Emerging Education- Creative Alternatives to Tomorrow’s Problems

Emerging Education- Creative Alternatives to Tomorrow's Problems

Written by Kurt Calleja

What are the pressing challenges facing education today? How do we envisage the future of learning? In  December 2020, a group of international academics, researchers, artists, and active citizens came together to share experiences and concerns, at an event organised by the EU project SciCulture, about how education and learning environments need to shift to new paradigms. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the digitisation of education. Expectation management is a key concept which, if given precedence, could be a resourceful technique for stakeholders. This approach should prove to be useful as a precautionary way of anticipating forthcoming issues related to education. Innovative learning methods could supply students with the abilities to imagine alternative futures and systems of knowledge by applying three core elements; creative thinking, empathy, and iterative learning. The purpose of this approach is to embed mindful social habits for socio-cultural and scientific improvements. 

When establishing emerging and creative learning environments as alternative methods, taking an inclusive and collaborative approach would assist students in exploring new ideas. Furthermore, it is essential for teachers to engage students into critically thinking of ways to materialise their ideas and form human connections while adapting to their current needs and to allow them to use their abilities to their fullest. 

How do we prepare society for emerging trends in education? In what ways can we challenge new educational paradigms? Transdisciplinary approaches may be the most efficient means to discover innovative strategies since by their nature, they require collaborative efforts between various experts from distinct disciplines and/or backgrounds. Holistic approaches are primarily effective in terms of validity, reliability, and quality through the unification of intellectual disciplines operating beyond their own frontiers.

The adaptability of students is instrumental when considering new educational trends. It allows them to be well informed and equipped with the necessary skillset and competencies to develop conscious social responsibility and to get the most out of their academic experience. This approach would give students the opportunity to nurture their own capabilities and would effectively contribute to collaborative initiatives. The emergence of innovative technological measures in educational facilities calls for the inclusion of disadvantaged social groups, particularly in the provisions of their technical literacy and the necessary tools to be able to partake in these initiatives, especially during such exceptional circumstances.

SciCulture Science, Arts and Entrepreneurship Intensive Course was organised by the University of Malta, University of Exeter, University of Bergen, TU Delft, and Science View. Funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union. This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. 

This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

A tale of two cities- Town planning after the pandemic

A tale of two cities- Town planning after the pandemic

Crowded office spaces and carefree socialising seem like a distant memory for many of us.  In fact, just living with a little less of the existential dread most of us are experiencing right now would be nice. As we pass a year of living with COVID-19 restrictions, globally, cases do seem to be falling (Feb 2021) and as the rollout of a number of effective vaccines continues, there does seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. With that news, restrictions may start to be lifted, but that does not mean returning to the lives we all left last year.

Over the past few centuries, societies have moved out of rural areas and into cities. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations projected that by the year 2050, 68% of the population on Earth would be based in urban regions.  The high density of people, and how easily those within it can communicate with each other is what makes cities so appealing for some, but it also creates the perfect environment for a virus to spread. So, in light of what we have all experienced, what will it be like to live in a city post-covid? 

Well, cities are not going anywhere, but many of us have been told that we should stay at home as much as possible, and avoid meeting with others outside of our protective bubbles.  For a lot of us, that has meant working from home, leaving the hustle and bustle of the crowded office, to be replaced by online meetings and zoom calls.  However, not all jobs can accommodate these new styles of working, such as jobs in the service and cultural industries, but with the lack of footfall, many of these businesses are on their knees, struggling to weather the storm of COVID-19.

As we start to reopen our cities, town planners will have to refocus their attention on promoting public health, through the increased use of SMART technologies, promoting new ways of connecting people, and opening up public spaces to avoid overcrowding.  Homeworking will most likely remain for some, with surveys suggesting that 60% of businesses will keep some form of home working as an option.

