By Professor Margaret Barrett and Professor Stacy Holman Jones
For students and staff at Monash University, 2020 was a year of loss and learning. As for all Australian universities, the rituals of university life were reimagined in ways that previously were inconceivable. Graduations, events in which students don the regalia of academia in order to walk across a stage to receive their award, viewed by friends and family, were transformed into on-screen events in which a student’s graduation was registered in a “blink and miss” moment as their name scrolled down the screen. And the informal aspects of beginning university life with school friends and yet to be known friends were lost, whilst new relationships were formed in zoom breakout rooms and follow up group assignment zoom meets.
Those same invaluable informal conversations among staff, where new teaching, research and artistic collaborations are cooked up and gain momentum, were replaced by online coffee and lunch gatherings where conversations focused on sourdough recipes and exciting takeout options. Our attentions shifted to supporting and celebrating weary colleagues juggling research, online teaching, and home-schooling, among other responsibilities
At Monash, students had been on campus for one day when the shutdown came into effect. The Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and the Centre for Theatre and Performance responded rapidly, and students moved to online learning without missing a single week of lectures. The results were nothing short of extraordinary: student satisfaction and learning not only held, but improved. Even with these clear wins, what followed is all too well known: international student income disappeared; in the face of no support from the government sector universities looked inward to find ways of surviving with this financial loss; and, cuts to staff, to programs, to academic units commenced.
In the midst of this, Margaret commenced as Head of School on July 1, working remotely from Tasmania, whilst Stacy commenced as head of the CTP in February. Meeting and working with colleagues via Zoom provided an odd mixture of directness (no idle chat whilst walking to the coffee shop, 30-minute meetings in endless back-to-back schedules) and opacity. And within this entirely new environment, the Centre for Theatre and Performance was merged into the School of Music, and a number of specialist staff in both entities left through VSP agreements as part of the change proposal designed to address the immense financial challenges the University was experiencing.
What have we learnt and where are we now?
Online learning became a space in which staff created new approaches to teaching and learning drawing on the affordances whilst acknowledging the constraints of this strategy – particularly for the performing arts. The possibilities of online learning were explored in depth and richness, and a blended approach to learning and teaching that draws on these strategies will continue into the future. For example, students and staff in music and theatre and performance created original performances that bridged the digital/live divide, innovating hybrid creative works featured in the Monash “Day of Play” and the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
The merger of CTP and Music has created a new School, the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and Performance. The School has developed new units that bring students in critical performance studies and music into collaborative creative spaces which challenge siloed perspectives of the individual art forms, seeing the creative and performing arts as intertwined activities integral to social, cultural and economic futures in Australia. A new minor of Critical Performance Studies will commence in 2022.
Our focus on creativity and collaboration is not only realised in the teaching program, it also underpins the School’s research program and the new research centre, Pedagogies of Creativity, Collaboration, Expertise and Enterprise (PoCCEE). The mission of the program is to shape social change for more just, sustainable and richer futures. This research focus is embedded in three new ARC-Funded projects awarded in 2020 to the school in signature pedagogies of creative collaboration in music, gender and jazz, and gender and theatre histories and future. The PoCCEE research program is currently advertising PhD Scholarships for 2 of these projects–one in signature pedagogies of creative collaboration in music, and one investigating gender and jazz (see news item in this issue).
Professor Margaret S. Barrett (PhD) is Head of School, Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and Performance Monash University
Professor Stacy Holman Jones is Deputy Head of school, Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music and Performance, Monash University