TaRT (Teaching as Art)

Contributor: Iddo Oberski, Senior Lecturer in Learning and Teaching, Queen Margaret University, ioberski@qmu.ac.uk


Ingredients: You’ll need a stack of arty postcards. I tend to choose fairly traditional pictures, taking into account the participant group, and try to avoid art that is likely to cause embarrassment or shock.

Method: I tend to use this activity near the end of a 5 day intensive course on facilitating learning in higher education. Arrange the group in pairs (if odd number, you’ll have one group of three, which is fine). Present the stack of postcards face down. Ask each person to pick one postcard and keep it face down. You may wish to indicate that you would like the cards back and ask people not to write on the cards. Once everyone has a postcard, ask them to turn it face up. Individually they have 5 minutes to examine the image on their postcard and to write down (on a separate piece of paper or in their note books)  three things that they appreciate about the piece of art depicted and three things they would like to change. Then give them 5 minutes to exchange their views with each other. Ask for some ‘popcorn’ style feedback, in other words, whoever wishes to speak just speaks and briefly summarise what they talked about in relation to the images.

You then ask “What kinds of qualities were you discussing in relation to the images?”. Again, just take responses from willing participants. Typically, you will get answers such as: colour, line, shade, composition, topic, form, depth, symmetry, mood, concept, breadth, depth, scale etc. Make sure you write  these qualities on a flipchart or white board, to remain visible.

Then ask them to discuss in their pairs how these qualities might relate to our teaching? What would be the ‘colour’ of teaching? Etc. Allow 10 min for this.

Ask them to reflect individually for 5 minutes on whether and how the whole exercise has affected the way they think about their own teaching and about teaching in general. Then 10 min for a final plenary session to share these reflections and offer any other relevant insights.

This activity is inspired by van Manen’s (2002) book which explores the notion of ‘tone’ in relation to teaching. I was interested in opening up unconventional modes of thinking around teaching in order to inspire and broaden our perspective towards those qualities of teaching that may be less tangible, less measurable and less describable. The activity is intended therefore to be explorative and playful and to provide participants with a simple experience of shifting from a predominantly verbal/textual mode of thinking to a visual-aesthetic mode of thinking about teaching.

Acknowledgements: I gratefully acknowledge the support and enthusiasm of my colleagues in the Centre for Academic Practice, especially Prof Roni Bamber, as well as the various participant groups of our Short course Facilitating Learning and Teaching, who provided informal feedback on experiencing this activity.


Burge, A., Godinho, M.G., Knottenbelt, M. and Loads, D., 2016. ‘… But we are academics!’a reflection on using arts-based research activities with university colleagues. Teaching in Higher Education, pp.1-8.

Loads, D.J., 2009. Putting ourselves in the picture: Art workshops in the professional development of university lecturers. International Journal for Academic Development, 14(1), pp.59-67.

May, W.T., 1993. Teaching as a work of art in the medium of curriculum. Theory into practice, 32(4), pp.210-218.

Van Manen, Max. 2002. The Tone of Teaching. London, Ontario: Althouse Press.

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