My dissertation proposal

My dissertation proposal


Research Question and Rationale

.       As an artist/researcher/teacher (Irwin & de Cosson, 2004)—that is, as a person who concurrently makes art, teaches art, and investigates issues related to art and pedagogy—I am focusing my doctoral research on the role of creativity in education. Building on my Masters research involving art education and unschooling theory (Codack, 2010), my question is: how can creativity be nurtured in educational contexts? Creativity can be defined as the process of having original ideas that have value, to address existing problems or to seize new opportunities as they arise (Robinson, 2006; Schlesinger, 2006), therefore creativity has a significant role to play in every area of learning. Fostering creative capacities will be central to the task of preparing learners for our unprecedented future (Robinson, 2006; Pink, 2006; McGuinty cited in Benzie, 2012). In an era marked by rapid technological innovation, shifting global economic powers, overpopulation, and climate change (to name a few), it is arguably now more important than ever to determine how best to foster creative capacities, and this is what my study will aim to illuminate. This insight can then be used to inform educational practice, stakeholder advocacy, and individual choice. Like my Masters work, the notion underpinning my current inquiry will be that the traditional schooling model may not account for creativity (most) effectively (Codack, 2010). This idea is rooted in unschooling theory, which recognizes mainstream schooling as deficient (Griffith, 1998). Kohn (2011) explicitly argues, “the worst kind of education is the most popular” (n.d.). Thus, I plan to investigate a variety of diverse educational models, such as Montessori, Waldorf, Sudbury Valley, homeschooling, unschooling, alternative models within traditional schooling, as well as the traditional schooling model itself, to elucidate the question of how creativity can be nurtured. Given that I am an artist/researcher/teacher with experience as a classroom art teacher and a freelance artist, I am a fitting investigator and advocate for this issue. I am both a product and a perpetuator of how creativity was(n’t)/is(n’t) supported in traditional schooling, then as a student and now as someone who currently works on the front line of education, so it is reasonable and appropriate that my research will be attuned to a question I have encountered in both of these capacities. In sum, given that traditional schooling has yet to effectively adapt to accommodate 21st century requisite skills, this research will bring to light the various philosophies and strategies that diverse educational models implement in relation to creativity for the purpose of developing much needed richer understanding and the transformative effects that come from it.
.       I will explore the topic of creativity, appropriately, through art-based methodology—namely through documentary-style digital video embedded in YouTube. Emerging 21st century information technologies such as YouTube are offering researchers new advantages and affordances in their scholarship. I plan to mine the collective intelligence of YouTube (Jenkins 2006) for video clips explaining the aforementioned educational models by/featuring proponents of each model that offer articulate descriptions and thoughts. These proponents may compare, contrast and critique other models in their clip, which would add to the discussion. I will then co-opt these clips (pending owner permission) by remixing them into a new video to address my research question. Remixing can be described as cutting and pasting using digital technology to produce something new (Hoechsmann & Poyntz, 2012). It is entirely similar to collage (literal cutting and pasting to reformulate), as well as to writing a traditional style dissertation, wherein a researcher synthesizes excerpts from other authors’ work to communicate new ideas. Whereas with a text dissertation a researcher would embed citations in the document according to APA style, my citations will be embedded in what is referred to as ‘lower thirds’. Figure 1 is a screen shot showing an example of lower thirds in use; essentially it is stylized titling in the lower third section of the screen which has been added overtop of video footage in post-production. I will also include a full APA reference list with the end credits.

Figure 1

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 9.37.27 PM

In addition to remixing, I plan to appear in the video at appropriate times to interject my voice and advance the discussion, just as I would if I were writing a text-based dissertation. I will transparently present my personal narrative as a point of context to wrap the theory around throughout the piece. For example, I can model the creative process by filming myself painting as I cover related theoretical territory. I believe my experience will lend credibility to my work as it was the impetus for me to pursue doctoral studies in education.
  .     To guide my search, I have formed three subquestions that focus on the conditions under which creativity can thrive. Holt (1989) writes:
.       Real learning is a process of discovery, and if we want it to happen, we must create the kinds of
.       conditions in which discoveries aremade. We know what these are. They include time, leisure,
.       freedom and lack of pressure. (p. 100)
Therefore my subquestions are as follows:

(1)  How and to what degree are learners able to control what they do, as well as control when and how long
.      they pursue an activity?

