NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Collaborator and Accomplice: Co-operative pedagogies for transformational learning

By Anna Tow and Deborah Turnbull Tillman — In a world where there is daily anxiety around the economy, our health and public engagement, we offer a pedagogy that promotes resilience, self-reliance and employability. As Collaborator, Deborah Turnbull Tillman is curator concerned with disrupting conventional process and situating her students as expert in their own practice rather than as subjects within hierarchical models of curating.

As Accomplice, artist Anna Tow teaches media arts and design making in studio settings, in response to a brief, and in relation to future job prospects. Critical feedback informs iterative making across multiple assessments, which encourage not only an extension of the way she was trained, but also mirrors how animation and digital creation studios currently operate. In our Media Arts degree, transformational learning takes place in a reflective cognitive shift from artist to exhibitor. Below each explores their particular approaches as Accomplice and Collaborator.

The Artist as Accomplice – Anna Tow

Over the course of last year during the two COVID-19 lockdowns in Sydney, it has become possible to reflect on and understand the impact of the different ways we could approach teaching our students remotely. In the first few days of lockdown there was an urgency for a definition of the new online classroom. This started with platforms, with the options being Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Collaborate Ultra, the big question being: which virtual learning platform should we choose? In Stage 1 and 2 courses at UNSW ADA this tends to be Teams.

This was a stressful time for all universities. The hands-on and materials-based courses suffered, as did the teachers and students affiliated with them. The physicality of art and design making, together with peer and tutor review, was put on hold until further notice. But what if face-to-face paradigms don’t return and online delivery continues? As studio curriculum designers and teachers, we had to think of alternate ways to approach teaching and focus on creative resilience.

Inarguably, working in digital media made the transition online easier. Where the studio setting was compromised, our tools for demarcation remained the same. Due to the digital tools required of my studio courses, we were already organised for blended online delivery. This had been done previously in the knowledge that art and design students need an increasing amount of flexibility when it came to materials engagement. Other changes due to Covid-19 include creating digital uplift resources such as Zoom-casting guest practitioners as they couldn’t come to campus. The talks were recorded and able to be screened asynchronously to several classes. Also, an Acting for Animation video workshop was produced, where workshop themes continue to be used as ongoing resources in both online and face-to-face classes.

In this circumstance, I came to see myself as an accomplice to active student learning, an abettor in supporting my students to understand their art and design practice, and to analyse their creative processes. I view the teacher-student dynamic as context specific, led by the knowledge I gained from my practice as a digital artist. These lessons are aimed at their future careers. It is an empathic teaching view based on student-centred learning within a supportive class environment. Here students consider the process of knowing and making, of the curiosity, playfulness, risk taking, spontaneity and questioning that comprise critical thinking. This is all part of our “secret society” of teacher – student collaboration. In this space there is safety and inclusivity. In this space, they can transform from novice to expert.

The Curator as Collaborator – Deborah Turnbull Tillman

The role of the curator in transformational learning takes place during the later stages of the degree. In the senior studios, I follow the model of curator-as-producer (Cook and Graham, 2010) working with media artists to enable the action-based elements of making or doing, particularly within practice-led research.

These collaborative methods, developed and applied to curatorial process regarding experience-based artworks, work well in the design and iterative testing of digital artworks. In the footsteps of John Dewey (1934), Donald Schön (1983) and Linda Candy (2006), I aim to have the students become expert in their own making process through Reflective Practice. In placing themselves as the centre of expertise in their making, this transformation happens incrementally through feedback cycles. The artists become expert in their own process while also allowing the opportunity for a collaborative, rather than hierarchical, approach to exhibition. This allows for new knowledge systems to be utilised, with the emerging artist’s narrative, rather than the curator’s narrative about them, remaining the central influence over the work produced.

As collaborators, as we aim to understand our reciprocal process in the artist-curator dynamic, we inevitably disrupt it, particularly around notions of expert and subject. In an applied sense, this upends the traditional act of exhibitor as expert and exhibited as subject. Instead, we present an alternate model of exhibiting content collaboratively. For Media Arts, this has happened in the Black Box Theatre, where specialised staff support studios presenting their final exhibitions in a safe professional environment. Many students from these courses continue to Honours, where the culmination of a yearlong project is exhibited in the UNSW Galleries’ Annual Exhibition. Where the enactment of exhibiting remains the same, the medium, the specialism and the tools have changed, becoming more malleable. Reciprocity of engagement accompanied with experimental environments results in independence and resilience in our students, readying them for the transition from student to practitioner.


Together, we collaborate as educators in cognate pedagogies to draw on our practices to work alongside our students, rather than above them. Covid-19, online learning and reciprocal learning paradigms across the curricula engage a paradigm that allows for inclusivity, diversity and self-reliance based on understanding one’s own expertise. In this way, as Collaborator and Accomplice, we can support transformational change in our students, as we have similarly transformed ourselves.


Candy, L. (2006). Practice Based Research: A Guide. University of Technology Sydney: Creativity & Cognition Studios.

Dewey, J. (1934). Art as experience. Minton, Balch.

Graham, B. & Cook, S. 2010. Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media, Cambridge, MIT Press.

Pringle, E, (2009). ‘The Artist as Educator: Examining Relationships between Art Practice and Pedagogy in the Gallery Context’, in Tate Papers, no.11, Spring 2009,, accessed 8 August 2021.

SCHÖN, D. A. 1983. The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, New York, Basic Books.

Anna Tow is an animator, artist and full-time education focused academic at UNSW Art & Design. Anna’s interests are animation, environmental storytelling, investigating digital mixed-media and animation techniques. Anna’s animations have screened at international film festivals. She currently leads the 3D Visualisation subject at UNSW Art and Design.

Deborah Turnbull Tillman is a curator specialising in design, technology, and new media. Her interests lay in how technology augments traditional art practice and how the audience is becoming a necessary material for technology-based art. She is also interested in collaborative over hierarchical models of curating. An editor and author as well as a curator, Deborah began teaching at UNSW Art & Design in 2016.

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