I read “Creativity: What Is It? Can You Assess It?  Can It Be Taught?” by Lars Lindström and found it be very enlightening. Before reading this piece, I was definitely of the mindset that creativity was something that was innate and intangible and therefore difficult
to assess.

I teach across a wide number of different fashion courses, I believe there is the assumption that students on arts based degrees would all want to be exercise as much creativity as possible within the framework of the course, but this is not always the case. Matthew Richardson wrote on his threshold concepts blog post

“Perhaps though most students come onto the course to learn to be stylists?”

As I conceded in my last post, this was certainly true of myself in the early part of my time in higher education and I have certainly seen many other examples of it in my teaching practise. There are some students who are not interested in creative risk taking; instead they are more concerned in observing what is the current trend or the established orthodoxy and emulating it. Some do this as they only want to engage with there discipline at a surface level and maybe enjoy the status of being a designer more the act of designing, while there are others who focus on the use of materials and techniques over pursuing original ideas.

I had personally found it hard in terms of assessment to differentiate between the students who I perceived to have exercised more creativity and those who have not when their finished product may be to a similar level in terms of craftsmanship. If I use Lindström 7 criteria of assessment it could help me quantify it in future

Like in the example of the Swedish schools when trying to ascertain the level of creativity we often look to the students portfolios. One areas of focus is how they research and how they use their various references to construct new ideas.

Beneath I will take the 4 performance levels of the 6th criteria Ability to use Models and reword them so they could be applicable to assessing the research element of the portfolios on the BA Womenswear course on which I teach. My performance levels will show in bold.

Shows no interest in other people’s pictures and cannot benefit from them even when the teacher has helped find them.

Despite encouragement from the academic staff, there has been no research undertaken. Student has instead relied on their existing knowledge and preconceptions of the area.

The student shows an interest in other people’s pictures that she or the teacher has found, but she confines herself to copying them.

The students research is based on contemporary publications in which trends and ideas have already been established and can be easily extrapolated
and aped.

Makes active efforts to find pictures for her own work. Demonstrates an ability to select images that suit her intentions

Uses research from a variety of sources that begins to build a cohesive narrative that informs her collection.

Actively searches out models to emulate and can use them in her work in a multifaceted, independent and well integrated way.

The student has immersed herself in researching a rich variety of cultural and academic sources. Their findings inform the decision making at every stage of
the project.

I found Lindström observation that ‘assessment of processes of learning requires the students’ thoughts to be made accessible in a more explicit way than normally happens’, fascinating. When marking the third year students final major project the personal tutor of each student does the initial marking, then we benchmark, a process in which each tutor offers an example of one of there top, intermediate and bottom students for review by the other academic staff to insure consistency in marking, there are often big discrepancies. When Lindström faced a similar problem he addressed it by supplementing the logbooks with videotapes of interviews of the students, by doing this different assessors finally arrived at similar results.

When we had conflict over marking previously I had presumed that is was due to the personal tastes of the tutors or even tutors favouring their own students, but Lindström’s findings indicate that perhaps the issue lays with the system of assessment and the only possible way to truly understand the creativity of a student engage in a dialogue with them, as this gives the student an opportunity to show their own capacity for self-assessment of the creative thinking behind their work.

I think using the criteria Lindström defines will definitely give me a key to unlocking marking creativity, but it has also made me consider that introducing interviewing as part of final assessment maybe would be the only way to bring about total parity across marking.

6 thoughts on “Creativity

  1. I agree that there is the assumption that students on arts based courses would want to exercise as much creativity as possible, but that some students see the reason for being on the course differently. They are like the Roberts, rather than the Susans. Maybe not in terms of just finding out what is necessary for passing the assessment, but in terms of not reaching a deeper learning. What do you do, on the courses you teach on, to address this?

    Like you, I found Lindström’s findings very insightful and useful.

    • Hello Anna
      My specific focus is trying to get introduce the students new approaches to researching and strategies for constructed that knowledge, to break out of the habits and default setting we often fall into so they can engage in a deeper level with the discipline, I hope to be able to give them the tools to access there own creativity (I know that sounds incredibly cheesy). I hope I did not sound as I had given up on them I was just trying to acknowledge that there are differences and there is also a place for the Roberts of this world.

      The other point I was trying to make and not to sure if I managed to communicate clearly is for some people the focus is creativity whilst others it is craft. I initially began teaching on Womenswear course where creativity and originality are seen to be very important by the staff and the students. Two years ago a begun teaching on the Bespoke Tailoring courses, helping them with portfolio and illustrations. I found it to be quite a culture shock, for many of the students there principle concern was the craft and construction, in some instances there felt that injecting to many of their own ideas into the garments was a distortion of their craft, they wanted to uphold a tradition. This felt quite oppositional to values I had had instilled in me throughout my arts education, it was however quite refreshing.

  2. Hi Thomas, I enjoyed reading your blog and it was really helpful to see how Lindstrom’s theoretical ideas can be understood in practice (your experience). I wonder about the video aspect though. It might work, but then again it might not. I think it would depend on what questions are asked and who is asking them. Do you mean the video would be just another chance for the student to exercise ‘creativity’? I also think it is interesting when we consider assessing ‘creativity’. Does that mean we are employed as lecturers/tutors because we are MORE ‘creative’ than our students? I doubt it! I think if we are actually trying to assess ‘creativity’, (leaving aside the aspect of ‘criteria’) we can only really measure how far a student has EVOLVED (through the existing course structure, course design and research aspect) that should be clearly defined.

    • Hello Matthew
      I must admit I was dubious about the videos, I think logistically it would be difficult and in many cases highly creative students don’t necessarily equal great verbal communicators especially when given the added pressure of being filmed. I do think that if all the people who assessed a student’s work could engage in some sort of verbal dialogue with the student I think they may have a better equipped to assess them.

      Your point ‘Does that mean we are employed as lecturers/tutors because we are MORE ‘creative’ than our students? ‘ really interested me. I have on quite a few occasions been sat across from students and thought that their level of creative thinking surpasses my own, but I think in these instances it is about recognising there ability and helping them to fulfil it.

  3. Thomas,
    I enjoyed reading your text. When you say,

    “The student has immersed herself in researching a rich variety of cultural and academic sources. Their findings inform the decision making at every stage of
    the project.”

    In terms of encouraging students to use a wide range of research methods, I have become increasingly frustrated as a teacher, by seeing photography students ‘lift’ almost directly other photographers work, usually straight from magazines. So I decided, when I was asked to write my current teaching unit, to include several lectures about referencing, how to source material from many mediums and examples of this. I was really tired of the ideas/ reference food chain being so short, i.e.: fashion photographers referencing fashion shoots. I have found that in general you need to teach creative students how to reference, unless, I think if they are on a fine art course or are fine artists- there seems to be no lack or limit to the referencing pool there!

    I have recently been assessing and grading the final year second years along with my head. I found that if there were any students whose grade we were unsure of usually because they were between grades, we would refer back to their reference journal and notebooks. It was often the consistency, referencing ability and quality of research that they had done which swayed the grade one way or the other.

    • Hello Anna
      I think the current system is hugely flawed, we seen to have an awfully lot of very disaffected students and our NSS reports are dreadful. I think the approach to teaching, feedback and assessment all need a radical overhaul. There no structured format for students to discuss each other’s work the feedback comes from one the tutor in the traditional transmission model. As we teach students in this way they never have to develop verbal presentation skills and it is foster the mind-set that designers work in isolation when in fact most design houses work very collaboratively. I hope to focus on ideas about. I want to focus on the assessment and feedback for my teaching and development project

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