.       This subquestion matters because as my Masters research (Codack, 2010) demonstrates,
.       creativity can suffer when the activity is not learner-centric, whereby learners are limited
.       by regulated objectives and/or time constraints. Gatto (1992) warns that students’ lack of
.       control can produce “intellectual dependency”, which is antithetical to creativity (p. 8).
.       Holt (1989) also warns, “teaching that the learner has not asked for is likely to impede
.       and prevent his or her learning” (p. 28). Likewise, Harrington, Block & Block (1987) find
.       that children’s creativity can flourish when adults relinquish control and promote a sense
.       of freedom instead. Csikszentmihalyi (2004) finds that self-direction and freedom make
.        a situation conducive to “flow”—the trancelike state of having lost consciousness of one’s
.       whereabouts to the creative impulse. Upitis (2005) observes that teachers who are
.       practicing artists understand the value of  “flow” yet find it nearly impossible to evoke
.       this phenomenon within their students due to the unfavourable conditions of the
.       mainstream school structure.

(2)  How and to what extent are learners provided support for creativity?

.       This subquestion is important because as Holt (1969), observes, children are sensitive to
.       what adults value; therefore learners who receive support will be more likely to pursue
.       creative ventures. Again, it should be stressed that support does not necessarily mean
.       direct teaching; rather support can span from unsolicited encouragement and trust
.       (e.g. leaving learners alone), to solicited facilitation (e.g. providing the appropriate
.       materials or environment), to solicited instruction. As noted in the previous
.       subquestion, unsolicited instruction (i.e. control) can discourage creativity.

(3)  How and to what degree is evaluation built into the model?

.       This subquestion is important because Amabile (1996) demonstrates that the
.       expectation of evaluation decreases creative output. Eisner (2003) also recognizes that
.       the process of discovery is undermined when a heavy value is placed on outcome. Even
.       seemingly positive evaluation such as an A or a gold star has been shown to diminish
.       creative performance (Kohn, 1993). Freed & Parsons (1997) argue, “grades perpetuate
.       the notion that the teacher is the absolute authority” (p. 125) which is in contrast with
.       the inclusive pluralistic sensibility of art and creativity.

Put together, these three subquestions that are oriented more toward specificity will help flesh out my overarching question of how creativity can be nurtured.
.       My main reason for employing digital video in particular as my medium of choice is its two-fold accessibility; meaning its cognitive understandability and its material attainability through online distribution. I want my viewers to “get it” on both the academic and physical level. YouTube provides an ideal platform for art-based research because it supports dynamic visual and multimodal applications (i.e. video) that aid communication, which are also easily disseminated (further explication of this point will follow under research design). As such, YouTube-embedded videos have become part of everyday life for many people and are shifting the way people think and come to know (Jenkins, 2006; Robertson, 2010). Jenkins (2006) writes, “each of us constructs our own personal mythology from bits and fragments of information we have extracted from the ongoing flow of media around us and transformed into resources through which we make sense of our everyday lives.” (p. 3-4). I will entirely mimic this process that Jenkins describes as I dig for viable morsels of information on YouTube to remix into my own documentary, thereby manifesting convergence culture (Jenkins, 2006). Hoechsmann and Poyntz (2012) aptly call such dual consuming and producing, “prosuming”, advocating this as a means of meaningful learning (p.190).
.       Learning via YouTube—whether as a consumer or as a prosumer—is naturally learner-centric because the process relies on the learner/viewer to perform his or her own search for the desired information. Therefore, most consumers of my research will follow an unschooling approach to learning when viewing my YouTube-embedded video. And, as is the norm with the YouTube platform, viewers will have the opportunity to leave comments beneath where the video plays and thus be able to participate in the discussion. They can also easily share the video within their own social networking circles (e.g. Facebook) and remix it as they see fit as a means of expanding the discussion. I will license the documentary under Creative Commons, which is “a non-profit organization devoted to promoting ‘copyleft’ licensing and building a community where people share and build upon the work of others” (Cucinelli cited in Hoechsmann & Poyntz, 2012, p. 181). Jenkins (2006) explains, “In this emerging media system [of participatory culture, we] are expected to interact with each other according to a new set of rules” (p. 4). This way, the “banking concept” of learning that Freire (1970) describes can be successfully averted; the learner is no longer positioned as a passive receptacle to be filled accordingly by the teacher (or, the dissertation reader is no longer positioned as a voiceless consumer), but is invited to participate as one with the world in its re-creation. Illich (1971) advocated long before the internet was invented that “the current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.” (n.p.). YouTube is an effective answer to Illich’s call. The reality of technological evolution and its effects on society is something that academia cannot ignore: new epistemology going forward will incorporate technological innovation, and my goal is that my doctoral research will in part lead the way in this regard.

