Linda Drew

  • Approaches to teaching: extending 'theory' in the context of art, design and communication

    Linda Drew, University of Brighton UK

    Research Paper

    Themes addressed: Theories of learning and teaching, Learning and teaching methods, Learning environments

    This paper explores relations between approaches to teaching and communities of practice in teachers of art, design and communication. This study was designed to extend the application of the Approaches to Teaching Inventory (ATI, Prosser and Trigwell, 1999) which was originally developed from data derived from studies with university science teachers (Trigwell, Prosser and Taylor, 1994; Trigwell and Prosser, 1996). This study further explores approaches to teaching in the specific learning environment and context of art, design and communication, and investigates how approaches to teaching relate to the concept of communities of practice.

    Interviews were conducted with 44 practice-based teachers of art, design and communication to explore their experience of teaching in terms of both conceptions and approaches to teaching. The interview data on approaches informed this version of the inventory (ADC-ATI). Items were added to the ATI using data collected from the interviews which pertained to aspects of teachers focus on skills and developing communities of practice. The ADC-ATI was distributed to teachers of art, design and communication in UK universities and institutes. 73 returned questionnaires were analysed.

    The findings of this analysis demonstrate:

    1. that teachers with a teacher-focused approach are more likely also to focus narrowly on developing skills
    2. that all teachers develop skills, but those with a student-focused approach are more likely to also focus on the practice and the real world problems of the profession.

    These findings further confirm the nature of the domain specificity of knowledge which is associated with social practices such as designing and photography (Billett, 1998, 2001).

    For teachers and learners to be members of the community of practice, approaches to teaching in this context must be both student focused and focus on the practice itself through real world engagement or problem scenarios.

    Most teachers in this context work as part of a course team (or in a department) which represents the activity system through which community engagement occurs between teachers and learners. Some positive considerations for the development of teachers in art, design and communication to improve student learning and maintain the community of practice are discussed. The paper concludes with recommendations for developing teachers in a practice-based setting including:

    • Awareness of conceptions and approaches to teaching
    • Implications for learning and learning environments which take into account variations in social and creative practices
    • Implications for professional development of teachers at the level of the activity system


    Billett, S. (1998) Situation, social systems and learning. Journal of Education and Work, 11 (3), 255-274
    Billett, S. (2001) Knowing in practice: re-conceptualising vocational expertise. Learning and Instruction, 11, 431-452 
    Prosser, M. and Trigwell, K. (1999). Understanding Learning and Teaching: The experience in higher education. Buckingham: Open University Press
    Trigwell, K. and Prosser, M. (1996). Changing approaches to teaching: a relational perspective, Studies in Higher Education, 21, 275-84.
    Trigwell, K., Prosser, M. and Taylor, P. (1994). Qualitative Differences in Approaches to Teaching First Year University Science. Higher Education , 27, 75-84.