Student Impacts

Student Impacts

What are the different ways creative assignments have impacted students?

Over the course of the CDF Program, instructors implemented creative assignments in a variety of courses ranging from theatre to geography to environmental science, policy, and management. Starting in the fall 2019 semester, students (N = 152) completed a comprehensive survey after finishing their creative projects that asked them to rate their agreement with nine fixed response survey questions that covered a range of conceptual outcomes for the CDF Program.

Overall Student Outcomes

The majority of students agreed that the creative projects allowed them to engage in all of the desired outcomes for the CDF program. Students could easily see connections between the skills and knowledge they develop through their creative projects and future work. The majority of students also agreed that their creative projects allowed them to examine their biases and assumptions, utilize their prior knowledge or personal experiences, and aligned with their own interests and motivations. Students also reported that the creative projects informed their understanding of the course content or theories and a smaller percentage (78%) said that the course content informed the development of their projects. Additionally, nearly 80% of students reported that they thought their creative project would have an impact beyond the course.

Student outcomes based on creative project structure 

The CDF Program not only served a wide range of courses but also supported many different types of creative assignments from individual to group creative projects and personal to community-based creative projects. While students reported overall positive experiences with the creative projects we did observe differences based on the project type, especially for students who completed American Cultures Engaged Scholarship (ACES) creative projects. The ACES program provides students with the opportunity to participate in collaborative projects with community partners. ACES creative projects, therefore, allowed students to engage in creative work that often addressed a pressing concern or need of the community partner. In contrast, other CDF creative projects were usually based on student interest and/or course objectives leading to creative project types that had very different goals and audiences.

Regardless of project type, students report strong agreement with the intended outcomes of the CDF program. During the fall 2019 semester, we had the unique opportunity to ask students who had chosen to complete traditional written term papers (instead of creative projects) about these same outcomes. Since all students – traditional (N = 202), creative (N = 96), ACES creative (N = 78) – were situated within the same courses, with the same instructors, and same overall course objectives we expected similar response patterns for a many of the desired CDF Program outcomes. However, we also saw large differences in how students responded to a subset of these items.  Students who completed ACES creative projects reported more opportunities for relationship building (with, for example, their peers or community members/partners) and saw their projects having an impact beyond the course compared to students who completed traditional written assignments (within the same course) and non-ACES creative projects. However, students who completed ACES creative project struggled to establish a connection between their project and the content of the course compared to students who had completed traditional and non-ACES creative projects. 

Relationship building and creative project impact

ACES creative projects are inherently relational, dialogic, and external facing. Students who complete ACES creative projects worked hand-in-hand with a community partner to create work that is in service of the community partner’s unique needs. Additionally, all the ACES creative projects completed within the CDF Program were group-based. This led to a creative project structure that presented many opportunities for relationship building between peers and members of the community. And, since this type of creative project was designed with an external audience in mind, meant that there are also more opportunities for the creative work to have an impact outside of the classroom. While these features are inherent to ACES projects these results can also inform more student-centered creative projects. Projects should allow opportunities for both internal and external growth. Instructors should design intentional scaffolds to encourage students to explicitly name their project audience and the desired impact they hope to have. Instructors should provide opportunities for students to reflect on these choices and consider how they hope to meet these goals (and how the instructors can best support these goals as well). Projects should be framed as having a life outside of the classroom and that they can and should continue after the class is complete.  

Interplay of creative project and course content

While ACES creative projects have unique affordances so do the more student-centered creative projects. Students who completed non-ACES creative projects more easily saw the course content informing the development of their project and the project informing their understanding of the course content. One of our theorized mechanisms for impactful creative work involves a reflexive (circular) process the student experiences with what they learn in their AC course and the development of their creative project (i.e. the course content informs the development of their creative project and the creative project process informs/enhances their understanding of the course content). Interviews with instructors and qualitative coding of student free responses showed non-ACES creative projects had a clearer alignment of project goals and course content due to intentional instructor design. The creative project milestones and topic guidelines were set by the instructor for these student-centered projects, which made course and project alignment much smoother. In contrast, ACES creative projects were often guided by the needs of the community partner whose schedule was not designed to align with the course content or pace. These concerns should be foregrounded for students who work on community-based creative projects. Projects should not only focus on outcomes or deliverables - they should also allow for and encourage process-orientated learning. Instructors should communicate the expected goals for both the course and community-based projects and highlight the alignment that students can expect over the course of the semester. Students should be given opportunities to reflect (multiple times) on the relationship between their project and what they have learned. Students, instructors, and community partners should work together to create and update creative project goals and timelines. Instructors should be aware of the affordances but also the limitations of different creative project types and strive to engage in co-constructed participatory learning with their students. 

I believe that the knowledge/ experience from this project will be what transcends the course. The course has changed how I frame/perceive/approach ethnic art, and I believe that will stay with me forever.
Student, Creative Project
The work done with others groups truly changed my opinions regarding many topics... I can also see the assessment my group created directly shaping future ACES courses, which in turn will again, continue to directly reflect on the community.
Student, ACES creative project
This work undoubtedly made me closer to the classmates that I was working alongside through the way. I also found that this was a particularly great opportunity to get to work with community groups centered around public service. Ultimately, through the work of this project, I grew a lot closer to my instructor as well as our student community liaison and those are significant relationships that if it weren't for ACES, I would find to be as significant or would not have at all.
Student, ACES creative project