The creative industries in the UK are in a state of immense change. The impact of the pandemic coupled with shifting priorities of public funding towards creative social change, and the increase of digital engagement are having a significant impact on the sector at large. This is in turn impacting the way that creative higher education has had to educate the artists and arts leaders of the future. One of the under-utilised methods of creative higher education is service learning, with the potential to provide students with pathways into practice-based, applied learning addressing real life issues, both in arts organisations and those outside of it. This article proposes service-based learning as a mechanism for teaching undergraduate students about creative social change, using a case study from King’s College London’s Department for Culture, Media and Creative Industries. This approach is beneficial instilling a sense of purpose to their projects and generates critical connections between creativity both in the context of arts practice, in everyday life and for social change. Hence, service learning for creative higher education offers a tool to develop innovative pedagogy that is flexible to the current shifting climate of the creative industries and for organisations to build genuine relationships with partners in industry, working with challenges rooted in practice though also presents issues with resource and the management of student expectations.
Teaching management in arts, culture and creative industries faces an interesting conundrum when it comes to creativity. Departments specialising in this area are generally not teaching and assessing creativity as a gateway to an artistic output like a painting or a theatre piece as would happen in an arts school, for example, rather the management, organisation and deeper understanding of the dynamics of how to enable and harness its potential. While the traditional view of creativity sees the production of novelty and value as a key element of artworks created by artists and ‘creative people’, a more nuanced view portrays creativity as essential for the administrative roles that support all aspects of that artwork such as the curation, marketing, production (Rentschler, 2001) as well as in everyday life (Winnicott, 2005). Hence, there is an integral role of creativity in the production of artistic products, whether a painting, a theatre piece, a logo or a film, as well as those who are involved in the management of the development these creative products.
To address this challenge in a second-year core BA module at King’s College London’s Department for Culture, Media, Creative Industries, a new module format was designed based on principles of applied creativity rooted in the fundamentals of service learning, ‘a type of experiential learning which provides opportunity for learners to enhance their understanding of concepts and theories in practical environment’ (Salam et al, 2019, p. 573).
What is service learning?
Service learning builds upon the ‘learning by doing’, experiential learning approach (Dewey, 1938), with the potential for service learning to be ‘integrated in higher education curriculum in several ways, such as class projects with specific credit hours, extra-curricular activities or as research projects’ through partnerships or collaborations with non-HE institutions (Salam et al, 2019, p.574). Service learning aims to help students to better learn the skills needed to not only succeed in today’s uncertain and constantly evolving world, but also to better find solutions to the world’s social and environmental problems.
These broader conceptions of creativity include not just creative products but also process, person and press of environment, so the “focus is not only on a creative outcome or product, but the process that generates it, the person who manifests this potential and the press of an environment that can make a difference” (Rhodes, 1961; Goslin-Jones and Richards, 2018, p. 74). Hence, there is creativity not solely in the creation of products but in all aspects of the labour that surrounds that product- the production, distribution and marketing of creative products, for example, all require creativity. These are part of a wider ecosystem that enables these creative forces to take place, with an understanding that creativity does not exist in a vacuum and is a key player in industries and systems outside of the creative industries, including sustainable development and social change (Glăveanu, 2017).
Socially engaged notions of creativity can manifest itself in social change contexts such as creative activism which “engages artistic skills without being reducible to art” (Glăveanu, 2017, p. 19) as well as social creativity that moves beyond creativity as an “individualistic phenomenon, the preserve of the talented few, but also as a social concept, founded on our relational consciousness” that “motivates and constrains the reproduction and/or transformation of social values” (Wilson, 2010, p. 373). Adopting the assumption that most roles in the creative industries require a certain level of this type of creativity, the nature of the processes behind this work manifests itself in a very social sense. This could be creative ways to work with artists or communities, colleagues, or young people, but much of these creative processes hinge on the innovative ways we work with others. The sector is constantly expanding its notions of what it means to be creative, moving beyond creativity as something artists do to a key attribute that can involve so many other aspects of what we do, both in our personal and professional lives.
