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Taking your first steps into higher education
Taking your first steps into higher education

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1 What is learning in the arts and humanities like?

So, what might learning in the arts and humanities in higher education (HE) involve?

The arts and humanities have proven popular and significant academic subjects over the centuries. Most UK universities currently offer degree studies in a wide range of arts and humanities subjects – although different universities will include their own combination of subjects. Within each subject the range of topics covered will vary, reflecting the interests of teachers. These subjects are likely to include:

  • English Literature and Language (sometimes with Creative Writing)
  • History (perhaps including History of Science/Technology)
  • Music
  • Art History
  • Religious Studies
  • Philosophy
  • Classical Studies.

Some universities will also include creative disciplines like Fine Art or Dance, while others will include Modern Foreign Languages. For reasons of space we have not introduced the quite distinctive models of learning found in those subjects.

For students new to the arts in HE, some of these subjects may be quite familiar from school, while others may never have been encountered before. Years of research at The Open University tell us that students are likely to end up being excited and challenged by the new. Engaging with new ideas is, after all one of the key purposes of HE.

In HE two specific and important approaches can be found in the arts and humanities:

  1. personal response
  2. critical reading.

The following sections and activities will introduce the importance of reading critically, and of articulating a personal response to what you read. Because the course lasts only a few hours, I will focus on one subject this week – literature – and because I want to prompt you to think about learning in an area less familiar to most new students, you are going to look at poetry to see if you can get a feel of what it will be like to be a student in the arts.