One common theme that emerged during the interviews and focus group discussions during our investigation into Threshold Learning Outcomes for the Creative Arts and Journalism programs at UOW was the need for graduates to be: resilient; tough; tenacious; and with “a fire in their belly” (staff comment from the focus group).
We have previously argued (Latukefu et al 2012) that current disruptions in certain sectors of the creative economy – for example the move from a print based to a digital platform in journalism – as well as the precarity of building an independent freelance creative arts practice are factors which require creative arts graduates to be particularly resilient professionals. We have shown through an analysis of several student narratives that project style learning activities described here provide a broad “back-pack” of flexible skills which enable graduates to effectively develop ‘entrepreneurialized’ creative work in a contingent market.
Resilience is a concept widely and diversely used across psychology, sociology and education. It was originally developed as a psychological concept to explain why some children thrived in adverse conditions and it was gradually applied to other circumstances. Studies emphasise that “resilience” is not a singular quality but results from both environmental and individual factors and is a product of the conjunction of risk factors, protective factors and individually developed skill sets or personal qualities (Beltman et al 2011). The literature suggests that resilience can be enhanced by interventions which seek to change social environments and through educational interventions which assist in the development of certain skills or coping strategies (Howard & Johnson, 2004).
One recent definition developed by a group of medical educators (Tempski et al, 2012) broadly covers the dimensions of “resilience” that are relevant to this study:
Being resilient does not mean being indestructible, but being able to deal with life events, meet problems as opportunities for personal growth, and recognise problems, limitations, and personal and collective resources. It also means being able to organise strategies through self-reflection, creativity, optimism and humour, being flexible and able to act with responsibility and ethical awareness. (Tempski et al, 2012, p343)
We will argue that consistent with the broader literature, resilience can be taught and that experiential and practice-based learning projects are consistent with both the research findings on good teaching practice (Kolb, 1984; Boud, 1985; Herrington, 2006) and activities and interventions which are likely to promote resilient professional practice (Beltman et al 2011).
The literature: Experiential learning
Experiential and practice-based learning is common-place teaching practice in creative, performing, design and media arts. Student newsrooms, theatre and music productions, or graphic design projects provide students with ‘real world’ experience – or, at least, experience that is closely aligned or reflective of industry practice. There is now a large literature on various forms of experiential and practiced based learning and it is beyond the scope of this paper to provide a complete overview of this complex body of work; however several key theoretical elements, which have influenced the educational practice outlined in this paper, are indicative.
Kolb (1984) is the scholar most prominently associated with the term “Experiential Learning” and he describes a four stage iterative cycle of learning:
- Concrete experience (the activity of doing or having the experience)
- Reflective observation (reviewing and reflecting on the experience)
- Abstract conceptualisation (drawing conclusions and learning from the experience)
- Active experimentation (applying what has been learned)
Herrington and colleague’s theory of “authentic” tasks (Herrington et al, 2004; Herrington et al, 2000) is a useful adjunct to Kolb’s ideas because they define the types of “concrete experience” which might best lead to reflective learning. They have described a series of characteristics of “authentic” student tasks “which can enhance students’ learning as they…reflect the critical characteristics of genuine roles and activities of professionals in real world settings.” (Herrington et al 2004, p12). Like Kolb’s model, these characteristics emphasise reflection as a key element but in addition they also advocate tasks which:
- Are ill-defined, requiring students to define the tasks and subtasks needed to complete the activity.
- Provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from different perspectives, using a variety of resources
- Provide the opportunity to collaborate.
- Create polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something else.
- Allow competing solutions and diversity of outcome. (Herrington et el 2004:12-3)
Boud & Walker (1985) and Schön (1987) have both emphasized that when engaging in reflection during the experiential learning process, a range of different “in-action” and “on-action” processes are involved and that students must be scaffolded through a structured process for this to be effective.
Thus our approach to experiential and practice-based learning is one which:
- Engages students in a real world creative experience which has a concrete outcome and involves the production of a concrete artifact such as a publication, finished design object or public performance;
- Is a collaborative process which necessarily entails the negotiation of relationships, different opinions and a process of peer support;
- Involves periods of structured reflection which support experimentation and the production of further iterations of the design, performance or journalism product;
- Involves students negotiating large scale, ill-defined, multi-staged projects in which they must make a progressive series of collaborative decisions, which are open to multiple interpretations and creative solutions.
The literature: Resillience
Like the scholarship on experiential learning, there is a large, complex and evolving body of literature on the concept of resilience in a number of different contexts. As we have already noted it is a concept widely and diversely used across psychology, sociology and education. In a recent review of the literature Howe et al (2012) note the diversity of definitional concepts that the scholarship on resilience entertains: “many articles emphasise resilience as flexible adaptability in the face of challenge, which can be recognised in both individuals and social groups.” however they also note that it can be viewed as “a trajectory, a continuum, a system, a trait, a process, a cycle, and a qualitative category” (Howe et al 2012, p350).
