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Igniting a spark in dark times

25 Mar 2020 | Kathy Wright Kathy Wright, Assistant Director, Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery at Advance HE, reflects on the need for imagination and creativity to give hope and nourishment at a time of uncertainty.

Sudden bursts of colour ignite the current darkness, the viral videos - ICU nurses dancing, singers on balconies, exercise classes on rooftops. Fun, play, creativity just to distract us?  It’s way more important than that. It’s about connecting us: social closeness with physical distancing. It’s about our wellbeing, mental health, our resilience to adversity. The world today is several shades of monochrome: worry, anxiety, fear, job losses, shortages, lack of entertainment.

We faculty members have moved our teaching from face to face, to blended and now suddenly to online only, often in a tightly structured online world. A university owned environment.

But does it really feel like my place or our place? Or does it feel like a utilitarian world where content is king, where quizzes test knowledge – with pre-determined answers, right or wrong, you pass, you fail. Within the rigidity of folders, discussion fora, modules and assignments, where and how can we break the moulds to foster our, and our students’, creativity?

Will it be monochrome or colour? How can we create learning spaces where stories are told, jokes are made, videos are created and shared and we can be original, innovative, fulfilled as teachers, as students, as human beings.

And how will we be remembered after this is all over? Will it be in monochrome or in colour?

What if? Being creative in higher education

If you are interested in creative approaches to teaching and learning in higher education, we invite you to our next webinar which aims to ignite ideas and experimentation that have the potential to boost creative expression and make learning stimulating and relevant, especially in these challenging times. 

Our panel of advocates for creativity consists of Gillian JudsonJesse Stommel and Chrissi Nerantzi, and is chaired by Kathy Wright, who will lead the interactive webinar and discussion around these key themes: 

  • What if creativity and imagination were at the heart of higher education?

  • How do we address the tensions between creativity and assessment and evaluation?

  • In what way is creativity relevant to different disciplines and areas? 

  • Is it possible for everyone to teach creatively? ​

  • What type of learning spaces foster creativity?

Our panel’s monochrome bios are linked in the text above but below are our participants in full colour.

Who am I?

When you are with me, you will never know what happens next, often not even I know…

It will be a surprise. I guess it is the child in me that never moved out. My appetite to wander and wonder has actually been growing year after year... to imagine and to create. The connecting aspect is important to me. Connecting with people and ideas. To develop trust, caring relationships and to experiment, to play and make. There is a lot of value keeping that curiosity and inner flame alive and being an explorer, an adventurer and even a rebel. How about you?

I teach, research, write, and generally traffic in imagination

When I refer to the imagination, I mean the ability to envision the possible in all things, that generative feature of mind (and heart) that fuels all creativity, innovation and learning. My research looks at imagination’s role in educational leadership, assessment for learning and pedagogy in higher education, and place-based education. My students learn in ways that engage their emotions and imaginations. Because they - like you and me - are perfinkers.* They perceive, feel, and think at the same time. They are storytellers and story-seekers. (*Term originally from David Kresh).

Always a borrower, a lender, a ‘re-purposer’– a borrower of ideas, a lender of resources and a ‘re-purposer’ of approaches

Seeing connections, thinking horizontally, making do and mending, remixing. An Arietty, an outsider, an outlier, travelling to other worlds. Peeping through the floorboards to look at what ‘real’ people do up there and learning from their lives and their experiences. Then creeping out to find and borrow, …. pegs, bobbins, scissors and golden thread. Scurrying back below to regroup, interpret, apply and re-purpose. Finally emerging hesitantly, into their world to collaborate, to share knowledge and skills about engagement, daring to fail, risking getting caught and encouraging others to take risks in their worlds.

My mom tells a story of when I was very small, about 4-years-old...

I had just gotten a pair of clogs for my birthday, and when I wore them to school, the other kids at school made fun of me. So, I put the clogs on my hands and made them talk to each other and to the other kids. Everyone loved my clogs after that. I remember the clogs, but I don’t remember that day at school, but I have a memory of it through my mom’s story. And I see myself in that story. I see the person I’ve become. I also see hints of my own 3-year-old daughter. I also don’t remember the day this picture of me was taken, and I don’t remember that puffy green jacket, but I see myself so clearly in this photograph. There is something distinctly visceral about the joy and the acknowledgment of the camera and a recognition of the person holding it, who I’m guessing is my mom.

Who are you?


Advance HE Connect is our dedicated online network for the HE sector. Join the Learning and Teaching Network for online teaching support, resources and discussion.

Monochrome or colour: take a look at the Alike Short Film by Daniel Martínez Lara & Rafa Cano Méndez (CGI 3D)

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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