In December 2021, STEER colleagues (Liz Austen and Alan Donnelly) and the Teaching and Learning Portfolio Lead in Art and Design (James Corazzo) came together to design an approach to course enhancement. The aim was to support the BA Fine Art course team in an exploration of what was currently outstanding about their course and how this was evidenced, and design changes through evidenced-informed decision making.
The evaluative approach
STEER recommended the Appreciative Inquiry approach for this work as it provides a supportive environment to consider enhancement, design realistic actions and outcomes, and share good practice. This approach aimed to empower the course team to make rationalised and manageable changes to the course. It was hoped this would lead to longer term improvements in the NSS trajectory and other measures of success by enhancing course experience within a collegial and supportive environment.
Appreciate Inquiry is a method used to evaluate and enhance activities or programmes that are already in existence. It focuses on what is working well and involves systematically discovering what is effective on several levels. It allows participants to co-create their reality, emphasising what is ‘right’ in practice and collectively envisioning how it could be even better. This approach is completely removed from the deficit-focused problem-solving techniques that often result in conflict and negativity. AI has five stages:
- Define – asks participants to define what is to be evaluated. It is crucial for participants to contribute to this stage as it empowers and gives them a sense of control and ownership.
- Discover – asks participants to discuss the best things about the practice under evaluation.
- Dream – asks participants to dream about their perfect scenario, for example, what would your perfect course be like in an ideal world.
- Design – asks participants to action their dreams by designing their best course.
- Deliver – asks participants to plan how they would deliver their design, what resources they would need, and perhaps most importantly, how they will evaluate their design.
Developing the student experience on BA(Hons) Fine Art
Liz and Alan facilitated three online AI discussions with the lecturers to cover these stages. James then mirrored the approach with Associate Lecturers and students. A Miro Board was created to record evidence from these sessions. An online collaborative workshop brought the participants together to discuss and reflect on the evidence, consider outcomes and impact, and prioritise changes for the 22-23 academic year. The stages of a Theory of Change were intuitively explored through the facilitation of the AI approach and developed a platform for grounded course enhancements.
Reflections and Impact
“Supporting course teams to enhance programmes can be complex. There is no shortage of voices, stakeholders and opinions about the potential issues and workable solutions, and too frequently, the best intentions don’t get acted on.
“StEER’s approach was different. They opened a discursive space and brought clarity that helped to maintain momentum. Introducing Appreciative Inquiry was key because emphasising the positive engendered a generous, affirmative, and critical space for discussions. As one participant said, ‘I feel these sessions have fertilised a lot for the future of our art school.” (James Corazzo)
At the end of the collaborative workshop, the course team and student participants had agreed on two small, manageable activities/initiatives that could be explored and implemented for the new academic year. These are aligned to an agreed overall outcome that all students should feel included and that they belong within the course and the subject. Small changes, with an associated evaluation of impact, can build confidence through iterative and considered change. James continues to comment on how this change was enabled:
“We were encouraged to focus on small but meaningful changes. Staff and students were not short of creative ideas to enhance things, and Liz and Alan helped to ground these ideas into a couple of collectively agreed on action points with impact and evaluation in mind. They helped us amplify what is so good about the course and reframe the challenges in ways that have galvanised a desire for doable and impactful enhancements.”
Through phased contributions over a 6 month period, STEER were able to provide expertise in AI facilitation and outcome-led decision-making. This was supported by an engaged course team and an insightful Teaching and Learning lead. The evidence and learning from this approach will feed into course planning. STEER will be able to provide further support with evaluation design and evidencing impact, building on the relationships developed with staff and students through the AI sessions.
An example of actions that were collectively identified and agreed during the workshop which brought staff and students together.