Again, it is beyond the scope of this paper to review the vast psychological and sociological literature on this subject, but in thinking about resilience in the context of training graduates entering the creative industries, recent studies that have explored professional resilience among teachers and nurses are particularly relevant as is the emerging literature on applying resilience in tertiary education.
In a recent comprehensive review of the literature Beltman et al. (2011) identify a range of qualities that studies have shown increase resilience in teachers. These include:
- strong intrinsic motivation and sense of vocation;
- strong self-efficacy, sense of competence, and an internal locus of control;
- proactive problem-solving skills including help-seeking;
- ability to engage in self-evaluation and reflection;
- an orientation to take active responsibility for their own wellbeing and build significant supportive relationships.
In their study on resilience in early career teachers Gu & Day (2007) identify two different streams of research regarding resilience. Firstly, the psychological stream of research which focuses on “the internal factors and personal characteristics of trait-resilient people” such as those just outlined above. Secondly, as a stream of research which focuses on resilience as “a multidimensional, socially constructed concept”. In this second view:
We may all be born with a biological basis for resilient capacity, ‘‘by which we are able to develop social competence, problem-solving skills, a critical consciousness, autonomy, and a sense of purpose’’ (Benard, 1995, p. 1). However, the capacity to be resilient in different negative circumstances, whether these be connected to personal or professional factors, can be enhanced or inhibited by the nature of the settings in which we work, the people with whom we work and the strength of our beliefs or aspirations. (Gu & Day 2007: 1305)
This second orientation is further emphasized by Castro et al (2010) who advocate “a strategy orientation” to building resilience in teachers and suggest it is important to “focus more on the ways in which beginning teachers adapt and implement resilience strategies despite their school contexts.” Such an approach would, for example, emphasise that teacher self-efficacy must not only encompass a belief in their abilities in the classroom but that beginner teachers must also focus on “how schools function as workplaces, so as to better prepare them to face and adapt to this socialisation process.” They advocate equipping novice teachers with “micro-political literacy, or the ability…to uncover the social-professional interests involved in their interactions with colleagues and administrators and to know how to respond appropriately to be successful within that context.” They note that resilient teachers in their study “dedicated energy and time to bring about the conditions necessary for them to teach.” And that this included “advocating for resources, seeking allies and buffers, and forming teacher peer groups, create new resources where none previously existed” (Castro et al, 2010, p628)
This contextualized approach is further emphasized by Le Cornu (2009) in her study of pre-service teacher training. She employs Jordan’s (2006) model of ‘relational resilience’ to analyse a ‘learning communities’ model of teacher training placement. This emphasizes a social constructivist approach to learning as collaborative meaning-making and argues that:
“Resilience resides not in the individual but in the capacity for connection.…. traditional models see an ‘internal locus of control’ as an individual characteristic which has often been associated with resilience whereas a contextual approach… might reconsider the concept of internal sense of control, examining a person’s engagement in mutually empathic and responsive relationships as the more likely source of resilience” (Jordan, 2006, p. 80).
In their review of the literature on professional resilience in nursing Jackson et al. (2007) also identify both contextual and personal elements. They suggest that five factors influence nurses ability to remain resilient and committed in the face of a harsh industrial context:
- Building positive nurturing professional relationships and networks.
- Maintaining positivity.
- Developing emotional insight.
- Achieving life balance and spirituality.
- Becoming more reflective. (6)
Although the area of professional resilience is now a developing area of research which is beginning to yield valuable data, investigations of the implications of this research for professional education and training are still sparse. However there is some work emerging in the areas of medical education and teacher education. Howe et al (2012) have built on Martin & Marsh’s (2006) research on academic resilience in schools and have developed recommendations for tertiary medical education. They note that approaches to teaching and learning that are “less didactic and more self-directed” are likely to promote resilience. They also point to the crucial importance of a scaffolded approach:
“Graded exposure to uncertainty and difficulty through well-structured approaches to clinical learning, with recurrent experience of overcoming difficulties and achieving goals, gradually leads to internalised confidence and belief in one’s own abilities. Coaching, ‘stretch assignments’ and feedback all assume that improvement is possible and demonstrate that successful progression is based on persistence and commitment as much as on innate ability and competitiveness.” (Howe et al, 2012, p353)
As the discussion below will demonstrate these findings on resilience are consistent with contemporary approaches to experiential practiced-based learning that are employed in studio based models of creative arts, design and journalism education. The two bodies of literature are in fact mutually reinforcing and the literature on resilience has the potential to inform and enhance contemporary education practice.
Excerpt from: Latukefu, L., O’Donnell, M., Burns, S., Hayes, J., Ellmers, G., & Stirling, J., 2013, “Fire in the belly: Can we build resilience (in creative, performing, graphic and media,artists and practitioners) through experiential, practice-led and authentically designed learning environments?” CALTN symposium, University of Tasmania, Hobart