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Students come up with creative ideas for displaying their work

Helping a cohort of 52 business students to design and curate their exhibition of the 11 week Reflective Practitioner module provided an interesting opportunity for students to come up with imaginative ways of displaying their work.

Task   The exhibition design, artefacts and curation represented a piece of course work, and two streams of students were asked to make a joint exhibition. The two groups worked independently until week 10, only being able to liaise in week 11 and on the day of the event. Students elected to take on specific roles and tasks, and had responsibility for devising and making displays. A very large number of artefacts needed to be displayed.

Venue   The Drysdale Lecture Theatre, lobby area and boardroom. We had access one and a half hours ahead of the exhibition opening to the public.

Process   From week 2 students were introduced to the idea of the exhibition, and over the course momentum built, including a vital integrative workshop in week 10 when as many exhibits were prepared as possible. Students also worked in groups on a plan of the space, producing some excellent space designs. Students were mindful of providing a space that would enable up to 60 guests to circulate, plus a reception table, and space for visitors’ feedback.

How students came up with creative solutions

Living  Exhibits  Each student elected to wear a badge inviting guests to interact with them on a particular theme of the module.

Gazebo  For a fantastic central focus, the basic framework of a small garden gazebo was used to display 52 three-dimensional story cubes, representing the special qualities of each student but also, symbolically brought together into a single organisation.

Bathroom suckers We sourced plastic sucker “towel” hooks to suspend lines of cord, from which visitors added their handwritten feedback on luggage labels.

Boxes Large Cardboard boxes were designed by students to display quotes, images and photos.

Lessons Learned  

The opportunity to display their work afforded the learning from the module to be made visible to external guests, to the wider institution, and to prospective students and  parents (it coincided with an open day.) Our students have great ability to understand and collaborate together on designing and enhancing learning spaces. Given the success of this exhibition perhaps we should ensure that any future learning spaces build in to their design ways to display work. Simple ideas can turn a space into a display area, including hooks placed at the top of walls for hanging work, more flexible spot lighting that can be used to illuminate displays and better designed mobile display boards.

   

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Artist helps students to visualise Learning Space design at City

January 16, 2013 1 comment
Artist Susie Howarth sketching student's learning space ideas

Artist Susie Howarth sketching students’ learning space ideas

Quick fire sketches of student's ideas for learning spaces

Susie Howarth’s quick-fire sketches of students’ ideas for City University learning spaces

 Dont Walk Away, Have Your Say! was an LDC event at the end of last term on the main walkway, aiming  to capture student views and promote three of the ongoing LDC projects. I invited artist Susie Howarth to visualise students ideas on learning space design. With major building work scheduled at City and imminent redesign of several existing spaces, this was an opportunity for students to put their views across.  So whilst I interviewed passing students, Susie did quick-fire real time sketches of their ideas. This created quite a buzz and interestingly a  high proportion of their ideas resonated with the LDC’s  design principles for all learning spaces at City. These include having a full menu of different, inviting, dynamic and flexible spaces that communicate the pride we have in learning at City University

Everyone  interviewed had strong ideas and feelings about our current and future learning spaces. Here is just a small sample:

Circular design of some classrooms and lecture spaces, so students can see each other and the lecturer is central, not on a distant stage.

Small outlets for snacks and drinks placed just outside large lecture theatres, for students who need to quickly get to the next class and have no time to queue in the refectory.

Circular tables, furniture on wheels and easily moved

Swivel chairs in lecture theatres, so we can do group work activities

All walls with write-on surfaces in classrooms

Comfortable seating

Public celebration of student excellence: students’ work displayed, either physically or on screens

More curves please! In walls and furniture, not just rectangular boxes

Bright contemporary lighting, maybe use lighting in some way to change the colour of the walls to reflect different types of learning activity: reflective, active etc.

Small soundproofed pods for quiet study and individual work

Having an artist present to make instant sketches gave the students a great stimulus to put their ideas forward and led to much  animated discussion on what is clearly a hot topic for students and paramount to their experience of being at City.

Learning Space Design at City, what students really want

July 20, 2012 3 comments

In a very recent report from the Students Union to Senate, one of the 5 student community themes put forward concerned  Learning and Social spaces that reflect the value City places on quality education, interaction and collaboration.

“Students expect facilities which are fit for purpose, welcoming, comfortable and focused on their needs. We would like to see an Estates Strategy which looks at existing spaces as places where achievement is celebrated. The long term plans for new spaces should reflect students’ desires to come together to study, eat and socialise.”

