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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Artistic storm troopers
Animated, Summer 1998. In the rapidly changing arts climate there is an enhanced need for multi-faceted reflective arts practitioners. Lesley Younger offers some strategies to facilitate their development
What do Luke Skywalker, Master Chef and the Reflective Practitioner (RP) have in common? The answer - the ability to face adversity and risk take, initiative, independence of thought, and ultimately, the drive and determination to use their quest for self enhancement for the benefit of others.

Why do we need RPs and how do we 'produce' them?
Informed RPs are essential in the presentation, delivery and maintenance of quality arts experiences at both ends of the elitist or populist continuum - they are our future artistic storm troopers. Unsuccessful projects are often due to the inability of the practitioner to deeply consider and question all aspects of a project but particularly their own practice. Market forces are increasingly encroaching upon qual-ity and quantity. We need to ensure that the dance world looks beyond the box-office or end product, and continues to promote experimentation and defend good practice in order to evolve, not just survive. This calls for multi-faceted, reflective practitioners.

Higher Education (HE) therefore has a tremendous responsibility to provide students with the skills and ability to enable them to make a significant contribution to their chosen field within the dance industry and to meet the diverse demands of a rapidly changing society. Critical reflection is a vital element of all artistic education - it should not merely underpin but be an integral and continuous aspect - from primary through HE and beyond. Thus, the emphasis should be on breadth - depth of study and process, rather than on narrow technical training. At the University of Sunderland product is viewed as an outcome of process - the ultimate aim to enable graduates to become independent, articulate art makers - pioneers, entrepreneurs, guardians of our artistic 'empire', capable of employing diverse tactics in order to achieve rigorous, carefully defined artistic goals and to document and critically evaluate process and product. So it is out with regurgitation and replication and in with investigation, innovation and initiative.

Concepts of learning inform the processes and stages necessary to achieve RP status and involve the lessening of 'exposition by teacher' to emphasis on 'exploration by students'. Thus, to become independent learners students need to be given increased control over their learning environment - nothing new in the world of education, but perhaps a neglected aspect of dance and arts education.

The key to unlocking individual potential, once all else is in place, is a good teacher - many people teach, but few are teachers. A vast amount of research and documentation exists in relation to this field, so in this instance I will summarise my own stance ... First and foremost I am a teacher of dance (not a dance teacher) therefore the individual is placed before the subject - how they learn determines what and how well they learn it. Not an easy task, requiring students to take responsibility for their learning. However, an Arts Learning Log (see below) has proven an effective means of promoting this.

Key Strategies for Promoting PR Status:

* The rationale and design of the programme - non elitist, student centred and a non hierarchy of academic approach or artform, constitute the foundation and drive both teaching and learning.
* A shared understanding, philosophy and approach of staff
* Teaching and learning methods -comprising a wide range of approaches, including independent research, workshops and individual tutorials. Tutor and peer feedback, self-evaluation and critical discussion are in-built at all stages of the learning process, not just the summative, and not confined to formal assessment.
* Assignments and criteria for assessment - appropriate and well-designed assignments are the fulcrum of student learning. Clear, common criteria that assess all aspects of student development - professional, intellectual and personal skills - with related tutor feedback -are essential, enabling them to: "Read and think actively and investigate their fields from the outset." (1)
* Conducive learning environment - essential for healthy personal and artistic development. Trust in tutors, peers and self - the opportunity and willingness to risk take, experiment and, the right to make mistakes. The result - students when making or choreographing, seem prepared to tap deeply into their emotional responses and are ultimately able to discuss these both subjectively and objectively.
* Arts Learning Log- designed specifically for performance arts, it supports student learning throughout the programme. Based on Kolb's theory of experiential learning - a four stage, cyclic model comprising concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation and found in a paper by Robert Bray (2) it provides a method of recording and reflecting on learning experiences in a user friendly way. In its basic form there are three sections which consist of pieces of writing supported by other evidence:

RECORD factual record, description - what you did
REFLECT reflect on, evaluate learning - what you learnt
ACTION identification of needs, forward planning to progress learning - what to do next

A final statement requires students to sum-manse the main issues and learning that have emerged for them.
* Record of Achievement
- designed as an extension of the Arts Learning Log and piloted in 1993-94. An invaluable, long-term tool (particularly when students are seeking employment) which encourages self-motivated and self-managed learners. Student evaluation of the pilot scheme has proven a critical but con-structive component, demonstrating a high level of understanding and willingness to participate in further developments, thus recognising the potential value of recording achievement, action planning and self-reflection activities. There is a need however, to review the format and content of the document and consider ways in which it could become a more integral and compulsory aspect of experience.(3)

The significance of the RP approach is acknowledged by the students themselves as underpinning and forming a lynchpin of future practice within the dance industry: "The process of creating an artwork provides me with diverse knowledge which can be forgotten. But by recording and then reflecting on this, knowledge is not lost, but evokes further development... Problems, solutions, confusions are all recorded providing evidence of my own learning. By returning to this evidence I can witness my own progress with completed tasks." (4) "I know that to always ask WHY is one of the most important questions one can pose during the creative process - however, I want the answer to be allowed to be WHY NOT?" (5)

Lesley Younger, Senior Lecturer in Dance, University of Sunderland. Contact +44 (0)191 515 2110.

References
1 External Examiners Report, 1996-97.
2 Using Learning Logs to record and assess experiential learning in Higher Education, presented at The Learner Managed Learning Conference, Amsterdam, 1993.
3 Enterprise in Higher Education, Local Evaluation Report, University of Sunderland, 1994-95.
4 MacDonald, Heather, Dance and Visual Art student, 1998.
5 Ritchie, Kim, Dance and Drama student, 1998.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001