Monday, 20 March 2017

Assessing creativity – where to start? (PART 1 of 2)

Dr Alison Riley
Enterprise Education Manager

‘Innovation and Creativity’ is one of The University of Sheffield’s five enterprise capabilities. We are discovering lots of new ways in which we can embed opportunities in the curriculum for students to be creative, but this remains one of the trickiest learning outcomes to assess, especially in STEM subjects. This two-part blog post concentrates specifically on assessment, rather than embedding creativity in teaching and learning activities – watch this blog space for more posts relating to that!

Is creativity important for our students?

A 2010 global study of CEOs by IBM found that creativity in both leaders and employees was believed to be the most crucial factor for a company’s global success, above ‘‘integrity’ and ‘global thinking’ (IBM 2010).

‘CEOs now realise that creativity trumps other leadership characteristics. Creative leaders are comfortable with ambiguity and experimentation… Creativity is the basis for disruptive innovation and continuous re-invention’.
(IBM 2010: 14-15)

Research carried out by USE Academy (Barluenga et al 2012) into students’ perceptions of enterprise education has shown however, that students, particularly those in STEM subjects, do not perceive creativity to be something they encounter often in the taught curriculum. ‘Creativity’ was the third most common word or phrase used to define ‘enterprise’ by students from the Faculty of Science. 45% of students mentioned it in their responses to this question. 74.1 % of students in this faculty agreed that enterprise was an important skill set to aid their future career path, and 64.4% of students agreed that it was important for enterprise skills to be included in the curriculum. However, when given TUOS’s enterprise criteria, the majority of respondents stated that Innovation and Creativity were skills that they believed they only had chance to develop ‘sometimes’. In the future, it would be interesting to see compare student responses with those from staff, if asked similar questions – do staff members believe they are trying to embed creativity, but students are not picking up on this? Or vice versa? That’s a whole other research study though!
The evidence so far suggests that, in Science disciplines especially, we are perhaps not succeeding in embedding innovation and creativity, at least not in a way that students recognise or are able to articulate. One reason for this may be the concerns of many teachers around ‘creativity’ as a concept, especially in terms of its assessment, and especially in STEM disciplines not traditionally seen as ‘creative’.  After all, we are encouraged as educators to assess learning outcomes, so how would we include creativity if we didn’t feel confident we could assess it?

Can we? Should we?

However, there is disagreement on whether creativity and innovation should or can be assessed. Those that argue against assessing creativity (Jackson 2005) believe that identifying innovative or creative work is highly subjective on the part of the assessor and therefore can never be fair. It is also argued that assessment may actually work to inhibit creativity (Jackson 2005), leading students to ‘play safe’, attempting to do ‘what is required’ to pass the course rather than taking risks. On the other hand, if creativity and innovation is not assessed, students may not see its value, and therefore may not be motivated to engage with the process fully.
A lot of this argument hinges on exactly what is being assessed – the creative product or the creative process (Ball 2010)?


When assessing an output or product, it is perhaps easier to assess innovation (i.e. the novelty of an idea), rather than how ‘creative’ a product is.
A number of disciplines do have criteria in place for assessing an innovative product or artefact. For example, the following criteria are used by assessors in engineering disciplines to assess how innovative a solution or output is (Jackson 2005):
  • Novelty – originality, germinality, transformationality
  • Resolution – adequacy, appropriateness, usefulness, value, logic
  • Elaboration/synthesis – well-craftedness, attractiveness, expressiveness, complexity, elegance, unity

Casakin and Kreitler (2008) established a number of criteria for evaluating outputs in design disciplines:
  • Fluency
  • Flexibility
  • Elaboration
  • Functionality
  • Innovative value
  • Fulfilment of design requirements (the brief)

Ways to assess a creative product could include ‘crits’, juries (of tutors and/or peers) or mini vivas.

As educators, how comfortable would you feel assessing a creative output or product? In part two, we’ll look at how you could assess creativity as a process.


Ball, P. (ed.) 2010. Assessing Creativity in Design: Emerging Themes for Engineering. Higher Education Academy Engineering Subject Centre.

Barluenga, M., Elliott, C., Nibbs, A. and Riley, A.  2012 Enhancement of curricular enterprise education incorporating students’ perceptions and feedback at the University of Sheffield. Sheffield: The University of Sheffield.

Casakin, H. and Kreitler, S. 2008. Correspondences and divergences between teachers and students in the evaluation of design creativity in the design studio. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 35: 666-678

IBM Corporation. 2010. Capitalizing on complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Survey. 

Jackson, N. 2005. Assessing students’ creativity: synthesis of higher education teacher views. Higher Education Academy. 

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