Open Access
Mont, Michele A.
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 15, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Dr Libby Tisdell, Dissertation Advisor
  • Elizabeth Jean Tisdell, Committee Chair
  • Patricia Angelica Cranton, Committee Chair
  • Felicia Lynne Brown Haywood, Committee Member
  • Clemmie Edward Gilpin, Committee Member
  • Robin Veder, Committee Member
  • arts-based learning
  • higher education
  • adult education
ABSTRACT The purpose of this study was to explore the learning experiences of African American students in higher education who have taken classes that included artistic ways of knowing to learn more about what engages their learning in light of the faculty’s purposes for incorporating such ways of knowing into their classrooms. Cynthia Dillard’s (2006) notion of an Endarkened Feminist Epistemology guided this qualitative study that was informed by both narrative inquiry and autoethnography. This theoretical framework of Endarkened Feminist Epistemology assumes: (a) a responsibility to cultural and social community; (b) research is a spiritual and intellectual process; (c) encourages dialogue within community as a means of assessing knowledge; (d) the application of knowledge to an everyday context leads to meaning making; (e) knowing and research are historical; and, (f) power relations impacts research. This theoretical framework provided the lens through which the teaching practices of African American professors and the concerns of African American learners were viewed. The primary means of data collection in this study was in-depth narrative interviews with five professors who draw on arts-based ways of knowing and learning to determine their purposes in doing so and with nine of their students to determine what engages their learning when they have been exposed to arts-based ways of knowing. In addition, there was some classroom observation in order to understand both how the professors themselves draw on these forms of inquiry and to understand what the students are exposed to; documents such as field notes served as ancillary forms of data. As a qualitative study informed by both narrative inquiry and autoethnography, findings of the study are first presented in the form of narratives with some autoethnographic reflections of both the professors and the students. Then, a cross case analysis of common themes in the narratives of the professors and the students are presented. Themes within the professor narratives indicate that they include arts-based ways of knowing because they serve as a means of: (a) engaging their students and themselves; (b) drawing on multiple ways of knowing and learning; and, (c) connecting with culture. Themes about the students indicate what they value in higher education classrooms are instructors and/or teaching activities that: (a) attend to cultural identity; (b) connect to others or the content through interaction and engagement; (c) create a classroom community; and, (d) deal effectively with classroom organizational issues. This study contributes to the field of adult education in three primary ways. First, it identifies the importance of engagement and culturally responsive education. African American learners need to perceive that classroom activities affirm their history and experiences. Second, it highlights the importance of varying teaching practices, and drawing of multiple ways of knowing, which increases the possibility of engaging the learner in a way that is seen as relevant to his or her life. Finally, it underscores the benefit of creating an interactive teaching/learning community in the higher education classroom that engages African American students and their peers and helps them learn from each other. Suggestions for further research are discussed as well as some implications for adult education theory and practice.