The Future of Creativity in Higher Education

In his closing key note address for the a2ru conference, Groundworks: Improving and supporting practice in the third space, Steven Tepper, Dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, discussed the future of the creative campus and the implications for arts integration within the research university.

His talk was both informing and inspirational in a way that allowed conference attendees to dream about the future of arts integration on their own campus.

According to Tepper, higher education is likely the single largest patron of the performing arts at the beginning of the 21st century. A 2014 study conducted by the NEA and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates that arts education added $7.6 billion to the U.S. economy in 2011 alone. The report further indicates that for every $1 dollar spent on arts education, 56 cents is generated elsewhere in the U.S. economy.

These reports indicate the arts have both intrinsic and instrumental value in the context of higher education. What I found more interesting however, is the inconsistency between what students are expressing they want from higher education and what is provided by institutions of higher learning.

A Teagle Foundation Study of Double Majors in 2009 identifies that creativity is a core value for the rising generation. 84% of students say that thinking creatively is an important or very important skill to learn in college. This is compared to 60% who say solving quantitative problems is important. Additionally, 92% say that a career that allows one to be creative is important.

A report released in 2015 by Americans for the Arts indicated that creativity is one of the top three personality traits most important to career success according to U.S. employers. Arts Education: Preparing Students for the Workplace highlights the following most sought after personality traits by employers.

Intelligence 24%

Personability 21%

Creativity 20%

Persistence 18%

Curiosity 7%

Fearlessness 6%

Other 4%

Another report by the Teagle Foundation suggests that 37% of students report coursework does NOT allow them to be creative. 67% report that classes are NOT intellectually playful, and 70% say they are generally NOT allowed to take assignments in different directions. So why is there such a drastic disconnect between what students say they want, what employers say they want from students, and what’s being offered in the class room?

I don’t have an answer for this question. My area of focus in higher education and arts leadership hopes to explore effective methods for bridging this gap and for making meaningful contributions between arts, creativity, and STEM focused departments. published a list of 12 ways to bring the arts into your classroom that may help facilitate creative thinking in disciplines outside of the traditional arts fields. Encouraging students to step outside of traditional higher education models is the first step for creating an environment where arts and creativity occurs across all disciplines in higher education. Take a look at the list and ask yourself if any of these ideas can work in your classroom. It may be a small step to encouraging creative output but it’s the little steps that often lead to big changes.

  1. Have students write a script
  2. Have Students create a work of art
  3. Have students use music to “illustrate” a concept
  4. Have students create a memory dance
  5. Take students to see a play that connects to the curriculum
  6. Have students write a song
  7. Have students create a poster, brochure, or advertisement
  8. Use art, music, or dance as a writing prompt
  9. Connect math and music
  10. Teach art, music, dance, or theater history through discipline related historical context
  11. Have students create a PSA
  12. Introduce students to artistic works that match your curriculum

As always, feel free to comment below.

Sources of Creative Collaboration

What do you think of when you picture attending the theatre? Truth be told, you probably imagine yourself purchasing a ticket, being ushered into a proscenium type theater hall, sitting in your assigned seat, and watching from the dark as the actors engage with one another on stage without acknowledging the presence of the audience. The story may be compelling, the actors may be flawless in their emotive execution, and you may be genuinely moved through your connection to the characters on stage but you are passive, an observer to the performance.

Now what do you think of when you picture attending a large lecture style class? You probably imagine yourself paying tuition, shuffling into a proscenium type auditorium, and watching in the dark as the professor lectures without acknowledging the presence of the students. The topic may be compelling, the professor may be flawless in their delivery of the material, and you may genuinely retain some of the information presented to you but you are passive, an observer to the performance.

Notice anything similar?

There is not a great deal of difference students passively observing a lecture and audience members passively watching a play. I bring this topic up because I wonder about the adoption of collaborative creation in the context of higher education. But what is collaborative creation?

According to Michael Neumann, there are three primary sources for collaboration that include open innovation, crowdsourcing, and co-creation.

Open innovation is a process where individuals and organizations actively become involved in the creation of mutually beneficial solutions. Open innovation creates an environment where decision making becomes a democratic process that allows for interaction with a broader group of stakeholders by building a collaborative community engages around specific challenges, problem set, or creative output.

