SERT Pitch: Whats Next?

Posted on  by Zinab Bakroun

Reflecting back on the focus groups, on our methodology, and these past few months, I think that our method thus far, has definitely allowed for narratives to emerge from all of our participants. Arts based research is a creative and critical form of doing research, of inquiring and accessing knowledge and it has enabled our participants to actively participate in our research. We have created a dual process where we are not simply observing participants, but that they are honorary researchers helping us gain a better understanding of the student experience through their artistic expressions (collages). I believe we should still focus on our original research question and try to gain a better understanding of the dissonance between students “expectations” and “lived” experience at Ryerson.

I am aware of the fact that there might be a “slight “hierarchy” in place. However, even if we use deception, participants are going to “sign up” to be apart of a research study. They will still have to read and sign a consent form and if you think about it, they will be going through all of the same steps. The only thing changing is our role in the room. They will be in the presence of strangers and so some may be even more reluctant to share their stories. I think all of our participants came in with something to say, or with a story to share, yes some shared more then others  but we still obtained important information from every participant. In addition, I don’t think the problem is our presence in the room or the camera. I think that some participants shared interesting information with us after the focus group session was over because of the fact that they were more “comfortable” with us. They might have realized that our method is less formal as opposed to what they might have been expecting.

What’s next? 

I think we should maintain our current methods and research question. Our next steps would be to conduct another set of focus groups and not worry much about the number of participants in each group. After that we should contact the same participants and conduct one on one semi-structured interviews to obtain an even deeper understanding of their individual stories through qualitative data collection. We should continue to identify themes that emerge between participants. By piecing together the puzzle pieces, we should hopefully identify thought- provoking ways to improve the student experience at Ryerson.


“Art Extending Knowledge”

Posted on  by vanessa.henry

Last week SERT was challenged to write about what narrative analysis meant to us. Speaking for myself, I discovered that narrative analysis was subjective in many ways. It was subjective to the storyteller and the audience. My argument was that as researchers we should not put words into our participants mouths but rather provide them with space to use their voice. This provided space for a debate in one of our meetings. If narrative analysis is subjective and so is our interpretation as researchers we are giving into the argument of relativism. There is a distinction between art and art based research (ABR) that needs to be discussed. Without this conversation there is no validity to our research. So, I have decided to counter my own argument and argue that art based research is more than subjective thinking, and rather a methodology that produces meaningful findings.

Simply put art evokes meaning. Traditional approaches to research including qualitative and quantitative research collect information but fails to go in-depth with participants experiences. Art based methods of research bring forward a deeper understanding that cannot be captured by words or surveys. ABR as John Hannah puts it is “fit for purpose”. We are using art for a specific reason. That being to deepen our understanding about individuals lived experiences. The point of our research is to take a new approach and to counter traditional beliefs about research, proving that there is more than one truth that needs to be uncovered.

In the scholarly article that is attached to this blog, the authors explored cases of how art was used in healthcare to present research findings. Their argument was that researchers need to diversify research findings in order to accommodate their audience. If patients cannot understand academic jargon how will they understand their experience as a patient? Art provided individuals who were living with similar health conditions a way of understanding by being able to relate to the audience by evoking feelings and conveying emotions. This article showcased the importance of diversifying research and using different methods to communicate with different people.

This article relates on many levels to the research that SERT is conducting. Our research is being conducted for the benefit of the academy but also for the benefit of students. Our research is looking to explore deeper into the student experience. When showcasing our findings it is important that we are able to relate to all audiences that our interested in our research. Art is a way we can diversify our academic jargon so that students are aware of their experiences and can relate to the findings presented. 

Art-Based Research is as meaningful as traditional research practices. However, it goes further to take in measures of diversity making sure that research impacts more than just the researchers. This article opened my eyes not only to the way research is being conducted but also to the way research is being presented. SERT should take into account that when presenting our research we do so in a way that artistically evokes meaning to more than one audience. It also brings up the argument that there needs to be validity in our research. When evoking meaning to the audience, it should be a result of what was found in the study. The audience will have their own experiences but the point of our research is to capture a common experience and explore the effects of that experience.


SERT so far

Posted on  by John Hannah

August. How far we’ve come in our little boat over the last few months. I thought I’d write a little recap to describe where  that boat is anchored at the moment. It’s a good place – clear waters, open skies.

We went slow. It became a kind of central virtue of our approach. Meet regularly, keep the boat moving. But go slow. Make room for shifting direction, for reading, for writing, for reflecting, for endless, free-style discussion, for getting to know and support each other. For team-building.