Research Design and Conceptual Framework

.           Art as research is a relatively new epistemology, yet it is considered by the academic community to be an epistemology, no less (Lee, 2008). Artist/researcher Daria Loi (2008) writes, “artists lead us to question . . . The legacy of conceptual art is not a historical style but an ingrained habit of interrogation” (p. 89). Upon comparison of the research process (Cresswell, 2011) and the creative process (Ministry of Education and Training, 2009) (see Figure 2), it becomes clear that the two bear a striking resemblance:

Figure 2

researchvscreative-color-rebecca-zak (1) 

The colour coding in Figure 2 is meant to draw attention to the similarities between the two processes. For example, the red sections show that in either case the researcher or artist first establishes a problem/challenge/question. Then the researcher/artist draws on prior knowledge (their own/others’) in order to articulate what it is they intend to do with regard to the problem. Next, he or she gathers data (this can take a variety of forms, from numerical to linguistic, to artistic). In both cases, what follows is a period of examining the data, finalizing it, and presenting/sharing it with an audience. The research and creative process are indeed so similar I have come to recognize them as one and the same. It is also important to note, as mentioned in the Ontario Art Curriculum (Ministry of Education and Training, 2009), “the creative process is intended to be followed in a flexible, fluid, and cyclical manner. Students . . . are able to move deliberately and consciously between the stages and to vary their order as appropriate” (p. 20); this allows for a more seamless overlap with the research process.

Communities of Practice
.       In recent years, groundbreaking visual methodologies have emerged to complement the evolution of technology, and in response to the limitations of established research methods. Barone & Eisner (1997) observe that art-based education research “plays by rules that differ from those applied to more conventional educational research” (p. 101). Art-based scholars, sometimes known as “scholartists” (Knowles, Promislow & Cole, 2008), conceptualize research as a process that values qualitative interpretive understanding over conclusive analysis. Visual methodologies emphasize respect for embodied, emotional, and instinctual processes (such as creativity). The resulting work can be described as aesthetics and communication operating in tandem for the purpose of knowledge formation for both the researcher and viewers. The two communities of practice to which my research will subscribe are: Arts-Informed Education Research, from the University of Toronto (Knowles & Cole, 2001); and more loosely, A/r/tography, out of the University of British Columbia (Irwin, 2004).

.       From A/r/tography, I will simply borrow the ‘a/r/t’ figure, which symbolizes the triune identity of artist/researcher/teacher and the liminal spaces in between these roles (illustrated by the ‘/’ character) (Irwin, 2004). Chalmers (in Irwin & de Cosson, 2004) writes, “research, art, and activism are [not] mutually exclusive terms” (p. 19). These roles are automatically integrated by virtue of their concurrent presence (Irwin & de Cosson, 2004); for example, when I am in teacher mode, I am still an artist, and when I am making art, I am building skills that I will inevitably call on in the instruction of my art students. Further, I am also a doctoral student, and it is my everyday experience at work and in the studio that piques my academic interest. I use a Venn diagram to illustrate this triadic relationship (Figure 3), wherein the artist/researcher/teacher construct would be located directly in the center–the brownish section—symbolically coloured as such to visually and figuratively represent a mélange of the three primary roles (which are shown symbolically as the primary colours: red, blue, and yellow). In colour theory, when all three primary colours are mixed together, the result is a brownish hue.

Figure 3

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 6.07.47 PM

Irwin & de Cosson argue that this unified triad is vital to any progressive art education practice. It is from this perspective that I question, examine, think, theorize, critique, synthesize, write, create, and come to understand.

Arts-Informed Educational Research
.       Arts-Informed Educational Research (AIER) will provide the major methodological framework for my study. AIER is “grounded in [qualitative] theory but not bound by tradition” (Knowles, Promislow & Cole, 2008), meaning it maintains a theoretical focus but is otherwise free from traditional protocol (Sameshima & Knowles, 2008). As mentioned, my doctoral work will continue from my art-based Masters’ research (Codack, 2010) and likewise find its grounding in unschooling theory, which recognizes deficiencies within mainstream schooling (Gatto, 1992; Griffith, 1998; Holt, 1969). Cole & Knowles (2001, pp. 214-217) outline several considerations of scholartistry research, which in many cases would be absent or limited in traditional research models. These tenets include: (1) emphasizing accessibility; (2) underscoring empathy; (3) pluralism: challenging knowledge claims and stressing multiple truths; and (4) recognizing researcher presence. As a result, the traditional dissertation format is usually altered to accommodate these goals. For example, recently accepted dissertations have taken the form of collaged emails (McDermott, 2008), a painted circus tent installation (Harrison, 2010), a collection of fictional letters and postcards (Lee, 2008), a collection of photographs (Wells, 2008), and a suitcase full of artifacts (Loi, 2008).

