Using Shades of Noir

Non-traditional students (particularly BAME as well as WP) often face inequality at all stages of their learning experience and more and more the role of WP teams within UAL seems to be not only to support non-traditional students into FE/HE but also to ensure that, once enrolled, students receive all the necessary support required so that their student experience and academic achievements are the best that they can be.

Student retention and achievement statistics relating to the achievement of a good degree (1st or 2:1 classification) at HE demonstrate that academic success rates for this cohort are significantly lower in comparison with others in their peer group, a phenomenon that was discussed during the first Shades of Noir (SoN) Big Debate at CCW and constitutes one of the key aims of the SoN.

I am currently delivering a pilot intervention programme at Wimbledon College of Art (WCA) addressing some of the factors that research (both broad and local) has identified as impacting on academic retention and achievement at creative HEIs.  If successful, the programme could be rolled out and the research findings made available across the University.

A number of complex, inter-related factors that may contribute to poorer academic achievement by BAME students have been identified by researchers and the SoN website continues to be a useful source of information regarding current thinking which I use to inform the delivery and ongoing development of this intervention e.g  the signposting on the SoN blog to an article from the HEA in December last year which highlighted work focussing on the BAME student experience at Central School of Speech and Drama.

The pilot programme aims to address a small selection of factors that have been shown to negatively impacting on students’ academic success (both from academic research and via direct student feedback) and support them by providing a secure learning environment such that participating students are able to; feel a sense of ‘ownership’ and ‘belonging’ to the college; grow in confidence with regard to developing their own creative voice in the studio and working within an academic framework; nurture the development of peer learning groups and encourage greater levels of social engagement in order to support group learning, networking skills and increase levels of academic literacy.

Two key strands of the programme will be informed in part by the ethos and resources provided by SoN; facilitating tutors will be representative of diverse cultural backgrounds and activities will use SoN as an important signpost/portal to relevant resources and information as appropriate.  Hopefully the programme as a whole will begin to address a relative lack of appropriate and relevant social and cultural experiences often available to BAME and non-traditional student cohorts, reducing anxieties about performing to a ‘western studio aesthetic’ and exploring new ideas/philosophies/pedagogies/learning resources in order to support students to access more relevant and diverse primary material for use both in the studio and in relation to their contextual practice studies. 

8 thoughts on “Using Shades of Noir

  1. Thanks for highlighting the HEA article, that’s a really useful resource. I’d be interested to know whether your pilot programme looks at postgraduate study as well as undergraduate. I don’t know if the BME attainment figures are available for higher levels of study, or whether the fact that a student goes on to postgraduate work is considered to be evidence of having succeeded in the University environment. Something to explore….!

    • Hi Rebecca – thanks for your comments and good to see you at LCF the other day.
      I’m not looking at PG study at the moment, purely for reasons of lack of resources really and the fact that my remit is ostensibly FE with a developing focus into HE. The WP teams at UAL colleges have their work cut out covering this although I am aware that, and concerned by the fact that we do badly need to look at issues around PG recruitment and retention amongst non-traditionals students.

  2. Interesting to hear about an ‘intervention’ in progress. You are obviously already deeply involved with the issues SoN engages with.

    Do you think your research will provide dividend and to what degree?

    Are you finding the noted SoN issues of ‘answers being hard to establish’ even though the problem is clear?

    Also what resources did you contribute to SoN?

    • Hi Jacob – I really hope that I get some usable ‘data’ out of this research, not for academic reasons but because I really want to actively contribute to enabling students to feel happier during their time at college – to stay the course and to do well.
      I am struggling with trying to find answers yes – it does feel very clear to me and it frustrates me that the ‘machine’ moves so slowly to come up with practical answers/responses/actions.
      In terms of resources for SoN I submitted a link to the South London Black Music Archive, one to the web pages of an artist called Harold Offeh who does some really interesting social practice oriented work and engages with new and ‘non-traditional’ art audiences on a regular basis. I also found a great resource around contemporary aboriginal art and activism in Australia – A friend recommended it in the context of a conversation about diversifying our teaching staff!

  3. Hi Catherine

    The pilot programme you are developing sounds a really good initiative. When you say you chose a small selection of factors that you feel have an effect on attainment I’d be really interested to know what your rationale was for choosing what to tackle. You wrote about increasing students’ confidence which I think may be a critical factor for engagement. I feel that there is a connection between confidence and engagement that can feed (or starve) each other.

    I also liked the last point you made about exploring new ideas, philosophies, pedagogies and learning resources to open up new and diverse practice amongst students.


    • Hi James – I based the selection of factors on feedback I’d received from students who participated in some Master Class sessions I organised last Summer. The research lists a wide range of factors but I feel that each college probably has it’s own specific combination thing going on and the students highlighted areas of cross over with the research which is why I went with the subsection I have. There are so many factors that to try and address all of them in one pilot intervention felt like too big an ask on what is a very minimal budget and is a project that I’m running alongside my existing responsibilities regarding student progression.
      I’m glad you also feel that confidence is such a critical factor. So many students I work with lack confidence in their abilities, their voice – everything and anything we can do to boost it can only be a good thing I feel.


  4. Pingback: Teachers/academic blogging about Shades of Noir | Shades of Noir – Blog

  5. Hi Catherine

    Your research sounds very interesting and I look forward to hearing more about your findings upon completion.

    I too believe that increasing confidence plays a huge part in increasing motivation and this in turn can lead to better learning.
    Identifying the factors surrounding these sounds like the ideal starting point.

    Personally I would be very interesting to know if the student’s feedback differed from what you expected and if any unexpected or surprising points were raised.

    Interesting, many thanks

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