Sometime in 2016, I published a blog on the (then) Higher Education Academy (HEA) website with Marie Griffiths and Maria Kutar (Salford Business School, University of Salford) on the findings of a project we’d done on creativity. The original blog is no longer available, but I’ve dug it out and lightly edited it (including fixing some of the links) below. I think that the findings are still valid and certainly of interest. You can find out a bit more about the Lego project that’s mentioned at the end of the original post here.

Developing creativity through inquiry and technology

Jamie Wood (University of Lincoln), Marie Griffiths and Maria Kutar (University of Salford)

(post originally published on HEA (now Advance HE) blog in 2016)


To begin

For the past two years, students in History at the University of Lincoln and Business at the University of Salford have been making digital artefacts to display the outcomes of their learning to audiences beyond academia. We made use of an inquiry-based learning pedagogy and required students to publish the outcomes of their research online using a variety of media. We collected a range of research data that suggested that our approach developed students’ perceptions of creativity, its relationship to learning and their own capabilities as creative individuals. 


The post (lightly edited, with links updated)

History and Business IT are not traditionally viewed as disciplines that develop students’ creativity skills or vision of themselves as creative individuals. This is despite the fact that increasing numbers of our graduates take up positions in creative industries and that skills such as problem-solving, the ability to work in teams and to engage actively with new technologies are desired by employers. Given that creative industries are defined as “those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property” (UK Government 2016), many graduates will enter these industries despite having degrees in disciplines that are not viewed as inherently creative. We pose the question, are we equipping our graduates with the creativity they need for their future employment?


Drawing on previous collaborative work in inquiry-based learning (IBL) pedagogies (Griffiths, Kutar and Wood, 2010), in 2013 we embarked on a project that sought to develop students’ creativity by requiring them to publish the outcomes of their research online. We hoped that encouraging students to consider the audience(s) of their work as well as the means by which they communicated the outcomes of their learning (i.e. the technology/ media used), this would encourage deeper thinking about learning and how it could be presented to others in interesting ways. This work has been presented at educational, historical, and information systems conferences.


We collected a range of data, including surveys with staff and students at all stages of the process, focus groups, and analysis of the digital objects that the students produced, in order to gauge the impact of this approach on student learning, especially in relation to ‘creativity’.


Across the two institutions, common features of our pedagogy included:

  • The adoption of inquiry-based learning, where students were required to conduct independent research in response to a scenario.
  • The production of resources with an audience in mind. This did not necessarily mean that students had to produce a resource for an actual audience, but that they were asked to respond to an ‘audience’ as described in the scenario. For example, Business IT students studying information security had to produce a training artefact to teach staff in a small business about information security concepts relevant to their organisation.


There were differences in the approaches adopted at the two institutions/ disciplines:

  • Delivering the approach at different levels within the curriculum: first-year and final-year undergraduate respectively;
  • Using different modes of delivery: individual and group engagement;
  • Requiring students to make use of different technologies to publish the findings of their research.


The research we conducted into the impact of our approach revealed a number of interesting findings in relation to students’ perceptions of, and skills and dispositions towards creativity. We have found the work of Charyton (e.g 2009 and 2007) to be particularly useful for our analysis in three areas: person, process, and product.



In terms of ‘person’, students at both institutions viewed creativity as an attribute of an individual that was somehow ‘natural’ and not dependent on the ideas or work of another. For example:

  • ‘ability to think of original ideas and concepts, not purely copying someone else’s work’;
  • ‘you’re either a creative person or not, more born with it’.

Staff noted that some kinds of students might be better suited to the kinds of pedagogies that require them to make the results of their research accessible online:

  • ‘Some of the students who had achieved mediocre results in more traditional forms of assessments managed to excel in producing their digital objects.’



In terms of ‘process’, both students and staff judged that technology enabled the students to present the results of their work in interesting and innovative ways, that other forms of assessment did not allow:

  • ‘we were creative with it because it enabled us to explore quite an old document in a language none of us can read and make it accessible.’ (student response)
  • ‘It encourages them to think about the problem from an unfamiliar angle, with a view to presenting their thoughts and conclusions in an unfamiliar format. The unfamiliarity was initially a little unsettling for some, but ultimately facilitated deeper and more effective reflection, as they grappled with new ways of presenting information.” (staff response)



In terms of ‘product’, there was a common acknowledgement that the digital objects that the students had produced had been creative, or at least that ‘creativity’ had been a desirable criteria of successful work:

  • ‘group projects […] will have to be creative to stand out from the rest’ (student response)
  • ‘it helped (some of) the students to think about how they present information to others, to consider that they might be producing material that engages with an audience beyond the teacher.’ (staff response)

Several students were of the opinion that the had impacted positively on their ability to be creative in their work:

  • ‘It has allowed me to think in other formats than just an essay and made me think more about presentation’
  • ‘Thinking outside the box more. Making more of an effort to satisfy the audience’s needs in creative/ interesting/ interactive ways’.



Findings from this study have built a foundation for future work, encouraging the research team to investigate the notion of creativity in HE more broadly. It is well documented that as children progress through their educational journey, opportunities for them to work creatively slowly diminish, especially outside of ‘creative disciplines’. The team aim to address this gap through by examining how Lego Serious Play can be used in HE to encourage students to rediscover their creative side and use this to encourage engagement and deepen learning.

Final thoughts:

The work has yielded some interesting findings with regard to staff and student perceptions of creativity in student work. However, we found it difficult to devise an objective measure of creativity which could be used to assess the creativeness or otherwise of the work produced – we would welcome suggestions for how this might be achieved – how would you do this?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *