Professional Learning

Hearing From the Students: The AOEU Master’s Degree (Ep. 200)

Last week, Nic explored the AOEU Master’s Degree with Dr. Alyson Pouls. Today, we will hear from three AOEU alumni about their experiences earning their degree. Listen as Holly Shedden, Heather Anderson, and Kendra Berg about their journey to the Master’s Degree and how what they have learned has affected their teaching.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links



Nic: Last week, we talked to Dr. Alison Pools who gave us the insight of what the master’s degree looks like, kind of what it all entails from start to finish. It was a great perspective from the Art of Education University. But today we’re going to take a different look at the master’s program. We’re going to hear from three students who have recently graduated and are completely enthusiastic about the program. This is Everyday Art Room and I’m your host, Nic Hahn.

We’re going to hear from three graduates today. The first one is Holly [Shedden 00:00:44]. She’s going to tell us a little bit about her experience with the master’s program through the Art of Education University.

Holly: Hello, I’m Holly Shedden. I’m an elementary art teacher from King George County Schools in Virginia. Recently, I completed my capstone research project as the culmination of my master’s degree program from the Art of Education University. I am very thankful for the new instructional practices and strategies that I have learned from my Art of Ed coursework. And I can now take them back to my classroom. Along with strengthening my teaching practices, being an online student myself this past year allowed me to have a greater sense of empathy and offered new opportunities to connect with my students online during the COVID-19 pandemic. My capstone research project, supporting creativity through risk-taking and freedom of choice, revealed many things to me throughout my three month research. There was room in my curriculum for growth in the areas of taking risks and offering choices. Up until last year, my art program was rooted deep in the structure in sequence of discipline-based art education.

Choice in the art room was not something I studied in my undergraduate degree and I would classify my program before my Art of Ed coursework as limited choice. By embracing choice and creating a printmaking experience with food for my students to explore, I was able to see how my students’ creativity flourished when offered autonomy over their materials and creative decision-making. One of my favorite things about my research project was that choice was not my first choice when planning my research topic in the course mission of teaching. I was drawn to this area because I knew I needed to learn more about it and fill a gap in my teaching practices and curriculum. As a researcher and teacher, I feel that this level of unfamiliarity with choice pushed me to learn more and dig deeper in my observations and interviews with my students.

By selecting a topic that I truly needed to learn more about challenged me, and as we all know, with all good challenges, growth truly happens. In addition to challenging myself with choice as my research topic, I learned that I needed to be confident in the process and trusted as my project unfolded. Just as I am continuously working with my students to see the importance of the process, it was evident through my research that I needed to do the same thing. During the printmaking experience that was part of my research project, I made field notes and documented my students’ confidence, surprise and enjoyment as they used food items, such as Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and lemons to create non-traditional prints. Recording their surprise and joy as they experimented and took risks during the studio experience was the highlight of my project. I can still see their smiles and feel the energy that filled my art room that day.

As a planner, I am task-oriented and work ahead in whatever work I have, both in my classroom and in my Art of Ed coursework. The research process challenged me to take each step one at a time and trust that the work put in one week would build and connect to the work the following week. The literature review was extremely challenging to write at the beginning of the project, yet the research that I had conducted for the literature review was instrumental in the methodology and discussion sections at the end of my research paper. Conquering the literature review and seeing the benefits of the research process revealed in my paper is a true testament to the value of embracing and learning through the process. I love the journey that I took alongside my students throughout my capstone research project, tackling unexpected things, choice for me and non-traditional printmaking for my students, allowed us to grow as artists and strengthen our creative thinking skills.

The power of the art making process through my research conducted is the greatest takeaway from my capstone research project, and I look forward to applying this knowledge to my art program next year.

Nic: Wow. That was awesome. Thank you so much to Holly for that very eloquent way of explaining the program. We’re going to move from an elementary teacher to a middle school teacher. We’ll hear from Heather Anderson next, and she’s going to share kind of the same process as well as some of the tips that she would suggest for someone thinking about taking a master’s program.

