Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Teaching the Whole Student: Perceived Academic Control in College Art Instruction

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Teaching the Whole Student: Perceived Academic Control in College Art Instruction

Article excerpt

College art educators often express frustration about today's generation of incoming students, known as the Millennials. Members of this new cultural cohort often learn and interact differently from their older classmates and their mostly Baby-Boomer professors. In fact, generational researchers have found that Millennials are, among other things, more sheltered, protected, conventional, pressured, and confident than students of previous generations (Howe & Strauss, 2007; Oblinger, 2003; Raines, 2002). While helpful to consider, such comparisons only begin to explain the conundrums of college teaching today. For example, in a national survey of college professors, 44% of respondents reported that their students are ill-prepared for the demands of higher education (Sanofi, 2006). In addition, many students are either unable or unwilling to stay enrolled; ACT reported in 2004 that 45.4% actually completed their degrees, and in 2005, that only 68.3% of first-year students returned for their second year of college. College art instructors, like their colleagues in other disciplines, routinely cite phenomena such as student non-responsiveness to instruction, sinking motivation, and under-preparedness (i.e. insufficient academic or behavioral qualities commonly associated with college success). Despite these trends, most college teaching positions still require no specific teaching skills.

Instructors of college art may enjoy a small advantage over non-art faculty members, however, as studio art courses appear to foster certain skills that could help students become engaged, and stay engaged. As Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan (2007) explain, skills of reflective self-evaluation, willingness to experiment and learn from mistakes, task-persistence, observation, connecting schoolwork with the outside world, envisioning, and innovation are all uniquely afforded by the study of art/design. Yet even these skills may be counteracted by such factors as comparatively low scholastic aptitude requirements set for art school applicants or by some students' attraction to college art for its apparent emphasis on technical skills alongside academic ones. Thus college art faculty share the concerns of those in other fields about their students' persistent struggles to adapt to college life, maintain good grades, and stay in school. In fact, faculty frustration with students who appear poorly motivated, low in affect, or under-prepared for college work was evident at the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design's 2007 national symposium (serving faculty from 36 leading U.S. art schools) which featured four crowded presentations under the heading "Who Are Our Students?" What college art instructors across the nation perceive as rising student struggles may be particularly perplexing because these instructors remember when students seemed to be more independent, more responsive to instruction, and more apt to take responsibility for their own academic progress.

Such faculty impressions might be dismissed as simply a form of generational whining about "kids today," but they are based on observation, they arise from genuine concern, and they should not be ignored. After all, many entering college art students may truly be under-prepared - academically, developmental^, or emotionally - for some or all of the challenges that college life presents. For example, facing new academic standards might stimulate some highly-motivated students to work harder, while others may feel overwhelmed. Similarly, the challenge of building new social networks might stop some introverted students in their tracks while more outgoing individuals may sail ahead without hesitation.

Some of the student struggles college art instructors cite may also result from severe cuts to primary and secondary schools' art programs, which have, ironically, prepared students for college over the last 20 years better than ever before. Still, faculty impressions of student deficiency - whether real or imagined - persist, and at times, become self-perpetuating obstacles to teaching excellence. …

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