The Role of the Practitioner-Lecturer within Arts and Media
Published: 21 Mar 2017 By Dr Chris Dows
CBHE continues to attract part-time lecturers from a wide range of creative, professional and academic fields. As practitioners, their contribution helps to legitimise the teaching of their specialist subjects from a professional perspective and also helps support the ongoing move to improve the perception of Higher Education within FE colleges. However, practitioner-lecturers bring with them an additional opportunity to spearhead a re-evaluation of the current - and future nature - of employers, employment and industry within their specialist sectors, thus helping to better prepare learners for the employment realities of their would-be professions.
Two areas that benefit greatly from the involvement of practitioner-lecturers are Arts and Media. Regardless of college employment status, these individuals disseminate their past and, crucially, ongoing experience of the creative industries in which they work across their lectures, seminars and workshops. Their first-hand understanding of how ‘traditional’ models of employment are becoming increasingly irrelevant to working in the Arts and Media may require them to adapt existing curriculum materials or even rewrite them completely. Luckily, most FE colleges that employ creative specialists for their HE (and FE) provision recognise the contribution these individuals make to the portfolio, often encouraging them to develop their pedagogical skills while allowing them the freedom to influence the curriculum to their understanding of the industries in which they work. This benefits the learner from a number of perspectives; the contextualisation of theory into practice and the ‘truth’ about working within a highly competitive and notoriously unpredictable sector are two good examples, but the contribution a practitioner-lecturer can make to the content, structure and direction of delivery and assessment can go even further.
The move towards entrepreneurship within Arts and Media is at the heart of redefining who the employers are, what the nature of employment is and the shape of the respective industries. From graphic design to music production, many graduates will find themselves either working for themselves or within very small SMEs at the beginning of their professional career - and might aspire to have their own company as a long-term goal. Consequently, their Higher and, often to an equal extent, Further Education studies need to reflect this reality. To facilitate this, a raft of additional curriculum content might be called for. Lecturer-practitioners will understand the importance of business acumen, the marketing and development of ideas, the value of so-called ‘soft skills’ and the financial complexities of setting up a studio or company from their own experience. However, informing and encouraging their students of these elements is not enough - it has to be designed into the curriculum and integrated with the academic, creative and technical dimensions of their courses.
To contextualise how important an accurate perception of employment is within Arts and Media, consider the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s 2015 mapping document. In it, they state the UK creative industries were worth a record £76.9 billion to the UK economy in 2013, after growing by almost 10% year on year - a rate that is predicted to continue. This growth was higher than any other UK industry, three times the average increase in the UK economy over the same period and contributed a staggering £17.3bn of exported services. In 2013, this equated to 1.71m jobs, a 1.4% increase on the previous year - so understanding how employment is evolving within these industries and preparing students accordingly is vital to curriculum design and content.
Having a tutor with contemporary work experience is usually seen to be advantageous by learners, often leading to a close working relationship that is the hallmark of CBHE compared to the traditional University sector. Such a rapport can develop into a vibrant, dynamic collaboration where the cohort challenges the practitioner-lecturer to ensure what they learn is of maximum benefit to the class, pushing them creatively, technically and academically to achieve their potential - while continuously defined within the reality of the profession. Practitioner-lecturers are valued by their students and should be viewed as great assets by their employers; after all, if they cannot shape a curriculum within such rapidly changing and challenging sectors to enhance the employability of the learners, who can?