I am currently involved in a research project with the Beacons for Public Engagement. I intend to use this page to blog about how the project is developing and generally share the progress I am making. I have been working on the project around a month now, so I will begin with a summary of what I have achieved so far and what the project is about.
The research is essentially a widening participation initiative that enables both myself and selected university students to enter local community first schools in order to share experiences and to gain an understanding of the most appropriate methodology of implementing outreach music activities. The University’s state of the art new building in Cardiff The ATRiuM is rapidly becoming a centre of excellence for students intending to pursue a living in the creative and cultural industries, and this project intends to ensure that local children are given the opportunity to interface with the facilities and experience we have. The aims of the project are as follows:
- To investigate the most appropriate means by which pupils in the 11 – 19 age group learn in their school environment for music activities?
- To ascertain exactly what these pupils want to learn in more informal musical environments?
- To investigate more precisely what these pupils need to learn? In other words how can future Saturday school initiatives symbiotically work with secondary education by complying with and assisting the school curriculum?
The proposed research will be implemented through a series of visits to 4 schools in the Communities First catchment areas in Cardiff, Caerphilly, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil. Initial visits will involve semi-structured interviews with music staff and more open focus groups with the children themselves. These sessions will be implemented by myself, but will be followed by workshops and other class activities co-conducted by selected University of Glamorgan students. The precise format of these sessions will be negotiated with school staff and may vary depending on individual preferences, but will broadly involve the following process:
- University students perform a full group 15 minute performance set (Guitar, Bass, Drums, Keys) to all pupils in all of the selected schools, followed by a question – answer session about university life and curriculum
- Project leader and one student assistant shadows teachers or classes in all four schools in order to ascertain initial understandings of the above aims.
- Individual Students host individual small group sessions in one school with project leader support. These sessions will be planned by students and possibly arranged into instrumental groups.
- Project leader conducts a summary session in all selected schools to conclude the project with music staff and pupils.
Focus will be primarily focused upon the realism of a Saturday Morning music school and its preferred format. This session will also be used to share more specific information about the environment and music curriculum at the ATRiuM, and will investigate the potential of institutions working together. Project leader conducts a three hour focus group with all university students to ascertain fully their opinions and perspectives on the project.
It is interesting how one month into the planning of the project, the order of the above has already been reconsidered. It was considered prudent to implement the observation sessions prior to the group visit in order to gain a better understanding of what the performance could be be. Questions such as performance venue, number and type of students, and type of music still need to be addressed. It was also decided that as opposed to my students implementing a teaching session in the school environment, it would be of more benifit to the schools if the sessions took place in the ATRiuM. This has logistical issues but the idea of planning a series of workshops in the ATRiuM building has the potential to provide an inspirational benchmark for the school children involved in the project. The university student helpers also feel more forfortable as they are in their own environment.
It is envisaged that the outcomes and outputs (see below) of this proposal will begin to provide a useful insight into the aims outlined above, and will provide essential data to enable realistic knowledge exchange and curriculum’s for future outreach activities. The proposal will also give both myself and my students invaluable experience in directly engaging with teachers, children, and the environment through which school children learn. This project will additionally provide the selected university students a unique opportunity to be involved in a research project, where their learning experience and opinions will be documented as part of the findings. Although it is expected that no direct contact with parents will be logistically possible, the research methodology will include a questionnaire that will aim to ascertain the perceived importance of extra curricular music activities such as the proposed.
Outputs produced by University staff and/or students
The principle outputs will be the documentation of an academic paper/report and the development of pedagogical and logistical requirements for a proposed Saturday schools. These can be outlined as follows:
- An investigation into the specific content that these pupils want to learn in more informal musical environments.
- An analysis of what pupils need to learn, by determining how Saturday schools/outreach activities comply with and assist the school curriculum
- To understand and develop a range of protocols that forms the basis of organsing future Saturday school/outreach activities.
- To examine how the university can begin to make a cultural changes in an effort to make its pedagogical and physical environment more welcoming and accessible.
