Impactful Creative Work

Impactful Creative Work

How do we define and support impactful creative work?

How do you define impactful creative work?

In addition to student and faculty centered goals, one of our main areas of interest was identifying the elements needed for impactful creative work. The goal of the Creative Discovery Fellows Program was not only to ensure that students become capable technology users, but also enable them to push the boundaries of social justice, knowledge, and meaning-making. Creative work often engages students in surface-level tasks focused on technical and aesthetic goals. While developing sound technical and creative design skills was a goal for the CDF program we knew that these creative projects could and should open up many more deep, rich, and meaningful possibilities for students and instructors. 

As with all of our research, we took an iterative, emergent, and collaborative approach to this question. We developed the initial conceptual framework for creative work from the theorized CDF Program and assignment structure, input from Creative Discovery Fellows instructors, student survey responses and reflections, and qualitative interview data from instructors and students. This led to us naming five elements necessary for and/or developed by impactful creative work: intellectual capacity and growth, development and use of technical and creative skills, development and use of personal and interpersonal skills (building relationships, utilizing own interests/knowledge, ability to reflect on choices/thinking), ability to envision and create work that has an impact outside of the classroom, and ability to connect and use skills and knowledge gained from the creative project outside of the classroom. 

This framework, in turn, informed our assessment for the Fall 2019 semester as student survey and interview questions were designed to both measure and continue developing our framework for impactful creative work. This once again led to an updated understanding of the elements necessary for creative work with the addition of two new elements – collectivity and storytelling – and the refinement of several more. Ultimately, the CDF Program illustrates that impactful creative work is much more than student knowledge and skill acquisition. Impactful creative work aims to expand the boundaries of what stories get told and who is impacted by the development and dissemination of these stories:

  • Intellectual growth: Impactful creative work necessitates that students engage in or develop a reflexive (circular) relationship between the course content/theories and the content/framing of the creative project. 
  • Skills development: Impactful creative work necessitates that students develop and/or leverage technical and creative design skills.
  • Motivation: Impactful creative projects allow students to experience learning and doing for emotional or intrinsic satisfaction instead of learning driven only by external validation (e.g. grades). 
  • Collectivity: Impactful creative projects give students the opportunity to do work that is in service of something or someone besides themselves. 
  • Storytelling: Impactful creative projects help expand the boundaries of who and where power comes from and tell a wide range of stories (e.g. challenge dominant storytelling). 
  • Application: Impactful creative projects provide opportunities for students to develop knowledge and skills that have use and application outside of the classroom/project. 
  • Impact: Impactful creative projects allow students the opportunity for their project to have an impact outside of the classroom (e.g. wider audience/use).

Elements of Impactful Creative Work

Elements of creative work: intellectual growth, skills development, motivation, collectivity, storytelling, social impact, application (connections outside of class)

Intellectual growth, skills development, motivation, collectivity, storytelling, application, impact

How do you support impactful creative work?

Impactful creative work opens up many opportunities for students and instructors. However, it is important to remember that rich and meaningful work does not simply appear; rather it occurs through careful planning, scaffolding, and attention to process as well as final outcomes.

Through interviews with CDF faculty, we saw that instructors thought very carefully and intentionally about the type and amount of structure to use with their creative assignments. One instructor chose to use very active scaffolding to ensure students had productive group dynamics and multiple opportunities for project reflection and feedback. This instructor recognized that it was important to build in formative assessment since previous iterations had not allowed all students to fully engage in the learning process or produce as effective projects as possible:

I knew that we wouldn't want to [only have a final summative project] because that's what I've done in the past in a sense. And some students would really seize the opportunity and create something quite magnificent, but other students were clearly demonstrating...I'm just going to throw this together. Or we would also have unevenness in terms of the group work.

This new scaffolding did not mean that students lost choice and agency. Students had a choice over their creative project topics, digital tool use, and group roles. However, this instructor wanted to ensure that there was enough structure and guidance in place so as to not overwhelm the students with the magnitude of possibilities (e.g. help manage the complexity of choice):

I created this system where I have [example] boxes where it's, maybe you can think about this, maybe you can think about that. So these sort of invitations to be creative, but also giving them examples so that they have ideas and instead of just feeling like they're starting from nothing.

Another instructor wanted to allow students to see the value and possibility of digital tools in service of community partners, and give students the agency to manage and shape their creative projects:

"We gave [the students] a lot of possibilities, so one thing that was a not anticipated benefit of the sheer number of projects and the lack of very intensive hands on management is that students were able to shape them, and invest more, and take more of an active and interventionary role in the outcomes.

However, this instructor also realized that digital tools have a steep learning curve, and while 'learning by doing' is important a lot of students could be overwhelmed by the sheer possibility of the tools. The technical and creative support that the CDF Program provided helped bridge that gap so students could actually access and use tools in service of community partner goals.

In general, we observed that CDF instructors used creative projects for a variety of reasons and employed a deep range of pedagogical practices to allow for impactful creative work. Which practices were employed depended on many different variables including the type of creative project, course content and goals, and student backgrounds and motivations. 

However, several common themes emerged that allowed for and supported impactful creative work:

  • Recognized experience of the student
  • Agency of students 
  • Interplay of creative project and course content/goals
  • Development and use of skills (technical, creative, research)
  • Role of community and audience
  • Use and facilitation of groupwork
  • Modes and use of feedback/assessment
  • Opportunities for reflection and revision

These themes have been codified in our Pedagogical Resources and Student Resources, which draw on process-orientated and situated learning and intentional scaffolding of different phases and aspects of the student’s development to support the elements of impactful creative work.