Heather: Hello, my name is Heather Anderson. I am a middle school art teacher in Canby, Oregon. I teach a blend of seventh and eighth graders, a general art class, but it is definitely a moderate choice-based classroom, leaning towards maybe a full-on tab classroom one day. I did my research recently on formative assessment in a choice based art classroom, and I was really specifically looking at the use of technology and the data was taken during our pandemic. Although it was very specific, it allowed me to really focus on how technology can be utilized in formative assessment and a choice-based learning environment.

If I have some advice to give to students conducting research for the first time, it is that you can completely do this. There will be hard times, but I think that the way that the capstone research course is set up, everything is broken down into steps already. So you don’t have to do that portion. And if you can kind of reflect a little bit on when it is in your life or in your lifestyle that you can find some uninterrupted time to really focus on reading, research, analysis and time to write, then you’re going to be A-OK. For me, I found that my family kind of calms down in the evening hours and I’m a night owl, so I found that the best time that I could really focus and get all my research out was in the evening. I was talking 10, 11, 12, sometimes writing until two in the morning.

So I would always do sort of the bulk of that time during the weekend or time that I could relinquish just to that action research. So it’s not going to need a ton of time because of the way that it’s broken down, but consistent time is more important, I think. What you can find consistently for your project is important.

The other advice that I would give is to really utilize your cohort members and your professor. The cohort members get to know your research almost as well as theirs. At least in my cohort, there was a lot of support and questions when things needed to be clarified and taking that time to really engage with your cohort is so important. You’ll find that their support in the end when you are presenting your research will really calm you during your presentation and ground you. So utilize your cohort and, of course, your professor. Our professor, shout out to Dr. Pools, she was amazing and never left us kind of high and dry with like, “Okay, now do your research period.” I could ask so many questions to clarify kind of what I was doing. This was the first time I’d ever done action research, and there will be times that you don’t know something, so really make sure that you’re communicating with your professor. I found that to really be a wonderful relationship that I know will just even continue on past graduation. So that would be some important advice that I would give.

The nuts and bolts about conducting research for the first time is that I would recommend spending a lot of time on your literature review. This is a time that you get to sort of hyper-focus on something that you are really interested in and gathering that research that has already been done and finding what’s out there is … I think most teachers are lifelong learners to begin with, so let that side of you just go crazy. I remember ordering books from the library and utilizing the research librarian at AOEU, having them help me with finding more sources. It was a fantastic time of learning really more about what was out there for my subject matter. Then the last part, but definitely I think one of the most important and exciting parts, was at the end when you are conducting your research and you’re writing your paper, don’t forget to find that creative side of you, that creator, and synthesize your work to create something out of your research.

For me, it was a visual model that I created that made sense of how to kind of work through some of the formative assessment methods and technology. It was such an exciting time because as most educators are, we are creators too. If you can allow that side of you to come out, I think you’ll get something even more out of your research and find that it might propel you into maybe utilizing the research in a new way in your own classroom, or going out and sharing it in a state conference or a national conference with other art educators. I think that is so important after you’ve spent all this time to try and get your work out there even more.

Nic: Ooh, I like that final thought from Heather, the fact that she said you can use it, of course, in your classroom, but that idea of going on and sharing this beyond your classroom, sharing it with other art educators, possibly at a state or national conference, smart. Very good idea. In fact, Kendra Berg, who is our next speaker is someone I hope to hear from in the near future. This is another Minnesota art teacher and so I’m very excited to hear from her. She’s going to talk about the program and some tips for sure, and she definitely was willing to share her voice today because she said, “If I would have known some of these things ahead of time, it would have made the program just that much better.” So let’s listen to Kendra Berg.

Kendra: I’m Kendra Berg, and I teach art at Hastings Middle School in Hastings, Minnesota. I have been teaching art for 10 years and I just graduated from AOEU this past April, 2021. My capstone research paper was experimenting with creativity, how experimentation impacts art-making creative development and the inner artist. Capstone research, so there is a lot of unknown and there are a few things I really wish I knew going into this part of my degree. First, I wish I could have had some insight from alumni and their unique experiences. So this podcast episode would have been fantastic. What I mean by that, for me, I was really anxious and nervous prior to entering capstone research, mostly because I didn’t think of myself as someone who could do quality research. I always thought of researching as my weakness. If I could have had someone give me advice and tell me, “Hey, look, this stage of your degree, it’s going to be a challenge, but it doesn’t matter who you are, what you’re trying to balance and what your capabilities are. With research you can do, and you will do it.”

