students. In Barton, G., & Hartwig, K. Professional learning in the work place for international students. New York: Springer. Accepted September 2016.

Bennett, D., Wright, D., Blom, D. M. (2010). The Artistic practice-Research-Teaching (ART) nexus; Translating the information flow. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 7(2). Available at: http://ro.uow.edu.au/jutlp/vol7/iss2/3

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate: A special report. Princeton, New Jersey: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Brew, A. & Jewell, E. (2012). Enhancing quality learning through experiences of research-based learning: Implications for academic development. International Journal for Academic Development, 17(1), 47-58.

Hasemann, B. (2007). Rupture and recognition: Identifying the performative research paradigm. In. E. Barrett & B. Bolt (Eds.). Practice as research – approaches to creative arts enquiry (pp. 147-157). New York: I. B. Tauris.

Healey, M., & Jenkins, A. (2009). Developing undergraduate research and inquiry. York: The Higher Education Academy.

Mohamedunni Alias Musthafa, M. N., Sajila, K. M. (2014). Reconsidering the teaching-research nexus in higher education. Higher Education for the Future, 1(2), 123-138.

Neumann, R. (1996). Researching the teaching-research nexus: A critical review. Australian Journal of Education, 40(1), 5-18.

Knight, P. T., & Yorke, M. (2004). Learning, curriculum and employability in higher education. London: Routledge Falmer.


Diana Blom, a composer and pianist, has published on higher education music performance, the artist as academic, student popular songwriters and preparing new music for performance.  She has co-curated several composition/performance/CD projects including: Shadows and Silhouettes – new music for solo piano with a Western-Chinese confluence; Antarctica – new music for piano and/or toy piano; and Multiple Keyboards – new music for pianos, toy pianos. Scores and CDs are published by Wirripang Pty. Ltd., Orpheus Music and Wai-te-Ata Press. Music Composition Toolbox (Science Press), a co-authored composition textbook, is published by Science Press. Diana is Associate Professor of Music at Western Sydney University. 

Dawn Bennett is John Curtin Distinguished Professor of Higher Education and Director of the Creative Workforce Initiative with Curtin University. With a discipline background in music education and performance, her research focuses on the development of employability, including identity and graduate work. Dawn is a National Senior Australian Learning and Teaching Fellow and Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the UK. Her current Australian Fellowship is rolling out a metacognitive model for employability with faculty and students in Australia, the UK, Europe and the US. Dawn is Vice-Chair Australia for the International Federation of National Teaching Fellows. Publications appear at Academia.edu