.       “[Within AIER,] there must be a commitment to making the work accessible to the audiences beyond academe” (Sameshima & Knowles, 2008, p. 116). Creativity is innately human and concerns everyone, as does education; therefore I am aiming my research at the general public as my audience, via YouTube (and subsequent socially disseminated postings, such as on Facebook). Subscriptions to scholarly education journals are often expensive and thus limited to tuition-paying post-secondary students through institutional access. This means that most non-students (e.g. children, parents, teachers, administrators, ministry delegates, etc.) will likely miss out on educational information presented as such. Further, the writing of scholarly publications are composed using a complex register often aimed at other scholars (Hedges, 2009) that the general public outside of academia may not be able to comprehend in full. Saul (1992) argues, “A growing, healthy civilization uses language as a daily tool to keep the machinery of society moving. The role of responsible, literate elites is to aid and abet that communication.” (p. 145). In a similar vein, Eisner (1995) writes, “research with no coherent story, no vivid images, and no sense of the particular is unlikely to stick. [Artistic research formats account for this by offering] us a narrative that helps us to make sense of what would otherwise be incoherent complexity” (p. 5). Visuals can fill in the gaps to create a more complete, less abstract picture (literally and figuratively), as well as provide alternate/multimodal points of entry that provide “diverse ways to access ideas [to] empower readers” (Loi, 2008, p. 90). Multimodality can be described as
.       the use of several . . . modes in the design of a . . . product… [The modes] may
.       for instance reinforce each other (‘say the same thing in different ways’), fulfil
.       [sic] complementary roles . . . or be hierarchically ordered, as in action films,
.       where action is dominant, with music adding a touch of emotive colour and
.       sync sound a touch of realistic ‘presence’. (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2001, p. 20)
In the case of digital video, this means I will layer various kinds of static and animated visuals, sounds, and text together to produce differentiated super-communication to enhance understanding. Of course, this will not be done randomly: my plan is to draft a written outline of the points I will need to cover in sequence, then film myself reading it through to plot timing, then insert video clips, animation, graphics, text, and sound in logical places as required. I will undoubtedly go through many, many edits as the video takes shape. I have prepared a multimodal digital video trailer to elucidate what I am here proposing:

.       It is my belief that dissertation research presented as a documentary will be more powerful for those whom the research will affect most. Pairing that with compelling content (aesthetically/intellectually speaking) and ease of sharing via social media may well spur dissemination; this is how I can have my best chance at effecting change in my area of research (Wells, 2008).

.       By grounding art-based research in qualitative theory, the aim is to contribute to the literature from a social justice perspective; in other words, AIER is fundamentally transformative in nature (Knowles & Cole, 2002). Greene (1995) believes that the duty of education is to help students nurture their personal talents and skills for the purpose of contributing to society and a making a better, more democratic world. I would add that both the way and the context in which educational research takes place factors into how this important message is communicated and internalized. Eisner (1995) writes, “works of art… make empathy possible” (p. 4) because art appeals to the personal rather than to generalizations, facts and statistics. By having my own narrative (me as artist/researcher/teacher) running through the video, I can evoke a personal connection and make the issue of creativity in education feel up close and real. This ties in with the fourth tenet, researcher presence, to be discussed later.

.       Art-based research promotes ‘truth’ not in the positivist sense, but as nuanced, interpretive truth(s). Because it is less rigid in structure, often non-sequential, and offers multiple points of entry (Loi, 2008; McDermott, 2008), AIER prompts readers/viewers to come to their own conclusions based on their interpretation of what has been presented, rather than alienate them with one-way choices” (Loi, p. 90). Paradoxically, Lee (2008) argues that art-based research exists to cast doubt. My objective with my research will simply be to illuminate the issue (Knowles, Promislow & Cole, 2008) of how creativity can be nurtured in educational contexts, and in so doing I will cast doubt on traditional schooling methods in relation to creativity. I recognize that my research question is itself subjective, therefore I will keep the goal of illumination at the forefront of my mind as I select YouTube clips, edit, remix (i.e. analyze and interpret the data) and add stylistic effects (e.g. sound, blurring, zoom, titling, etc.) to draw out a cohesive narrative which is as unbiased as possible (i.e. reporting and evaluating research).