This is contrary to most work in higher education which is generally characterized by speediness. No judgement here (although maybe a little). We could have easily lapsed into the more common, full-tilt rhythm of a project. And it would have also produced, no doubt, something worthwhile. But I suspect that, in the pursuit of speed, we would have been propelled onto old tried and true paths, the most direct routes between A and B. And we would have deprived ourselves of savoring what was in the moment as we went, noticing more,  gaining insight through a deliberate and leisurely pace. What that slowness did, above all, is give us time to better know each other, to trust each other, to support each other, to understand each other’s particular strengths, and to make space for all of it. It’s not revolutionary. It’s just a choice. Go slow.

So here we are – deep into our process. And I recall how we have described and conceived of the unfolding research process:

Orienting decisions – group planning, defining constraints, timelines, mandates, funding, audience, politics, scholarly stance, focus, etc. 

We spent a lot of time with this. It was the making of our boat, the making of our team. We wrote our manifesto. Had some guest lectures. Talked. A lot. We hammered out our shared purpose, our shared motivations for doing this work. We sketched, in broad strokes, what we really wanted to do. In retrospect, this was a truly essential part of our approach and I wouldn’t do it any other way. This is where we decided to go slow. And, in the end, we made some important decisions about whether we wanted to do something small as a kind of program evaluation, or if we wanted to do a full-blown research inquiry requiring ethics review and a much deeper and intensive process. It was unanimous. Full-blown research.

Design and methodology – articulating purpose, research questions, what or whom are the subjects of the inquiry, what is the methodology, what kind of data is necessary, how will it be gathered, how will we assess its validity, etc.

So, we dug in. Reading. Lots of reading. Writing, and reflection. Lots of it. And we started really exploring and using and understanding arts-based methods of inquiry to ground our SERT sessions, to facilitate our conversations and insights. We practiced this. And, through these processes, gnarly and complex,and meandering,  we arrived at our research question. We arrived at our decision to use an arts-based methodology. And we hammered out the details of a method, using collage  as our interpretive tool, as a reflective process, as a form of elicitation, and as a way of conceptualizing ideas (Butler-Kisber, 2008; 2010). And we worked out all the myriad details necessary to organize extended focus-group collage sessions, planning, recruiting participants, and administering the sessions. Gargantuan. This is when we sped the boat up just a little. AND all of this was documented in our thorough ethic review submission which was approved by Ryerson’s ethics board in early August.

Data analysis – how will data be analyzed, on what basis do we declare its legitimacy, what techniques will be used, etc.

And now we are in the midst of our data analysis – the object of our inquiry. We have invented a kind of method for comparative analysis of our collages (to be described in detail elsewhere) which we are experimenting with as I write this, tweaking here and there. And the early impressions are that something interesting is emerging about or method. And we’ve decided to simply keep going. We will tweak our focus-group collage method and begin recruiting for more sessions. And we will write-up a preliminary analysis of our insights. And sometime towards the end of the Fall semester, we will execute some sort of exhibition showcasing the participant collages and the insights we have gleaned from them. So the journey continues and soon, we will get to the final stage:  Reporting – what form will the presented results of the study take, will it be written, by whom, in what style, for whom, will there be non-verbal forms, etc.

What a team. This continues to be amazing.


So What?

Posted on  by matthew.tulloch

What is it, if anything, that we are able to now say about our research questions? What findings do we deem important to share? What claim are we making? What have we learned about the student experience by doing this research?

The student experience varies. There is not one concrete type of experience. Numerous factors play into the well-being of students. The student experience is influenced by senses of belonging, programs, user experience, commute time, familial responsibilities. To some degree, every student experiences some sort of a violation of expectations. It may be academic or simply environmental. What truly matters is how one adjusts to such violations and the time taken to do so. The adjustment period is what truly matters. The students who are most prepared for such violations have a stronger likelihood of adjusting to violations than those too fearful or too optimistic. Preparation is key to ensuring students are ready for undergrad. Different programs bring forth different stresses to students. So, it is important for students entering their first years to understand some potential violations (poor grades, packed schedule, commute times, tuition fees, balancing of extra curricular activities, language adjustments, services for students, textbooks, fewer assignments).

What have you learned about yourself and research?

