Inspiring connections: The student experience of an online creative arts journal
The University of Western Australia
This study investigates the learning potential of students' experiences working as editors and publishers for a university's creative arts e-journal. The study is based on a project which aimed to strengthen creative arts students' graduate attributes and employability skills associated with interpersonal and written communication skills, specifically editing and e-publication. The participants were surveyed prior to and after e-publication of each issue of the journal over a two year period. The study focuses on students' and teachers' perceptions of participating in a non-graded, discipline-based work-integrated learning (WIL) activity. The data were analysed in order to explore students' and teachers' attitudes and responses to the challenges with participating in an e-publication process. The findings indicated that students chose to participate in the activity to address certain employability skills as well as desiring an authentic work-based challenge that enhanced the university experience. The results revealed that students require more guidance and informal set lesson plans. The teachers' responses indicated that the most important teaching methods were: (i) provide authentic communication to students and (ii) illustrate relevant industry experience. Recommendations are made for the careful implementation and integration of the online creative arts WIL project into the University's curriculum in order to: (i) connect WIL pedagogy, courses, policies and objectives in higher education, (ii) provide career and self development for WIL teaching and learning practices, and (iii) continually redevelop and evaluate the WIL activity in order to pursue accreditation.
The phrase "work-integrated learning" is used as an umbrella term for a range of approaches and strategies that "integrate theory with practice of work within a purposely designed curriculum" (ALCT, 2011, p. 4). Often, the term is used as a generic title or to differentiate WIL programs from other teaching approaches such as activity-based learning (ABL), work-based learning (WBL), industry-based learning (IBL), workplace learning (WPL) learning in the workplace and community (LiWC) and cooperative education (Precision Consultancy, 2007, p. 29; McLennan & Keating, 2008, p. 1; Smith, 2012). Moreover, at times, teaching and learning activities that are "linked to work" and occur in higher education settings are also termed WIL (Fitch, 2011; McLennan & Keating, 2008). The literature also suggests that the effective implementation of WIL activities in higher education will encourage students to manage specific work-related outcomes. For example, WIL can assist in incorporating a mixture of real world and industry-related experiences, using a variety of teaching approaches such as independent study, self directed study, negotiated learning, work shadowing, and mentoring schemes with learning orientated internship approaches (Govekar & Rishi, 2007; Rossin & Hyland, 2003). Furthermore, WIL programs that function effectively in higher education can assist students with an opportunity in which they are "challenged to learn and have encountered authentic work-related learning experiences" (Australian Council of Education Research, 2008). According to Herrington, Oliver and Reeves (2003) an authentic learning situation creates real world relevance and is, "ill defined and [produces] complex tasks to complete over a period of time with opportunities for reflection and collaboration" (pp. 62-63). However, due to the limited access to WIL initiatives, university students in Australia lack consistent opportunities to actively partake in WIL activities. As the Australian Council of Education Research Report (2008) points out: "the extent to which learners have blended academic learning with workplace experience is only 33.9% of Australia's Higher Education students" (p. 10). In order to increase student participation in WIL, the mainstreaming of WIL across all disciplines is required (Cooper, Orrell & Bowden, 2003; Crebert, Bates, Bell, Patrick & Cragnolini, 2004; Reeders, 2000). For this to occur, the following main challenges, which McLennan and Keating (2008) summarised at a National Symposium held at The University of Victoria, require further attention:
|1||Blackbird||http://www.blackbird.vcu.edu/||Virginia Commonwealth University||1|
|2||Barnstorm||http://barnstormjournal.org/about/||The University of New Hampshire||1|