I know that would have given me just a little more confidence going into this course. Next, I wish I knew that capstone research is about growth and developing as a researcher. This is a new process that many people are doing for the first time and perfection is not expected because you are learning and engaging in the process of becoming a researcher for the field of art education. So think about capstone research as a starting place to help you become a leader in the field, to further your research, or even encourage you to jump into new opportunities. Everyone grows in this process, sometimes in unexpected ways. For me, it was a complete transformation. Research helped me rejuvenate my inner artist that was lost for years and I’m excited to, once again, identify as that artist and art teacher.

It also helped build my confidence and feel accomplished. I never knew I could do something like this and become a researcher for something I feel so passionate about. Next, I wish I would’ve known how time consuming that literature review truly is. You have a good number of days to work on it, but my advice is definitely don’t procrastinate and start as soon as you can. So here are some of my top five tips for entering the literature review. Number one, color code based on topics. For example, if a part of an article was talking about creativity, I highlighted it in yellow and used a yellow post-it notes to paraphrase big ideas. This made it easy to come back to my own words and bring them into my writing. Just a side note though, this is really time-consuming, but it’s so worth it. Number two, create a spreadsheet of your resources similar to a table of contents.

In this, include citations, topics, subtopics, and other big ideas. This will help you pull pieces of all your different articles together so you can synthesize and make really good connections. Number three, create a mind map or a visual as an outline for your literature review. I created mine in Google Slides and it was nice because I could change up things as I made connections and as ideas developed, and it helped me organize the flow of my literature review. Number four, like many people in the program, I was trying to balance teaching and being a parent and then schoolwork. So for me, using my phone for note taking and writing was a huge time saver and I can thank Dr. Alison Pools for this idea, but all I did was use talk to text to make notes in an app, and then after I used my notes to add to my research paper. Number five, your literature review doesn’t have to be perfect. The glorious thing about capstone research is that it’s a living document that can develop redevelop and grow as you engage in the research process.

So sometimes you might have no idea what direction you’re heading and then all of a sudden things just start coming together. You’re going to circle back to the literature review as you continue your research. So sometimes it’s helpful to push through it and get your ideas on the page before refining and making it better. Finally, I wish I knew how much support you have during the capstone research process prior to going into it. As I mentioned, I was very anxious, nervous, and I didn’t fully have an idea as to what I wanted to research. So when you have those feelings, you’re entering capstone research, sort of with uncertainty, maybe a little less confidence in your capabilities. However, you will quickly find out how much support surrounds you. Your classmates are going to give you incredible feedback and you will build relationships with them, which will make things so meaningful.

Additionally, your professor is a huge support. I highly suggest setting up a meeting with them early on to share your research ideas, to ask questions and just engage in a simple conversation. I was feeling a little lost in the beginning with my research topic, so I Zoomed with Dr. Alison Pools, my professor, and I can’t explain how helpful that meeting was. After that, I changed my mindset and my confidence started coming back. Also, library services is fantastic. They can help you with your ideas, topics, and what keywords to use in a search for resources, and definitely lean on your village around you and all the people you care about most. They’re going to be there for you, and don’t be afraid to tell them how you are doing, whether it’s good or bad. When you have those moments where you feel defeated, definitely lean on them, but know that you’re going to have a lot of moments where you feel excited and all you want to do is share your findings with others. Overall, capstone research truly feels like a community and everyone is there rooting for you.

Nic: How many of you visual arts teachers were actually visualizing the color coding and the different post-it notes and the highlighters? I mean, she was speaking to our hearts, right? Great tips, definitely great tips about the master’s program and how to succeed in such a huge task of taking your master’s program. If you did not get a chance to listen to last week’s episode where we talked to Dr. Alison Pools, who was mentioned several times in this podcast, I’m going to recommend that you listen to that next. That’s going to give you a great insight of what the program looks like from the AOEU side of things. She really explains it well, definitely. But today I want to give a lot of thanks to Heather Anderson, to Holly Shedden and to Kendra Berg, who took the time to just give us the insights that they wish they would have had before they started the program. Thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today, and we’ll chat with you next week.

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.