Researcher Presence
            The presence of the researcher is transparently evident in most art-based work, with or without the researcher’s physical image literally being included. This lends authenticity and offers a personal connection to the work (Wells, 2008). Many scholartists find the boundary between their work and themselves quite blurry; Lee (2008) reports that art-based researchers are not just informed of theories; they live them as a way of life, as process. Similarly, Sameshima (2008) states, “we no longer mere creators of text, we are text ourselves”. This concept of lived research strikes a harmonious chord with unschooling—as Holt (1969) says, “living is learning”, and Freire (1973) advocates that we not be “merely in the world” but “with it… [as re-creators of the world]” (p. 62). Placing myself within my own documentary feels like quite a natural decision; I am comfortable knowing I will be able to discuss creativity from my own personal vantage point, because that is where everything has originated from and that is what I do every day as an artist/researcher/teacher. To me it would seem awkward or forced to approach my dissertation any other way.

Proposed Production Schedule

.       I have developed a working production schedule (below) to provide an idea of what tasks need to be accomplished and when. Implicit throughout this schedule is regular communication with my committee members, whenever necessary.

A) PRE-PRODUCTION – January – April 2013
Write script text document (for voiceover narration)
Collect data (identify potential assets i.e. existing online audio and video)
Research Creative Commons and Copyright attributes for identified audio/videos
Prepare release forms
Meet with volunteer composer (brother-in-law Ryan Zak)
Location scouting (where I will film myself)
B) PRODUCTION – May – September 2013
Design ‘branding’ for film graphics (motifs/styling)
Film full script narrative
Rough edit including online clips & narrative footage
Film additional B-roll to fill in gaps
Write additional voiceover narration where necessary, film and edit together
Finalize and clear (i.e. get permission to use) archival and external footage
C) POST-PRODUCTION – October 2013– February 2014
Animation and motion design
Lower thirds
Audio mastering  (sound edit/sound effects)
Colour correcting
Work-in-progress screening critique for select film industry friends
Final edits
Website preparation – used for promotion & distribution
D) DISTRIBUTION – March 2014
Upload completed video online to YouTube and embed on doc website from YT
Public screening(s)


.       I have noted under the heading ‘post-production’ that I will produce a website for promotion and distribution. I see this as an add-on to my dissertation but NOT part of the dissertation itself; it will be something that makes sense to do to showcase the work (like making a painting, taking a photo of it and uploading it to a social media platform). This website can be simple; it will basically exist to draw traffic to the video (which will be embedded on the site from YouTube). I may blog about the process or develop a forum for discussion on the issue of creativity—that will evolve once I am at the post-production stage. For now, I can foresee in basic terms how this website should function and in my view it is suffice to leave it at that until later on in the process. 


.       YouTube reports, “48 hours of video are uploaded [to YouTube] every minute,
resulting in nearly 8 years of content uploaded every day” (YouTube, 2012). This means there will be no shortage of video clips for me to pull from. If anything, a limitation to my research could be that due to time constraints, I cannot possibly scour every video related to creativity in educational contexts. Similarly, there may be variance in the way some of the models operate that may not be captured in my work. Also, I will only be able to use those clips for which I have been granted permission, either via special permission or Creative Commons license.
.       Because art-based research aims to provide insight over answers, some may see this inconclusiveness as a limitation to my research. I would disagree with this idea; I believe instead that it is a mature strength of the methodology that AIER demonstrates inclusiveness and accounts for multiple conclusions. It asks the viewers to make informed decisions for themselves about the ideas presented based on their own thought processes and life journey. This echoes the independent critique (i.e. critical thinking) aspect of the creative process and positions the viewer as an active participant.
.       As I uncover how the various educational models account for creativity, some may argue that I may not be uncovering which model is best overall. It is plausible that a model that appears to foster creativity very well could simultaneously have major downfalls (for example, it may cost a lot of money meaning few could afford it). I am predicting that this could very well be a limitation on an individual level, based on individually perceived rationale and individual circumstance. Again, because this research aims to illuminate and not dictate conclusions, every viewer will be left to their own thinking, of which perceived limitations will vary.

.      This research represents meta-creativity; my method supports and exemplifies my theoretical framework, both in terms of its creative foundation and its demonstration of alternative educational processes. I look forward with excitement to how this research will unfold and, once complete, what it will mean for people on an individual and institutional level.




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