I’ll be honest, when I was invited to co-organise the Creativity in Science Teaching Symposium on behalf of the Society for Experimental Biology SEB+ Committee I was concerned about the event. It was so different to any meeting I had attended or seen advertised and I wondered who it would attract – would we get enough keynote speakers, would anyone submit abstracts, and would anyone even attend!? Thankfully those concerns were unfounded – keynotes were queuing up, we had abstract submissions from all over the world, and around 40 delegates attended the Symposium at Charles Darwin House, London from 12th-14th December 2016. Unfortunately I do not have enough space in this post to detail everyone’s contribution so check out #SEBCST16 on twitter for a full account.
After a welcome from us organisers, our first keynote Mark Langan from Manchester Metropolitan University really set the creativity scene with his session on Adult Play and Learning – he gave the audience a pass the parcel for us to play with. Each layer was a journal article page with a quote relevant to his talk; the ‘unwrapper’ received a sweet from Mark’s childhood and read the quote to the group. The game really kept us entertained: we were curious to find out what the next quote (and sweet!) would be. We thought this was an approach that could be integrated into our teaching and help students take the key learning outcomes from our sessions.
Day 1 finished with a workshop session facilitated by Lucy Tallents from the University of Oxford. We arranged ourselves in groups to consider what challenge or goal we would like students to tackle collaboratively. Possibly swayed by the overall question, after much discussion our group went for the importance of getting students to understand that collaborative learning means working together, not working independently alongside each other. We had to develop this idea as a group and consider the learning objective; what resources or skills would we need to implement it; what key guidance would we need for students; and how would we assess/provide feedback? After 10 minutes discussion we had to send an ambassador from our group to another group and had a few minutes to share our idea and receive feedback. The ambassador brought the feedback to their group, where we had the opportunity to refine our original idea. The workshop cumulated in us sharing our idea with everyone. This approach was very well received and got us thinking not only about the challenge Lucy set us, but provided insight into ways we could use collaboration in our teaching. The approach would be possible to embed in both large and small group teaching across all disciplines.
The second day saw a change in focus with Gemma Anderson from Falmouth University introducing us to morphological relationships between animals, minerals and vegetables and using drawing to recognise patterns in nature using isomorphology theory. Gemma’s approach struck a chord with many as in this digital age students always ask us why they cannot just take a picture using their phone and have to draw instead.
Our next keynote, Mark Feltham from Liverpool John Moores touched on the issue of creativity in assessment. There are many ways in which we teach creatively but then assess using reports, essays and posters. Mark shared his approach to teaching experimental design and statistics using the makers approach – students chose how they want to demonstrate their understanding and knowledge. This allows them to take ownership through the stages of think – make – learn – share. One of the key aims of Newcastle Educators is sharing of ideas and practice and Mark emphasised how important sharing is – he brought his students to the Maker Faire in Newcastle and started MAKEFEST to encourage engagement with the maker approach.
Our penultimate keynote bucked the presentation trend and went PowerPoint-less. As a creative writer John Wedgwood Clarke from the University of Hull started with a personal anecdote and shared work from his Leverhulme funded project. He described using autobiographical journeys to allow time for personal reflection in our scientific journey – he asked undergraduate students about their founding moment; when did they realise they had become a “biologist”. This is something we can relate to – we start in academia as a subject-specialist in our discipline, but when do we realise that we are “educators”?
Our final keynote was a colleague we had seen present many times on Box of Broadcasts and using BoB in teaching. For this session, Chris Willmott from the University of Leicester demonstrated how students create videos as a type of authentic assessment. When he proposed this approach one colleague was concerned that students would not be able to say anything meaningful in five minutes – hmmmm, no comment! Chris gave us tips on what to do if we use student videos in assessment and shared some student submissions that are available from his website, BioethicsBytes.
The Symposium ended with a discussion on how we can encourage colleagues to adopt more creative/engaging/active approaches to teaching, and how we assess creativity in our teaching. Throughout the Symposium delegates were invited to give responses to these questions using MeeToo, which informed our discussion. Delegates highlighted what they would take away and incorporate into their delivery and share with colleagues. The discussion was very lively with everyone leaving motivated and determined to tackle the CAVEs (Colleagues Against Virtually Everything) within our institutions. So, in the end the Symposium was not what I expected – instead of me and the co-organiser sitting in a room on our own with a huge tray of sandwiches, we spent three days with colleagues who were enthusiastic, engaged, inspirational and willing to try different things. One take home message for me was the amendment of the CAVE acronym to CAKE: Colleagues Advertising Kreative Education – thanks to one of the presenters Roy Erkens for this (and for encouraging us to stand up and move in our taught sessions!).
There is definitely scope for us all to be more creative, either in the delivery of our teaching and/or in how we assess our students so we’d love to hear what creative approaches you take in the comments below.
Dr Sara Marsham, December 2016