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Teaching academic creativity: in what ways might PhD supervisions be seen as a creativity lab?
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This research was designed to investigate the ways in which academic creativity might be fostered during the course of doctoral students supervision sessions at the Open Universitys Centre for Research in Education and Educational technology. Interviews with experienced supervisors allowed us to develop an understanding of the nature of their pedagogy, particularly in terms of their avowed mentoring style and the ways in which they attempted to create conducive contexts for creativity and encourage academic risk taking. Some tutors believed the research process to be intrinsically creative and this was reflected in their whole supervisory approach. They believed that students did not just have the freedom to be creative but were explicitly expecting the students to be creative. These tutors adopted an apprenticeship type model of supervision where they provided examples from their own work that illustrated creativity. Other tutors saw the supervisory sessions as problem-solving opportunities, and some equated problem-solving with creative activity. The most experienced supervisors had much clearer ideas about creativity and how it could be promoted during supervisory sessions. On the other hand, the less experienced supervisors, although wholeheartedly believing that their work was essentially drawing upon creative processes, found communicating and fostering creativity a far more difficult task.
Further interviews with these supervisors students enabled us to gather their views on the process and particularly the extent to which they saw the academic training ground of the PhD supervision as a valuable and legitimate site for developing creative skills. Students believed that supervisors assisted them in developing their critical thinking which matched some of the supervisors notions of creativity. However, many of the students valued the specific skills teaching, e.g. with respect to the appropriate use of research methods, as more valuable than any other discussions. They believed that supervisors supported the creative process most by providing encouragement to think flexibly and to assist them with academic risk-taking. Interestingly, there were different views on the extent to which both students and supervisors saw academic life as an essentially creative endeavour and the PhD training as an opportunity to focus on developing creative skills and this impacted on the various mentoring models (and preferred. supervisory styles) adopted by participants and expressed in the interviews. These findings will be of particular interest to the research training community where current practice is being revisited both by HEFCE and the ESRC.