Crowdsourcing occurs when an organization taps into an expanded knowledge base through the process of outsourcing projects to the public. Crowdsourcing calls for ideas, suggestions and contributions from an external source of individuals aka the crowd.

Co-creation relates more to the relationship between an organization and a defined group of stakeholders where creation is undertaken through a symbiotic partnership of individuals who engage in the act of creation through the exchange of knowledge or resources.

Another article by Trent Morse suggests collaborative creation, especially in the arts, is about inclusiveness, turning formerly passive audiences into active creators, and empowering people who aren’t normally part of the art world.

Given the close relationship between how audiences and students engage with performances and lectures, these ideas have led me to wonder, if we change the paradigm of the educational experience to involve open innovation, crowdsourcing, and co-creation would students be more inclined to take an active role in the educational process? These concepts are at the heart of the SCALE-UP classroom implemented at Virginia Tech by the College of Science and Dr. Jill Sible, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education. SCALE-UP stands for Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs. SCALE-UP removes the proscenium style lecture classroom and creates an environment where team oriented learning is driven by students. This removes the transactional nature of higher education and allows knowledge transfer to occur through the process of active engagement instead of passive observation.

Take a look at the video below and ask yourself if there is opportunity for collaborative creation in your discipline.

Student Driven Catalyst in Arts Integration

Bruce Mackh, Ph.D and Director of the Mellon Research Project, recently released a review of best practices and challenges for arts integration in higher education titled, “Surveying the Landscape: Arts Integration at Research Universities.” The report details many of the common and best practices being utilized by more than 33 research institutions across the country as a way of providing a base line of effective methodologies for arts integration. In the report, Mackh suggests there are several models for arts integration which include curricular arts integration, research collaborations, centers and institutes, and co-curricular programs.

In regards to curricular arts integration, Mackh suggests there are three primary categories of arts integration that include fusion, infusion, and diffusion.

Fusion refers to a course fully merging one or more academic disciplines with one or more areas of the arts.

Infusion indicates collaborations in which the arts support teaching and learning in another discipline.

Diffusion refers to courses in which non-arts students engage in immersive study in the arts.

The report serves as a guide for research institutions that are seeking to better integrate arts and design into common practice. Given the recent amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that includes arts + design into STEM education, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Despite the overwhelming successes, arts integration faces many of the same challenges from university to university. A comparative analysis between UNC Chapel Hill, The Ohio State University, Texas A&M, Michigan State, North Carolina State, California State University, Fullteron, Stanford University, and the University of Kansas indicated the primary challenges of arts integration included student/faculty engagement, getting students/faculty to care about arts + design integration, curriculum integration, and resource development in the arts.

Regardless of the challenges, the arts are playing a major role in creative output at many universities across the country. At Yale, a student driven catalyst for arts integration has led to one of the most visually stunning, transdiciplinary art + design outcomes I’ve encountered throughout the course of my study.

LUX: Ideas Through Light is a student driven project that uses highly advanced projections to demonstrate and showcase multidisciplinary research outputs through a combination of arts + design. Yale is home to the Beinecke Library. It is the main library on campus and features a grid like pattern on the exterior on the building. The library is also centrally located on Yale’s campus which plays a vital role in the projects levels of engagement. Using projection mapping, students have worked with faculty and researchers from almost every department across campus to create visual representations and animations of research being conducted at Yale. The animations were then projected onto the side of the Beinecke Library in a truly stunning example of transdiciplinary output.

dSlIaiwyky_pincC_dgtN2rXWw3Vfo7iBTqIcOlLIg=s630-fcrop64=1,28441b24e269b90eWhat I appreciate about the student driven catalyst as a model for arts integration is the role of faculty and administrators is to support the work developed by students rather than dictating preconceived outcomes through direction or syllabi. LUX: Ideas Through Light brought together various colleges and departments across Yale’s campus to create something truly spectacular. This leads me to wonder what would happen if faculty and administrators offered opportunity for unbridled creativity and then got out of the student’s way? What types of arts + design integration could occur if we chose to facilitate instead of dictate? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Full STEAM ahead

Last week, Oregon Congresswoman, Suzanne Bonamici, successfully added an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that will integrate the arts into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. Bonamici’s amendment was unanimously adopted by the House-Senate Conference Committee and will impact 100,000 public schools across the country.