Additionally, in the UK, increasingly policy shifts encourage creativity as a means to boost the economy and address social issues such as well-being and social exclusion (ACE, 2020). This is further exacerbated by cuts in funding to social service provision such as youth clubs and counselling and the rise of mental health issues and youth crime, whereby organisations and individuals in the creative industries are increasingly having to fill the gaps where these services fall short (Clift et al, 2021). There have been strategies such as social prescribing; theory of change development and initiatives from funders such as Arts Council England to encourage the development of creative social change initiatives (ACE, 2020), but what if that process starts earlier on before even entering the work force? What if we can teach students to understand how social change works at an elemental level through first-hand project development? Furthermore, how can these ways of working be more seamlessly implemented and understood early on in the career journey of graduates who desire to actively shape the creative industries for years to come?
As a provocation for experimenting with how this way of working could be embodied in a higher education context, service learning was utilised as methodology as the underpinning of a second year BA module entitled Creative Living and Learning, totalling 149 students. Service learning builds upon the ‘learning by doing’, experiential learning approach (Dewey, 1938), which provides the theoretical underpinning for many service learning scholars. As such, “service learning is a type of experiential learning which provides opportunity for learners to enhance their understanding of concepts and theories in practical environment” (Salam et al, 2019, p. 573). In recent years, service learning has grown in popularity in a variety of disciplines, particularly in higher education, with the potential for service learning to be “integrated in higher education curriculum in several ways, such as class projects with specific credit hours, extra-curricular activities or as research projects” through partnerships or collaborations with non-HE institutions (Salam et al, 2019, p.574). Service learning aims to help students to better learn the skills needed to not only succeed in today’s uncertain and constantly evolving world, but also to better find solutions to the world’s social and environmental problems. In today’s climate,
Society faces a number of severe sustainability issues that require new knowledge, new strategies for knowledge management and skill acquisition. Higher education plays a crucial role in the production, implementation, and management of this knowledge in the context of sustainable development. Universities enable students not only to be aware of sustainability problems but also to develop solutions. Universities with appropriate knowledge management can use their human resources to strategically create innovative teaching formats. One of these new educational formats is the service learning (SL) approach. SL combines community service with assembling academic competences (learning) to a novel form of teaching and learning that is different from traditional artificial education settings.
(Halberstadt et al., 2019, p. 1925)
In the case of this course, service learning as a methodology was adopted for students to experiment with what creativity means in the context of social change, to plant the seeds of creative activism to varying degrees while not losing sight of a need to also embody principles of employability for future career development. The pedagogical approach encouraged them to apply theories and methodologies of creative processes to enable students to think more critically about stretching the limitations of the perceived value of creativity outside of a strictly arts-based context while also fostering an experiential approach to designing for social change and social justice using creativity as a starting point.
Eight organisations were chosen as challenge partners on the module, offering a series of real-life challenges they face to the students to serve as a starting point for designing group projects to apply the theories and methodologies around creativity to addressing one or more of the challenges. The combination of arts and non-arts based organisations was chosen to accommodate a variety of student interests as some already have a strong inclination towards social justice, while for others their experience and interests are more limited to commercial industries. Hence, the organisations chosen were a theatre company that works with refugees; a youth homelessness charity; a heritage organisation; a council-led programme to reduce offending and a charity that works with care experienced young people, among others. Challenge briefs were compiled and presented to the students with a Q&A to follow early on to assist students in choosing the organisations and challenges to address, providing students with further information to support project development. Students then designed group projects to address the challenge using creativity as a catalyst for social change project development. Upon completion of the projects, they compiled them into short, seven minute presentations that were presented back to the group for formative feedback from the course leader, seminar tutors and peers before their summative assessment which was a reflection on their journey through the creative process. There was a website then designed for the students to showcase their work and serve as a portfolio to support their future career trajectory. The process, in short, was as follows:
- Organisations set a series of briefs for students
- Students do their own research along with a Q&A
- Theories of creativity introduced in lectures and applied in seminars
- Briefs decided upon and worked on in group projects in their seminars, combined with creative activities
- Delivery of a pitch and presentation at the end of the module for feedback
- Assessments based on their individual reflections of group projects and their own learning
- Website designed to showcase projects
This approach was implemented in a manner that helped to familiarise students with practical issues while not being able to fully realise these projects due to time and resource constraints. However, this model serves as a provocation to be built upon, sharing initial thoughts on how more concepts like this can be implemented in the future. This discussion serves as a starting point and preliminary methodology to better understand how service learning can be implemented into future pedagogical frameworks both in management programmes in the creative industries as well as more arts-based curriculum in higher education, dually underexplored in service learning (Salam et al, 2019).