|3||BrightONLINE||http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/study/english-literature-studies-brighton/brightonline||The University of Brighton||1, 2|
|4||Bukker Tillibul||http://lilydale.swinburne.edu.au/journal/editorial.htm||Swinburne University of Technology||3|
|5||Café Américain||http://www.american.edu/cas/literature/cafeamericain/||The American University||1|
|7||Current Narratives||http://currentnarratives.com/||The University of Wollongong||3|
|8||Dotlit||http://www.dotlit.qut.edu.au/||Queensland University of Technology||2|
|9||Elephant Tree||http://www.chapman.edu/wilkinson/english/publications.asp||Chapman University||1, 2|
|10||Eleven Eleven||http://www.elevenelevenjournal.com/||California College of the Arts||1|
|11||Forum||http://www.forumjournal.org/site/||The University of Edinburgh||1, 3|
|12||Free Verse||http://english.chass.ncsu.edu/freeverse/Pages/Aboutus.html||North Carolina State University||1|
|13||Greensboro Review||http://www.greensbororeview.org/||The University of North Carolina||1|
|14||Hayden's Ferry Review||http://www.asu.edu/piper/publications/haydensferryreview/||Arizona State University||1|
|15||Illumina||http://illumina.sca.ecu.edu.au/||Edith Cowan University||1, 2|
|The University of Nottingham||1, 3|
|17||Hunger Mountain||http://www.hungermtn.org/about/||Vermont College of Fine Arts||1|
|18||Loop||http://www.as.wvu.edu/english/loop/||West Virginia University||1|
|19||Platform||http://journals.culture-communication.unimelb.edu.au/platform/charter.html||The University of Melbourne||1|
|20||Prism||http://oregonstate.edu/prismmagazine/about/||Oregon State University||1|
|21||Rubric||http://rubric.org.au/||University of New South Wales||3|
|22||Scope||http://www.scope.nottingham.ac.uk/||The University of Nottingham||3|
|23||Second Nature||http://secondnature.rmit.edu.au||RMIT University||1, 3|
|24||Sitelines||http://sitelines.humanities.curtin.edu.au||Curtin University of Technology||1|
|25||SoundsRite||http://soundsrite.uws.edu.au/||University of Western Sydney||1|
|26||Swamp||http://www.swamp.edu.au/||The University of Newcastle||1|
|28||The Bottle Imp||http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/ScotLit/ASLS/SWE/TBI/||The University of Edinburgh||1, 3|
|29||The Coachella Review||http://www.thecoachellareview.com/about.html||The University of California||1|
|30||Trove||http://www.trove.arts.uwa.edu.au/||The University of Western Australia||1, 2|
|31||The International Journal of Screendance||http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/study/pava/screendance/the-international-journal-of-screendance||The University of Brighton and the University of Wisconsin-Madison||3|
|32||The Manchester Review||http://www.themanchesterreview.co.uk/||The University of Manchester||1|
|33||The New River||http://www.cddc.vt.edu/journals/newriver/||Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University||1|
[The WIL activity] ...provides students with an editing experience that resembles a professional industry environment and assists in gaining future employment (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: The WIL activity's homepage (http://www.trove.arts.uwa.edu.au)
Prior to presenting the researcher's methodological approach it is important to explain the WIL activity's development journey. The following section details this process before presenting the route of data collection, results, and finally a discussion and conclusion that presents various recommendations on how to improve the WIL activity. The overall aim of the present study was to develop insight into student's own views of the WIL activity, and how to best support the teachers' involvement.
to communicate clearly, effectively and appropriately in a range of contexts, to develop spoken and written English communication skills at high levels, to acquire skills in critical literacy and interpersonal communication (The University of Western Australia, 2012)Once, the initial student editing team was orchestrated a steering committee was created. The steering committee consisted of three Creative Industries staff members and two Creative Industries postgraduate PhD candidates.
It is important to note that informant bias is possible regarding this research project. This is due to one of the PhD candidates being the researcher of this study and acting as Project Officer from 2010-2011. The other PhD candidate acted as Associate Project Officer from 2010-2011 and then as Project Officer in 2012. The Associate Project Officer took part in the teachers' interviews, which form part of the results section of this paper.