This Student Experience project has really expanded my understanding on research. Being in the Sociology faculty, I am accustomed to quantitative and qualitative forms of data analysis. I am familiar with coding and sampling. In-depth analysis of text is something that is not foreign to me. However, before SERT, I had never truly explored Arts-Based Research. To be frank, it was so different from any form or iteration of research that I had done in the past. The difference between Arts-Based and some of the previous forms of research that I had part-took in is that Arts-based enables the researched to be co-researchers. In more quantitative forms of analysis such as social statistics, a sample is taken from particular groups to be studied in depth by sociological researchers. Arts-based really stretched my very own narrow scope on research. I did not really weigh the possibilities of research being performed in creative, more inclusive forms. From this form of inquiry, I learned that it is very possible to conduct research, all while utilizing unique forms to gather information. We utilized one such form of Arts-based known as collage. It was fun, and enabled participants to tear pages out of newspapers and magazines to create stories. Each SERT member participated in a collage exercise which was one of the most fruitful experiences that I have had doing research! I learned some things about myself! While creating my own collage about my student experience, I found that looking at different images through magazines and newspapers brought back to my remembrance important instances playing roles in my student experience. Some forms of imagery were so powerful that they acted as symbols of some important moment in my experience. The beauty of SERT is that we did not simply conduct research to learn of others. While conducting research on each participant and learning of arts-based research, I believe that we also indirectly learned more about ourselves as students.


Boat # 2

Posted on  by John Hannah

At our very first SERT meeting, we asked the team to introduce themselves by considering the following scenario:

Imagine you have been granted a four-month, all-hassles-taken-care-of opportunity to travel. You arrive at the harbor, where the trip, an ocean-going trip, will begin, and where you will choose between two boats. Boat # 1 will maintain a strict and well worked out itinerary, following a route popularized and perfected by hundreds of travelers before you, reviewed and curated so that every detail and contingency of the trip is managed. You can be guaranteed, in this boat, to be treated to comfort and predictability, and satisfaction. Boat # 2, on the other hand, makes no such promise. This boat will simply set sail and go where the wind takes it, having as its aim only to explore and discover things. There is no itinerary, there is no guarantee of comfort or predictability, or satisfaction, only the boat, the wind, and the folks on board who will navigate together along the way.

This exercise added something to the usual round of introductions and acted as a fun device to reveal something interesting about ourselves. And, as it turned out, it also reflected something about the ways in which we collectively envision the SERT project –  our conversations about boat choices has become a kind of productive reference point in our ongoing conversations about other things.

In this first round of SERT there is Emkay, Matthew, John, Tesni, Ryan, Zinab, Alicia, and Vanessa.

And we all chose Boat # 2.


Interpreting People’s Stories

Posted on  by alicia.churilla

I’ve been thinking a lot about how our third party analysis of the collages is even valuable information for us to consider in terms of research. John brought it up during one of our meetings last week and I have been considering it myself. The intention of the collages are for the participants to create using art as their medium to tell their story. If we are interpreting the collages without considering their story/intention, aren’t we just making things up? Are we just putting ourselves into the collage? Because what is our basis besides our own interpretations and experiences?

Let me clarify through this article/video I found.


This article shows how 10 different people interpret the same animated video short. The purpose of the video was to show how different aged people interpret things differently based on their life experiences and brain development. What I gathered is that each person saw something different, something likely based on their personal life experiences.

If we are interpreting the collages, on what grounds are we able to claim that certain characteristics mean specific things. It’s all hypothesis unless confirmed/told to us by the creator. We’re not art therapists… we can’t claim that this squiggle line means x or y. Art in galleries is intended to move the viewer, to allow the viewer to experience something about themselves. Art as inquiry is intended to allow the creator to discover something themselves.

Using art and narrative inquiry, we have to keep in mind that we are using the art as a medium for the creator – not as a medium for us the viewer. The literal communication of their narrative is the data we are searching for, as that is what narrative analysis is. There are different methodologies for interpreting exactly what a narrative means, as we are basing it off of a literal artist statement.

This would be a different situation though if we were using someone else’s art to prompt response from our participants. Nonetheless, the important perspective is the participant and their narrative.

Watching this video and reading the interpretations made this clear to me – narrative analysis is understanding someone else’s narrative and interpreting it on a greater scale, through common themes. Us, as researchers, interpreting their collage says more about us than it does about them.

My interpretation of the video before I read the other statements:

There is an old man sitting in a park; there is a red ball that continues to hit him. This continual nuisance wakes him, and suddenly he is reminded of memories that are associated with a red ball from his life. He chases the ball, nostalgically reminded of his childhood and journey through life. He runs into the boy and is reminded of his personal journey unto adulthood after connection with his youth.

Real meaning of the video:

Side note – This search on youtube was inspired by a series called 4 photographers shoot 1 model – all about how art narrative is interpreted by the creator. I just love this series.


What have I learned?

Posted on  by mk.adjeimanu

a) What have we learned about participant experiences?

