Navigating Graduate Study in Art Education
Bain, Christina, Ulbricht, J., Art Education
There once was a time when art teachers flocked to university campuses in the summer to advance their education and learn new art teaching methods in hopes of becoming better teachers in succeeding semesters.
This was in the days when progressive teachers, principals, and legislators recognized the value of advanced education and rewarded teachers for their efforts with larger salaries and career ladder advancement (Stout, 2002). Today, some art educators find little incentive for graduate study beyond the bachelor's degree because of the increased use of inservice workshops for academic advancement and the lack of financial reward. After all, inservice workshops are advantageous because they are often free or paid for by the district, are normally scheduled during teacher workdays which reduces additional time away from the classroom, and are often scheduled at a convenient location in or near the district. It is important to bear in mind, however, that inservice workshops vary in quality as well as quantity. Do these types of professional development opportunities truly advance knowledge and skills or do teachers find themselves choosing any topic the district offers in order to fulfill specified requirements? Although obtaining an advanced degree may not be the easiest path to take, there are many reasons to consider exploring advanced studies beyond the bachelor's and master's degree. Some pursue their studies for personal enrichment and to satisfy their curiosity about current trends in art education. Some educators seek additional education in preparation for future employment in museums, schools and colleges. Others want to understand how to best advocate for changes in our field and therefore want to gain research skills to help them prepare facts and figures that support claims they will make to legislators and parents.
Based on a survey of 473 graduate students, we (Bain & Ulbricht, 2002) identified several intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influenced the completion of graduate education in art education. Personal motivation, interest, support, funding, and time were the major factors that contributed to the completion of a graduate degree. In the following article, we will develop these themes and also review some of the less important factors that respondents from 16 of the top art education schools in the country identified as problems in graduate art education.
We present the following article to enhance the knowledge of those who may be thinking about advanced schooling in art education. Our intent is to inform and encourage students to pursue advanced studies in visual arts education at the master and doctorate levels and to help teachers consider the various goals and purposes of graduate art education.
Graduate Study in Art Education
Based on a survey by Anderson, Eisner, and McRorie (1998), there are over 124 graduate art education programs in North America, of which 32 offer doctoral degrees and 117 have some variation of a master's degree. The researchers found that some form of discipline-based and studio-based teaching strategies were most prevalent (Patchen, 1998). Faculty members in master's level programs are more inclined to emphasize studio-based teaching, while graduate instruction at the doctoral level is more theoretical. One could conclude that the goal of many master's degree teacher educators is to enhance teaching and artistic skills for use in the K-12 classrooms, while at the doctorate level students are expected to expand their body of knowledge of art education theory and practice. Schools that do not offer a doctoral degree are more inclined to have a studio-oriented art education emphasis.
Improving graduate programs is a concern for every discipline (Brown, Davis, Fagen, Niebur, & Wells, 2001), particularly as departments vie for coveted national rankings. Golde and Dore (2001) found that since roughly half of the individuals who begin doctoral study never complete their degrees, students often do not match their goals with those of their selected graduate programs. Students need to be as informed as possible about their intentions and study habits, as well as art education program goals, faculty interests, and teaching strategies.
Directions in Art Education
Some art educators have reviewed the history of graduate education in art education (Hutchens, 2001), while others have investigated changing conceptions of research in the field (Zimmerman, 1996). Other art educators have tried to describe the current research agendas of teachers and students (Burton, 1998). Galbraith (2001) investigated teacher educators in higher education but her study was not specifically concerned with factors that influence the completion of graduate degrees or the problems and pitfalls of completing a graduate art education program.
Eisner (1963) conducted an early study that surveyed graduate programs in art education. Hardiman, Shipley, and Zernich (1975), and Anderson, Eisner, andMcRorie (1998) conducted follow-up studies that ranked graduate programs in art education. Although these studies examined how various graduate programs compare with one another, little attention has been directed toward the factors that influence the completion of graduate art education programs. If we wish to improve graduate education, there is a need to examine students' perceptions concerning their experiences.
We wondered why some graduate students complete their degrees and some do not. We were motivated to conduct the following study after attending the Think Tank on Texas Art Education in the 21st Century,1 where invited art education professionals discussed their visions of art education, problems that hamper its development, resources in support of art education, and recommendations for future actions.
The basis for this article is a survey of 87 graduate students who rated factors that were instrumental in the successful completion of a graduate degree in art education. Questionnaires2 were sent to 473 art education graduate students listed by their graduate advisors at major universities. Based on Anderson, Eisner, and McRorie's 1998 study, we contacted graduate advisors at New York University, Arizona State University, The Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, Florida State University, and Teachers College, Columbia University, in addition to advisors at the University of North Texas, Georgia, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, British Columbia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Missouri.
