AiR Commission at Murdoch University

  • Established in 2013 to replace STREAM 2 AiR Grants Program funding.
  • Grant provided through the Western Australian Artist-in-Residence Grants Program implemented by the Department of Culture and the Arts  and the Department of Education.
  • Grant recipient: Murdoch University School of Education.
  • Grant: $150,000 over three years (2014-2016).
  • Project Manager for Murdoch University: Mr Robin Pascoe, Senior Lecturer, Arts and Drama Education.

AiR Commission overview

The AiR Commission was designed to model a sustainable approach to arts education for pre-service teachers in the subjects of Dance, Drama, Media Arts, Music and the Visual Arts through active partnerships with professional Western Australian artists.

The AiR Grants Program funding partners granted the commission to Murdoch University, School of Education based on its long history of arts education. Pre-service primary teachers in the undergraduate Bachelor of Education and the postgraduate Diploma in Education worked collaboratively with six professional artists to explore the Australian Curriculum: The Arts (ACARA) requirements, build their capacity to deliver arts teaching and learning programs, and develop innovative pedagogical practice.

The AiR Commission focused on developing:

Expressions of interest from Western Australian-based artists and arts and cultural organisations were assessed by the full AiR Grants Program assessment panel and the following artists were contracted by Murdoch University for the duration of the project 2014-2017:

Dance: Stefan Karlsson
Drama: Caitlin Beresford-Ord
Media Arts: Leon Ewing
Music: Kate Page
Visual Arts: Audrey Fernandes-Satar and Arif Satar

As artists-in-residence, the ‘Teaching Artists’ :

  • were provided with professional learning to become familiar with both the Australian and Western Australian Curriculum: The Arts and the contexts of pre-service teacher education;
  • had the opportunity to enhance the arts education of pre-service teachers;
  • provided professional learning to Murdoch University academic staff;
  • developed their skills to enrich their existing practice and expand employment opportunities in education contexts; and,
  • advocated for and promoted the value of arts and cultural education.

AiR Commission: Project delivery timeline


Artistic and Educational Outcomes

Pre-service Teachers

Murdoch University identified the main barriers to effective implementation of arts teacher education in Australian universities were:

  • competing with opinion – the lack of profile arts education has in comparison to other areas of study e.g. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)
  • lack of knowledge about the different art forms and therefore misunderstanding of how to teach the five arts subjects;
  • gaps in student arts experiences and practice
  • personal prejudice; and,
  • fear of teaching the arts.

An area of ongoing research by Murdoch University is the impact of pre-service teachers’ attitude and values and how these impact their delivery of arts education after graduation. 

Throughout the AiR Commission, pre-service teachers kept a Learning Journal as part of their assessment requirements. Prior to starting the first Arts unit, students completed an attitudes and value survey.  An Arts Barometer was used to ascertain their previous arts experiences, exposure to, and dispositions towards the arts; and an Arts Change Meter was included in their journals to reflect their thoughts at the end of the unit. Students completed various Arts Challenges delivered by the Teaching Artists and recorded their reflections on course workshops, lectures and readings.

Robin Pascoe, AiR Commission Project Manager, noted that ‘consistently in their reflections, student[s] reported significant change in their knowledge, attitudes and values [towards the arts].” (Acquittal)

“Upon completing the main component of EDN225 ‘Teaching Arts in the Primary School Setting’ I feel remarkably more confident teaching the arts as a generalist primary school arts teacher. I believe that I have come from a perspective that focuses the aesthetics of the final product but I have come to understand that arts (sic) is more about the process. I now believe that teaching the arts in the primary school classroom needs to move beyond ‘cookie-cutter’ activities that produce a similar product for every child. As teachers we need to pave new ground and open the door to creativity, imagination and self-expression.” Student, Acquittal

The Teaching Artists and Murdoch University School of Education lecturers were committed to developing course activities which were authentic, direct and embodied participation. It was felt students needed to understand the theory that underpins pedagogical practice associated with each of the five arts subjects and to consider ways to integrate the arts across the curriculum.  A number of common stories were used as the focal point around which workshops were built. Well-known books such as Warnayarra, the Rainbow Snake by Pamela Lofts and children from the Lajamanu School; We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury; Let The Celebrations Begin by Margaret Wild; and The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds were used across workshops in different arts subjects to reinforce the concept of integration. Students were encouraged to move beyond superficial curriculum compliance and challenge themselves to focus on the connection between activity and learning.

