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The keys to the curriculum: Creativity, Enterprise and Employability

17 Oct 2018 | Stuart Norton Stuart Norton, Senior Adviser in Learning & Teaching at Advance HE talks about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) relates directly to creativity, enterprise and employability in Higher Education

Recently I have read with great interest blogs and articles regarding the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the rise of Artificial Intelligence and the impact on HE in this era. In fact last month’s joint Advance HE / LTHE chat looked at how we are preparing the Next Generation of learners for the 4IR.  

Here I wanted to talk specifically about how this changing landscape relates directly to creativity, enterprise and employability; and how we as educators must take responsibility for enhancing these critical components that are relevant for learning, life and work.

The focus on shifting ‘skills’ and what attributes, beyond core knowledge and technical skills, graduates are expected to have is not a new topic. It is however a topic in need of revisiting, as reflected through the eyes of employers and relevant forums. Earlier this year Stephen Isherwood, CEO of the Institute of Student Employers, underlined the need for graduates to enter the workplace with a global outlook and a future mind-set. Previously the World Economic Forum has predicted the top ten skills required by employers by 2020:

Stuart blog graph

What is clear is that we are in the midst of a changing landscape - and one that is by no means insignificant.  To prepare our students for life after graduation these are real changes that we must consider - the changes simply won’t wait for educators. We therefore must look to be proactive regarding upskilling (through lifelong education) and by delivering education not only fit for academic purposes but ‘future fit’ to meet the expectations of students and employers alike.

What has become more and more apparent to me is that there is a very real need for HE to provide increased opportunities for students to be creative: The world is changing fast and graduates are going to need to be creative in order to engage with this pace and growth, in particular around new technologies. (You are most likely reading this on a device that probably did not exist a few years ago).

While this changing topography may place a renewed emphasis on creativity, it is important to pause and recognise that this is not a new phenomenon to Higher Education. If we consider Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Higher Learning (Anderson & Krathwohl 2001), creating is placed at the top of the taxonomy, firmly rooted in higher order thinking.

Given how widely applied the taxonomy is within HE, educators must be considering this regularly and carefully. But perhaps that is the paradox of our own making. The taxonomy is often adopted as, critically, it provides a mechanism for classifying learning, since we must be able to measure students’ ability. Yet, do our structures and (perhaps) our overt focus on information transfer and typical assessment practices allow students to truly reach this higher cognitive capacity?

Moreover, there is often a risk that the taxonomy can oversimplify the learning process through a one dimensional view of learning - when we know that degree programmes are often an array of multi-dimensional perspectives - and let’s not forget that we often ignore the prior learning that students arrive with by chaining ourselves to detailed learning outcomes.

A fascinating article by Robert Nelson, Associate Director for student learning experience at Monash University, highlights the constraints that the Taxonomy leans towards, in particular through the (well intentioned) mechanism of constructive alignment. Nelson discusses how we have methodically removed creativity, alongside imagination, from the curriculum - both through the micro-management of learning and an overt focus on the mechanical absorption of facts. 

So how can we re-address this balance? Nelson argues that a return to teaching objectives as opposed to learning outcomes offers a short term, immediate solution - I would also add what I believe are two critical factors:

Firstly, let’s be very clear that these challenges are not simply a failure of Higher Education – we can begin to trace the challenges back through the (English) education system - GCSE courses in Design and Technology have been axed in hundreds of schools and the focus on the narrow curriculum - a flagship policy of former education secretary Michael Gove – has also impacted on wider creative arts such as music with 18% of schools removing the GCSE between 2016-2017. While out of our hands, as a sector, we must rally and challenge the removal of subjects that support imagination, creativity, innovation, originality, expression, innovation etc. – all aspects that are increasingly important for employers and entrepreneurs alike.

Secondly, I truly believe we all need to be considering a distinct, course specific, approach to employability. We know that creativity is highly valued by employers and international organisations such as the World Economic Forum. This is because creativity allows for the development of a positive attitude, to be flexible and adaptable, to be open to new challenges - alongside core components such as team working, communication, leadership, complex problem solving and critical thinking. Creativity - an enterprising mind-set - employability - these are not at odds with your curriculum, they are core components that should be defined, enhanced and developed - critically they should be made specific and relevant to your course/field/subject/sector through open and honest dialogue with stakeholders and through (truly) engaging your students as partners in these discussions. I would argue that a defined view of employability needs to be owned and shaped by all of those who are responsible for developing and shaping it.

Fundamentally, is it time to be considering your curriculum afresh?

While this is a call to action I do not suggest a reflexive reaction - let’s consider some immediate practical steps. Firstly there are plenty of fantastic examples already being undertaken across the sector - we must continue to learn from each other and I would suggest visiting the Enhancing the Curriculum Toolkit provided by EEUK as an excellent starting point to consider what could potentially be incorporated into your curricula.  Secondly I would advocate engaging in a Community of Practice - we simply must all share and draw upon the vast range of insights we can all offer as connected teachers, supporting learning for life and sharing insights to the changing nature of employment from each of our own disciplines.  A community is only as strong as its members and I would be delighted to see as many of you as possible sharing and discussing our very own ‘wicked problem’ of employability in the 4IR - as well as mobilising joined up responses to such challenges as the removal of the creative arts subjects from our schooling system.

Lastly, if we as a sector are honest and bold and wish to truly enable students to succeed in their learning and future careers, and to embed enterprise, I do believe more fundamental changes to pedagogies, assessment, and learning and teaching practices typically do need to take shape, and sooner rather than later.  

Stuart Norton is a Senior Adviser in Learning & Teaching at Advance HE. You can follow him on Twitter at S_J_Norton  #Advance_HE_Chat #LTHEChat

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