Of the 87 respondents, slightly more than half were doctoral students. Forty were master's students; one was working toward a specialist degree; 8 were Ed.D. students; and 38 were Ph.D. students. The majority of respondents (69 out of 87) were women. Most master's students who responded were in the first two years of their programs, while most doctoral students were in their second through fourth year of study. The majority of the master's students were between 20-39 years old, while doctoral students were in the 30-49 age range. Respondents were 75% Caucasian, 2% African-American, 6% Asian or Asian-American, 2% Hispanic, 1% Mediterranean, and 14% did not provide any response to this question. With regard to financing their graduate studies, 73% of the respondents reported receiving some sort of assistantship or scholarship and 87% revealed the need for personal financing to supplement assistantships and other school funding.
Top Factors for Successful Completion of Graduate Degrees
Among the respondents, the top factors for the successful completion of a graduate degree in art education included personal motivation, content interest, family support, financial support, and free time.
* Out of a possible 5.00, the average score was 4.89 for the question, "How important is (or was) it to be personally motivated to complete a graduate degree?" Respondents wrote the following supporting comments: "At this point it is personal motivation (a form of 'ego') that is a primary motivating force." "Without my personal goals, I would have quit long ago." "My own determination and force of will have also been extremely important." The intrinsic factor of personal motivation was the most important factor for the completion of a graduate degree in art education.
* Out of a possible 5.00, the next highest score was 4.81 in regard to the importance of a personal interest in a research topic. Respondents supported their high rating with comments such as: "The fact that I am really interested in my research topic and feel fulfilled by what I do, contributes to enjoying and wanting to complete my graduate degree." "Personal work in progress is important to me." "I love what I'm aiming for." It appears that were it not for personal interest in a research topic or course content, most graduate students would never seek a graduate degree.
* Personal support from family members appeared to be the next most important factor with an average score of 4.35 out of 5.00. Related comments from respondents included: "The support of my partner-helps me out when he can." "Without my husband I would not have been able to complete my coursework." "My older brother... has always supported and motivated me to try to be good at and finish every task that I undertake."
* Financial support, or the need to repay personal loans, was another very important factor that motivated students to complete their graduate degrees (4.29/5.00). In relationship with the need for financial support respondents wrote: "The fact that I've been borrowing so much money to go to graduate school has been a motivating factor. I will not let it go to waste." "Without my fellowship, I would not have been able to complete my coursework." "Having the ability to pay the bills [is important]. I am getting student loans that pay the bills."
Slightly less important factors for the completion of graduate art education degrees included freedom from outside factors, future employment, major professor relationships, and peer support. Freedom from outside responsibilities (4.28/5:00) was a major contributing factor as was the motivation of future employment (4.26/5:00). Having collegial relationships with major professors was also important (4.21/5:00). For example, one respondent wrote, "My major professor was the key factor in my pursuing and attempting to complete my thesis. She cares about my paper, and me, and she meets with me once a week."
Less significant was peer support (4.02/5:00). Respondents wrote, "Having the support of peers in my department-we really support each other." "Other graduate Ph.D. students with similar interests were/are my greatest influences beyond my family support." "The stimulus of the other fellowship holders was instrumental in reaching my goals." Although graduate students often meet other students with whom they can network, it is personal motivation and educational content that is most important.
Problems and Pitfalls of Graduate Education
Most troubling to the researchers were some of the few, but nevertheless, sad comments from graduate students who expressed concern about their graduate art education programs. Most problems expressed by graduate students centered on a lack of interpersonal relations with major professors. With respect to a question about lack of conceptual support, respondents said, "I feel like my advisor is not that supportive of what I want to do." "I have discontinued my pursuit of my graduate degree for various reasons-mainly due to lack of support from my advisor/program chair and professors. Because I felt discouraged and received little to no 'counseling' to help me find my direction in the program." Obviously, programs and major professors need to be chosen with care.
Thesis and dissertation committee members also need to be carefully chosen to complement student concerns and interests. In response to a lack of conceptual support from committee members, one respondent said that there was a need for congruence between major professors and interests of graduate students. Another said, "They are rebuilding the faculty base, which has slowed down my degree progress." "The most negative factor was the personal and academic political agendas that were played out between my committee members." Before selecting a committee, graduate students should ask themselves these questions: What can I gain from each individual? Am I selecting people based on their expertise? Their research skills? Their writing skills? Their interpersonal skills? It is also helpful for a graduate student to have a committee member who is willing to offer critical advice from time to time. Simply discussing ideas and asking questions in the early stages of the thesis or dissertation process is necessary, but students should also make sure that their committee members are willing to make time or that they are interested in the research topic.
Stability of faculty members and communication with major professors are additional areas of concern. One respondent said, "My major professor left before my degree was completed-could have been disastrous, however it worked out O.K. in the end." Another respondent said, "My major professor initially took an interest in my interests but then left to go on a sabbatical without prior notification." Students should be aware that professors have a need to conduct new research, and they often have many additional routine responsibilities. A professor's research schedule however, could prove to be advantageous. For example, if you are both interested in similar areas, many professors are enthusiastic about mentoring graduate studies that are "spin-offs" of their own research. Likewise, it can be advantageous to seek out the possibility of working on part of a larger study conducted by a graduate advisor.
