Enabling creative learning is to intentionally develop a set of attributes (see 6 Attributes of Creating Learners an LTE Blog) that are demonstrated by students through their ability to effectively communicate about themselves and their ideas, be open to feedback and new insights, and confidently put their learning to work in ways that enable them to adapt to and thrive in different situations and scenarios.
It is our role as educators to engineer the curriculum as a vehicle for nurturing creative learning by enabling meaningful connections both within and across the boundaries of disciplinary knowledge and practice, encouraging learners to actively engage with new and unfamiliar ideas and viewpoints and to collaborate in their mutual development.
To achieve this, we need to provide a clear reference point for creativity in our learning designs, allowing sufficient space for innovation, for appropriate risk taking, for experimentation, collaborative problem solving, and other “21st Century” competencies (see Nurturing student creativity and resilience for an uncertain world: some considerations for what comes next an LTE Blog). This, in turn, frames models of instruction that make use of multiple and varied representations of concepts and tasks, elaboration and questioning, and case examples. ‘Project-led’ models offer one particularly productive instructional strategy to encourage creative learning.
A ‘Project-led’ model is similar to project-based learning which is a widely used term and used in many different ways (Hanney & Savin-Baden, 2013). The fundamentals of project-led education and problem-based learning are the same, because both are authentic, constructivist approaches to learning. Projects in project-led approaches can differ in their designs and implementation offering greater flexibility and variety of possibilities for nurturing creative learning.
Openness in projects
When a project is open, the learners nor tutors know how the final product should look like. The final solutions of individual students or student groups can (and preferably will) differ from one to another. A closed project typically has a ‘preferred’ answer or end-goal; teachers and tutors know what the final product should look like and because of this, closed projects tend to be easier to facilitate and mark.
A key consideration in deciding on the nature and role of projects is ensuring the design fits the purpose and position of the project in the course. An open project is more complex than a closed project, and so open projects might be better suited later in the course. In contrast, closed projects can afford students (and teachers) time and space to get used to the idea of project-led approaches and shift from teacher-centred learning to student-centred learning.
Students need sufﬁcient time and space through focused project work to allow them to develop their creativity. It is important, therefore, that we provide incrementally open-ended opportunities for students to develop confidence in their ability to explore and experiment, to take risks in ‘safe’ environments (which projects can provide) and to initiate work in different situations.
Projects and related activities need to 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 (both open and closed) scenarios across a course caters for a range of learning needs, motivations, and preferences.
Student-centeredness in projects
Project-led approaches strive for student-centeredness, a key feature of which is supporting students in learning how to be independent and responsible for their own learning strategies. Students will most likely be uncomfortable or even hesitant to accept such responsibility for their own learning when they first start on their course. For this reason, in most cases, open projects are not suitable for student new to higher education. Instead, courses need to be built around the development of a ‘gradual openness’ to and intentionally scaffold for learner choice and agency through project-led approaches.
One route to achieving this is to gradually introduce students’ influence on the content of projects. When students influence the content, this might involve them having a say in the subjects that are discussed or covered, the order in which they are addressed, or the amount of time that is addressed on certain subjects. Student ownership of project work is a very important motivating factor for the student who is learning about the project environment and the extent to which they can be creative therein.
A further route to achieving student-centeredness in projects is allowing students’ to influence sequencing of project work by utilizing adaptable approaches 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.
Collaboration and cooperation in projects
A project can used as an instrument to encourage students to work collaboratively, as well as cooperatively with groups of their peers. When students collaborate, they are striving for the same goal. When students work cooperatively, they do not necessarily have to strive for the same goal, but it is important that students work together on a designated task or problem. Cooperative learning is based on the idea that students can work more effectively when they cooperate instead of competing with each other with regards to the nature and quality of contributions (Hattie, 2009).
Project-led strategies convey the conditions for creative learning requiring a pedagogic outlook that is facilitative, proactive, open to the possibilities of experimentation, and that values the processes as well as the products of student learning.
To achieve this our learning designs need to 1) maintain an open attitude towards projects as powerful ways of generating creative ideas and behaviours, sharing and collaboration, and enabling flexibility and choice; and 2) value independent thinking and cooperative ways of working by providing important opportunities for students to demonstrate their creativity and reveal their understanding of how they have acquired key learning outcomes through project-related tasks.
The new ‘Nurturing Creative Learners’ LTE staff guide is available at this link: https://blogs.tees.ac.uk/lteonline/learning-and-teaching/nurturing-creative-learners/
Hanney, R., & Savin-Baden, M. (2013). The problem of projects: understanding the theoretical underpinnings of project-led PBL. London Review of Education, 11(1), 7-19.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning. Park square, Milton park, Abingdon: Routledge.