Research and Evaluation

About the Creative Discovery Fellows Research

The Creative Discovery Fellows Program helps bring digital creation into the curriculum, particularly through courses that fulfill the American Cultures graduation requirement. Against the backdrop of a new campus strategic plan and "discovery learning" as a signature undergraduate experience, the Discovery Fellows Program aims to:

  1. Support faculty in designing and implementing creative projects that deepen learning and critical engagement
  2. Support students to develop their skills and identities, as participatory producers and- particularly for underrepresented students- 'historicized agents of their own futures' (Gutierrez, 2011).

Drawing on the concepts of  (a) "communities of transformation" (Kezar, Gerke, Bernstein-Sierra, 2018), (b) bottom-up and top-down sense-making/sense-giving (Kezar, 2012a & 2012b), and (c) sociocritical literacy (Gutierrez, 2011), the Creative Discovery Fellows Program aims to help faculty and students identify ways they can influence and shape change at their institution. We are employing an action-to-theory approach--what we are calling an "emergent" model of program development--grounded in equity. Our approach is "emergent" because it embraces dynamic relationships, irreducibility of the whole, and an "unruliness" in program design and outcomes (Morrison, 2006). Our model also aligns with design-based implementation research (Penuel et al., 2011), because of its focus on collaboration, iteration, attention to local expertise and support structures, and theorizing learning and knowledge as critical aspects of a recursive development process.

Program Impacts

To date, the Creative Discovery Fellows Program has impacted a wide range of instructors, students, and departments:

  • 22 faculty have participated in some aspect of the program
  • 9 faculty have completed all program requirements
  • 24 courses have received or are receiving direct support
  • more than 1,500 students have received training or support
  • more than 900 students have completed a creative assignment
  • faculty have received more than 120 hours of consultation/training
I'm seeing how the students are taking the concepts, using them in incredibly creative and contemporary ways and using them to engage the world. There's a way in which the bounds of the classroom start to stretch and the learning continues outside of the classroom and outside of the normal semester and those concepts become relevant in the world and the way you see things. That's my real goal.
Karina Palau, Comparative Literature

What are we trying to learn?

How can the real conditions of the classroom inform the implementation and design of campus curriculum initiatives? How do we design supports for faculty and students in ways that are adaptive and foster transformative learning? The framework for the Creative Discovery Fellows program centers on converting action to theory. We see it as a way to give concrete meaning and grounding to the new discovery initiative at Berkeley. We are starting with the classroom to uncover what faculty and student need and develop exemplar content and reasoning. This work will serve as the foundation for broader principles that will ultimately form a strategic design plan. The Creative Discovery Fellows Program is organized around several critical opportunities:

  1. The content of AC courses is particularly well-suited for narrative rendering, artistic exploration, community engagement, and public dissemination

  2. Instructors need ideas and support to integrate technology into their courses in ways that support (not detract from) their learning goals

  3. Students are hungry to learn digital literacy skills but often aren't given meaningful opportunities within the curriculum

  4. Although software access is universal, usage is unevenly distributed

Our study aims to document both the implementation and outcomes of the Creative Discovery Fellows Program. Our goals are to both affirm and improve the support we are providing for instructors and students and demonstrate the powerful potential of integrating these tools in service of social justice-oriented learning goals. Our emergent research questions are:

  1. What are the necessary elements of an impactful creative design project?
  2. To what extent do these assignments allow students to deeply engage with the AC content and develop professionally, publicly, and emotionally?
  3. To what extent do these assignments allow students to see new ways to communicate research or their experiences? Does this vary based on prior experience with digital tools?
  4. How do we best support instructors in creating and implementing creative assignments?
  5. How do we best support students in engaging with and completing creative assignments?
  6. What are the best practices for creating, scaffolding, implementing, and assessing creative assignments?

One of our main research questions focuses on the necessary elements of impactful creative work. Elements involved in impactful creative work are intellectual growth, skills development, the self and others, social impact, and application outside of the class/project. We developed the initial conceptual framework for creative work from the theorized program and assignment structure, input from Creative Discovery Fellows, student survey responses and reflections, and qualitative interview data from instructors and students. This framework, in turn, informed our assessment design for the fall 2019 semester as student survey and interview questions were designed to both measure and continue developing our framework for the elements of impactful creative work.

Elements Involved in Impactful Creative Work

 intellectual growth, skills development, the self and others, social impact, application (connections outside of class)

Intellectual Growth, Skills Development, The Self and Others

Social Impact, Application

The Initial Impact

During the fall 2019 semester, five instructors implemented their Creative Discovery assignments in their courses. These courses ranged from theatre to geography to environmental science, policy, and management and varied in the format of the creative project. For example, one course allowed students to choose if they wanted to complete an individual creative project, a traditional term paper, or an American Cultures Engaged Scholarship (ACES) creative project while another course had all students completed group ACES creative projects. At the end of the semester, after finishing their creative projects, students completed a comprehensive survey that asked them to rate their agreement with nine fixed response survey questions that covered the range of conceptual outcomes for the Creative Discovery Fellows Program.

Our initial analysis showed that students (N = 196) easily see connections between the skills and knowledge they develop through their creative projects and future work (application). The majority of students (90%) also agreed that they see their project having an impact beyond their course (social impact). The majority of students also reported 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 their creative project allowed them to build relationships (with, for example, their peers or community members/partners) though we did see differences based on if the creative project was also an ACES project. Since ACES projects typically work with community partners, students whose creative projects were situated within ACES (N = 78) reported more opportunities for relationship building than students in non-ACES creative projects (N = 89) or traditional projects (N = 202).

We observed a similar difference based on project type for how students saw their 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 process between the student and their relationship towards what they learn in their AC course and what they develop for their creative project.

Interviews with instructors and qualitative coding of student free responses showed that they often had needs and schedules that did not align directly with the course content or pace. However, ACES projects greatly encouraged relationship building and allowed students to create work that they felt had a true social impact.

Additional information

For additional information please contact Victoria Robison at, Jean Cheng at, or Laura Armstrong at




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