Professional Learning

Exploring the AOEU Master’s Degree (Ep. 199)

Over the next couple of weeks, Nic will be exploring the AOEU Master’s Degree on the podcast. Today Nic welcomes on Dr. Alyson Pouls, an associate professor and academic advisor, to talk about the Master’s program. Listen as they discuss what to expect when entering the program, how research is conducted, and some tips for making your graduate experience a successful one. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: I’m sure you’ve heard by now that the Art of Education University provides master’s programs. I wish so very much that there was a master’s program for art education when I was taking my master’s program. We’ve talked about this on the podcast, but it’s been a while. It’s been quite some time. So I have reached out to Dr. Alyson Pouls, who is going to talk to us a little bit about the master’s program here at the Art of Education University. This is Everyday Art Room and I’m your host, Nic Hahn.

Alyson: Hello everyone. I am Dr. Alyson Pouls and I am an associate professor and academic advisor here at AOEU. After teaching K-12 art, I fell into a role teaching studio art college to college students, and just fell in love with college teaching. So for many years, I taught first-year college art foundations courses. And once I completed my PhD, I began teaching pre-service K-12 art teachers pursuing bachelor’s degrees in art education. And I’m now so happily here teaching our AOEU master’s degree students, advising our students on the program requirements

Nic: As always, I like to bring on the experts. And as you can hear, Dr. Pouls is definitely an expert in this field. She’s going to continue to tell us a little bit about what she teaches and the master’s program itself.

Alyson: I primarily teach Mission of Teaching and Capstone Research, the 600-level courses where students will complete their action research as the culmination of the degree before graduation.

So what is the capstone research process?

Well, the capstone research process occurs after you complete your 500-level courses. You’ll take 27 credits at the 500 level. Those credits include 12 credits of core courses, which equal four courses, all of them required, and 15 elective credits of any combination you wish. You can take those credits in any order you wish as well, but once they’re complete, you’ll be taking an exam in the month after those courses are complete to demonstrate what you’ve learned as you move to the next stage.

Nic: I found the idea of the 500 courses to be really interesting, the fact that there’s a certain amount of courses that you’re going to take that would unify all master’s degree students. We’re all going to take the same one. It’s going to look the same. We’re going to have the same vocabulary, the same idea, the same feel from the Art of Education University. And then within those required credits, I guess, there’s electives. So you can really focus in on what is needed in your classroom. And let me tell you, the Art of Education has a lot of options. So if I’m really seeking more concentration on maybe my management style in my classroom, I can take those courses to really focus in on that, or perhaps more of the studio aspect. I can go ahead and take those courses in those areas. So these 500 courses sound really interesting. I’m a little concerned with the end test. So let’s hear a little bit more from Alyson about what this test involves.

Alyson: Don’t be nervous. This is a video-recorded exam. It is not live and it is not written. And you have seven full days to complete the exam. You’ll choose from two of five topics that have specific bullet-pointed questions, similar to the way discussion board posts are laid out in your courses with bullet points. You can also record your exam as many times as you need until you’re satisfied. This is a milestone and something to be proud of in your degree program.

Nic: Okay. That makes me feel a little bit better. I love this idea because we’ve all had tons of experience with this in the last couple of years, instead of sitting down and taking that test. I know for myself, I don’t love sitting down and taking tests. It does make me a little anxious, which is an okay thing, but I would prefer to do a recording as suggested in this situation. How cool? We all have practice on that and it sounds like you’re going to have practice in the format of how it’s set up for you. So it’s going to be similar to the discussion boards that you’ve been using all along during the process of your master’s program thus far.

Alyson: What happens after that? Once you pass that exam, you’ll enter the final two courses, Mission of Teaching and Capstone Research. This is again a milestone and a super exciting moment as you’re embracing and redeveloping your teaching mission. And you’re using that passion to drive your decision for what you’ll study in these two courses.

What does this study mean? Your study will be what we call an action research study. Action research is something you do every single day in the classroom and in life because action research is a cycle of research based on problems or things that you observe in your own environment, challenges you might face in your teaching practice or in curriculum, or needs in your own teaching context or the art education field as a whole. So you’ll be evaluating where you feel you need additional development or answers so that you can then implement, reflect, implement again, evaluate and reflect as you make decisions, just like you do when you’re in the classroom and you’re watching your students as they embark on a project or an experience. In this process for action research in our courses, you’re formalizing what you already do all the time. Action research is about improving your own practice.

There are six steps in the cycle, and again, you don’t have to remember any of this. This is just an FYI for the future, but those six steps are finding the problem and identifying it, gathering background information on the problem, designing a study, collecting data based on the study you conduct, analyzing the data and interpreting it, and then implementing the data into your practice and sharing those findings. Do you see how you do this in the classroom all the time? Action research is designed to help teachers improve practice in real time. So when you get to this level, there’s going to be three types of action research you can choose from.

There is the arts-based research example. And if you choose this area, you need to remember that while you must be inspired by your AOEU course work. You also must connect this work to your study and tell us how the work you’re doing informs your practice as an educator. This can be expanded upon in your discussion or in additional research question. It can focus on your practice as an artist, but as you learn skills. You’ll share how it can improve your practice as a whole, but this is not simply making art and reporting on it. This is making art in response to problems or areas you would like to communicate about and fix or work on within your practice. Arts-based research is a really interesting field. I just need you to remember that it’s not just simply making art, although you would make art as part of that process.

