Do not be afraid of being creative and using arts
Teaching at universities offers a lot of creative potential. In most cases, this potential is hardly exhausted and this is primarily due to two facts:
External expectation causes pressure for test improvement and coverage of an ever-expanding and standardized curriculum.
Linked to this, internal motivation searches for expectable development of courses, in other words “security” that guarantees specific results and dislikes leaving familiar paths.
Creative teaching requires daring beyond well-known routines and in such moments, working with creative methods is linked to the possibility of failure. It involves uncertainty in two respects: On the one hand, creative teachers don’t know whether they will receive positive or negative feedback for their creative activities in courses. Most disciplines at universities simply are not used to creative methods so there is, understandably scepticism. On the other hand, creative teaching is playful and it is impossible to foresee the results of creative processes, even if one tries to structure and hold them in control.
Universities often formulate diverse demands for innovation, interdisciplinarity and diversity and the labour market too, requires flexible thinking of students. However, while creative and innovative methods gain considerable weight in the discussion about good academic teaching, their implementation in many institutions falls behind. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of comprehensive scientific evidence that creative teaching is successful. Only a number of small projects demonstrate the benefits of creative teaching (see tab “benefits and challenges”). Therefore, the mere decision to use creative methods already requires a creative action from the teachers. Teachers need to be brave on three level, if they are to offer creative courses:
Creativity requires the courage to accept a shift in power dynamics between teachers and students
Usually university teachers are in the position of power vis a vis their students, because they are experts on the subject they teach and because they are in the position to access the students’ achievements. Creative teaching requires an openness to allow students to handle the course content and they become real co-producers of the knowledge.
In this sense, creative teaching opens a way for new ways of looking at knowledge and acquiring it. The teacher is required to be able to withstand a certain degree of uncertainty and support an open teaching process. If this sharing of power is successful and the thoughts and feelings of students are valued and given voice, the whole atmosphere in the course can change.
Creativity requires courage to expand beyond the usual communication channels
The inclusion of creative methods in academic teaching requires the readiness to engage in alternative communication channels beyond the verbal level. Teachers in most university disciplines focus primarily on (academic) writing and speaking. Their expectations on linguistic competence are often high.
For many teachers the use of creative methods means moving beyond their customary communication medium and can cause insecurity. For students, however, specifically those that are not very articulate, this may be a new opportunity. Teaching beyond the verbal level not only expands the access paths to content, but also offer students the opportunity to establish and express personal connections to the topic – connection to feelings, memories and personal experience. This may engage more learners and opens the possibility for deeper learning.
Creativity requires courage to challenge the established organizational order
Creativity plays an important role in the discourse on the quality of academic teaching. The demands for innovations and alternatives not only dominate research, but are also posed to academic teaching, especially as creativity is one of the characteristics that are valued on the labour market. From an organisational perspective, however, it is often difficult to introduce uncustomary teaching approaches into a well-established organization.
To sum, courageous creative teaching is a promising path towards offering students new ways of thinking and interacting with knowledge and of expressing themselves and may also bring about progress in academic organizations.
Jorzik, B. (Ed.) (2013). Charta guter Lehre. Grundsätze und Leitlinien für eine bessere Lehrkultur. Essen: Stifterverband für die deutsche Wissenschaft.
Suggestions for further reading:
Rooney, R. (2004). Arts-Based Teaching and Learning. Review of the Literature. Rockville, Maryland: WESTAT.
Leonard, K., Hafford-Letchfield, T., & Couchman, W. (2016). The impact of Arts in Social Work Education: A Systematic Review. In: Qualitative Social Work, (17/2), 286-304.