How can arts-based research be used in higher education to stimulate students to think and act sustainably?
As a student Master of Education in Arts (Med), I research critical pedagogy and art based research at the intersection of creativity, sustainability and entrepreneurship. I work on crossovers between these disciplines to achieve sustainable change and surprising solutions with students.
Klimaatverandering, microplastics, overbevolking, luchtvervuiling, watervervuiling, hebzucht, overconsumptie, pandemieën, uitsterven van dieren en planten. De mens maakt een rotzooi van deze planeet.
Traditioneel onderwijs rondom duurzaamheid schetst de verschijnselen en oorzaken van milieuproblemen maar zet studenten zelden aan tot het nemen van gerichte actie in combinatie met eigen onderzoek en het bestuderen en zoeken van bijbehorende theorie.
Deze inspiratiekit is voor docenten die een positieve bijdrage willen leveren rond duurzaamheid door met studenten onderliggende oorzaken op te sporen en ervaren situaties te veranderen met gerichte acties.
Deze inspiratiekit is samengesteld met in 2020 geteste scenario’s en (online)lessituaties aan Haagse Hogeschool, minor Sustainable Business en Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht (HKU). Met een aantal aanpassingen (ter beoordeling aan de docent) is deze inspiratiekit ook bruikbaar in de bovenbouw van het voortgezet onderwijs.
Meer weten over CASE? Stuur een mail naar email@example.com
Download the Inspiration Kit Critical Arts-based Sustainability Education (CASE)
Climate change, microplastics, overpopulation, air pollution, water pollution, greed, overconsumption, pandemics, extinction of animals and plants. Humans are making a mess of this planet.
Traditional education on sustainability outlines the phenomena and causes of environmental problems, but seldom encourages students to take targeted action in combination with their own research and the study and search for associated theory.
This inspiration kit is for teachers who want to make a positive contribution to sustainability by tracing underlying causes with students and changing experienced situations with targeted actions.
This inspiration kit has been compiled with scenarios and (online) teaching situations tested in 2020 at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, minor Sustainable Business and Utrecht School of the Arts (HKU). With some adjustments (at the discretion of the teacher), this inspiration kit can also be used in upper secondary education.
Want to know more about CASE? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
With this method, students are the researchers who develop new knowledge through art and play, make new connections and thus arrive at surprising and concrete results regarding sustainability.
Art cannot solve the climate problem, but art can motivate people to take action. This project combines arts-based research (ABR), education on sustainability and insights from critical pedagogy into an innovative didactic concept: CASE (Critical Arts-based Sustainability Education).
The efforts of students as researchers are rooted in critical pedagogy. Research is done with arts-based research (ABR) methodologies. When you literally experience a problem by examining yourself, you have a different (direct) perception, and you experience a greater urgency to solve it. The aim is to make students aware of their own position and that of others – including that of non-humans (flora, fauna, rivers, ecosystems) – around sustainability.
CASE stimulates critical thinking and acting around the themes studied by students (e.g. climate, plastic, biodiversity, etc.) in which art and the practice of art are instrumental. Learners are part of the problem and part of the solution with this method.
To write a text that expresses your identity as an artist can be a pain. That’s why I provide writing classes for art students to help them with their artist statement. This provides a cover text that can be used for portfolio, graduation, festivals, galleries, exhibitions, pitches and competitions. A well-written artist statement distinguishes and forms an important part of the professional identity.
What inspires you?
As a first step, students write down in 10 minutes, unfiltered, or draw everything that comes to mind when they think about themselves concerning their artistic or professional context.
Then I ask the question “What inspires you?”. A conversation about their purpose (WHY) opens a certain space that remains closed if you limit yourself to describe what you make. What inspires you? is a key to this space and provides the depth that makes you think about your own position and that of others. What inspires you? is an invitation to talk and reveals the inspiration and drive of the maker. Many students share a passion for social and sustainability issues without knowing it from the other. When these insights are shared with the group, new information is added to existing narratives.
Next, I let them sort the harvest according to WHY, HOW, WHAT following the logic of the Golden Circle of Sinek (2009). WHY is about the purpose. The HOW is more about the artistic process and the WHAT is about the artefacts and materials.
The final artist statement or professional statement is a guiding text that students can use when entering the professional world.
PS: What inspires you? works also great as a conversation starter at parties and business gatherings if you want to avoid small-talk.
Do you know the phenomenon that when you delve into something, new and different things come your way? It almost seems like fate wants to tell you something. I call this phenomenon guided coincidence. This not accidental coincidence occurs when you work with an open mind. It can cause a snowball effect as new information arrives outside of your preparation.
• Enriching the creative process as a whole; • An open view, allowing new impulses outside of cognitive preparation; • Enrich the incubation phase by allowing guided chance.
This exercise stimulates the addition of new associative information to the subconscious with the aim of increasing the number of promising combinations. Recognizing the promising combinations towards a solution is the moment of illumination. This can take place long after the end of the exercise.