However, it is more likely that a hybrid approach will be implemented, with the death of the 9-5 for some. Instead, more flexible working hours or staggered start times will probably be introduced, with online booking for desk space and conference rooms, to avoid too many people in an office at once. Increased connectivity and smart technologies will eventually allow people to manage their time and space much more easily, either at work or in the wider world. This technology will streamline the comings and goings of people, but will most likely also be implemented as some form of contact tracing, although this may depend on local sensitivity to data protection.

Social activities will be increasingly encouraged to take place outside whenever possible to help ensure social distancing can be maintained, and where that is not possible there will probably be strict measures to control the number of people allowed on premises at any one time. Brick and mortar retail outlets have been hit hard by the lack of physical customers, and it seems inevitable that some if not all will have to incorporate some form of online shopping/click and collect purchasing options. However a lot of these changes and the integration of smart technologies will be costly to implement, and after a turbulent year, many businesses will not be able to recreate their lost capital or be able to front the cost of these changes, and will, unfortunately, have to shut the doors for good.

There are also a number of wider infrastructure ideas that some town planners may try to develop. These include the improvement of public roads and paths to encourage more people to walk and cycle around, reducing the numbers using public transport. Along with this, the idea of creating 15-minute cities, where everything you need could be a short walk away from your front door, could promote the idea of supporting your local community, while also limiting the number of people you may see in a single outing.

These are not small changes; they are massive infrastructure upheavals that will take years to plan and implement fully. It will not be an easy task, but it would not be the first time that cities have had to adapt to protect their citizens from pandemics. London built a whole new sewage system after the deaths from the bubonic plague, Paris and New York created more green, open space to help keep their air clean during times of great health crises, so it is possible. Town planners and industry leaders will also have to accommodate the increased apprehension of many people to re-enter these areas, and what is expected from businesses for people to feel comfortable once again, be that online menu at restaurants, contactless lift controls, or just more visible hand wash stations.

However, this pandemic has highlighted the wealth divide in all social strata, and it is likely that those with money to spare will be able much more easily to adapt to the new world we find ourselves in. Even while restrictions were in place, it was much easier for those with greater means to look after themselves, while those with fewer resources available to them had to gamble with their health and the safety of those around them. It is the same for businesses and countries as a whole, some will struggle for a long time after the events of COVID-19, and could remain at greater risk of a resurgence of this disease or the next pandemic event. 

Whatever happens, cities are sturdy, and they can be adapted.

Cities are not going anywhere.

The small island nation of Malta has proven to have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic relatively well, ranked 14th in the world by a study conducted by the Lowery Institute. With a population of approximately 500,000 people, much of this demographic is situated within the south and the east of the island densely packed around the major Maltese towns and cities.  So it was of the utmost importance for cases of the disease to be isolated before it spread through these denser regions. Therefore how these urban areas are designed and modified in the future could have drastic implications, for everyday life and if the world were to experience another pandemic.

Dr Wendy Jo Mifsud is an academic at the University of Malta, within their Faculty for the Built Environment, who wrote “Post Covid Building Resilience: The Role of Planners in the Commonwealth  – The case of Malta”. 


How well do you think town planners can respond to new lifestyles in Malta, and do you think effective changes can be made to increase the quality of life for Maltese citizens? 

Dr Wendy Jo Mifsud

“Living through a pandemic has been a new experience for most of the world’s population, one which forced many to change their lifestyles and habits, as well as to reconsider how traditions were upheld.  The environment, as the place where such interactions are held, reflects the way we interact with each other.  It stands to reason that the way in which we use places will change in keeping with new lifestyles.  The ability of the environment to respond effectively to such changes is a planner’s chief concern.  In planning terms, this is called ‘resilience’ and it is a concept that we must realise deserves far more attention than ever before.  Once we interact more sustainably with our environment, we will be able to surpass the quality of life our pre-pandemic selves experienced, by enjoying a more balanced approach to life.”

Carbon Countdown – Using games to recontextualise “wicked problems”.

Carbon Countdown - Using games to recontextualise “wicked problems”.

