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Putting Creative Mindsets into practice

by Nicola Tagoe, Projects & Resources Lead in the Exchange

The Creative Mindsets project began in 2017 and aims to improve outcomes and experience for all students by building growth mindsets – the belief that ability develops through effort and by embracing challenge. The project is designed for both students and staff.

Based on Professor Carol Dweck’s Implicit Theories of Intelligence (Dweck, 2000), Creative Mindsets addresses stereotype threat (Osborne, 2007) and bias (Staats, 2014). These can create barriers to learning via self-limiting identities, peer interactions, staff expectations and teaching and assessment approaches. The research carried out demonstrated that if you have a growth mindset, you are less likely to hold stereotypical thoughts about other people and more likely to want to create inclusion. Read more about the original OfS funded project.

Through her role as Educational Developer: Attainment (Identity and Cultural Experience) Vikki Hill has co-facilitated workshops with 1st year students and colleagues across UAL to embed the concepts and theories within their practice. On Tuesday 17 November 2020, Vikki brought together 5 members of teaching staff from across the university for an online panel discussion to share the impact that Creative Mindsets has had on their teaching practice. Watch the full recording of the webinar (55 mins, 34 secs). 

Lucy Panesar

The first speaker was Lucy Panesar, Progression & Attainment Manager at London College of Communication, and leader of staff-student initiatives such as LCC Student Changemakers.

Lucy began her presentation by mentioning that Carol Dweck’s concepts of fixed and growth mindsets that underpin Creative Mindsets have had a significant impact on her personally, and in relation to her teaching.

Resonating with the belief in the capacity for growth and learning, Lucy mentioned that she first introduced the theories into her teaching as a tutor on the PgCert in Art, Design and Communication programme. In this context, she found the theories enabled her to coach teachers through their journey in becoming ‘students’ again, helping to overcome challenges and discomfort which arose for some, particularly during the assessment processes.

Wordcloud with blue red and yellow letters on a black background
Wordcloud around the learning process, including mistakes, failure and feedback

In addition, the concepts allowed Lucy to coach herself, developing her own confidence and ability in supporting teachers on the programme. Lucy applied her understanding of Creative Mindsets concepts in other contexts, including the UAL Attainment Programme (Learning for All) where ideas of talent, potential, ability were interrogated by staff in relation to racial inequalities.

She highlighted the difficulties that arose in having these conversations, but that valuable knowledge, skills and understanding were established as a result of having engaged in these discussions. Lucy presented this as a prime example of the growth mindset theory in practice, and that by creating more opportunities to ‘practise’ engaging in challenging dialogue around race and racism, these topics will gradually become easier, helping to initiate cultural change across the institution.

Charlie Abbott

Charlie Abbott, Senior Lecturer and 1st Year Leader on the BA Graphic Design course at Camberwell College of Arts, shared that he has been working with Creative Mindsets over the past four years. All of his students having participated in the introductory workshop at the start of each year. He noted that this has become an integral part of the learning journey for students, particularly in relation to feedback and assessment.

Drawing on the fixed/growth mindsets theories, Charlie presented examples where students have been encouraged to reflect on what constitutes ‘useful’ feedback, and what kind of feedback they would like to receive. Creating the space for open discussions to take place amongst the student enabled valuable peer learning to take place.

Charlie also shared his work in reframing the assessment criteria together with students, creating an innovative model for holistic and reflective interpretation presented as a pie-chart, as opposed to the linear, prescriptive approach that is often taken by students.

Charlie summarised that learner agency is encouraged by introducing Creative Mindsets concepts at an early stage, as well as promoting the belief to students that ability is not a fixed concept, but something that they can be proactive in developing.

Bridgette Chan

Bridgette Chan, Specialist Technician in Ceramics (Plaster) at Central Saint Martins, shared that she was introduced to Creative Mindsets during the PgCert in Art, Design and Communication programme.

black and white photo taken at a 45 degree angle, showing  a person the foreground making a ceramic pot. In the background students are watching.
Ceramics workshop in action at Central Saint Martins

At the time, Bridgette felt that her approach to thinking about her work was already closely aligned with many of the concepts, recalling that her classmates voiced that they were able to learn from her mistakes when speaking to her, due to the constructive language that she used to frame failure as a learning process.

Bridgette highlighted the high frequency of ‘failure’ within the discipline (exploding pots etc.), noting that ceramics takes a long time to master, and the only way to learn is through the ‘doing,’ and developing tacit knowledge through this process. Bridgette noted the importance of normalising discussions around failure and mistakes, and the extent to which this can in turn shape one’s practise.

