Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

Students in studio-oriented programs aren’t motivated in non-studio courses.

Students have a naïve conceptualization of creativity.

Students may have internalized a cultural myth about the artist as a lone genius who creates in a vacuum. If they are not used to thinking about the contexts (political, economic, cultural) in which art is produced, they may resist the approach taken in non-studio courses. Moreover, if students do not view creativity and analytical thinking as connected, they may consider the skills cultivated in non-studio courses to be peripheral (or even antithetical) to the real work of an artist. This perspective, which prioritizes studio courses in the disciplinary hierarchy, may be inadvertently reinforced by departmental culture. For example, grades in studio courses may be taken more seriously than grades in non-studio courses, or faculty members or administrators may encourage students to skip non-studio classes for studio-related events.


Explicitly discuss factors that fuel creativity.

Directly address misconceptions about creativity by engaging students in a discussion of the roles that knowledge and critical thinking play in fostering creativity, inspiration, and innovation. Highlight artists whose work draws on a broad knowledge base, and discuss how this knowledge informs their art. Discuss the intersection of creativity and analysis. For example, acting students in one dramaturgy course sometimes complain that they “didn’t come to college to learn this,” to which the instructor emphatically responds, "Ah, but you did come here to learn this; you just didn’t know it!" He then goes on to explain how analytical intelligence is often what separates great actors from mediocre ones, and describes how his class will help students develop that analytical intelligence.

Talk to colleagues about the role of non-studio courses in the curriculum.

Talk with your departmental colleagues about how non-studio courses should be incorporated into the curriculum in order to best serve student learning. Think about when these courses should be required: Should they be offered early in students’ careers so they have exposure to these ideas from the outset, or later, when students have more experience and can better appreciate the relevance of what they’re learning? A discussion of timing can help to spark a larger conversation about how non-studio and studio courses can work together to help students integrate creative and analytical skills.

Foster exchange between studio and non-studio courses.

Highlight the strong connection between creativity and analysis by explicitly drawing connections between your courses and studio courses. Ask colleagues who teach studio courses to come to your class and talk to students about how the non-studio material relates to what they do. When possible, participate in studio critiques to model for students how contextual (e.g., historical, cultural) knowledge adds depth to or illuminates different facets of an artist’s work. Model in your interactions with colleagues how analysis and critical thinking are part of creativity, and vice versa.

Link your content directly to students' studio work

When students can clearly see how the material in non-studio courses can inform their creative practice, their motivation is likely to increase. Try to make this connection explicit by finding out what’s going on in students’ studio courses (e.g., by asking students or colleagues teaching those courses), then highlighting links between studio and your own course material. For example, in an art history course, you might point out how a technique students are learning in studio had its genesis in an 18th-century artistic movement students are studying in your course. In an architectural history course, you might note how the work of an architect students admire was shaped by specific cultural or political experiences you will be exploring. It isn’t necessary to point out all these links yourself; it can be more powerful to require students to make the connections themselves by asking questions like: "Based on what we’ve been studying about gender and social class in ancient Greece, what historical nuances could you bring to the directing and staging of Lysistrata"?

Assign reflective exercises.

Ask students to reflect on what they’re learning and why it matters. This helps them see value in material they might otherwise not appreciate. For example, one instructor asks his students to e-mail him every week about something they learned that week in class. On the last day of class, he hands back their full set of emails, which gives them a tangible record of what they’ve learned and a sense of accomplishment. Some instructors give students a few minutes at the end of class to respond to a reflective prompt. Others ask their students to write reflective entries on class discussion boards. Reflective prompts tend to work best when they are fairly specific and purpose- or application-oriented. In other words, rather than asking "What did you learn?" you might ask, "What did you learn from this set of readings that might inform your work as an [artist/performer]?" If you assign a small point value (e.g., 1-2 points) for each reflective exercise, you raise the extrinsic value of the assignment and motivate students to do it. By engaging in regular reflection about how the material connects to their own lives and work, they will be more likely to appreciate its intrinsic value as well.

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