There are some excellent learning spaces at City, however still far too few are distinctive enough to make a memorable impact on actual or prospective students. We may not be able to do much with our historic building stock, so it is all the more vital that new and refurbished spaces go out of their way to represent and reinforce the values of academic excellence the university now has committed to. Many of our spaces expect students to learn in a physical environment that is vastly different to the world in which they will be putting their knowledge to use: a world of collaboration, exploration, creative thinking, flexibility and ubiquitous digital resources and communication. Increasingly our students are coming from High Schools and Academies with world class design of physical learning spaces, their expectations of City in this respect are rightly high.

Students want learning and social spaces that reflect the value City places on quality education, interaction and collaboration. City students have also identified a set of key values that encouragingly resonate with the Universities strategic vision.

Interaction, opportunity, identity, energy, excitement, enrichment, buzz, pride, inspiration, belonging, personalisation, participation, boundary breaking, diversity, lifelong friendship.

If we take these key values and apply them to the design of learning spaces, City could achieve a distinctive vision for a menu of learning spaces that promotes and supports educational excellence. By Learning Spaces, we should include social spaces, both indoor and outdoor spaces, and Virtual Learning Spaces. Even corridors offer untold opportunities for learning, with student and staff curated exhibitions that celebrate their achievements and act as a forum for sharing knowledge and ideas. As an institution we are on the cusp of major space building and refurbishment, with the opportunity to enrich the students’ experience through ground breaking space design that reflects what the students really want.

The LDC’s Learning Space Project has done a considerable amount to engage staff and students in this process, with for example a very productive Space Design Forum, and the resulting two pilot spaces.  Feedback from students show that inspirational space is hugely important to their learning. Students are also looking for interaction in learning spaces. At City we have a greatly underused potential resource for interactive learning: the walls and vertical spaces. When refurbishing existing spaces or designing new ones, it is vital to view the walls as an interactive learning resource. Presently many existing classrooms and lecture halls have constraints over the use of walls and teachers and students are not allowed to use bluetac. The décor and treatment of walls takes precedence over learning.

Interactive use of walls in a research university (Southern England)

There is also an important emotional component to learning space, which can have a great impact on energising both students and teachers. This includes the air quality of the space, lighting, the use of colour, and flexible space with freedom of movement. Rather than the draining effects of rows of fixed tables and chairs.
All City Schools now subscribe to the principles of high engagement learning. Participation is a key principle, needing all our learning spaces designed to support and promote it. Forward facing classrooms, fixed rows of seating, lecture theatres that seem designed to prevent team working and collaboration between students, all work against participative learning
Students want a diversity of learning spaces, reflecting the diversity of their learning styles and needs. They also identify pride as key to being part of the City community. Imaginative, distinctive and memorable learning spaces are essential to communicating City’s vision for educational excellence.

Using Debate as a Teaching Format

July 7, 2012 2 comments

Three years ago at a City University Creativity Workshop I met Kirsten Hardie who teaches Design at Arts University College of Bournemouth. She told me about a method she had invented called “On Trial.” By coincidence, in working with a group of City teachers recently, they quite unprompted suggested the use of a debate format as a method of increasing student engagement.

It was impressive how quickly they came up with a great number of creative ideas to widen the palette of teaching formats. The session focused on devising a learning activity that reflects often currently missing employability skills:

  • Critical thinking
  • Reflection
  • Persuasive communication
  • Self awareness

Devising fresh learning activities to promote employability skills

I took Chickering and Gamson’s 7 Principles for high engagement learning, as a benchmark.  We selected two of these: and participants were also encouraged to identify their own. The focus was on fresh learning activities; new ideas.  Here are some of the resulting creative learning outcomes from the participants.

Fresh  learning activities.

  • Reflection: in action and on action
  • Scenarios, role play and simulation
  • Debating
  • Combined learning with another school (interprofessional  learning)
  • A buddy system

The question is how can we enable great ideas like these to be put into practice? For example using debate in our teaching.

So returning to National Teaching Fellow Kirsten Hardie’s On Trial project that  explores the use of role play and debate in student centred learning. It promotes and facilitates creativity in and through learning. Students work with colleagues to explore and interrogate problematic issues relating to their specialism

“On Trial harnesses popular culture, and the seductive qualities of the courtroom, as experienced through television and film examples (both historical and contemporary), in a creative fashion to help students engage with tough academic issues and wider ethical concerns.”

In addition a fascinating article by Catherine Sanderson discusses and evaluates debate as an assessment and learning strategy to develop critical and reasoning skills and stimulate learning through assessment in first year Biomedical Science and Public Health Students.

