Studio for all #uogapt

I studied as an artist in a studio for five years. During this immersive experience in the 1990s I learnt about the role of the studio as a place and context for learning. Perhaps the strongest outcome of being an art student for me is best understood as that ‘way of being’ that the artist develops. Not the whimsical airs and affectations of the stereotype, but that way of seeing, thinking, experiencing the world and of valuing the aesthetic, and the meaning that comes from making through collaboration and co-operation. Donald Schön argued that studio-based learning can serve as a way for all students to learn to participate in the cultural practices of their discipline (Schön, 1985; 1987). The premise for my workshop last week at Greenwich was that studio-based disciplines produce creative students who excel in conceptual thinking. Furer, that studio ‘ways of learning’ can deliver immersive learning experiences for all. Conceptual knowledge and thinking, together with metacognitive self-knowledge, defines graduateness for me. I find it bizarre that often in higher education we tend to anchor our pedagogies to factual and procedural knowledge, seeing conceptual and metacognitive learning, not as a starting point, but as a desirable outcome enjoyed by the few. The studio inverts this, taking a need-to-know and just-in-time philosophy to technical matter. The studio does demand technical and epistemological fluency, but this comes through committing to and revealing our ontological fluency. First ‘we are’, then ‘we become’. On first look this is audacious, on second look it is focused and challenging.

The studio I used last week at #uogapt (Academic Practice & Technology Conference) was constructed by me and my participants through our collective commitment to using and exploring studio pedagogy. (It was really a classroom, but because we called it a studio it was a studio. ‘C’est n’est pas une pipe’!). What this means is ‘studio’ is much an attitudes as it is either a pedagogy or a space.

I knew that I needed to offer and explore these ideas about Studio for All with others because has been preoccupying me, while the 20 or so people who walked through the door to join me did so through their own volition, having their own reasons. That’s all a classroom cohort can know: we are here, and we each have good reason for being here. A learning space is not a learning space until it is shaped by the intentions and actions of the people using it. I immediately made this collective commitment real by involving everyone in moving four desks slightly to the right! It was a minor exertion, but a significant one. Find a way, any way, to get students to own the space! This action took less than 30 seconds, it involved strangers in introducing themselves, demonstrating their commitment to being there, and then co-operating in a trivial albeit important task. This allowed me to thank the participants and acknowledge their input before we had really started.

I was excited to be running a workshop on ‘Studio for All’ and had already had great fun with playing with the ideas by designing the session around the theme of Vorticism and hyperbole. I have conducted a literature review this year on studio-based learning and from this, I delighted in creating a manifesto in the spirit of Wyndham Lewis’ hyperbole – Blast! I felt the use of hyperbole would bring a note of eccentric humour to our experiment and allow people to ridicule (and thereby reconstruct) the spaces with which they are most familiar in their day-to-day practice.

The idea of a manifesto is the perfect device for hyperbole. It is positively unacademic. Therefore, its utter pretension establishes a safe space for critical exploration of the ideas it projects in an academic context – we have no need to respect it as anything other than a collection of superficial statements, each with some truthful essence, and therefore a fantastical stimulus for imaginative conversation.

The workshop involved participants selecting two ideas each from the manifesto (a collection of cards) and discussing the worth of their selections with peers. Each person or small group was then invited to create a work of art in a medium of their choosing to convey their idea of reconstructed learning space. At a mid-point I invited ‘espionage and collusion!’ – in reality, a tour of the studio to review the work in progress of other participants. Inspired by peers, during the last 20 minutes we mounted an exhibition and discussed the art works using a peer crit method: one minute for artist clarification and peer feedback.

In subsequent posts I will explore dimensions of the manifesto and beyond that the wider implications for adopting a Studio for All philosophy.

The workshop, involving participants from diverse discplines, demonstrated how the studio is a suitable and productive learning space for anyone. I congratulate the participants who were open minded and curious, willing to try out the unfamiliar communal space. Each person was successful, developing new dimensions to their own practice, evidence of which I hope to see at next year’s conference.

About amiddlet50

Educational developer working in academic innovation in higher education in the UK
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