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) is a movement founded by the Rhode Island School of Design and has been widely adopted by institutions, corporations, and individuals.

According to the website, the objectives of the STEAM movement are to:

  • Transform research policy to place Art + Design at the center of STEM
  • Encourage integration of Art + Design in K-20 education
  • Influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation

The arts are everywhere. A 2012 study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts indicated the production of arts and cultural goods added more than $698 billion to the U.S. economy and amounted to 4.32% of the gross domestic product. Additionally, workers in the arts and culture sector received $334.9 billion in compensation in 2012. Further findings indicate there are 2.1 million artists in the work force who identify being an artist as their primary occupation. According to a 2008 report from The Conference Board, 97% of U.S. employers say creativity is a highly important skill set however 85%of employers looking to hire creative people say they are unable to find qualified applicants.

With the integration of Arts + Design in K – 20 curriculum, innovation can expand beyond the STEM fields to include creative practice and industry. The arts have the potential to transform the American economy. Creative industries such as film and television, architecture, design, visual arts, fashion, furniture, interior design, product and industrial design are all experiencing growth that is outpacing the economy in many cities across the U.S. This article in the New York Daily News suggests staggering increases in the number of creative firms springing up in the New York City area. Brooklyn has seen a 125% increase in creative firms over the last decade. The Bronx has experienced a 99% gain and Queens has experienced 50% growth.  Similar expansions are occurring in Los Angeles according this article in The Sundial, a publication of California State University, Northridge.

Creative industries aren’t only found in the coastal giants of New York and Los Angeles. An article published in Forbs ranked the top 20 most creative cities in America. To compile this list, Forbs partners with Sterling’s Best Places and looked for cities where people are actively engrossed in creative projects utilizing creative funding platforms like Kickstarter and Indigegog as well as music sites like Bandcamp and ReverbNation.

  1. San Francisco, CA
  2. Boston, MA
  3. Nashville, TN
  4. Austin, TX
  5. New York, NY
  6. Portland, OR
  7. Los Angeles, CA
  8. Seattle, WA
  9. Detroit, MI
  10. Oakland, CA
  11. Philadelphia, PA
  12. New Orleans, LA
  13. Atlanta, GA
  14. Denver, CO
  15. Chicago, IL
  16. Orlando, FL
  17. Washington, D.C.
  18. Richmond, VA
  19. Miami Beach, FL
  20. Charlotte, NC

With the addition of Arts + Design to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, future generations will contribute to the creative class and creative economy as a result of early exposure to the arts through primary education.

To that end I’d like to say thanks Suzanne Bonamici, full STEAM ahead.



Multi/Inter/Trans – disciplinary, What’s the Difference?

Multidisciplinary, Interdisciplinary, or Transdisciplinary?

When research output is described as multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, or transdiciplinary it suggests that several disciplines are combined in contemporary problem solving. These ideas have become somewhat of a buzz word within higher education as a way of demonstrating collaboration between disciplines and highlighting adaptive pedagogical practices. But what is multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary? Are the words interchangeable? The answer many surprise you.

According to

multidisciplinary is an adjective that describes, “combining or involving several academic disciplines or professional specializations in approach to a topic or problem.”

Interdisciplinary is an adjective that describes, “of or relating to more than one branch of knowledge.”

Transdisciplinary is also an adjective that describes, “relating to more than one branch of knowledge.”

So what exactly is the difference?

According to Lakehead University’s “Essential Guide to Writing Research Papers,” multidisciplinarity contrasts disciplinary perspectives in an additive manner, meaning two or more disciplines each provide their viewpoint on a problem from their perspectives. Multidisciplinarity involves little interaction across disciplines.

Interdisciplinarity combines two or more disciplines to a new level of integration suggesting component boundaries start to break down. Interdisciplinarity is no longer a simple addition of parts but the recognition that each discipline can affect the research output of the other.

