Festival of Creative Learning
In May 2016 Senate Learning & Teaching Committee approved the launch of a new Festival of Creative Learning to secure the legacy of Innovative Learning Week. This would include events and activities throughout the academic year, along with a curated week-long programme in February. This case study reports on the progress made to date as of March 2019.
What was done
The Festival of Creative Learning is a year-long series of events focusing on creative learning and innovation at the University of Edinburgh, culminating in a week-long curated Festival in February. It is supported by the Institute for Academic Development (IAD). Both staff and students are invited to apply to run events with the Festival.
The Festival aims to provide space for staff and students at the University of Edinburgh to play, to experiment, to innovate, to collaborate and, where useful, to fail. We want to provide a space within the University where the emphasis is not on how many seats we fill, how many tickets we sell, how many answers we get right, but rather on truly exploring and pushing boundaries, communicating in radically new ways and leaping into the dark to find out what is there.
Our goals are to help staff and students create innovative, experimental and collaborative ways of learning in a creative and open space, to give people the training and support they need to design and run events, and to celebrate the work of all our event organisers and the discoveries made along the way. By its very nature and commitment to openness and diversity, the programme covers an enormous range of disciplines and activities.
Rather than running each of the more than 100 events ourselves each Festival (we have a small but efficient staff of two), we seek proposals from staff and students, distribute funding, provide a platform and communications umbrella for the events and aim to empower our staff and students to get the most out of what we provide. We hope that the Festival is a learning experience not just in terms of the research being conducted but also in events design and management, imparting vital skills to organisers that they can make use of in future employment, teaching, study and enterprise.
Much work is being done to explore the future of learning and teaching, and learning that involves doing and which empowers students is on the forefront of what appears to be not only the most effective but also the most enjoyable means to growth. We want to celebrate the idea that we learn better when we are enjoying ourselves, when we are treated with care and respect and treat others and the world around us with this same care, and when we are encouraged to use our imaginations and to play.
The Festival of Creative Learning has proved to be an ongoing success, with over 100 creative events being delivered each year, and our Pop-up programme (via which Festival events can take place any time during the academic year) continues to grow. We have also received reports of events leading to implementation in teaching practise and new partnerships within and beyond the University which are brilliant results for our organisers and a sign that this work is vital to inspire and make change.
Following on from each Festival, the team conducts extensive evaluation and requires each organiser to conduct audience surveys and respond to an internal survey. Based on these results and our own review, we identify a number of areas where improvements could be made to increase the efficacy of the administration of the Festival and the way the Festival communicates with organisers and audiences.
Recent improvements have included a website re-design, a new design template system which allows us to design our own promotional materials each year (at great cost savings), a move from Basecamp to the internally-provided Office 365 Shared Group as a communications platform (resulting in cost savings and improved security and user experience), improved mechanisms for funding distribution and room request and booking procedures, use of online forms in order to streamline administration, a redesigned required training event for all Festival organisers, audited and edited Festival resources, sustainability improvements (including the decision to create a fully online programme rather than a printed programme), and a partnership with the Edinburgh Futures Institute and the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas to provide a fantastically entertaining closing event for the 2019 Festival of Creative Learning. This year – in response to feedback following on from the 2018 Festival of Creative Learning, we also explored running more events that were open to attendees from outwith the University and improving communications in order to ensure more seats were filled at events (one issue with running free events is the tendency for people to book tickets and not show up on the day). We will be evaluating these changes this summer but early results suggest these have both resulted in improved event engagement.
We have also been developing our Festival storytelling and this year have required each Festival organiser to submit a blog or vlog about their event. Many of these have come in now meaning we have a rich crop of stories to post weekly throughout the rest of the academic year on the Festival of Creative Learning website. We will also be linking into the Teaching Matters blog in order to widen the impact of our stories.
Following on from the 2019 Festival, we will again audit our procedures and review our organiser survey results. We will outline a number of improvements which we will implement for the 2019 Festival. We see this as an ongoing process as the Festival continues to innovate over time.
The Festival model is a useful one and we would recommend it to others. It is scalable to some extent as the organisers run their own events and we provide the platform, but beyond a certain level capacities would be reached in terms of our ability to support and fund the events properly with a team of two and limited resources.
The preparation for the Festival runs from September to February, with an evaluation and improvement implementation programme running the rest of the year.
Key dates in our calendar include:
- Advertising of Application Window
- Processing and Responding to Applications
- Initial Training Event
- Funds Distribution
- Event Planning and Room Booking
- Event Listings on Booking Systems
- Programme Launch and Promotion
- Festival Delivery
- Surveys and Reporting
- Evaluation and Implementation of Improvements
Festival of Creative Learning Feedback:
I am a science and dance lover –> bringing both together is amazing/the event was organised well. A much better way to teach compared to lectures.
Student Festival Event Attendee
Really interesting to observe an unconventional way of producing/consuming performance.
Postgraduate Student Festival Event Organiser
I was positively surprised when I attended the first organiser event last semester – I never thought organising a Festival event would be taken so seriously. [The Festival Team]… were so helpful and always keen to answer questions. I felt encouraged throughout (despite mostly having e-mail contact with them), and everything just ran as smoothly as it could.
Undergraduate Student Festival Event Organiser
I am interested in innovative teaching techniques and the use of art in anatomy education, so this was a perfect opportunity to try out different modes of learning and to find out why people want to learn anatomy.
Academic Staff Festival Event Organiser
University of Edinburgh
Projects & Engagement Coordinator
Institute for Academic Development
1 Morgan Lane, Edinburgh