Case Study - Outreach and Education for Applied Creative Practice

Dr Catherine Rees & Mrs Jennifer Stuttle, School of Design and Creative Arts


The premise of this best practice award is that students should have access to ‘real-world’, authentic experiences and assessments. We have therefore created a module that allows them to co-create practical workshops and classes with students and young people from the Loughborough community, using programme specific skills in applied community settings for a range of learning outcomes.   

1. Background 

It is a commitment within the School of Design and Creative Arts to offer students as many ‘real-world’ experiences within the curriculum as possible, to equip them with the skills required to meet the expectations of employers upon graduation. Hughes and Nicholson (2016) argue that experience of applied arts practice adds crucial employability to a sometimes saturated graduate job market. I have therefore developed an optional module that offers students experience working with partner schools and colleges to develop hands on practical experience in devising applied arts-based activities (ACB941 – Creative Arts in Education).  Within this module, students from different programmes across the Creative Arts work with young people from external institutions (Homefield College, a Special Educational Needs college based in Mountsorrel for 16-24 year olds, and Loughborough High School, a selective fee paying girls secondary school). These children and young people come onto the Loughborough campus towards the end of the semester and our students devise arts-based activities and workshops for them to participate in.  These workshops are designed to cover specialised learning outcomes relevant to the partner college, for example, independent living, emotions and wellbeing, exam-stress, confidence and bullying, etc.  The final session (typically our students work with the partner institution for about four weeks) is set by the partner college, so this gives Loughborough students the opportunity to experience ‘real world’ tasks, akin to an industry brief.  

2. Methodology 

The students registered on ACB941 spend half the semester working with the module leader and tutors to critically reflect and develop their applied practice.  This involves teaching them several classroom techniques, for example lesson planning and devising activities, but also requires them to think about their own transferable skills, and how what they have already learnt on their programmes could be of benefit to aid the learning and development of external children or students.  They then spend the second half of the module devising, practicing and delivering their workshops for the target audience.  They have three ‘practice’ weeks, during which they build relationships, gauge the ability of the participants, and can receive feedback from the tutors about what worked well and what they can improve.  A final week’s workshop is then assessed, taking into account group working practices, planning, and delivery on the day.  The students are assessed as a group (in many cases this is the first opportunity for them to engage in group working on their programmes).   

3. Issues 

One barrier can be in locating potential partner colleges; however, once that has been arranged for one year, a rolling agreement is easy to have in place for future module iterations.  Obtaining ethical clearance for the module is also time-consuming, and needs to be completed well in advance of the start of the semester.  Loughborough students can also find the prospect daunting, but we have found that scheduling a week when a teacher from the partner college comes and speaks with them about the students they will be working with has been highly beneficial in terms of managing their anxieties and helping them plan effectively.   

4. Benefits 

The most obvious benefit is the opportunity for students to experience authentic assessment.  This might be in relation to a chosen and specific career, for example if they want to go into teaching (the final assessment is akin to a teaching observation on a teacher training course), but also it gives them more awareness of their transferable skills in a future workplace more generally, for example interdisciplinary group working, applied practice, and project planning.  There is also a clear benefit in engaging the local community in university events, and bringing external partners onto campus, developing strong outreach relationships and partnerships.  This is valuable for teaching, but has also been helpful in developing connections with external partners, improving access and widening participation, as well as establishing research collaborations in providing easy access to interested external partnerships.   

5. Evidence of Success  

Module feedback from 2021/22 included comments from students such as “I think it’s a great opportunity and definitely benefits those wanting to go into teaching”. One student highlighted as a benefit “The fact that I get the experience of working and problem solving in a group, along with working with the group from Homefield College”.  They also enjoyed the opportunity to “work with new people”, meaning students from other programmes within the school.  Another student sent me feedback to say: “I’d love to say a massive thankyou to the students for getting involved and contributing to all our workshops. It's been a great learning experience for me, at first, I felt like I was thrown straight into the deep end however as a group we manged to pull together and grow each week. Personally, I have learnt time management skills, how to structure a lesson and even how to engage with the students. My biggest hope is that all the students felt involved and happy each week and felt like they had learnt something new or even just had a fun time experimenting and exploring new creative arts skills, like mark making. Overall it was an amazing opportunity for someone like me wanting to become a secondary school teacher, as it gives me real life experience in planning and delivering a class”.  We also receive highly positive feedback from the partner colleges, who find it an enriching experience for their students, who really benefit from coming into a university environment to widen their horizons and nurture their ambitions.   

6. How Can Other Academics Reproduce This?  

Once relevant external partners have been identified and recruited, this approach is easily adopted by a wide-range of other disciplines and schools.  It would be relevant for any students in any discipline interested in a teaching career, but there are other benefits beyond the education format as well, for example in developing links with industry partners and in securing placement opportunities.  The benefit for all students across campus is in experiencing ‘real-life’, authentic partnerships with external agencies and in developing key transferable career skills.   

7. Reflections 

One of the potential barriers to this model is the number of students registered on the module, which needs to be in balance with the number of external participants. This might therefore lead to capping the number of Loughborough students able to sign up for the module. If we do not cap the numbers, we may need to recruit additional colleges, which is time-consuming. However, this can be mitigated in planning well in advance, and in working with outreach teams within schools and the university.  

8. References  

Hughes, Jenny and Helen Nicholson (2016), Critical Perspectives on Applied Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

Rees, Catherine (2023), “Reaching out beyond the classroom: Applied Theatre and Arts for SEN community outreach engagement in the real world”, Scene (International Schools Theatre Association (ISTA)), London.