A good game can transport you away; allowing you to be a millionaire property tycoon or a city-destroying monster. In the past few decades board and card games have become increasingly popular, with ever-expanding possibilities for enhanced gameplay and thematics – we have come a long way since snakes and ladders (although that does have an exciting history- with ancient versions of the game teaching youngsters about karma and spirituality- a story for another time). 

Arguably what makes board games so interesting to some, are their limitations. Yes, there are props and rules that control what you can do in this world, but your imagination fills in the rest of the gaps, turning a board, a couple of cards and little wooden counters into an epic journey, creating a story around that little version of you. 

There are board games about everything nowadays, from adventures through dungeons, to creating the most effective train networks. So why not a game about reducing a city’s carbon footprint?  That’s what academics Dr Sam Illingworth and Dr Paul Wake thought when they and the team at Manchester Metropolitan University started the development of Carbon City Zero. In this card game, each player takes on the role of a  city mayor, using effective town planning and resource management to try and become the world’s first zero carbon (i.e. carbon neutral) city.

The effects of anthropogenic (human-made) carbon production have driven a drastic change in the Earth’s climate, resulting in increasingly unpredictable weather, where some regions of the world face deluges of water, while in others droughts and forest fires ravage the vegetation. In an attempt to curb these effects and perhaps mitigate some of these negative impacts, most nations have agreed to the Paris Agreement (a legally binding international treaty on climate change within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) with hopes of limiting the rise of average global air temperatures to 1.5 oC.

A major part of this plan is to strike a balance between anthropogenic emissions of carbon by sources and its removal through the promotion of natural carbon sinks. In June 2019 the UK government pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, through a mixture of different methods and policies. Although most of us understand at least some of the details of how we can reduce our carbon footprints, much of the heavy lifting needs to be done at a governmental and industrial level, which can be much more difficult to contextualise. Of course, the intricacies of how any city would approach reducing its carbon footprint would be highly specific to each city, and by no means is this card game an accurate simulation of how these decisions are made by a town planner. However, by consulting with a wide range of climate change and town planning experts, Sam, Paul and the rest of the design team have been able to simplify the process and allow for the player to be introduced to holistic approaches to cutting carbon emissions, as well some of the lateral thinking and problem solving that is required to implement these programs. 

Earlier editions of Carbon City Zero were designed as a solely competitive experience, where cities would be pitted against each other to be the first to become carbon neutral. This proved to be a highly controversial decision,  some players offered the valid criticism that any approach to tackling climate change should perhaps not be treated as a zero-sum game. That being said, in the latest iteration, Carbon City Zero: World Edition, players can choose between either a competitive or collaborative game type, and although in real life the truth probably lies somewhere in between these two game styles, perhaps the cooperative game allows for a more optimistic view of how nations may come together to take on the collective problem of climate change.

The creators of Carbon City Zero wanted to design a game which would allow the players to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities for developing net-zero cities, but it was equally as important to them to ensure that it worked as a game, and was actually….. fun.  To aid players they have provided an information pack about the design of the game, how it is played, and how it could be used as a learning tool within a school environment. The creators would love to hear what you think of these notes, and how you go on to use the game in your formal and informal learning environments.

You can download a print and play version of Carbon City Zero: World Edition for free from PNP Arcade

Click the link below to down the Design notes written by Dr Sam Illingworth and Dr Paul Wake.

Creativity is back on the map. But how do we navigate from here?

Creativity is back on the map. But how do we navigate from here?

Written by SciCulture tutor Kerry Chappell, University of Exeter 
This article first appeared on https://www.bera.ac.uk/ 6 Feb 2020

The Durham Commission (2019) has thankfully put creativity firmly back on the English educational map, reopening the debate about its value and how we facilitate it. This is timely given the decline of creativity around 2010–2011, following something of an upsurge since 1999. In that earlier period, there was lively debate and engaged practice promoting creativity as a key life capability, necessary for a vibrant economy, the promotion of wellbeing and, when practised ethically, the development of a more cohesive society.