Amongst the students that she works with, Bridgette described her role in guiding them towards this understanding, helping them to make sense of what can often be an exhausting and frustrating process. She noted that students are encouraged to share experience with each other, developing their knowledge and experience collaboratively.

Bridgette highlighted the positive outcome on the student experience when teachers place importance on the process, as opposed to solely focussing on the outcome, and that students are prepared for the risks in advance.

Through drawing on the Creative Mindsets concepts, Bridgette demonstrated how students are able to navigate failure both from a physical and emotional perspective, analysing the process in a constructive manner which they can then include in their portfolios, and gain deep insight into their own learning journeys.

Andrew Slatter

Andrew Slatter, Senior Lecturer in Contextual and Theoretical Studies (CTS) and Design School CTS Year 1 Coordinator at London College of Communication, spoke about how he has effectively embedded Creative Mindsets into the BA (Hons) Graphic and Media Design course.

Front cover of the Ghostbusters Antholozine. It is sunshine yellow with bottom left a scrappy line drawing of a head with a thought bubble above and a line graph within that bubble.  The College logo is top left and the zine title is stencilled top right.

Andrew referred to a printed publication, the Ghostbusters ‘Antholozine’, that had been created by fifteen students in response to two lectures around the theme of stereotype threat. The publication included essays and artwork from students responding to notions of identity, expectations, and stereotypes within the profession, and was showcased at the London Design Festival exhibition at LCC in 2018.

Andrew mentioned that through this initiative, students were able to share experiences of not feeling included within their discipline, and through a process of discussion and interrogation, came to understand that there is room for everyone to be represented.

Andrew explained the structure of the sessions which included the delivery of an initial lecture, followed by a seminar facilitated by student Peer Assisted Learners.

Andrew noted that with the absence of an academic in the room, this format was effective in allowing students to speak openly amongst themselves about the topics raised. Andrew noted that further initiatives are being developed to bring the concepts of unconscious bias and stereotype threat into the course curriculum, including a new reader for the CTS Year 1 unit, Liberating the Curriculum, to be introduced from February 2021.  

Victoria Salmon

Finally, we heard from Victoria Salmon, Researcher-Practitioner and university-wide Academic Support. Victoria first became aware of Creative Mindsets through an article on the UAL Canvas page; the material resonated with her immediately in relation to her work and teaching practice.

Having encountered many unhappy students who were experiencing challenges during the course of their studies, Victoria sought to find a way to capture and share these narratives to encourage acknowledgement and further discussion amongst staff and students. This inspired the creation of her Student Voices project, bringing together recorded interviews where students shared their experiences of studying at UAL.

People sitting on benches by a large white wall at CSM, listening to various headsets attached to the wall.
Listening to the Student Voices interviews as part of an installation at CSM

In her presentation, Victoria shared an extract of an interview with a student called Gayi, who spoke of her experience of being pushed to be creative, grow and develop in response to the challenge of producing her final degree show without access to facilities or materials during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Through the act of listening to the other Student Voices: Carrying on through Covid interviews, Gayi had been able to situate her experience as a student within the narrative of the wider student experience at UAL.

Victoria stressed how important the Student Voices interviews and Creative Mindsets concepts can be in helping us to understand what it means to be a member of staff, and the role we play within the wider community here at UAL. Victoria finished by stressing the importance of listening, encouraging colleagues across the university to create more opportunities to amplify and listen to the student voice to establish a deeper understanding and promote growth mindset.

Q&A and future developments

The webinar culminated with a lively Q&A session, including discussion around the development of the Creative Mindsets initiative, which featured as part of the UAL Big Welcome for the first time this year.

We are very grateful to the five speakers who contributed to this first Creative Mindsets webinar. If you would like to share how Creative Mindsets has had an impact on your teaching here at University of the Arts London in a future webinar, please get in touch with Nicola Tagoe (Projects & Resources Lead: AEM & Attainment)   

Further Reading

Dweck, Carol S. (2000). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality and development. Taylor & Francis: Philadelphia, PA.

Osborne, Jason W. (2007) ‘Linking Stereotype Threat and Anxiety, Educational Psychology,’ in An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology. 27:1, 135-154, DOI: 10.1080/01443410601069929

Staats, Cheryl. (2014). State of the science: Implicit Bias Review. Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.

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