Transdisciplinarity occurs when two or more discipline perspectives transcend each other to form a new holistic approach. The outcome will be completely different from what one would expect from the addition of the parts. Transdisciplinarity results in a type xenogenesis where output is created as a result of disciplines integrating to become something completely new.

Take a look at the video below and compare the practices to your own research. Do you engage in multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, or transdisciplinary research? Could your output benefit from one or more of these practices? Are there barriers or obstacles within your discipline that prevent cross-departmental collaboration? Are there opportunities for collaboration in your research?

I conclude this entry with a quote from American architect, Buckminster Fuller, “in order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete. That, in essence is the higher service to which we are all being called.”


Open Source Collaboration in Arts and Education

In 2005, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his brother Dan founded HitRECord as a way of soliciting feedback for online videos. Since then, the company has grown to become an open source, collaborative production company where anyone is able to create, contribute, and engage in the creative process.

The idea behind HitRECord is simple, artists and collaborators contribute to themed projects by uploading material to the company’s website. Submissions can include song lyrics, music, animation, graphic design, screen plays, stories, video clips, audio clips, and multi media. The company then enlists the help of “A” list actors, directors, producers, and musicians to create collaborative works centered on a theme. The results are striking, humorous, poignant, and moving examples of artistic expression. The output from these projects has resulted in short films, books, videos, CDs, and even a television show that is a celebration of the creative spirit. The following video is a project created by this process and just a small example of the types of work that can be found on HitRECord‘s website.

HitRECord got me thinking about the possibilities of open source collaboration within the context of higher education. Does open source collaboration lead to greater levels of buy-in from stakeholders? Does it foster deeper levels of engagement from audience members who are also contributors? Does it change or augment how the work is perceived? Does it remove the transactional nature of the arts experience? Can open source collaboration shape the future of transdiciplinary education practices?

As an artist and an educator, I’m interested in how the scientist creates art, I’m interested in how the engineer creates art, and I am wholly interested in the intersections where cross-collaborative efforts are used in contemporary problem solving. I’m interested in how collaborative arts can be used to foster interdisciplinary creativity utilizing emerging technologies and contemporary pedagogy practices that create an inclusive learning environment where scientists, engineers, artists, and humanists can come together to explore common practices.

HitRECord serves as a brilliant example for fostering collaboration between artists, I wonder if a similar model could be used to foster collaboration between disciplines as well? Leave your thoughts below and be sure to check out more of HitRECord on their website.

Envisioning the Future of Higher Education

Beyond Boundaries is a charge from Virginia Tech President Tim Sands that asks us to dream about the future of higher education. Beyond Boundaries is a one-year visioning process that will inform the university’s long-range future and next strategic plan. Recognizing this is a chance to dream about the possibilities of higher education, I present an idealistic picture of just some of the possibilities.

In the future I see technologies changing both the virtual and physical landscape of college campuses. Immersive virtual reality technologies allow for students to interact with faculty and class room settings without the need of physically being in the room. These virtual landscapes allow for innovative experiences that let students study microbiology and nanotechnology by exploring nuclei from inside the atom. Similarly, these students can explore the hearts of stars and planets beyond our galaxy through virtual simulations. The virtual world opens doors into history, arts, science, and engineering allowing for an evolution on the idea of research and completely changing the definition of a lab. Along with the virtual landscape, the physical landscape is bustling with constant activity.

The majority of facilities across campus are multi-use, and have classroom space, lecture halls, art galleries, residential dormitories, and a wealth of student centered common space that is multi-configurable. Dark-time is almost never experienced in any of the rooms or facilities across campus. Spaces are open, well lit, furbished with innovative technology, and lush with green and vibrant vegetation. Students remain in residence but have expanded opportunities for national and international travel. Research partnerships allow students to connect across the country and around the world. Physical travel is an expectation and possibly even a requirement for graduation. Virtual collaboration is a common practice and connects faculty and students from around the country and around the world.