The Durham Commission has picked up on this thread of 2000–2010 practice and research, drawing in more recent learning and activity. It also recognises existing creative educational practice that is thriving despite an unconducive climate. The commission’s final report sets a clear and ambitious agenda for: creativity to be taught in every school in all subjects and beyond; a growing network of accredited collaborating schools; Ofsted recognition of creativity; involvement in the PISA 2021 creativity test; higher education (HE) involvement in researching creativity; and recognition of creativity within digital and the arts.

Alongside and aware of the commission’s work, the research community has also continued to investigate reduced but nonetheless ongoing creative education practice – none more so than BERA’s own Creativities in Education special interest group (SIG). As current co-lead, and working with previous co-lead Teresa Cremin, we identified a need to articulate what we know about creative pedagogies, and to do this in a way which complemented the commission’s own global review of the broad area.

Our work (Cremin & Chappell, 2019) therefore entailed a critical systematic literature review of international, English-language empirical research of creative pedagogies from 1990 to 2018 in formal schooling. It asked what we know about creative pedagogies and their impact on student creativity. Across 35 articles that made the final cut, the findings revealed seven interrelated creative pedagogy features: generating and exploring ideas, encouraging autonomy and agency, playfulness, problem-solving, risk-taking, co-constructing and collaborating, and teacher creativity. The review also, perhaps disappointingly, showed only six articles addressing the impact on student creativity. For those researching in the field, these findings are not a major surprise; but the emerging critical nuances provide useful insights for future research and practice.

Methodologically, most of the studies are qualitative (26), employing multiple methods, reflecting researchers’ views of creativity and its pedagogies as multidimensional. This is a notable contrast to a wider push in creativity research per se from within psychology, emphasising quantitative testing. Reflecting the review’s findings in schools, the Durham Commission notes teachers’ reticence in positioning creativity as assessable through tests, with a preference for assessment of planning. Together, these findings indicate a need to carefully consider research and assessment methods to take advantage of the affordances of both quantitative and qualitative techniques. In research, this might mean more mixed methods study and in classrooms more portfolio-style approaches.

With teachers’ own creativity another review characteristic, looking to the future, we also need to consider how to respect teachers’ professional wisdom and cultural understanding to allow them to develop their own philosophy on creativity and its pedagogy. As Banaji, Burn, and Buckingham (2010) so clearly elucidated, there are many different disciplinary perspectives on creativity, including defining it: through play; little c creativity; and social, political, democratic, and cognitive perspectives. In contrast, our review showed that researchers were not always clear when defining terms. We, therefore, all need to more carefully interrogate what we think creativity is. But we also need to be wary of a homogenised definition which could lead us towards a national checklist mentality. Space for diversity of definition and pedagogical/research approaches is key.

‘Looking to the future, we also need to consider how to respect teachers’ professional wisdom and cultural understanding to allow them to develop their own philosophy on creativity and its pedagogy.’

Going forward, we are aware that the review offers a particular systematic perspective. We need to bring this into conversation with grey literature, seminal reports such as the Durham Commission, and ongoing creative practice of all kinds. For those of you interested to pick up on these conversations, please lookout for a new date for the event ‘Creativity in 21st Century Education: Where, how and what next?‘, which will be held at some point in the future at the University of Exeter and supported by the BERA Creativities SIG and the University of Exeter’s Creativity and Emergent Educational-futures Network (CEEN). With momentum building again around creativity in education, we will be looking ahead to exciting future collaborations between educational practitioners, researchers, children, and young people to better embed creativity back into our educational worlds.


Banaji, S., Burn, A., & Buckingham, D. (2010). The rhetorics of creativity: A review of the literature (2nd ed.). London: Arts Council England.

