Cultivating Creativity

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Sheridan College, in the suburbs of Toronto, is world renowned for its creative programs, such as top-ranked illustration and animation degrees – and it has built its entire institutional brand on the slogan “Get Creative.” This week, Ken Steele sits down with Janet Morrison, Sheridan’s president and vice-chancellor, to discuss how higher ed can cultivate creativity, equipping students with crucial skills for the future, and preparing staff and faculty across campus to embrace innovation and change.

Janet begins by explaining that Sheridan’s commitment to creativity goes far beyond the obvious creative programs. Creativity relates to people, process, product and space. CEOs and thinktanks agree that creative thinking will be an essential skill for graduates in the new economy, and AI experts anticipate that more creative functions will be the last to be automated. Creativity can a valuable “inoculator” against constant change and disruption, and provides tools to deal with ambiguity and complex problems. “The only certainty is that things are changing.”

Post-secondary education is a transformative experience, both personally and socially, beyond the undeniable economic impact on graduate earnings. Higher education cultivates a sense of happiness, leading to more social engagement, political activity, and volunteerism. “PSE is a public service. It does good things for the public,” Janet asserts. “How we foster engagement, teach and mentor them to be active citizens in a democracy really matters, maybe moreso today than ever.”

At Sheridan, they believe that creativity can indeed be taught: “it is totally possible.” More than 3,000 students, 300 staff, and 100 external community members have taken courses or workshops in innovation and creative thinking at Sheridan. Janet says the workshops “have fuelled creative thinking and innovation in not just our programs but our service delivery.” Sheridan’s mission is being “fuelled and accelerated” through training and development in creativity.

Sheridan is proud of its three “creative campuses,” which Janet explains authentically reflect the institution’s values. “Space matters… We want people to experience creativity from the minute they’re on our properties.” Sheridan has installations at its Creative Campus Galleries that challenge students, faculty and staff to reflect and rethink. An annual “creative speakers” series has brought Ken Dryden, Roberta Jamieson and others to campus, to cultivate curiosity and allow people to see the world through a different lens.

Janet emphasizes the importance of listening, consultation and collaboration, and “capitalizing on the contributions that students, faculty and staff can make to move the institution forward.” She has led an Academic Planning and now also a Strategic Planning process at Sheridan that aim to be “the most open and engaged in Sheridan’s history.” If you hire the right people, she observes, “they’re opinionated, well-educated, with great experiences” and inevitably disagree at times about the direction of their learning community. “When people care about the place, they’re going to express those opinions with a level of enthusiasm.” The task of the campus leader is to sift and sort, triangulate the input from across campus, and find “not consensus but a level of alignment and mutual agreement.”

Dr Janet Morrison championed student success at York University for 17 years, ultimately as VP Students, before joining Sheridan College in 2016 as VP Academic, and 2 years later becoming Sheridan’s President. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in History and Education.

Next week, Ken’s conversation with Janet continues, with a look at Mental Health and Student Success. So you don’t miss it, be sure to subscribe! http://eduvation.ca/subscribe/

Special thanks to Sheridan College for the onsite videography. (If you would like to host an onsite episode of Ten with Ken, please see http://eduvation.ca/twk/site-visits/for more information.)

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