Creativity and Criticality: Reflections on the Society for Research in Higher Education (SRHE) Annual Conference.

Showcasing Methodologies

The SRHE Annual Conference ran from the 11th to the 13th of December with a focus on creativity and criticality in higher education.  Dr Liz Austen and Dr Emma Heron presented in the morning of the second day in a symposium titled How can we meaningfully listen to students’ voices to shape widening participation policy and practice?, showcasing two methodologies which have been developed and implemented at Hallam.  Liz focused on digital storytelling and provided an overview of how this method could be used to access hidden student voices.  Emma led on her work to develop the Listening Rooms methodology (including round table analysis facilitated by Helen Parkin of STEER) and explored the method and impact of an institutional listening approach.

Digital stories can amplify hidden student stories

Both approaches have been developed as a response to dominant methods, mainly student surveys, which provide a default response for student experiences data collection.  Digital storytelling and Listening Rooms, as designed by Liz and Emma, are both now being utilised in a project by Dr Richard Waller, University of the West of England, in a SRHE funded project titled: White working class young men’s engagement with higher education: Accessing voices of the ‘hard to reach’ and (frequently) ‘left behind’.


Exploring Creative Methods

The majority of sessions attended discussed creative research methods and creative means of disseminating research findings. One aim of attending was to learn about the range of approaches which are being explored in higher education and consider the possibilities for application within Hallam.

Make your own fortune-teller of research informed teaching: when we occupy our hands we think differently

A wide variety of insightful and inspiring presentations were attended which included: the use of group based rich pictures to understand transitions experiences (Dr Ella Taylor-Smith – Edinburgh Napier); life writing online for narratives surrounding estrangement (Dr Rachel Spacey – University of Lincoln); arts based creative methods including drawing, drama and poetry (Dr Jennifer Leigh – University of Kent and Dr Kelly Pickard-Smith – University of Manchester); pictorial narrative approaches for mapping HE aspirations (Dr Debbie Jones and Mark Jones – University of Swansea); and assemblage, origami and free writing as creative learning (Rebecca Thomas, University of East Anglia). Discussions also highlighted story completion methods and the use of animation.

There was a general sense that creative methods are an essential part of higher education research. They elicit deeper reflections from participants and richer insights into student experiences. Reoccurring themes touched upon the participatory nature of creative methods and the potential to empower participants through the research process.

Drawing a qualitative Venn diagram to represent creative research: high quality art materials make the activity valued

However, there was also a sense that higher education research was perhaps too critical of these approaches and the struggle to defend validity was often felt.  The language used to describe creativity – alternative, novel, innovative – was also discussed as a potential contributing factor.

Liz Austen’s presentation can be accessed here: SRHE December 2019 DigitalStorytellingHiddenVoices

Emma Heron’s presentation can be accessed here: SRHE December 2019 ListeningRoomsQualMethodForBetterListening

Images: authors own