From 2010-2012, the Project Officers mentored up to sixteen students over a three year period. The Project Officers' main role was to assist student editors in planning, developing and designing the e-journal's website, sourcing student creative art works, facilitating student editors with critiquing and editing works and selecting works for e-publication each semester. The Project Officers also consulted with the steering committee on a periodic basis such as when the student editing team planned and developed the WIL activity's homepage, which states:
[the project] is an online interactive creative arts journal created for, by and with students. It supports and nurtures, and provides ongoing feedback to beginning, developing and emerging creative arts students in a university context. [The project] aims to offer students opportunities to present their work for an online publication [see Figure 1].From 2010-2012, the WIL activity underwent continual evolution and evaluation due to the researcher's involvement in the collection of participants' feedback. This included administering surveys and receiving verbal feedback each semester. The feedback resulted in developing good practice guides in order to:
Except for the 2010 student and steering committee selection process all future students and committee members were invited by the following means: (i) a general email call out, (ii) an advertisement on the University's online newsreel and/or (iii) a hardcopy advertisement that was positioned at numerous popular student meeting hubs. Each option invited students to contact the Project Officers via email in order to express their interest and/or to gain additional information about the WIL activity. Each semester, up to fifteen potential candidates contacted the Project Officers. When the Project Officers received sufficient interest, students were invited to send via email to the Project Officers an overview of why they wanted to join the student editing team, their expectations, and any relevant experience. The Project Officers organised an informal meeting for the interested students. The meeting allowed potential student editors to ask questions and discover the WIL activity's learning objectives, expectations and the commitment and obligations required. Approximately, one week after the initial face to face meeting, the potential student editors were encouraged to re-contact the Project Officers to make known their confirmed interest. Project Officers in consultation with the steering committee members selected up to five student editors. All unsuccessful candidates were invited to reapply at a later date.
The second survey was completed four weeks after the project's objectives were met. The questions in the second survey focused on students' achievements and goals, the skills that they believed that they had demonstrated, and any new skills that they felt they had acquired during the WIL activity. It is important to note that questions seven, eight and nine presented in the second survey differed from the initial survey (see Table 2).
|Question||Pre e-publication||Post e-publication|
|One||What is your gender?||What is your gender?|
|Two||What is your age range?||What is your age range?|
|Three||What are you studying (major and year of study?||What are you studying (major and year of study?|
|Four||What made you decide to take part in the project?||Do you feel you have achieved the goals that you set for yourself relating to this project for this year?|
|Five||What are some of the things you hope to achieve by being a part of this project?||Did this project enable you to use skills that you originally brought into it?|
|Six||Which skills do you believe you are able to bring to the project? For example: editing, grammar and spelling, teamwork, marketing/ publicity, and are there any other skills not mentioned here?||Did you learn any new skills, or further develop your original skills? If so please outline.|
|Seven||Which skills do you believe you might need assistance with? Please explain:||How important do you believe that this project has been to your studies?|
|Eight||How important do you believe taking part in the project is to your current studies and why?||How important do you believe this project will be for you after you have completed your studies?|
|Nine||How important do you believe being a part of the project will be for you after you have completed your studies?||How has being a part of the project made you feel personally?|
|Ten||Any other comments, questions or feedback about the project so far?||Any other comments, questions or feedback about your experience regarding the project?|
Students also mentioned positive feelings associated with being selected, such as "I am very happy to have been given the opportunity, especially to have been chosen from others who I thought appeared more qualified and experienced. I'm looking forward to the challenges". Another student explained that taking part in the project was beneficial because, "[it] exists solely for the betterment of its student writers" and "it's in a unique position to give extremely individualised attention." Other students expressed similar thoughts by writing, "[it is] a teaching and learning experience that offered editing work that allowed formal training in editing and proof reading" because "editing is an extremely valuable skill to have".
Overall, students rated the WIL experience highly, especially when they were able to work alongside other student editors who had similar interests and expectations. For example, "I wanted to meet others with similar goals while improve my language and writing skills and being exposed to other publishing techniques." Alternatively, an international student expressed a desire to take part in the WIL activity due to connecting their university study with real world relevance, "I joined because I wanted more experience to equip me for the 'real world' and I know that learning in university should not simply be confined to the classrooms".