In our participant experiences, I feel as if the SERT team has learned much about the similarities that existed among all the differences within Ryersons student body. Many participants shared different stories that centered similar themes around struggle, identity, resilience and more. It was interesting to listen and see how these themes manifested differently in each story. One thing that that all participants shared in common was that always seemed to be a turning point. Whether it be a shift in spiritual beliefs, or a shift in a program and school. Each story had a turning point which played as a pivotal moment of deeper connection to self and surroundings.

b) What have I learned about research?

In my experience as a researcher, I’ve learned that obtaining/documenting truth is an ethical non-objective process, or at least it should be. The extent of our findings is dependent on our own collective and individual ability to remain in constant and active reflexivity with ourselves. There is an intrinsic connection between the researchers social location/way of navigating the world AND the findings to which the researcher explores. What truths do we render valuable, urgent, in it’s unrefined state before polished and made accessible to the masses?

I definitely haven’t learned everything about research, but I’ve learned a lot about questions that are important to me as I center research in micro and macro aspects of my life.


boundary/balance in arts-based research

Posted on  by mk.adjeimanu

hey team,

our last sert session provoked a lot of interesting thoughts and internal dialogue about the boundaries and constraints in arts/narrative-based research. its exciting to think about the future and the power that narrative research holds, because in a way, it means that, in the future, there were will be an increase of nuanced, critical, and relevant knowledge that accurately represents lived experiences. the validity of lived experiences being recorded and explored as a way to transform as opposed to further oppress makes me very hopeful about the discourse around research and what that means for communities who have been violated by this historically colonial/western practice.

i didn’t get a chance to read Petra Munros’, The Future of Narrative, however, I did look over the abstract and all I can say is that I’m eager to dive into this read. themes around re-thinking research, honoring the practice, and objectifying stories, seem to be at the center of this article and I’m excited about the ways in which this read will further transform my current understandings of our own work and practice here at sert

as we discussed in our last session, boundary and balance in the way we conduct our focus-groups seemed to be the theme of our discussion. questions like: are we sharing too much? are we asking the right questions? how objective is too objective? what if we CAN relate to the shared stories? what if we CAN’T relate to the shared stories? what do we do? how do we de-center objectivity while simultaneously honoring the sacredness of our stories?

all very valid, critical questions…that we’re still figuring out the answer to. however i think it’s interesting to see how traditional research methods still inform and influence our understanding of what arts/narrative-practice is and how it differs from the traditional standard.

I’m excited to explore and discuss the answers to the long list of questions and *concerns* we may have about how we conduct research and I’m excited about the new findings it will lead us to. Both individually, and collectively.


“Everything Starts with a Jam Session”: Grounding our Teamwork

Posted on  by Tesni Ellis

Although sometimes it happens naturally, in an “emergent” way if you will, it’s sometimes helpful to set ground “rules” from the beginning of a new project or team. Rules is a funny word. Maybe I’d prefer agreement? Or… feelings? That’s where my head is at lately. So, setting ground feelings. Some things we agree upon as a team that are important to us, so we can work together and make great things.

Like John’s noticing of the word “arrangement” in his life – I’ve been thinking a lot about “relationship” lately. And about the “contract” of sorts you enter into with someone when you work together, develop together, be together. And I think for me, one of the grounding feelings I need in a team is an effort to try and practice care for each other and the different stages in our learning we might be in, the different language we might use, and the different experiences that have brought us to where we are now. And understanding that everyone processes information differently. Personally, I take time to process and it’ll often be a few days later that I’ll bring something back up that has been taking up space in my brain.

I like the way adrienne maree brown puts it in “Emergent Strategy”, a book about transformative justice and movement making – “Self-transformation: Both/all people in the relationship and community are committed to their own self-transformation. We see ourselves as microcosms of the world, and work to shift oppressive patterns in our bodies, hearts, minds, speech, interactions, liberating ourselves into purpose, liberating our communities into new practices. We each set the pace of our own transformation.” (emphasis mine, p. 194)

Another word I really like is the word “practice.” I like to think of my work as a practice. It leaves more room for problem-solving, for accepting challenges that arise, and for working through things as a process, in a non-linear, non-fixed, non-normative way.

So, what are your ground “feelings” or rules – what do you need for a team to work together, safely, collaboratively?


Addendum: Some of what we talked about as a team include the following:

  • understanding differences
  • “Everything starts with a jam session” – openness to improvising, ambiguity, figure it out as we go
  • combining our strengths
  • communication; honesty
  • productive communication
  • understanding various styles of addressing things
  • language
  • processes of learning and unlearning
  • empathy and positivity
  • determination
  • we are searchers
  • none of us are experts
  • collaborative leadership