During the project, Murdoch University reported that students were demonstrating an appreciation of collaborative planning and teaching with colleagues and professional Teaching Artists.

“… They recognise that the Teaching Artists freely and enthusiastically share passion, knowledge and models of arts teaching that they can themselves use. They accept the linking of practice and pedagogical focus…”   Robin Pascoe, Murdoch University Acquittal

Teaching Artists

A key area of focus of the AiR Commission was to develop the instructional skills of the teaching artists involved.  The Teaching Artists and School of Education lecturers worked collaboratively as a creative teaching team to deliver coursework content. By the end of the project the Teaching Artists unanimously agreed that the impact on their professional practice was extremely positive and their understanding of teacher education, working in a tertiary context and the arts curriculum (at a National and State level), had grown significantly. The University also recognised that the project was not only aimed at pre-service teachers, but also focused on developing the Teaching Artists to work within an educational context. The University observed that as a result of the program, Teaching Artists grew in confidence and knowledge; and realised the need to work collaboratively and in an integrated way.

In reflecting on the effect of the drama challenges devised for students, Teaching Artist, Caitlin Beresford-Ord stated “I think the alleviation of fear and misconceptions has been the biggest improvement. For those students who could see the potential benefits but couldn’t imagine attempting drama due to their own fears, the project has been really successful. For those who came into the project imagining there was no benefit to them; no links between drama and their field of study in education, I saw changes in their perception – some ‘light bulb moments’ where they realised that there was the potential to incorporate elements of drama into their society and environment, literacy, numeracy etc.” (Acquittal)

Teaching Artist in dance, Stefan Karlsson added, “I think [the project] really helped the pre-service teachers to make links and see how our activities could be easily utilised in the classroom to engage, enhance and deepen learning in literacy, numeracy and science…YET be particularly arts specific and follow the arts curriculum to practice self-expression and creative pursuits.” (Acquittal)

Of the impact the Commission had on her own practice, Teaching Artist in music Kate Page stated, “[The AiR Commission] provided an interesting brief and unique context which called for the development of new skills and conceptualisation.  I enjoyed considering the ‘respond’ part of the curriculum which has become much more embedded into all of my work. My musical education was a very active/making one and where reflection was not really encouraged apart from if it served as a dry analysis of the music. Although I have included reflection and opportunities to respond in past projects, I did not always consider this reflective component of equal value or importance in the musical experience before, it always served the ‘make’ part. This emphasis has changed now. I felt that given multiple opportunities to trial and deliver material enabled me to reflect on the efficiency of my teaching. The cross-arts collaborations in the summer school were a particular highlight where I felt that I could really participate fully as an artist. This [experience] will impact on how I approach my upcoming work in schools…” (Acquittal)

The AiR Commission Summer School

Designed as part of its outreach program, the AiR Commission Summer School began in 2014 as a testing ground for delivery of the creative teaching team’s challenges and collaborative course content delivery.  Artists and teachers from previously completed STREAM 1 AiR Grants Program projects (AiR Alumni) were invited to provide input into the development of materials and activities to be delivered by the Teaching Artists and Murdoch lecturers for each year of the AiR Commission.

The two-day event was repeated the following year, however this time the attending AiR Alumni worked with the creative teaching team to refine the course materials that were developed and delivered in the first year of the project and explore new material.  The new material focused on the practical integration of the Arts across the curriculum.  In addition, the 2015 Summer School provided participants with the opportunity to gauge how the AiR Commission was being received by students. The Summer School also provided a valuable opportunity for artists working in schools and teachers of the arts to share their experiences and practices.