The comment below reflects how one student perceived the program as allowing them a "well rounded" university experience:
... the... team has been great, giving me a well rounded experience, allowing me to try everything from public speaking to editing. I believe my university education has definitely been made more wholesome.Whereas, another student expressed the importance of acquiring effective critical skills such as developing and learning how to provide professional constructive feedback:
... assistance with editing is important especially when reviewing someone else's work and looking for the right thing to edit and then the process after that with giving constructive criticism because sometimes I can be quite blunt (as I've been told).Other students recorded that the WIL activity assisted them to gain effective essay writing skills. Finally, another student explained that the WIL activity supported them to increase self confidence, "I have been away from the academic environment for a number of years and feel that the disadvantage of this is that I don't always have the confidence in my own opinion".
Being given the opportunity to review theatre and film has been a truly eye opening and education experience. I've never before critiqued with the aim of being published. With every completed review, I become that much more comfortable with the process. My first theatre review took 2 days and 8 hours and many emails before it was completed. My latest took only an hour plus editing.And, another student said, "I desperately want a career in this industry [editing] and want to gain all the experience I can" and "I really appreciate that being a part of the project has opened up other opportunities such as judging virtual art competitions and developing funding proposals for [an international] Writers' Festival".
The below comment also illustrates students' views about the various "doorways" that the WIL activity provided:
I am interested in working at a fashion publication and I believe that I need editing experience to be more attractive to potential employers. I wanted some practical experience that I feel is lacking in my theoretical studies.One student noted the value of being involved in an authentic learning experience:
I've benefited from being under pressure to produce a [theatre and/or film] review under tighter deadlines that I've been used to. Also, I've benefited from having to think more deeply about the less obvious aspects of theatre informing my thoughts/opinions such as reviewing the sound design, something I wouldn't normally concern myself with [sic].
I do wish that there was perhaps a bit more guidance at the beginning of semester, i.e. what makes a good editor... with a bit more steering in the 'right' direction the team would be even stronger. At this point, without a fully dedicated and keen editing team I don't see [the project] flourishing as well as it has.Other students expressed the requirement for Project Officers to provide set lesson plans associated with improving student editing skills, or how to review theatre and film effectively. As one student suggested, "we need more of a scheduled set program of [theatre and film] reviewing" which might include "informal lessons on how to critique/ review film/ theatre" such as "intensive editing courses". Another student pointed out that: "I honestly thought that there would be more work with industry professionals" and that they would be exposed to a range of creative pieces and not just primarily short stories and poetry.
Alternatively, one teacher believed that he/she could assist students to feel at ease and more engaged with the WIL activity by completing the following communication exercises: (i) provide written examples from professional writers and images from experts in the creative arts, (ii) discuss set editing topics in an imaginative way, and (iii) provide examples of student author art works. It was also important for this particular teacher to communicate realistic expectations and to continually compare his/her industry knowledge with other creative arts professionals, because it was crucial for ascertaining whether his/her practice was legitimate, "... if students do not agree with my ideas, I use my experience to show them where I'm coming from. I show them other creative artists' work so that they can make an informed decision". The same teacher further illustrated his/her method of communicating expectations effectively by writing:
We're a student journal. We're learning. We can't be perfect. People need to realise that... We started with bare bones first drafts [from students] that showed a spark of talent and promise. We [the student editors and Project Officer] work with the authors and bring the writing up to scratch. It's the best that we can do. I'm proud of that. It's an opportunity that the [student] authors would not likely see so early in the professional world and I hope it helps them in the future.
One teacher also suggested that a "drawback" in the WIL activity's learning outcome was that it created problems with student editors' academic deadlines, which always became a priority, in direct competition to the WIL activity's assessment deadline. This teacher went on to explain, "there is no point in setting unrealistic assessment deadlines as this only increases everyone's stress levels" and "students and authors do not always check and answer their emails regularly, which is sometimes due to their inexperience of working in an editing environment, or because participating in the project does not equate to any credits".
