Exploring Creative Coursework with the Senior Transitions Topical Module

Exploring Creative Coursework with the Senior Transitions Topical Module

Angie Miller–In a recent special issue on creativity and education, Global Education Review included an article authored by NSSE Research Scientist Angie Miller that took a closer look at how seniors might experience creative coursework practices

Previous research in both K-12 and higher education settings suggests that creativity training can be effective in academic situations and that educators in particular can have an impact on creativity. Creativity is an advantageous skill to develop during higher education, as it can transfer to traditional workplace settings as well as benefit those embarking upon an entrepreneurial journey through self-employment or starting a business. The goal of this study was to explore creativity in higher education through creative coursework and confidence in various skills among university seniors.

The data used in this study were part of the Senior Transitions Topical Module, from the 2015 and 2016 NSSE administrations. Responses were available from over 48,000 seniors attending 227 baccalaureate-granting institutions, who mirrored the overall NSSE sample in terms of demographic characteristics. In this module, students are asked about their confidence in a variety of different skills and abilities. There is also a set of items that ask seniors “To what extent has your coursework in your major(s) emphasized the following?” and includes a list of 4 different types of activities: 1) generating new ideas or brainstorming, 2) taking risks in your coursework without fear of penalty, 3) evaluating multiple approaches to a problem, and 4) inventing new methods to arrive at unconventional solutions.

After using exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis to verify that the “creative coursework” items constituted a psychometrically sound measure, comparisons were made across major field. Since major has a large role in curricular experiences for seniors, it was important to investigate potential differences. The results of a one-way ANOVA with post-hoc analyses indicated that arts majors had significantly higher creative coursework scores than all other majors; communications, education, and humanities majors also reported relatively greater emphasis on creativity in their courses. Engineering majors were the least likely to have creativity emphasized in their coursework.

Finally, regression models (controlling for other demographic characteristics) indicate that greater exposure to creative coursework has a significant, positive effect on confidence in all four of the selected skills: creative thinking, critical thinking, entrepreneurial skills, and networking. In fact, even though many other predictor variables were also significant, creative coursework was the strongest predictor of skill confidence. Not surprisingly, students with greater exposure to creative coursework had significantly greater confidence in creative thinking skills, with the creative coursework factor explaining 12.6% of the variance. Creative coursework accounted for just as much of the variance in confidence in networking skills (12.8%), as well as non-trivial amounts for critical thinking (11.0%) and entrepreneurial skills (8.7%).

In general, the results suggest that increased integration of creativity into coursework benefits students across academic disciplines. Arts majors are currently at an advantage for exposure to creative coursework, but even students in non-arts fields can gain from elements of creativity in the curriculum. Faculty in all departments could be encouraged to include more open-ended research and inquiry projects on topics of interest. Additionally, institutions could begin to develop innovative interdisciplinary curricula that encourage creative potential. Incorporating elements of creativity into coursework for all disciplines can have a further impact on confidence in skill development, and this will assist students as they graduate, enter the workforce, and begin contributing to the economy.

Full findings from this study were published in the April 2017 issue of Global Education Review.

Miller, A.L. (2018). The role of creative coursework in skill development for university seniors. Global Education Review, 5(1), 88-107.