Festival of Creative Learning: Beyond Boundaries


It’s just over two months since I started as Projects and Engagement Coordinator for the Institute for Academic Development at the University of Edinburgh. It has been a fascinating and joyful time, and I’m especially excited as the Festival that I am looking after is taking place next week.

It’s called the Festival of Creative Learning, and this is the first year of the Festival proper, though it has evolved from something called ‘Innovative Learning Week’ which ran for 5 years (learn more about ILW here).

After an intensive period of development led by the previous Festival organiser, the brilliant Johanna Holtan, the Festival of Creative Learning emerged, and it’s a privilege to be able to continue all the good work that has gone into making the Festival what it is and to think about how it can continue to grow in future.

The Festival aims to provide space for staff and students at the University of Edinburgh to play, to experiment, to innovate, to collaborate and, dare I say it, to fail. How precious, how rare it is to discover this sort of space – where the emphasis isn’t on how many seats we fill, how many tickets we sell, how many answers we get right, but rather on truly exploring and pushing boundaries, communicating in radically new ways and leaping into the dark to find out what’s there.

Our goals are to help staff and students create innovative, experimental and collaborative ways of learning in a safe space, to give people the training and support they need to design and run events, and to celebrate the work of all our event organisers and the discoveries we make together along the way. By its very nature and commitment to openness and diversity, the programme covers an enormous range of disciplines and activities, and we encourage everyone to peruse our events calendar to get a sense of the depth and breadth of the events on offer.

Rather than running each of the events ourselves (our fabulous but small team includes my colleagues Lucy Ridley and Silje Graffer), we seek proposals from staff and students, distribute funding, provide a platform and communications umbrella for the events and aim to empower our staff and students to get the most out of what we provide. We hope that the Festival is a learning experience not just in terms of the research being conducted but also in events design and management, imparting vital skills to organisers that they can make use of in future employment, study and enterprise.

Much work is being done to explore the future of learning and teaching, and learning that involves doing and which empowers students rather than treating them like inanimate vessels to be filled is on the forefront of what appears to be not only the most effective but also the most enjoyable means to growth. We want to celebrate the idea that we learn better when we are enjoying ourselves, when we are treated with care and respect, and when we are encouraged to use our imaginations and to play.

The Festival will continue to develop, and we’ve already gathered a long list of ideas about ways to make the Festival even more useful, expansive, innovative and attractive (and do get in touch with your own suggestions), but first our team is going to visit as many of the events as we can in person to see the extraordinary experiments that our organisers have brought to life. We hope you will take the leap as well and join us for at least one of our events next week, and consider developing an idea for a Festival Pop-up event throughout the year or for an event for the Festival of Creative Learning 2018. In the meantime, keep an eye out for our hashtag #FCL17 on social media, where we’ll be telling stories and posting photographs all next week.

You can read more about the aims and values of the Festival here, and you can book tickets for our events here. Many of the events are aimed primarily at staff and students at the University, however the following events are open to external attendees and can be booked via Eventbrite: Introduction to Massage in Schools Programme, Manifest Destiny: A Multidisciplinary Forum on Mars Colonisation, Design for Wellbeing, Biffa tour: How does recycling work?, Learning Language Through Theatre, Making History: a Feminist Craft Project, ‘Camelot, tis a silly place’: Popular Culture and Scottish Heritage Castle Trip, Tech Art Collaboration Workshop and “The Birds and the Bees” Board game.

Here’s to learning without boundaries, in ways that celebrate the creativity inherent in each of us.


Jennifer Williams

Projects & Engagement Coordinator

Institute for Academic Development


dsc_4828This is our very first post on our new blog and part 3 of our series of blogposts documenting the process of evolving Innovative Learning Week (ILW) into a Festival of Creative Learning (FCL) – see the other posts here.

Me and Snook had our initial report discussion meet-up on the 22nd of August, where they had collected the recurring themes and concerns from the interviews with the ILW 2016 organisers and our design workshop with people interested in the festival. We continued to ask ourselves ‘How might the Festival…?’ questions related to the emerging themes and then scribbled down potential solutions to these.

These were the themes that emerged:
– more student involvement in the organisation, not just the events to make it a truly co-produced festival

– more curation

– continue working on streamlining the organisational and logistical aspects

– continue working on the website

– clarify the communication around the value of the Festival to students and staff

– communicate more clearly how the Festival aligns with the University’s strategy

– explore how the innovations developed during the festival can shape the curriculum and vice-versa

– explore the questions of specialist events vs cross-discipline

– explore the balance between fun and learning

– explore the links with the world outside of the University

– develop specific strategies to reach students who don’t traditionally engage to make a more inclusive Festival

– explore incentives and recognition

– increase visibility and storytelling

– build a strong network of innovators who can have an impact throughout the University

– push the best events throughout the year

– the year-long festival should not jeopardise the previous success of ILW

– how do we not overwhelm the organisers (IAD team & support staff, school coordinators)


We have been in discussion with Snook about where we want to focus our attention in exploring these themes and what they might mean and how it might look like for the Festival of Creative Learning in 2016/17 and beyond.

It is important that in evolving ILW into Festival of Creative Learning (FCL) that we actually do make new features available, but making sure that they are manageable for our team. We also don’t want to loose the momentum of ILW 2016, hence we want to continue with building upon the support structure we created last year for ILW.

The blueprint session emphasised that in order to avoid jeopardising the success of the February festival, the different notions of new ways of supporting innovation and creative learning would take place after Feb 2017 for the year 2016-17, and the festival could scale up such initiatives the following year.

See how you can get involved with being an event organiser in the February week on our new festival website. There you can  also read more about how you can get support from us if you’re running an event outside the February week.

Read more about the strategy for the Festival 2016/17 in our stratgey blogpost.

If you want to read about how our collaboration with Snook started, see the blogpost about us revamping ILW last year here and the decisions that came out of it here.

Also see our blogposts about last year’s blueprinting session and design workshop.

The impact report from ILW 2016 and more information about what Snook helped us build can be found here.

If you have any questions about The Festival of Creative Learning and how you can get involved, please email creative.learning@ed.ac.uk.