At the heart of this learning is teamwork and collaboration fostered by a shift in culture that has broken down the insular silos of departmental education. Group learning is inclusive of multiple disciplines where each group must contain an artist, a scientist, an engineer, a humanist, and business majors. Their research output shows an intrinsic connection between disciplines that allows each student to bring their unique skills and talents to the context of contemporary problem solving while recognizing their research is stronger when united. Faculty operate in very much the same way guiding their students through transdiciplinary collaboration. Research on the faculty level also includes multiple disciplines in order to be considered valid. Humanists work along side scientists and engineers who work with artists and designers to explore aesthetic and intrinsic value towards research. These clusters work together regularly and serve as exemplars for undergraduate students learning to live and work together in the same format.

Across campus, there is a sense of achieving the impossible. The campus climate is inclusive and diverse, full of energy and teaming with life. Organic connections between students, faculty, and staff occur frequently as ideas are constantly shared, expanded, and collaborated on.

Oh, and one final thing, the cost of this education is free.


Technology and Innovation in Higher Ed – To Tweet or not to Tweet

Earlier this summer, stories of actress Patti LuPone taking an audience members cellphone during a Broadway performance went viral across social media. LuPone was quoted in an article for Playbill saying, “We work hard on stage to create a world that is being totally destroyed by a few, rude, self-absorbed, and inconsiderate audience members who are controlled by their phones.” In another article for the New York Times, LuPone is quoted saying that, “Theatre is not a social event.” In all honesty, I couldn’t disagree more.

Technology is increasingly becoming targeted in the performing arts as disruptive and counter intuitive towards the performance experience. While I can understand and appreciate the traditional point of view as well as the traditional performance experience, I wonder if outright refusal to incorporate technology on serves to further distance between performers and audience members. The truth of the matter is technology is here to stay. It’s not going anywhere. In fact, it will only continue to grow more prevalent in our lives and in our experiences. Demanding audiences disengage from technology in order to consume the arts and shaming them when they do not do so is the wrong idea. Instead, artists, producers, and educators should be exploring how to incorporate technology into the experience which will connect to a wider audience base, help close generational gaps, and allow for a more participatory experience for both audience members and performers.

The Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech is currently exploring innovative ways to do this through an idea known as Tweet Seats. Tweeting during a performance isn’t really a new idea, but applying the practice with an educational purpose is. The Tweet Seats master class allows for students and faculty to live tweet their experience during the performance giving them the ability to ask questions, analyze passages of classical repertoire as they are played, research composers in real time, and more. This is just one example how higher education is taking the disruptive out of “disruptive technology”

Last year, Hiffington Post published an article detailing the 10 Hottest Disruptive Technologies in Higher Education. Listing everything from campus Wi-Fi to virtual reality, the article looks at the immerging technologies that are poised to have a lasting impact on the future of higher education. Take a look at the list and leave your comments on how you see these integrating into the future of higher education.

  1. Campus Wi-Fi
  2. The Importance of Being Social
  3. Digital Badges
  4. Business Analytics
  5. Google Glass and Wearables
  6. Drones
  7. 3D Printing
  8. Digital Courseware
  9. Small Private Online Courses (SPOC’s)
  10. Virtual Reality

Scholarly Integrity – Understanding Peer review in the 3rd space

This fall, I have the pleasure of coordinating the 2015 national conference for the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru). A2ru is Carnegie funded organization comprised of more than 30 research-one universities all seeking effective integration of arts and design into the educational and institutional experience. Part of what the conference hopes to do is explore effective peer review strategies for research existing at the intersection of science, engineering, arts, and design. Transdiciplinary work often comes at the peril of effective and appropriate peer review processes given the insularity of colleges and departments within the higher education system. In many cases, the traditional paper and poster presentations of research is not appropriate in demonstrating outputs that are the result of transdiciplinary works. Projects that contain performative elements such as theatre or dance and projects that infuse arts and design in immersive environments are not represented well in the traditional peer review formats. This represents a huge problem within the current model of higher education given the expansive growth of creative industries as an employment sector in the United States. Additionally, this creates an environment in higher education, particularly large research universities, where transdiciplinary, collaborative research conflicts with the process of tenure and promotion. In many cases, it becomes more important to publish under specific faculty discipline than explore intersections of interdisciplinary and transdiciplinary works that yield non-traditional research outputs.

