To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.

Raymond Williams

This blog is a companion to a new book project called Creative Universities: Reimagining Education for Global Challenges and Alternative Futures, which will be published by Bristol University Press in September 2021. In the book, I explore the role of creativity in university programs that focus on understanding and addressing contemporary social, economic and environmental challenges. I develop a critical-creative pedagogy that combines critical analysis of these challenges with arts-and-design based, experiential, whole-person forms of teaching that develop not only students’ analytical thinking, but also their imagination, emotions, lateral and practical capabilities. All of these will be essential if students – as the change makers of today and leaders of tomorrow – are to envision, design and build the novel responses that are so urgently needed to address the multiple crises our world is facing.

Here is a brief overview of the book as it is taking shape:

  • Chapter 1 (Invitation) begins with my personal teaching journey and a description of the research process, then lays out the book’s key concepts of creativity, imagination, hope and alternatives to present my core arguments. It concludes with proposing a ‘generative theory’ that opens up pedagogical spaces of possibilities.
  • Chapter 2 (Remaking Academic Identities) introduces the current HE context of neoliberal and managerialized universities and how critical pedagogy has resisted, as well as initiatives to decolonize the Westernized university and responses centered on epistemic diversity. I explore the subjectivities of educators involved in critical-creative teaching and then present three activities that engage students as situated subjects of (de)coloniality, as embodied individuals of whole-person learning and as connected learners in relation to their immediate environments.
  • Chapter 3 (Designing Futures) argues for the introduction of design thinking, methods and activities into the classroom to imagine and build concrete visions of alternative futures. Drawing an arc from the Bauhaus school’s transformative teaching program to Arturo Escobar’s Designs for the Pluriverse, I present teaching approaches that focus on the materiality of learning and on the importance of evocative teaching spaces and resources that invite spontaneity, improvisation, physical making and emotional responses. The chapter then analyzes a student project exploring the future of food in light of the urgent need to move to zero-emissions food production, consumption and disposal. I also present learnings from a number of design workshops where students develop scenarios of alternative futures focused on urban spaces and then design back to the present to map necessary actions.
  • Chapter 4 (Reclaiming Economies) focuses on economics teaching, beginning with a critique of neoclassical theories that still dominate many university classrooms, while also exploring the field of development economics. I then explore pluralistic teaching as one initiative that complements orthodox teaching with more diverse economic theories but show that for more radical alternatives, a more pluriversal teaching is necessary. This is inspired by decolonial scholarly movements and includes making previously marginalized perspectives part of the curriculum and incorporating teaching on inequality. I use the idea of diverse and plural economies, both in the classroom and in Bolivia, to explore teaching practices. My concrete teaching activities involve students’ creating personal diverse economy portfolios as well designing a recycling cooperative. These allow students to apply their learning and imagine economic alternatives.
  • Chapter 5 (Repairing Ecologies) reimagines education in the context of the climate emergency, by firstly engaging critiques of mainstream discourses of sustainable development and growth. I then examine the growing field of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) championed by the UN and its focus on teaching technical core competencies. Radical alternatives to these mainstream approaches include the South American concept of Buen Vivir. I also show the importance of complexity and systems thinking for students’ understanding of ecological challenges. The chapter then explores the use of serious games as well as mapping campus infrastructures as two creative teaching activities moving towards such alternatives.
  • Chapter 6 (Prefiguring Alternatives) explores the notion of practice within challenge-focused teaching. I critique instrumentalist and corporate employability agendas and argue for an expanded and more radical notion of social transformations that incorporates practices of prefigurative politics and ideas of the pluriverse. The question of whether activism can be taught in the classroom is explored through student projects designing activism campaigns on topics of their choice that begin to connect to the world outside the classroom, where student activism can be seen in the recent climate strikes.
  • Conclusion (Capstones) presents a number of utopian project ideas for how to re-imagine universities for global challenges and alternative futures.

As I embark on this writing journey, which can be a very solitary endeavor, I have created this blog in the hope that like-minded travelers will join me on my adventure, read my thoughts as they are taking shape and provide commentary if they feel so inclined. I have written here about my 20 year teaching journey that has inspired this book and here have shared some personal stories that illuminate why I tick the way I do. You can find an index to all the posts here. I would like this blog to become a space where fellow educators, co-learners and students passionate about transformational teaching can share their ideas and stimulate reflections and discussions. I am very happy to say that during the summer of 2020, several students who participated in the research for this book have shared their reflections in the intersection between academic and activism, on the advantages of a double degree, on the way placements can shape post-university journeys and on the challenges to learn through creativity.

Welcome to my blog!

Anke Schwittay

Sussex December 2019