By the time we're ready to proof read the selected works the student editors and authors are doing exams and looking forward to semester holidays, and things are slowing down even more. And because no one is getting paid for this or getting credits, there is not much I can do but wait, unless I do it myself, but then it will no longer be a teaching and learning activity.And:
If we could acquire more active steering committee members, I think this would solve the back and forth between student editors and steering committee members and would save a lot of time and frustration and give the editing tuition that the students are looking for. At present there are not enough active steering committee members to do this as it would be too much work for one person to handle.
It is important to note that this study was not intended as a prescription for all WIL curriculum designs, but rather as a stepping stone towards investigating and evaluating WIL activities within the creative arts arena. The findings here indicate that students commonly expressed excitement and enthusiasm towards the WIL project when teachers assisted student editors to partake in real world, editing and e-publishing experiences that were "complex and occurred outside the classroom environment" (Fitch, 2011; Herrington, Oliver & Reeves, 2003). Additionally, students' personal enjoyment was rated high when working with other student editors who had similar interests and expectations.
The responses from teachers correlated with Harris & Willis' (1993) and Grow's (1991) studies, which advocated that teachers who demonstrate an honest and approachable manner will assist in establishing rapport, so that everyone can share in the industry-linked enterprise. In this study, one of the most important teaching methods was listening to students' needs, while valuing the individual's learning journey. Moreover, all three teachers rated "authentic communication" as an important teaching tool and used their industry knowledge to enhance student engagement. While assessment was noted by the experienced teachers as an important pedagogical task that illustrates student's understandings of learning tasks, assessment was also seen as a complex situation in the non-graded WIL activity.
The results from the students' and teachers' responses pointed towards the necessity for embedding WIL pedagogy, policies and statements into the curricula. This process would be valuable so that students are aware that participating in the WIL activity will require less teacher control and more emphasis placed on students managing their own learning and educational goals. Additionally, by approaching the learning and teaching in this way, realistic expectations and the management of Project Officers' workloads will become manageable. Furthermore, teachers' responses showed that maintaining standards and ensuring high quality learning outcomes was a challenge when dealing with student editors. In order for the WIL activity to occur effectively in higher education as a "crucial means of preparing [students] for career" (Krause et al., 2005, p. 5), the project requires further curricular alignment, program development and evaluation. Additionally, to increase students' involvement and sustain authentic industry links and professional editing and publishing situations, the teachers who have a "sophisticated understanding of the field but limited pedagogical understanding" require professional development (Green, Hammer, & Star, 2009; McLennan & Keating; 2008, p. 4; Phillips, 2005; Tynjala, Valimaa, & Syarja, 2003).
As stressed in this article, the educational and practical benefits of providing WIL opportunities within the Creative Industries should not be underestimated. The presence of a WIL activity that students can access, no matter what discipline they are studying in, can provide a unique social platform and an engaging work-based learning environment. WIL activities, such as the one described in this paper, can help address graduate attributes and employability skills such as communication, ICT literacy and teamwork abilities. As Billett (2009) argues, WIL activities have the alibility to, "construe, construct and engage" (p. 838) while creating "a complex set of experiences" that has the potential to develop students' professional capacities for the future (Grubb & Badway, 1998, p. 493).
Lastly, tertiary institutions have an obligation to design and provide authentic, work-based learning experience for all students and disciplines. WIL activities require effective pedagogical support in order to be valued more. This will then enable graduates the opportunity to compete effectively within a vast changing, shifting and competitive work environment where holding a degree is just the beginning.
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|Author: Dr Rachael Hains-Wesson (formerly at The University of Western Australia) is currently a Project Officer for ePortfolios@UB as part of the Learning Innovations team at the Centre for Learning Innovation and Professional Practice, University of Ballarat. Her teaching and research interests encompass: e-portfolios as practice and pedagogy, i-literacy, theatre-in-education, reflective practice and creative writing.|
Please cite as: Hains-Wesson, R. (2012). Inspiring connections: The student experience of an online creative arts journal. Issues In Educational Research, 22(3), 263-282. http://www.iier.org.au/iier22/hains-wesson.html