NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Ch-ch-ch-ch—Changes…

Dr Julia Prendergast and Professor Craig Batty — We are thrilled to contribute to this NiTRO edition focusing the theme of Change. In this article we consider the theme as it relates to the activities of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs (AAWP), the peak academic body representing the discipline of creative and professional writing in Australasia.

Let us begin by introducing ourselves: we are Dr Julia Prendergast, newly elected AAWP Chair, and Professor Craig Batty, newly elected Deputy Chair. We have a wonderful Executive representing writing academics from across Australia. Together we look forward to leading positive change within and outside of the AAWP, during our terms in these roles.

So, what is the current climate for creative writing practitioners, teachers and researchers? How do we, as representatives of a peak body, negotiate a collective voice that equitably represents the views of a radically diverse, and constantly shifting, membership body – identifying issues that warrant revision and interrogation? What does the process of change, as a transition to something different, look like in practice?

These are questions we continually address at events such as the annual AAWP conference. Following a vibrant 2019 conference at the University of Technology Sydney, including an Indigenous-led panel on Creating on Country [i], the 2020 event will be hosted by Griffith University in the Gold Coast, 16-18 November.[ii] This is our 25th conference gathering. The theme of “Rising Tides” addresses the current climate of writing and research as a climate of change:

In this anniversary year, we ask what does 20/20 vision bring us as we face the rising tides of the future? What must writers write for now? Where should research be directed? How might publishing adapt? How can teaching prepare the writers of the future? What do the coming changes mean for traditional genres and emergent technologies? Will writing itself sink or swim?

We encourage all those in the creative community to attend our conference and contribute to this excellent theme. As part of our 25th anniversary celebrations, the AAWP will also be hosting an Engagement and Impact workshop during the final day of the conference, responding to sector changes in valuing research. In this climate of persistent change, we ask: what does engagement and impact look like within the context of creative and professional writing research? The symposium will include thought-provoking presentations from a keynote speaker as well as discipline leaders. We look forward to welcoming writers and researchers, practitioners and industry professionals, as well as enthusiastic supporters of interdisciplinary, open and collaborative research practices. We anticipate rigorous discussion about the multi-faceted direction of creative writing research, in academe and beyond. What are the limitations of our current practices and what possibilities do we foresee, for the future? How do we both survive and thrive in the current research environment?

The rapidly changing way in which the quality of Non-Traditional Research Outputs (NTROs) are judged, in practice, is an ongoing conversation for creative practice researchers in academia. In 2018, the AAWP contributed to the Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (DASSH) Associated Deans of Research (ADRs) Network inquiry: investigating which criteria are most important in judging the quality of NTROs. This was prompted, among other things, by the observation that ‘FoR19 is the only code in which the average score across the sector has decreased in each ERA round. The ADR network was concerned that this speaks to a continuing uncertainty as to how these judgements are being made in practice’ (DASSH 2018: 2). In recent times, some universities have moved to a model that ranks NTROs on a sliding scale, like traditional research outputs. It is crucial that we interrogate the manner in which the language of ascribable value relates to judgement in practice, when assessing creative writing as research. The change-makers seem to be asking: what specific language constitutes the criteria for ascribing value, and how is that language applied and negotiated “on the ground”? Some of these questions were raised by AAWP executive members in the following articles:

In 2019, the ARC, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Stats NZ, and the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) instigated a joint review of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification (ANZSRC). The review is aimed at ensuring the research classifications reflect current practice and remain responsive to change in the sector. Together with other peak bodies and as reported in this edition of NiTRO, AAWP provided feedback to the Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts (DDCA), about how the codes might better reflect creative arts research.

The final classifications are yet to be agreed upon, although the consensus for positive change for creative and professional writing is the creation of a new FoR code for the discipline. Rather than being bundled with music and performing arts in the current 1904 FoR code, the current draft of the review sees AAWP/DDCA-led suggestions of a new writing-based code being implemented. In this code, genres and forms such as prose, poetry, digital writing, scriptwriting and screenwriting, and site-based writing would be given their own sub-code. This may be a positive change for the AAWP community – in the next ERA assessment it would help to provide a better picture of the quality of creative and professional writing research across Australia.

On the AAWP website, under the tab “Engagement”, we have decided to share information about AAWP “thinking positions” in this climate of ongoing change. Here you will see the direction of focus groups and portfolios, reflecting the energy we invest in current issues affecting our membership body, as well as our commitment to continuous improvement. This includes a recent statement about insecure work, prepared by Dr Helena Kadmos and Dr Deb Wain, and a letter to the University of Western Australia (UWA) Chancellor and Vice Chancellor, expressing our concern about UWA’s announcement that they intended to withdraw support for UWA Publishing. Our outreach to writers and industry, in Australasia and beyond, is reflected in our suite of Partnerships and Prizes – the offerings in this portfolio reflect areas where we saw the need for change, and acted, establishing publication pathways, mentorship and support, for emerging and established writers and translators.

The only thing certain about change is that the tides are rising. At AAWP we have no intention of sinking. Stroke by stroke we will continue in our quest to listen, striving to balance the concerns of a diverse membership within the context of a collegial and collective vision.

Works cited:

Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (DASSH) 2018, Report of findings—Survey of experts about the criteria they think are important in assessing the quality of NTROs as academic research.

References

[i] https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/speakingout/speaking-out/11922514

[ii] http://www.aawp.org.au/annual-conference/25th-annual-conference/

[iii] https://nitro.edu.au/articles/2019/6/7/the-art-and-craft-of-research-how-do-we-locate-and-evaluate-knowledge

[iv] https://www.nawe.co.uk/writing-in-education/nawe-magazine/current-issue.html


Dr Julia Prendergast’s novel, The Earth Does Not Get Fat was published in 2018 (UWA Publishing: Australia). Recent short stories feature in Australian Short Stories 66 (Pascoe Publishing 2018). Other stories have been recognised and published: Lightship Anthology 2 (UK), Glimmer Train (US), TEXT (AU) Séan Ó Faoláin Competition, (IE), Review of Australian Fiction, Australian Book Review Elizabeth Jolley Prize, Josephine Ulrick Prize (AU). Julia’s research focuses practice-based analysis of creative writing methodology, with a particular focus on meta-level processes: including psychoanalytic and neuroscientific approaches. Julia is a Senior Lecturer in Writing and Literature at Swinburne University, Melbourne. She is an enthusiastic supporter of interdisciplinary, open and collaborative research practices.

Professor Craig Batty is Head of Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. He has published widely on screenwriting practice and theory, creative practice research and doctoral supervision, including the 2019 books, Writing for the Screen: Creative and Critical Approaches (2nd edition); The Palgrave Handbook of Screen Production; and The Doctoral Experience: Student Stories from the Creative Arts and Humanities. He has won university awards and a national (AAUT) citation for excellence in PhD supervision, and is a member of the DDCA Executive.

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