One of the organisations that took part was a charity to support children in care in various ways with a mission to support care-experienced young people to have the same chances as other children to live happy, fulfilling lives. They presented five challenges to students, one outlined here:
Many care-experienced young people feel stigmatised and discriminated against because of negative public perceptions about who the care system supports and how it works. Society’s understanding of care is poor and often founded on misunderstandings and prejudice, leading to feelings of isolation and frustration for young people in school and their communities. Many don’t want to ‘out’ themselves as in care for fear of prejudice or may not recognise themselves as a ‘care leaver’ or with a similar label. We want to improve the public’s understanding of and empathy with care-experienced people to improve their own experiences and boost support for our work.
Examples of student projects focussed on the following solutions:
- Designing a marketing campaign to promote a more positive image and teach about the realities of the care system
- Create a programme of workshops to help young people to feel empowered, using creative methods
- Planning the design of a website that offers information and testimonials from young people about their experiences and the care system
Students all designed interactive pitches with visuals including Powerpoint presentations, films and animations that were then showcased on a website to serve as a portfolio of their work.
Due to the limitations of a large class size, the practical component of service learning in an organisational context was unable to be adopted, so students designed projects without the ability to implement these project ideas, at least immediately. Additionally, the project faced further challenges:
- Students have varying degrees of interest in social change or seeing the connection between their careers and social change. This is beyond the scope of what one module can do for all students and needs to be integrated throughout delivery.
- Lack of resources in time and budget for meaningful engagement and feedback. Service learning requires meaningful partnerships as a foundation which take time to build.
- Most students did not have any professional experience so found it difficult to know the realities of designing projects and therefore needed more engagement with organisations or more hands-on experience.
- Sometimes the link between creativity and social change was too abstract and challenging to fit into the context of one module.
Upon future iterations of this methodology, these challenges will be addressed through longer planning times, increased resources for engagement from partners, more engagement from partners, trialling with smaller class sizes. There is also a version of this model not yet fully explored that will allow for more variances and nuances to students’ interest in social change. Generally, this pedagogical framework has the potential to be more deeply embedded within the wider departmental curriculum.
In summary, the benefits of utilising a service learning approach was as follows:
- Allowing for a practical application of theories to develop projects
- Giving students a tangible project example to add to a CV or portfolio
- Developing an awareness of creativity outside of the arts and in other settings, particularly for social change
- Facilitating understanding of the real challenges that organisations face, giving a window into the real world of working in the sector
- Narrowing their focus to give constraints to a group project which aligned with theories of creativity
While it is generally accepted the role of creativity in all aspects of work in the creative industries, it is not without controversy in the ways in which this can be taught to students. With higher fees and an increasing focus on rankings, the notion of the neo-liberal education system in the UK increasingly leans in the direction of learning and knowledge production for employability and job readiness (Wilson, 2018). Rightly so, many students’ foci is on how they obtain employment when they graduate and the service learning approach has the potential to marry theory and practice within an higher education setting though understanding of these processes and impact are still in their infancy. This approach aims to bring together this desire for employment and career success with an underlying responsibility to use creativity for positive change in this ever-changing world.
As this was a prototyping of how service learning can be adopted in arts management pedagogy, further research and more in-depth studies have the potential to open further avenues for innovation in this area.
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