- To ascertain potential mechanisms thought which more extensive funding can be sought to enable more schools within the proposed catchment to become involved in both outreach activities in schools, and Saturday morning/summer school activates based at the ATRiuM.
Outcomes related to University staff and/or students
- A more comprehensive understanding of how Saturday schools/outreach activities can improve perceptions and knowledge of university for teachers, parents and pupils.
- Initial experience in conducting interviews and focus group sessions with teachers and pupils.
- Opportunities to develop skills in explaining, discussing and developing Saturday school/outreach activities in conjunction with teachers, pupils and parents.
- Opportunities to develop the skills associated with implementing appropriate performances for teachers and pupils.
- Opportunities to develop and implement workshops activities for school pupils.
- Opportunities to develop skills in answering unprepared questions about university related subject areas.
- A more detailed understanding and comprehension of how music education is conducted in the school environment.
- Opportunities to develop the skills associated with planning a public facing empirical research project through to its conclusion.
- To provide invaluab le experience in directly engaging with teachers, pupils, and the environment through which the latter learns.
- Opportunities to develop important links with local schools and communities
- Opportunities to develop confidence, skills, and knowledge when dealing with school teachers, pupils, and parents.
- Opportunities to assist understanding of how the public perceives initiatives such as the proposed.
Outputs that relate to school teachers, pupils and parents
- To have an equal share of the development of proposed Saturday school/outreach activities deriving from the University of Glamorgan.
- To provide essential information that will be used in the final evaluation, academic paper, and pedagogical/logistical protocols of the Saturday school/outreach activities.
- To have the potential to invigorate the school music curriculum.
Outcomes that relate to school teachers, pupils and parents
- To have developed a sense of ownership through partaking in the progressive development of Saturday music schools/outreach activities.
- To enable teachers, pupils and parents to better understand, support and challenge the research and enterprise activities undertaken at Glamorgan University.
The evaluation process related to this project will take the form of an academic paper intended for publication. It will be constructed in three sections, the first of which comments upon the outputs and outcomes documented above. This will include factors such as preferred student learning methods that can be incorporated in Saturday morning/outreach activities, preferred content and environments, potential opportunities and threats for future developments, university staff/student ‘added value’ skill development, impact of group performances and workshops on schools, cultural institutional changes recommended, and future funding opportunities. There will also be a general analysis of the ‘outcome’ impacts on both staff and students to contextualise this section.
The 2nd section will discuss how teachers, pupils and parents impacted the project, and specifically how their own outputs and outcomes have developed as a consequence. This will take into account more comprehensively the observational sessions and interviews conducted with university students, teachers, pupils and parents, and will discuss ‘added value’ from their perspective. Part 3 of the evaluative process will explicitly focus on the more generic Beacon for Wales’ aims, and will be more philosophical, reflective and generic. Acting almost as an extended conclusion, this section will explore more widely why academics should become involved in public engagement, by investigating current government policy in Wales, the actual benefits from the proposed and other projects (increased profile etc), and the potential long term impacts in terms of forging closer links with public bodies such as the secondary school sector. A specific focus will be given to reflecting upon the means by which the project leader interfaced with a range of public engagement paradigms. These skills unquestionably require detailed consideration, planning, preparation and reflection, and factors ranging from project development, to the implementation of communication skills (talks, discussions, use of PowerPoint, questionnaires, demonstrations, etc) will be critically analysed and reflected upon. As stated in earlier parts of this proposal, it is expected that both the project leader and university students will learn a great deal about music based public engagement through implementing this project, and this will be covered fully in this part of the document. Additionally, it is also expected that the initiative will also provide an extra dimension to the breadth of subject knowledge of all participants. It is easy to underestimate the breadth of knowledge and logistical creativity that the modern day secondary school music teacher has to balance every day, and the evaluation process will fully reflect on how these often unrecognised skills (in the university sector) can be utilised in future outreach/Saturday music schools.