Cremin, T., & Chappell, K. (2019). Creative pedagogies: A systematic review. Research Papers in Educationdoi:10.1080/02671522.2019.1677757

Durham Commission Team. (2019). Final report. The Durham Commission on Creativity and Education, Arts Council/Durham University. Retrieved from https://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/creativitycommission/DurhamReport.pdf

When you can’t see the wood through the trees

Peckforton Forest, Cheshire, UK

When you can't see the wood through the trees

Does metaphor help or hinder Scicom?

Chris Styles speaks to science communicator and poet, Dr. Sam Illingworth from Manchester Metropolitan University.

Metaphors are a powerful tool in language, although we may not realise just how often we use them. You may think that they are only used inadvertently or to add an unnecessary flourish to creative writing, but you may be surprised at just how much we all use metaphors (or analogies) in our everyday speech. We use language to shape our conscious thoughts, and analogies allow us to portray an idea from a familiar starting point, upon which we can build to create stepping stones to more complex concepts. Language is one of the principal ways we have to communicate what is in our brains but while words by themselves are limited, with a slight sprinkle of creativity, we can unlock our imagination to fill in the gaps that words leave unspoken, a glimpse of the ineffable……. a description of something that is hard to qualify, what are known as “qualia”.

Does this mean that having a creative mind and a skillful grasp of language gives you an advantage when it comes to science communication and innovation? We need to delve a little deeper, so we asked science communicator and poet, Dr. Sam Illingworth from Manchester Metropolitan University tells us what he thinks.

Dr. Sam Illingworth
What came first for you, curiosity or creativity? How were these nurtured?

Definitely curiosity. I remember always trying to try and determine how things worked, usually by taking them apart and annoying my family and teachers in the process! My inner creative was probably nurtured during my early school years, and I have been fortunate to always have teachers in my life who have encouraged both curiosity and creativity.

How has a skilled grasp of one of these skills helped the other?

Having a curious nature has certainly given me the confidence to be creative, and to make many, many mistakes in the process. It has also encouraged me to enjoy the process itself and to realise that this is actually where I am often at my most creative.

Do you think developing a creative vocabulary can help you process new information and idea creation? 

I’m honestly not sure. One of my biggest failings as a human being is my inability to speak any language fluently other than English, as I truly believe that having access to different languages is an excellent way to better understand different needs, cultures, and experiences. And with such understanding comes creativity.

What is the potential hazard of a poor Metaphor?  

Metaphors can be difficult to use effectively. A poorly chosen metaphor will likely cause confusion, at best, and could even act to alienate or offend. I always think that maps are strange metaphors to use (e.g. the map of the human genome), as maps are such politically charged objects; you are literally staking a claim for what does and does not belong to certain communities.

Can this creativity be instilled early (before science knowledge is known), is this important? 

Absolutely! Creativity does not need to be fuelled by scientific accuracy and in many instances the truly bizarre or inconceivable need to be imagined before they can be realised.

How important is maintaining the status quo of spoken/written communication?

I think that language is an incredibly important tool that all of us potentially have at our disposal. However, there can be a real snobbery with language. In reality, it is constantly evolving, and in my honest opinion, it should be used to include and diversify rather than to exclude or alienate.

Do you think speaking to people with different backgrounds and nationalities- People who may use language in a different way, can lead to the generation of novel ideas? 

Absolutely! See above.

There is a dark side of language, which come with applying coding and potential bias (either intentionally or not) – what responsibilities do creatives have to police their own work? 

I think that any discipline has a set of ‘jargon’ that can be used to alienate, and which experts in that particular field can turn to in order to convince others of their worth and intellect. Creatives, scientists, and indeed human beings more generally have a responsibility to try and make their work as accessible as possible to a variety of different publics, as doing so also opens up such work to a range of interpretations that can ultimately lead to its development and eventual improvement.

Hear what Sam thinks about the importance of combining the arts and science.

Dr Sam Illingworth  is a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at the University of Western Australia, whose research involves using poetry to develop dialogue between scientists and non-scientists; in particular he aims to give voice to audiences that are traditionally under-served and underheard. You can find out more about Sam and his work by visiting his website or connecting with him on Twitter @samillingworth.