Masters Study – a few fundamental concerns revisited… WIP

Some major concerns (i.e. the central focus, rather than problems therein) related to my Masters study revisited: Just stepping back, getting my head around it all again, what was my original issue etc.

i.e. Why Visualise Educational Concepts for Art School Students? And what do I mean by that…?

1 – By “educational concepts”, I need to restate that I do not mean the content of specific or subject related sessions per se*, but instead some of the various concepts related to the hidden curriculum such as:

  • What makes an Engaged Student?
  • What is Expected of a student?
  • Myths and Misconceptions related to Higher Education (and FE) study.
  • Why Educate Your Self? …and What is Life Long Learning?
  • What is meant by Self-Motivated Learning?
  • Addressing fundamental skills issues.
  • …and looking at opportunities for self-assessment that some students miss as they are available beyond the studio/institution.


*Subject related issues may occur, such as “optimising for creativity” and “drawing as an investigative tool” but only in relation to developing the ability in students to see the holistic overview of their core area of study and its relationships to areas beyond their immediate study (See Point 5).

2Why Art School Students? and what makes them such a unique user group?

Particularly in an era in educational theory and practice where attention to Differentiated Instruction is paramount.

So? Am I proposing or agreeing with the idea of fixed learning styles? And what do I mean by Learning Styles?

Well, current/recent buzzwords in education associated with pursuing “differentiation” and “individualised learning” have, as always, created a stir in parliament and so through and down to the educational bodies, and then into classrooms opening the gates, not just for efficacious teaching & learning techniques and other positive responses, but also for any snake-oil salesman touting tests claiming to diagnose and herd individuals into easier to manage and teach groups based on students’ individual needs, for example, their “learning styles” (sorry for the imagery but I’ve been watching Deadwood lately), with questions such as: Are you atheorist? A pragmatist? An activist or a reflector? Do you have more of a Visual learning style? Or are you (*looks over glasses*) a Reader?
Regardless of your answers,  according to new research, most of these processes, i.e those designed to pin-point the best (and single) way for an individual to learn, are deeply flawed, and for teachers to jump aboard with and then act on these diagnoses, could in the long term be as damaging for students as misdiagnosing dyslexia as stupidity (and handedness) was years ago.

Personally I am not an adherent of this (near astrological) belief in the star sign like learning styles put forward by certain educational theorists; even ones I admire for other elements of there writings.

Geoffrey Petty for example, a great believer it seems in some of the more holistic teaching and learning methods, offered up the following, no doubt attractive (I adhere to much of the practices myself), advice to trainee teachers in his course book for trainee teachers:

Ideally a teacher should adopt both right-brain and left-brain approaches. Right brain approaches such as the following are often ignored; they are crucial for some students, but helpful to all: explaining by analogy or metaphor overviews, e.g. describing what you are about to explain summarising mind maps, and other visual representations. modelling, demonstrations, case studies, anecdotes, etc., which show the whole’ in context imaginative visualisations, e.g. imagine you are a water molecule passing through a body‘” Petty, 1998 p.124

via – Learning Styles: Are They Useful or Just a Way for Pseudo Experts to Make Money Online? – Chum Suet

Unfortunately some of the work feels like it can be misused, to short-cut and lower the commitment from the tutor, or the cerebral activity of the learner (I really do not think there is much efficacy in allowing students to just download images for presentations from the internet at the expense of written information – when the act of making the image not the appropriation of it is the efficacious element).

In particular the VARK tests I feel are flawed, and despite my own leanings and favour of visual information (at certain times) I would not go so far as to pigeon hole myself as a purely a Visual Learner.

Frank Coffield, professor of Education at the IOE, has in an article in the TES, and elsewhere made clear his belief that “tutors who use some popular learning models could be wasting their time”.The evidence to support the theories behind some of these educational models, says Frank Coffield, could be seen to be a little thin.
Frank Coffield suggests “.what young people need most [is to be taught or encouraged to develop] the ability to detect bullshit and the courage to expose it. Students of all ages need to develop a critical faculty to enable them to challenge the hype of advertisers, the excessive claims of experts/researchers, the pretentious promises of politicians or the latest educational buzzword” [The work of Frank Coffield. 1988 see Smith and Spurling 1999.]

In related areas (especially considering the quote above from Petty) there are several investigators who question research related to lateralization of brain function, and several current documents suggest that to simplify people into left and right brain, jack booted logicians or disorganised arty genius types is leaning a little too heavily on the lucrative pop-psychology mythology that has followed ongoing studies on lateralization and “handedness”.

Michael C. Corballis, in his article “Laterality and myth.” for American Psychologist, Vol 35(3), Mar 1980, 284-295. doi:  ( suggests that the:
“…fundamental duality in cognitive processing between the two sides of the brain or that locate consciousness in the left side only are probably modern manifestations of the age-old mythology of left and right. A more cautious framework is suggested for interpreting laterality, based on biological principles and on continuity between humans and other species.”
So, again, why Art School students if I don’t believe in “Visual Learners”?
Well, what I do believe in is that every person that volunteers to walk through the door of an art school, be they student teacher, client project coordinator or visiting guest, all of them have at some point in their lives CHOSEN to allow image, or found that image is something they can relate to on some level at some point in their CHOSEN activities. Be that work or entertainment.
These people having chosen to engage with imagery and visuals may indeed in that case have a higher response to Visual gateways into non-visual learning materials, and ultimately my study is based on the efficacy of visuals as part of the teaching and learning process.

3 – The confusion between:

  • message (and its social/educational value) >
  • delivery system/medium (and its stylistic/design value) >
  • the combination of both as object/artifact (and its innate and varied values as a culture/design artifact)
  • the practical efficacy of the whole as a visual gateway into non-visual learning material, and not an end in and of itself – This is is what I set out to look at, yet the other points seem to rise to the surface at every turn.

4 – the idea of holistic information delivery with an ability to explore from an advantaged and fully informed position – versus – micro-compartmentalisation of concepts and message for ease of delivery.

5 – …finally, related to, and perhaps springing from, the above – New issues relating to the combinatorial approach to various educational theories and a more unified, holistic overview of education theory related to “creativity”.

For example, looking at the psychology based theory of flow and its related areas touching on the act of creativity, such as skills ()

…a notional sketch (work in progress) looking at the conditions needed for creative immersion and so creative solutions/creativity (version 3), using existing theories, but placing them on the same playing field so as to have some holistic sense of their possible relationship and overlap in this investigation.


Some other articles mentioning or co-authored by Frank Coffield ,,

Related terms – Holonomic Brain Theory / holon (philosophy) / Arthur Koestler /

For those of you interested in the Lateralization of Brain Function and its possible effects on your character you can take one of a myriad of online tests here (A Vancouver test):

I, came out a 425 versus 58%, left versus right brain split with sub-categories as follows:

Your Left Brain Percentages

  42% Logical (Your most dominant characteristic)
  37% Linear
  34% Symbolic
  27% Verbal
  14% Reality-based
  9% Sequential (Your least dominant characteristic)

Your Right Brain Percentages

  48% Holistic (Your most dominant characteristic)
  48% Fantasy-oriented
  38% Nonverbal
  37% Concrete
  28% Random
  20% Intuitive (Your least dominant characteristic)

Make of that what you will, and I’m sure some of you will.

But you might also be interested in some of the conclusions nicely brought together here by Richard Morris –

Meanwhile The Telegraph uses a simpler test here:

Again for your information, I see it rotating in both directions depending on the moment I look up at it.

~ by hesir on July 12, 2012.

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