“The enduring learning reinforced my own belief in engaging students with the process of art rather than having a focus on discreet, one off 'activities'.  It reinforced to me what an amazing opportunity the AiR Grant provides to the school community as it fulfils this very idea of rich, authentic learning.” AiR Alumna and Teacher, Hammond Park Primary School (feedback survey, AiR Commission Summer School at Murdoch 2015)

“All workshops were well thought out and scaffold[ed] in a way that can be easily used in a primary school context. The structure of the activities mirrored the school context showing each artists growth and knowledge of their audience. The intention and outcomes were clear and we achieved as designed which was satisfying to me as a participant. This was a wonderful experience not only to be part of the workshops but to see the growth in the Teaching Artist showcasing their passion and expertise tailored to the teaching and learning needed in schools. Being exposed to practicing Artists in this way was a truly rich and fulfilling experience I feel very privileged, to have real Artists teach in school to me is such an important way to truly engage youth in the Arts is inspiring!” AiR Alumna and Teacher, Governor Stirling Senior High School (feedback survey, AiR Commission Summer School at Murdoch 2015)

The feedback from 2014 and 2015 Summer School participants informed further development of the model by the AiR Commission’s creative teaching team the following year. The 2016 model was opened to a wider audience including practitioners from both the arts and education. The two-day professional learning had a specific focus on primary education and enabled Murdoch University to investigate a fee-for-service model to ascertain the viability of Summer Schools as a business model and the sustainability of the program beyond the conclusion of the Commission.

The new model refined the original delivery program objectives and was the first professional learning opportunity of its type implemented by the School of Education. It addressed a number of the Australian Institute of Teaching Standards and Leadership professional teaching standards and provided teachers of the arts from across Western Australian with time to explore and develop their arts pedagogy by working alongside professional artists.
The 2016 Summer School also enabled Murdoch University pre-service teachers to co-present alongside the six Teaching Artists. This was a significant innovation to the two Summer Schools previously hosted.

“I feel that being able to work alongside a diverse range of professionals in the collaborative planning and development of creative sessions is very stimulating and creates a strong, authentic process and experience. I would like to be involved in more PD days or projects that include the development of collaboratively created work.” Teaching Artist in music, Kate Page (Feedback Survey, AiR Commission Summer School at Murdoch 2016)

“[The 2016 AiR Commission Summer School] was terrific, it was helpful to get feedback from students who had worked with us previously and having the opportunity to really discuss the content that they found had worked and that which hadn’t. I found that it was great to watch them take on my planned activities and take ownership of it; their vocabulary, their delivery – it gave me a much better understanding of how this might play out in schools.” Teaching Artist in drama, Caitlin Beresford-Ord (Acquittal)

In 2017 a full-fee paying model was introduced and saw 42 primary and secondary educators from across Western Australia attend the three-day Summer School. Extending the Summer School by a day encouraged deeper engagement in teaching and learning activities and allowed additional workshops to be delivered. Workshops included a collaborative session on unpacking the Western Australian Curriculum: The Arts, integrating arts across learning areas and a focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) education. Feedback from participants was positive and indicated there is an ‘appetite’ for professional learning from both sectors.

Project deliverables:

  • Development of a dedicated project website and an online portal for materials developed by the creative teaching team.
  • Development of lesson plans and associated resources for each teaching cycle involving undergraduate and/or post-graduate Primary Teaching Education students.
  • Development of supporting resources including warm ups and stimulus videos by Teaching Artists and Murdoch School of Education Arts lecturers. The materials were published online via the AiR Commission’s project website.
  • Creation of ‘sizzle’ videos by each Teaching Artist (dance, drama, media arts, music and visual arts)
    to introduce themselves to students, create excitement about the project and demystify the content.
  • The Teaching the Arts Handbook developed in the first year of the project by Mr Robin Pascoe and revised each year to incorporate input from Teaching Artists, Murdoch School of Education staff, students, and incorporate the requirements of the Western Australian Curriculum: The Arts.
  • Publication of Teaching the Arts Stories, a selection of reflections and stories about their professional practice from each of the six Teaching Artists and provided to each of the 2017 AiR Commission Summer School participants.
  • Development of Teaching the Arts placemats for each of the five arts subjects focusing on the elements, codes and conventions, key concepts and aligned with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.
  • Feature of the AiR Commission in several presentations and research papers:
    - World Alliance for Arts Education Summit, Brisbane Australia – November 2014 presentation by Mr Robin Pascoe. World Alliance for Arts Education Summit, Brisbane Australia – November 2014 presentation by Mr Robin Pascoe.
    - Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, Brisbane Australia – December 2014 presentation by Mr Robin Pascoe. Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, Brisbane Australia – December 2014 presentation by Mr Robin Pascoe.
    - Drama Australia National Conference ‘Game Changer’, Sydney Australia – July 2015 presentation by Mr Robin Pascoe. Drama Australia National Conference ‘Game Changer’, Sydney Australia – July 2015 presentation by Mr Robin Pascoe.
    - Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, Fremantle Australia – December 2015 presentation and research paper by Mr Robin Pascoe.
    - International Yearbook for Research in Arts Education Volume 3, 2015 – The Wisdom of the Many - Key Issues in Arts Education; article ‘Teaching Artists – Artistic Teachers: Working with Teaching Artists and Teacher Education Students in the AiR (Artist in Residence) Commission at Murdoch University,’ by Mr Robin Pascoe International Yearbook for Research in Arts Education Volume 3, 2015 – The Wisdom of the Many - Key Issues in Arts Education; article ‘Teaching Artists – Artistic Teachers: Working with Teaching Artists and Teacher Education Students in the AiR (Artist in Residence) Commission at Murdoch University,’ by Mr Robin Pascoe.
    - Ways of Teaching, the Western Australian Curriculum: The Arts – series of professional learning workshops for public school teachers designed and delivered by the Department of Education February-March 2017.
    - Visual Arts Place mat published - ArtEd Journal, May 2017.

The strength of the AiR Commission was the strong bond forged amongst members of the creative teaching team and their ability to work collaboratively to explore and develop new ways to deliver course content. As a team they helped pre-service teachers understand the different pedagogies needed in each of the five art subjects, and empowered students to confidently integrate the arts across the curriculum.

Reflecting on the project’s achievements and the future for pre-service teacher education, Robin Pascoe says:

“In bringing this project to a formal close, I acknowledge the support from all involved. The journey from conceptualising the project in 2013 to implementation and conclusion in 2017 is a story that needs to be further documented and shared as a model for responsive, integrative arts education professional learning. The value of a longer term commitment to fostering change that was built into this project needs to be recognised. One-off or short term projects have relatively little lasting value. There is a need for deep change in arts education in Western Australian schools.

There are still challenges for implementing the Western Australian P-10 Arts Syllabus. The publication of a curriculum document and policy is only the precursor to successful implementation where the lives of all students in Western Australia are enhanced by an active, celebratory arts education.
The [AiR Commission] project has generated considerable artefacts, even for [the 2017] Summer School. There is a need to publish those resources more widely.

MacDonald, Barton, Baguley and Hartwig (2016) point to the issues of how teachers of the Arts and teacher educators encounter and enact curriculum change by ‘navigating challenges and the implications of personal attributes in encountering and enacting change.’ [The AiR Commission] project highlighted these issues in a Western Australian context and provided a local answer to the issues. Lasting and significant arts education curriculum change needs teachers with personal capacities and values inherent to enacting curriculum by ‘drawing on the personal attributes and propensities of artists and/or teachers.’”

Visit the AiR project archive to read more about other projects completed 2010-2016.

Murdoch University

School of Education

Mr Robin Pascoe - Senior Lecturer Arts and Drama Education/AiR Commission Project Manager
Tel:  (08) 9360 7448
Web:  /

Murdoch University AiR Commission support team:

Dr Peter Wright
Associate Professor – School of Education
Tel: (08) 9360 2242

Dr Judy MacCallum
Associate Professor – Educational Psychology
Tel: (08) 9360 7847

Murdoch University School of Education staff and students.


Stefan Karlsson
Tel: 0408 925 869
Email:  /

Caitlin Beresford-Ord
Tel: 0401 021 953

Media Arts
Leon Ewing
Tel: 0407 775 090

Kate Page

Visual Arts
Audrey Fernandes-Satar
Arif Satar
Tel: 0407 461 961

Read more about integrating the Arts across the curriculum here.



The Teaching Artists


Reflections: Artists and students reflect on outcomes of the project (taped during the AiR Commission Summer School at Murdoch University, January 14 and 15, 2016)


 AiR Commission documentary 2017