The curriculum and instruction option focuses on ways to improve and enhance a curriculum and your instruction. You can survey other educators, you can try new strategies to see connections in student attitudes. You can build curriculum for one grade level based on a survey or interview data. A lot of students ask, can they do a curriculum study in the summer? 100% you can because you can survey other teachers and find what other teachers are doing in their curriculum to create a takeaway that you bring into your practice later.

Leadership is also an area that you can focus on. This area encourages you to use what you found from your research to share with a larger audience. That’s very important in this kind of research so that you can impact others with your advocacy. You’ll also want to conduct interviews or surveys to gain more information about your topic from colleagues. It could be a curriculum, a handbook, a presentation that you share. You’ll start the process of choosing your topic and selecting research questions, writing those first couple chapters in Mission of Teaching and collecting your data and finishing your research in Capstone Research with a paper and final presentation. This is where you transform into a teacher, artist, researcher, and then you graduate.

Nic: Okay, this is where I geek out a little bit. I love action research projects. There’s probably not a lot of people that can say that, but I do. I love it. Actually, I think anyone who’s in the midst of learning opportunities, such as a graduate program, you’re going to say the same thing at some point, you’re going to say, “I love doing action research.” Because this is when you take what you’ve learned and you implement it into your classroom, but it’s not a project because it’s improving your everyday life as a teacher. Action research is the best. And as you could hear, you could definitely cater to what your needs are, again, with your action research project. So if you are really seeking how to improve your classroom management again, I keep saying that one because that is often a needed thing for many of us. Is to improve that classroom management. So you can concentrate on that in your classroom and it’s going to fit into making your life better and achieving your goal of this master’s program. That is so cool. Action research, woop woop, I just love it.

If you’re thinking of the master’s program in any way, shape or form, you might want to consider some of the hot tips that Dr. Pouls has to tell us.

Alyson: I’ll give you one very important tip as you are embarking on the rest of your 500-level courses. Is to save resources. Make a folder, plop resources that you love into that folder, and then make a spreadsheet. List the author, the title, the citation. Make a column that lists the themes that you found and why they’re important to you. Then when you go back and you start doing research, you have a bank of resources and you already know what they’re for. Lastly, find your passion. If you create a study you’re passionate about, you’re going to love every minute of it. It’s rigorous, challenging, inspiring, and empowering all at once.

Nic: Well, perhaps I was wrong about being the most enthusiastic person about action research, because I think Dr. Alyson Pouls probably beats me. She’s not only excited about action research, but the whole entire program. And it was fun to hear the passion in her voice as she told us about the program that you could be a part of.

I recently was having a conversation with another art teacher. Her name is Stephanie, and she is a Minnesota art teacher as well. And her and I have met several times at different conferences with Minnesota and just kind of being in that art teacher loop. And we were sitting at a baseball game together because we have a mutual interest in the team. Her nephew and my son play together. And so she shows up at a game and it was really fun to catch up and we have been kind of messaging back and forth ever since. She inquired a little bit about one of the classes that I’ve been taking and posting some arts on Instagram about. And she said, “Well, I’d love to take some more courses, but I’m actually in the middle of my master’s right now.” So I asked her if it was the Art of Education University’s master program, and she did indeed confirm this is the program that she’s taking.

I continued to message her and just ask her what she thought of it. How is it going for her? I’m so proud of anyone who’s about to embark or in the middle of their master’s program or finished it up. She replied back with this message: “This has been so, so relevant. It has been the best career move I’ve ever made. A game changer for my professional life.” Well, that sums it up, right? “A game changer for my professional life.”

I thought taking my master’s program was really beneficial as well. You can always make a program work for you. In fact, that’s what I had to do. I took a… My master’s was through St. Mary’s, which is a great college. I loved it. St. Mary’s of Minnesota University. I went to a once a week course with 60 other people. It was the largest cohort they ever had and I was the only specialist. The only one. I took this course with high school teachers, middle school teachers, elementary, and I was the only specialist. There were two other people that taught special ed, and so we got clumped together very often.

And yes, to a certain degree, we all as teachers have plenty of things to discuss with each other and to improve our profession. But there is nothing, nothing like learning with and from other art teachers when you’re trying to improve your art classroom. I mean, that seems like it’s a no brainer. That is what the Art of Education University provides for their master’s program. They provide art teachers, together, having a similar conversation. The most diverse you might be is teaching high school, middle school or elementary, but here’s the deal. We’re qualified K-12 in many states. So don’t we need to open our ears and listen to each other when we’re learning and trying to improve our profession? Yeah, we do.

The other thing is, there might be a lot of different parts of the world, parts of the state. And so we might have different rules from where we’re at. So again, we’re not all just one uniform group, which is again, pretty beneficial sometimes. Like I said, in my master’s program, to a certain extent, it was great to have other voices and other perspectives. So you’re still going to get that, but you’re going to get it with art educators.

I thought that this conversation went so well today that I think we’re going to, next week, bring on some other voices. Some people that are in the program or finishing up the program right now. I’m excited to hear from voices that are in it, just finishing it, and very excited and enthusiastic. So today was kind of the introduction to the master’s program with the art of ed. And next week we will bring on three new voices talking about the master’s program and what it meant to them.

As I alluded to, we will continue this conversation next week. But during the week, while we wait to hear from the master’s students or recent graduates, why don’t you take the time to go jump onto the Art of Education University’s webpage, take a look at the program a little deeper, look at the different options of courses now that you have a better understanding of what that looks like. So this week, that is your homework. Look into that if this is a program that fits into your world right now. It’s something that you need to feed you. Something that you might need to just give you that spark and that push for the next two years to really improve your classroom. We will chat with you next week, continuing this conversation.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.