Creative learning in museums #1

Last week at the WA Museum, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation and workshop lead by Paul Collard who heads up the UK-based international NGO Creativity Culture & Education (CCE). Paul and the CCE team actively promote creative approaches in formal education (school) and provide professional development for teachers. As museums are considered as learning environments, these approaches can be highly relevant to museum professionals especially in exhibition development. We discussed the creative approaches in education with Paul and then worked in small groups on a particular topic of the new museum  project to try to define a creative way to engage the public. In the post, I will summarize the elements I took away from this session.

CCE has developed a program called Creative Partnership. The program was first launched in 2002 by the UK Government to “unlock the creativity and raise the aspirations and achievement of children and young people in school in England”. After a governmental decision to withdraw the funding, the UK program stopped in 2011. However,  due to  international interest in the potential results, several Creative partnerships have been developed in other countries.

At the beginning, when it was launched, the program didn’t rely on precise concepts and a definition of creativity. So Paul and his team have reviewed a lot of works on the subject and finally shaped the theoretical aspects required to build the program. They have also conducted research and evaluations to explore the impact of their program.

What’s the problem?

We can start the presentation about creative approaches for education, by highlighting two problems the education field faces today.

First, schools are good at providing knowledge but they struggle to help kids to acquire the skills and competencies they will need in their future life. The dominant approach in teaching consists of guiding students towards knowledge they should learn and then testing whether  they have memorized it. It is a transmission mode of teaching where knowledge the teacher has is transmitted to pupils. This dominant approach fails to teach kids how to learn without teacher guidance, which  is a fundamental skill to learn. According to employers, there are other skills young people tend to miss, especially related to ethics, teamwork,  problem solving and analysis. Then, if we consider that many jobs young people who are at school today will do don’t exist yet, we see that the dominant guided approach shouldn’t remain the only one operating in schools.

A second important element to point out, is the fact the kids are highly demotivated at school (and often teachers as well). We all know of the Pisa reports produced by OECD, about pupil’s scholastic performances in reading, mathematics and science. Every three years when a report is released, everybody swoons, or on the contrary deplores, this or that country’s rank in the test results. But there is a part of the reports that is largely underpublicized. It is about pupils’ interest and motivation in every subject, and about how good they think they are in the subject (what we can call self concept). Here are some paradoxes. The more pupils are good at knowledge tests, the lower their motivations and self-concepts are. The same can be shown about students’ maths score and their entrepreneurial skills as well as their maths score and probability to commit suicide. One extreme example is  the Korean system: kids highly score at the tests but they are deeply demotivated and unable to manage outside of a guiding system. The percentage of Korean students who reported being happy at school was the lowest compared to all other countries in the last Pisa report (2012).

However, the vast majority of education systems still rely on the, classical but failing, guiding approach. CCE proposes the following view on education approaches. The Korean system would for example, be in the low functioning-high system quadrant.

Education systems - Creqtive Partnerships: changing young lives, CCE 2012

Education systems in Creative Partnerships: changing young lives, CCE 2012

What should be done ?

To address the lack of key skills and demotivation of pupils, CCE advices setting up a high functioning learning environment defined as followed (you can find more about it in this research report, p10-15).

Low and high funtioning learning environment in Creative Partnerships: changing young lives, CCE 2012

Low and high funtioning learning environment in Creative Partnerships: changing young lives, CCE 2012

We shouldn’t consider the low functioning model as old and bad and the high functioning one as good and, therefore, drop the old for the new everywhere, at anytime. The point is that the first one has been the dominant, if not exclusive, for a long time and has some serious limitations. It should remain in the teacher toolbox but shouldn’t be the only way of teaching. The two modes can be combined and balanced in teaching practice that promote creativity.

Creativity can be defined as the capacity to imagine and shape the world differently by switching between five habits and 15 sub-habits of mind:

  • Inquisitive: wondering and questioning, exploring and investigating, challenging assumptions.
  • Persistent: sticking with difficulty, daring to be different, tolerating uncertainty.
  • Imaginative: playing with possibilities, making connections, using intuition.
  • Collaborative: sharing the product, giving and sharing feedback, cooperating appropriately.
  • Disciplined: developing techniques, reflecting critically, crafting and improving.

To be creative, one need the tools to conceptualise how the world could be, the inner confidence and motivation to make it happen, and the ability to take risks and fail confidently. So in an educational perspective, young people should enjoy learning, learn how to look for and apply knowledge, and be able to imagine new ways and try out new ideas in real-world situations. Therefore, creativity is not just about having original ideas but being able to work on them, challenge them and make them come alive. That approach also provides a framework for teachers to measure pupils’ creativity and rethink their teaching approaches.

In a high functioning learning environment where their creativity is stimulated, young people appear to be more physically, socially, emotionally and intellectually engaged. As a result, their  feeling of wellbeing increases, as well as their confidence and kids tend to perform better in learning situations. As the CCE Creative Partnerships report (2012) says: these practices are effective because they directly impact on the pupils’ sense of competency, autonomy and relatedness. They provide the sense of agency and motivation from which sustainable learning power is generated.

Learning remains the first goal. A high functioning learning environment without learning outputs would only be recreational. But learning what? CCE approach is based upon UNESCO’s four pillars of learning as a definition of a successful education as discussed in an article about cultural eduction:

  • Learning to know: acquiring knowledge;
  • Learning to do: developing skills;
  • Learning to be: providing self analytical and social skills to enable individuals to develop to their fullest potential psycho-socially, effectively as well as physically, for an all-round ‘complete person;
  • Learning to live together: exposing individuals to the values implicit within human rights, democratic principles, intercultural understanding and respect and peace at all levels of society and human relationships to enable individuals and societies to live in peace and harmony.

Most of the time, an education system is restricted to the first two items of this definition focusing on procedural knowledge and ignoring the last two definitions .

CCE has implemented this approach in numerous projects, called Creative Partnerships, with schools in the UK and other countries. Research and assessments tend to show that these projects have positive impacts on kids attainment, motivation and behavior as well as on the engagement of parents. Given these results are from an informal educational context (schools) and considering  museums are learning environments, how will the creative learning approaches described in the post can be relevant for museums? We will address this question in the next post.


2 thoughts on “Creative learning in museums #1

  1. Thanks Marine – love the “creative partnerships” idea.

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