Students need to understand that, at the graduate level, completion of course work is not, in itself, sufficient in order to complete a degree. Once the required and supporting courses are finished, a student must find supportive faculty members with the time and interest to mentor graduate students. Some programs limit the number of graduate students so that faculty members will have time to work with students. As noted by the following graduate student comments, frustration can result: "I attempted for an entire semester to get feedback from my major professor with no results." "Another problem is university professors [who] go through the motions but are not really interested or helpful." "I have spent nearly a year waiting on committee members to write exam questions, read questions, and get schedules to coincide for orals." "[Major problems include] advisor and committee members who over extend themselves with research outside the immediate realm of their students."
A prospective graduate student should realize that graduate programs are constantly in a state of flux to accommodate changing philosophies and new faculty members. Graduate students need to be prepared to adapt to revised curriculum guidelines and changing requirements. One student wrote, "Changing requirements and vague expectations made the process of getting the degree frustrating." "A lack of specific written guidelines and procedures outlining the doctorate process causes confusion and delay, as well as frustration." "The structure of the program was confusing with its dissertation, seminars, certification, and papers to think topics through."
In spite of the many problems and pitfalls of graduate education, most who have finished would say that their time in graduate school was the most invigorating time of their lives. In our own experiences, graduate study exposed us to new ideas, new opportunities, new challenges, and, of course, new people. We have fond memories of the friends and colleagues we met on our own graduate journeys.
Suggestions for Prospective Graduate Students
1. Prospective graduate students should assess their personal motivation to complete a graduate degree. Students can be motivated by intrinsic or extrinsic factors. Some want to enrich their current teaching practices while others may want to expand the body of knowledge of art education for others. Some want to prepare themselves to educate other art teachers. Students should assess their personal desire to learn more about the art teaching profession.
2. Prospective students need to have a personal interest in learning about the breadth and depth of art education practice. The assumption is that students want to broaden their concept of art education and not simply obtain certification for what has already been demonstrated in the classroom.
3. Prospective graduate students need to assess their family support systems. Graduate education takes time and the support of willing partners and family members who can give encouragement when obstacles arise.
4. Students need to assess their financial assets or the ability to compete for fellowships and grants. Once admitted, most schools will make every effort to support students who have promise for leadership in art education. Because most master's degrees take 2-3 years to complete, while doctoral work averages 5-7 years, students should ask how long funding will be available for their graduate work.
5. The prospective student should select a graduate school with care. Graduate programs in art education are not equal. Some graduate programs are small and require students to work with a limited number of faculty members who have specific philosophies and agendas. Some programs are larger and provide greater options, but are possibly more competitive, rigorous, and impersonal.
6. To ensure compatibility, the prospective student should write to and interview prospective graduate advisors to find compatibility with scholarly and creative perspectives.
7. Visit the department to get a feel for the atmosphere. Graduate catalogs are filled with facts and photographs, but they cannot accurately portray the environment of a graduate program. Are students and faculty laid back, frazzled, personal, or impersonal? Consider the ranking and reputation of the department. Speak with other graduate students in the department, as their experiences will be enlightening.
8. Consider the job market and your prospects for future employment. How many students from the program have obtained jobs in academic and non-academic positions? What are your goals?
So, when is the best time in life to consider beginning a graduate degree? Some may argue that it was best for them to go straight through school in order to keep their motivation and momentum, while others contend that it was important to gain teaching experience before beginning an advanced degree. No single answer suits every individual. Certainly, factors such as time, money, family responsibilities, and personal motivation, must be weighed when considering graduate studies. Graduate education can be an enriching experience and provide students with new frames of reference for future teaching and personal investigation. Graduate students have the opportunity to enrich their own lives while they influence and expand the body of knowledge in art education. With personal research and perseverance, the prospective student can have an enriching and enjoyable experience in graduate school. We encourage art educators to consider graduate studies because a knowledgeable, professional, and well-trained cadre of art educators is one of the best ways to make sure that art is regarded as something more than a frill.
... little attention has been directed toward the factors that influence the completion of graduate art education programs. If we wish to improve graduate education, there is a need to examine students' perceptions concerning their experiences.
In spite of the many problems and pitfalls of graduate education, most who have finished would say that their time in graduate school was the most invigorating time of their lives.
1 D. Jack Davis and Melinda M. Mayer (with support from The Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation, J. Paul Getty Trust, and the Walter H. Annenberg Trust) co-directed the Think Tank on Texas Art Education in the 21st Century for 58 participants at the Barton Creek Conference Center, Austin, TX, June 4-6,2001.
2 For a copy of the survey questionnaire, contact Christina Bain at email@example.com.
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Patchen, J. (1998). Commentary: Is all really well with graduate programs in art education? Studies in Art Education, 40 (1), 28-30.
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Christina Bain is Assistant Professor in the Art Education and Art History Division, School of Visual Arts, University of North Texas, Denton. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org J. Ulbricht is Professor and Chair of the Visual Art Studies/Art Education Division, Department of Art and Art History, The University of Texas at Austin. E-mail: email@example.com…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Navigating Graduate Study in Art Education. Contributors: Bain, Christina - Author, Ulbricht, J. - Author. Magazine title: Art Education. Volume: 57. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 2004. Page number: 48. © National Art Education Association Mar 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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