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Assessing creativity in an unhelpful climate

Lewis Elton, University of Manchester

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The increasing audit culture of quality in universities based on simplistic quantitative performance indicators of quality is the enemy of creativity. Hence issues of quality assessment are important, particularly in the face of the traditionalism of university teaching and examining, but in practice quality assessment has had little, if any, effect on this traditionalism. Instead it has led to a shift from unjustified total trust to equally unjustified total lack of trust (O’Neill 2002) and a corresponding shift from collegial to top down management (Elton 2005). The latter is now so firmly entrenched in universities that the first step towards the general introduction of a component of creativity into university curricula (isolated examples of creativity can readily be found) may well require an academic revolt (see eg Elton 2006a).
     There have been aspects of creativity in the most traditional curricula - even in the sciences - for a long time (e.g. project work, Elton 2003) but really hopeful signs pointing to the introduction of aspects of creativity into whole curricula are in:

* The move from teacher centred to student centred learning (Savin-Baden 2000);
* The expression of this move in the form of problem based and enquiry based curricula (see eg Savin-Baden and Howell Major 2004 and Hutchings and O’Rourke 2002);
* A move from positivist to interpretivist assessment and, in particular, assessment in general from unseen papers to portfolios (Johnston 2004, Elton 2005, Elton 2006b).


L. Elton (2003), ‘Dissemination of innovations in higher education: a change theory approach’, Tertiary Education and Management 9, 199 – 214.

L. Elton (2005), ‘Could there be a balance between top down and collegial management in universities?’ 4th Annual Conference on Leadership Research, Lancaster, 12 – 13. December.

L. Elton (2006a), ‘Some dumb insolence might get their ear’, Times Higher 24. March,p.16.

L. Elton (2006b), ‘Designing Assessment for Creativity: – Guide for busy academics’, Higher Education Academy.

B. Hutchings and K. O’Rourke (2002), ‘Problem-based Learning in Literary Studies’, Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 1, pp. 73 – 83.

B. Johnston (2004), ‘Summative Assessment of Portfolios: an examination of different approaches to agreement over outcomes’, Studies in Higher Education 29, pp. 395 – 414.

O. O’Neill (2002), ‘A Question of Trust’, BBC Reith Lectures.

M. Savin-Baden (2003), ‘Facilitating Problem-Based Learning’, Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press 2003.

M. Savin-Baden and C. Howell Major (2004), ‘Foundations of Problem Based Learning’, Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press 2004.

Author Bio(s)

Lewis Elton is Visiting Professor of Higher Education, University of Manchester, Honorary Professor of Higher Education, University College London, Professor Emeritus of Higher Education and Visiting Distinguished Scholar, University of Surrey, Fellow of the American Institute of Physics and of the Society for Research into Higher Education. He holds Doctorates (honoris causa) of the University of Kent at Canterbury and the University of Gloucestershire. He has been presented with a Festschrift by his former students [P. Ashwin (ed.), ‘Changing Higher Education: The Development of Learning and Teaching’, Routledge Education], and received the Times Higher Lifetime Achievement Award, 2005. His most recent work has been concerned with the scholarship of teaching and learning, including the research/teaching nexus in higher education, and the balance between collegial and ‘top down’ management in universities.