At Teesside we seek to empower our students to deliver impact on a global scale through Future Facing Learning experiences that provide our learners with the knowledge, skills, and tools to achieve sustainable success in the workplaces of the future. The recent pivot to online learning and teaching has called upon our capacity to reimagine frameworks for practice and to judge the worth of new ideas and potential (digital) solutions for facilitating student learning in accessible, meaningful, and impactful ways.
Perhaps somewhat conveniently, given recent events, it is said that we are in the midst of a ‘creative turn’ in higher education (Harris, 2014), as the value of creative and agile graduates is acknowledged across institutions, disciplines and courses in the context of a rapidly changing digital economy. Certainly, in the face of a global economic crisis and increasingly uncertain graduate futures the development of creativity and resilience in our students is not only necessary but essential if they are to thrive in an unpredictable and complex world.
While different disciplines in higher education may recognise and value different forms of creativity, the ability to think and work creatively is widely recognised as a catalyst for innovation, adaption, and resilience in modern professional contexts. It is for us as educators to decide the role creativity plays within our courses and modules in preparing our students for increasingly uncertain future professional lives. But how do we do this? What kinds of structure and environments are best suited to nurturing creative and resilient learners?
There are certain conditions that are recognised as facilitating students’ creativity in educational settings, these include:
- Students need sufficient time and space in the curriculum to allow them to develop their creativity. Providing incremental opportunities for students to develop confidence in their ability to explore and experiment, to take risks in ‘safe’ environments and to initiate work in different situations.
- Activities and working situations should be sufficiently varied and diverse to enable all students to be creative in ways appropriate to their own experience and learning situations. Providing opportunities for students to practise and apply their learning in a variety of ways and scenarios caters for a range of learning needs, motivations, and preferences.
- Students are given the autonomy to choose to work in new and interesting ways. Supporting students to manage their own learning strategies by providing flexibility and choice in the kinds of work they engage with and produce and encouraging and valuing their efforts to be creative.
- Students are challenged through authentic, demanding, and meaningful work. Encouraging students to embrace unfamiliar tasks and working practices, be open to new ideas and perspectives, and recognise opportunities to create new and build on existing knowledge and insight in real-world learning situations.
- Assessment is intentionally designed to allow for outcomes which are not narrowly predetermined or fixed. Narrow, summatively driven assessment practices and criteria that focus on capturing what is known and which do not recognise the process of learning or emergent unanticipated learning outcomes can inhibit creativity. Flexible and integrated assessment design that emphasises assessment of ‘process’ (i.e. multi-phased tasks, e-portfolios) enables students to draw together and apply their learning throughout a module or course and provide important opportunities for students to demonstrate their creativity.
- Fostering a learning environment that encourages active engagement, reflection and personal development for both students and staff. Supporting students to collaborate with others, create and engage with networks, communicate their ideas, showcase their abilities and make the cognitive, relational and cultural connections that will help to develop their ability to actively engage with communities of practice.
Models of teaching that rely on lecture-dominated delivery, where student engagement in learning is predominantly based on the transfer of content, prescribed and controlled by the tutor and where summative assessment is the central driver of learning processes are less likely to foster and sustain students’ creativity. To sustain future facing learning and teaching that conveys the conditions for creative learning requires a pedagogic outlook that is facilitative, enabling, proactive and responsive, open to the possibilities of collaboration and experimentation, and that values the processes as well as the products of student learning. This, in turn, requires adoption of holistic (course-wide) process-based strategies wherein the ‘process of learning’ is as important as the results of learning.
Fostering creative learning
When designing or redesigning learning, teaching and assessment activities to more favourably nurture students’ abilities to think and work creatively the following framing principles for effective learning design are helpful for teachers in developing their own capacity to encourage students to learn more creatively across different modalities of delivery (whether online, blended or face-to-face):
- Setting (and mapping) the scene: Most courses will contain within them opportunities for students to work in creative ways. Making these opportunities explicit and understanding the nature of the creative processes and the role(s) they play at course and module level is a necessary ﬁrst step in designing for creative student learning.
- Engaging Learning Communities: A curriculum that supports creativity in students’ learning provides opportunities for sharing understandings of the different meanings of creativity in particular learning contexts and situations through intentional dialogue(s) and active student involvement within disciplinary communities of practice.
- A focus on personal development: A well-designed curriculum will prepare students for learning creatively, equip them with a range of practical and reflexive tools, and encourage them to use and adapt these tools in ways that align with their own goals, motivations and decision-making processes. Supporting the development of students’ self-awareness and reﬂective learning enables them to recognise their own learning as it emerges and to make claims of understanding and achievement at different points in their learning development.
- Flexible Learning: Courses need to be built around an openness to and intentionally scaffold for learner choice and agency; utilising flexible and adaptable approaches that facilitate students’ decision-making by introducing key perspectives (theoretical frameworks) and tools (concepts, strategies and information sources) and supporting students in practicing them on problems and situations that they choose or identify.
- Enterprise and Originality: Students’ creative learning is most effectively facilitated through learning tasks and processes that promote and develop their ability to confidently and effectively move between a generative (new ideas, topics and associations) and an analytical (focused, structured and evaluative) way of thinking. This is achieved through designs that require students to consider or seek out new concepts and fresh perspectives, or draw from their learning in several modules and/or tasks whilst encouraging them to judge for themselves the appropriate response(s).
- Crossing Boundaries: Being able to use knowledge, skill and behaviours developed in one context and apply these in another context is an important ingredient for developing creative student learning. Learning design that encourages such behaviours is achieved in situations and tasks that are experienced as authentic and novel to learners but are achievable (realistic) using the skills and behaviours students are developing.
- Learning-Oriented Assessment: Assessment strategies that privilege atomised, heavily summative approaches to assessing learning at module and course level can inhibit designs for creative learning, which may need to foster student development over a longer period of time and in a broader range of contexts before capabilities are assessed. Strategies that require and enable students to draw together and apply their learning throughout a course and/or module (such as integrative or synoptic assessments) provide important opportunities for students to demonstrate their creativity and reveal their understanding of how they have acquired key learning outcomes from a course (in the form of reflective accounts or culminative portfolios).
Further useful external resources with a focus on student creativity in Higher Education include:
- Alencar, E. M., Fleith, D. D. S., and Pereira, N. (2017). Creativity in higher education: Challenges and facilitating factors. Temas em Psicologia, 25(2), 553-561.
- Harris, A. (2014). The creative turn: Toward a new aesthetic imaginary. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
- Laurillard, D. (2013). Teaching as a design science: Building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology. London: Routledge.
- RAISE: Special Edition: Creativity in Student Engagement. Student Engagement in Higher Education Journal, Vol 2 No 3.