1) Take your research or question in mind for 1 minute and then put it away (you can take this very literally). 2) Grab a phone, paper, pencil or pen and enter a room with many objects or other stimuli (this space can be workshops, a large thrift store, store, museum, etc.) 3) Take a maximum of 20 minutes to look around and record what touches or catches your way (photo, text, drawing). Give yourself the space to associate freely and to put your question on the back burner. So do not search emphatically but go on impulse. 4) Discuss what you have found in groups of 2-4 people in max. 20 minutes and share the results. 5) Now pick up your problem again literally or figuratively and combine it with your photos, drawings, text and what you have discussed in the group. 6) And have you found an alternative angle? This appears over time. In any case, you have more input to connect and you look with a glance that will help you outside your obvious cognitive paths with your problem.
This method was first tested on January 20, 2020, during at HKU with Med students and graduates. Afterwards, the 12 participants indicated that they had found new input for their questions.
What happens when you connect HKU first-year graphic design students with a theatre teacher and a set theme? Their art based research led to new ways of creating and storytelling. I’ve asked them about their experiences as designers and performers.
Do you ever go to a party, but you don’t really want to because they will find you weird… Ella, Lea, Indy, Vera, Maria, Nikki and Keanu tell how the discomfort of a party eventually becomes a graphic performance.
‘We took a party as a starting point and the accompanying social pressure to participate. You present yourself with a mask to deal with peer pressure. The longer you hold on to a mask, the harder it gets until it stops. Because everyone should be happy at a party, you stay in your role as long as possible until it hurts.
You can see this peer pressure in the performance. You want to keep the mask on for as long as possible and you fight against yourself in silence. Depending on the situation, you always have a new mask. The performance is called Supraspinatus because these muscles keep the masks in the air with us until it stops. Our supervising teacher has given us tips but has also left them very free to work out the performance. ‘
“You want to tell people something and you use a combination of media. With performance, you are literally your work and you are pulled out of your comfort zone. Graphic Design is a much broader study than we initially thought. You will be introduced to many tools that you can use to tell your story. It is very autonomous and that is great. Open up, just act and you learn from each other through collaborations. ‘
Paulo Freire is one of the founders of critical pedagogy. Inspired by his work Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) it is my aim to research and combat climate change and pollution through art, to start a dialogue and then to connect action and theory. In other words: bringing about a social change with art as a medium/catalyst.
The role of art
Visual arts, theatre, music, story and play are powerful tools to question, investigate and change the world around us. These give a separate space in which (for a moment) everything is possible with the power of imagination, which has its own rules and which is outside of the observed reality. No wonder certain regimes and organizations want to control these resources to safeguard their interests. In an educational context, the aforementioned creative disciplines can help pupils and students explore the world around them and ultimately change it with each other.
Status quo vs change
Our climate is changing, our environment is polluted and biodiversity is declining sharply. All this thanks to human action. Have we reached a tipping point towards a dead world? Is there anything we can do to keep what we have? This is the greatest and most complex challenge humanity has faced in its existence. Which social structures and systems underlie climate change, pollution and loss of biodiversity? Who will benefit from the status quo and who will be affected? What could be different? Which laws and regulations serve whose interests. What if… To investigate and (partly) solve the observed problems, art based research, game principles and expressive working methods can be used.
To arrive at a thorough analysis in problematization, the step of research and problematization is an intensive process with those involved. After all, an incorrect or incomplete analysis poses problems in the subsequent steps of dialogue and praxis. Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson or skill is enacted, embodied or realized. Paulo Freire defines praxis in Pedagogy of the Oppressed as “Reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed.” This implies that student-researchers are trying to come to the core of the perceived situation.
Students are the researchers
The arts provide their own space by making and researching. This gives access to other and creative ways of collecting and sharing knowledge. Both the student and the teacher learn in this process. After all, learning and creating are social processes. A teacher facilitates and asks critical questions to stimulate creativity and research. The teacher has more knowledge and experience and guides critical pedagogy from facts and merits. This is fundamentally different from the usual position of power of the teacher in education based on hierarchy. As a teacher, you are therefore not busy filling students with knowledge because you have to (deposit method), but you are working with the group from a problem to investigate this and to connect this to dialogue and conscious action. Freire calls this way of working the problematizing method.
Everyone is part of the situation and can change it.
Critical pedagogy assumes that education is never neutral. We are all the product of our environment. Insight into one’s own position and that of others is the first step in awareness. The contradiction of oppressor-oppressed is vital here. Investigating and ultimately overcoming this contradiction is a fundamental principle in the critical pedagogical approach. A simple exchange of the position of oppressor-oppressed is expressly out of the question. It is about freedom based on reciprocity and cooperation. The situation includes own and shared responsibility.
Critical thinking and acting
This method stimulates critical thinking and acting around the researched themes in combination with art and art practice. Learners are part of the problem and the solution with this method. Traditional education on society and sustainability lingers in generalities and does not encourage targeted action in combination with research and theory. Art provides a free space in which a different way of learning and communication is possible to deal with a problem and to work on an action to achieve change.
The aim is to arrive at a toolkit with working methods that facilitate the steps of problematization and dialogue and can make connections in praxis. I start from the scenario that students are researchers in training who work within a certain teaching context on their analytical, investigative skills and critical reflection.
Do you want to know more or contribute to this initiative? Feel free to contact me at email@example.com.