Sanderson’s work with first year undergraduates indicates that although it may be tacitly understood that critical reasoning is an essential skill for all students, it is far too often left to the final year as a learning outcome or even reserved for post-graduate studies.

Educational Excellence and Creativity: the undergraduate curriculum

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The new landmark Central St. Martins building at Kings Cross

When City University set up the multidisciplinary centre for creativity, there was an idea that all UG degrees would include creativity in the first year curriculum. This did not really progress, and I have been reflecting on why. My thoughts on this were stimulated by participating in a recent conference Creativity and Business Presented by The Culture Capital Exchange and The British Library, with a reception at the new landmark Central St Martin’s building at Kings Cross.
This brought together a very wide range of disciplines. I could relate strongly to the Central School of Speech and Drama’s  speaker Geoffrey Colman talking about conservatoire, about the frustration of agents wanting the next soap stars versus the school needing to develop actors for life. This resonated for me on a personal as well as professional level, as an alumni of Central School, where I took my second degree, as an actor. My experience then of the conservatoire approach which developed the students’ existing talents yet embedded an approach to learning that would serve them  life long, has greatly influenced my career both in theatre and subsequently in business, and as a teacher.

To take this a little further, in the acting profession few become stars, and many of those who do, can burn brightly for a short time before dying out.  But the formative learning I experienced enabled me to develop a career that went on growing and adapting to change, something I believe all our students will need for their future professional life.

There are in my opinion vital and common ideas that inform curriculum design across all schools and disciplines at City:

imaginative

critical

persuasive communication

visual awareness

perceptive

reflective

City has expertise in all these areas which other schools could learn from. Just a few examples are creative writing in Arts, visualisation in Informatics, persuasive communication in Law, reflective practice in Health Sciences. There were many examples of these in the Arts and Social Sciences Fete and in other learning events open to the whole university such as the forthcoming Cass Assessment and Feedback Showcase on May 22nd. These provide quick and effective ways of connecting with expertise in other schools.

Possibly a lesson to be learned from the “failure” of embedding creativity into all the first year UG curricula, is that creativity means different things in different disciplines. Far from being an obstacle this lesson is a way forwards for exploring both shared areas, and potential cross disciplinary ideas towards a common curriculum for first year Undergraduates. To begin that process we need to consider and share what creativity in education means in each school and discipline. In this way we can identify and develop a core UG. curriculum, across schools, that is fundamental in producing “a transformational and supportive learning experience that will provide them with a secure foundation for their careers.”  City University Strategic Plan 2012

Innovation Creativity and Leadership – Research and Practice

Innovation Creativity and Leadership – Research and Practice                    13th June 2011

ICL cogs logo

http://creativity.city.ac.uk/

Archived abstracts and slides: http://creativity.city.ac.uk/ICLcity_talks.html

This event showcased a diverse range of research and activity in this field.  It very successfully met its aim “to be a forum for exchanging ideas and sharing experience of innovation, creativity and leadership in both research and practice.”  Central to this was the vibrant attending crowd.  True to its interdisciplinary nature, the event enabled lively networking across the disciplines, between lecturers, services, students and researchers, between academics, consultancies, and companies, from City University London and beyond.  Among the many people I encountered were a MICL (Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership) student glowing about his inspiring and rewarding study experience and a creativity consultant that provided me with a list of useful techniques for change management.

The performance space proved to be an excellent venue although the area used for catering was a little cramped.  It would have been exciting to use the space to perform and have had sessions that enabled physical movement, interactivity and engagement with the actual techniques discussed.

Highlights for me included Patrick Jordan’s opening keynote.  He is described as a “design, marketing and brand strategist” as well as an academic.  His presentation was eye-opening and highly visual and exploded a number of assumptions about human behaviour in his discussion of bringing about change.  www.patrickwjordan.com

Clive Holtham co-created his slides with the audience using a crayoned flip book and invitations to interpret the symbols.Co-created slide with Professor Clive Holtham

Kathy Molloy and Kathryn Waddington explored critical reflection as a tool for learning about leadership.  This introduced me to the term ‘toxic leadership’ and also demonstrated how medical staff were able to embrace and benefit from the seemingly uncomfortable practice of reflection.

Sara Jones gave an excellent overview of the technologically enhanced spaces for creative conversations that they have been evaluating and experimenting with.  http://hcid.soi.city.ac.uk/cityinteractionlab/

Above all I took away this quote shared by Andres Roberts that “there is no scientific evidence that seriousness leads to greater growth..”.  I left with a stronger conviction that bringing about change requires play and creativity.  This was an enjoyable day and excellent networking opportunity.  It was a demonstration of the kind of event that City University London should do more of and I look forward to the next one.

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