Columbia University published a case study focused on Responsible Authorship and Peer Review that explored ethical questions regarding research and publication. Presented as a lesson in scholarly integrity, the case study got me thinking about the process of peer review particularly in the examples of 3rd space work. As noted by the case study, current peer review is based on the idea that academic inquiry is specialized, meaning that peers within similar fields of expertise make the best judges for quality of work. Generally, the reviewer is kept anonymous from the author with critique and comments submitted through a third party for mediation. The case study notes several inherent problems with peer review that include bias, maintaining status quo, not considering controversial or innovative research due to prevailing paradigms, lack of expertise, gender bias, and more. Despite the problems however, peer review is still believed to have more advantages than disadvantages and remains the central mechanism for publication and achieving tenure or promotion.

As transdiciplinary research becomes more of a central focus of universities seeking to explore innovative technology and creative industries, peer review seems more of a potential obstacle than opportunity.  As science and engineering continue to embrace arts and design as core aspects of their practice, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify appropriate peers who are able to provide effective critique of new and innovative works.

As part of the a2ru conference, we will be exploring effective peer review strategies developed to address this issue. Six exemplars identified as existing in the 3rd space will demonstrate their unique research outputs in a controlled environment where it will be openly critiqued by groups of scientists, engineers, artists, designers, faculty, and administrators. While this process will offer a form of peer review for the exemplars, it actually serves to foster a discussion on a much larger issue. As future faculty and administrators, do we have a moral obligation to evolve the practice of peer review? How do we facilitate a process that is inclusive of transdiciplinary work rather than departmental silos? How do we foster academic environments where work existing in the 3rd space is highly valued, continues to be innovative, and pushes the boundaries of human interaction? Presently, I don’t have answers to these questions but I’d love to hear some of your thoughts in the comments below.

Open Source Journal: Body, Science & Technology

The School of Arts at Brunel University, London publishes an open source journal centered on transdiciplinary research at the nexus of art, science, and technology. Body, Science, & Technology (BST) allows for open contribution and collaboration from a wide array of researchers that have recognized the importance of transdiciplinary research. Interestingly enough, this publication mirrors a lot of the research that is occurring at the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT) here at Virginia Tech.

The nexus of this research focuses on integrated research methods that connect science, engineering, arts, and design (S.E.A.D) as the central crux for contemporary problem solving. This research recognizes that disciplines do not exist in a vacuum and true innovation and advancement is derived through open collaboration.

Body, Science, & Technology (BST) is broken down into four main areas of focus that include papers, perspectives, reviews, and performances. This strategy allows for a deeper exploration of works that in many cases defy current methods for peer review.

For example, topics included under the paper section of BST include “Body-movement-interaction: Perception and consciousness in interactive digital 3-dimensional audio-visual installations” by Ken Bryers, “Beyond Narrative: Sound design as dramaturgy in contemporary performance” by Rea Dennis & Magda Miranda, and “‘Bangers to Cancer’: Social media, charity fundraising and objectification” by Emily Underwood-Lee. In many cases, traditional academic papers do not encompass the full breadth of research outputs and become limiting in their ability to offer genuine critique through a peer review process.

BST expands past this traditional boundary by offering multimedia approaches in their journal that include perspectives, reviews, and performances. Critique of performative and aesthetic contributions in transdiciplinary research often extends beyond the traditional research poster/paper model and in many cases creates works that fail categorization. Examples of this type of work are happening within ICAT and include Bio-Inspired Visualization, 3D Meteorological Immersion Experience: Tornado in the Cube, and the Audio Storytelling Workshop Series: Sounds of Community.

The challenge as an academic professional, is to communicate the value and importance of collaborative research. Higher education is a continuously evolving structure that will need to develop new ways of communicating research output that include creative input and transdiciplinary elements. Research that includes performative output, immersive environments, aural experiences, and highly driven visual aesthetic components are not served well in the traditional model of peer review and require new and innovative strategies for open critique. Journals such as Body, Science, and Technology are places where research in these areas can be published but more importantly, offer a space where conversations such as this can begin.