Critiquing Creativity, Creatively

Educators face many challenges when trying to keep online learning engaging, motivating, and mutually beneficial.

During the shift from physical classes where humorous banter and physical contact were in abundance, to remote learning where everyone stares a little box on a screen, it became evident that the biggest challenge is keeping students engaged. Educators, especially in creative classes had to learn quickly how to improve on online teaching and learning while critiquing art and design students’ work.

These learnings could inform educators who are continuing to communicate in hybrid environments or even managers in the creative industry who are still managing their teams remotely, to encourage innovation and creativity. On top of learning how to troubleshoot technical difficulties, there is also the need to assist students or teams dealing with physical discomforts and emotional strain. Learning to recognize and spot the signs are pivotal for educators and managers to ensure the wellbeing of others. However, this is no easy feat…managing stress and stressful situations never are.

Engagement and creating a sense of belonging are crucial to keep remote sessions alive, and students motivated. These aspects can make or break the learning or collaborative working experience. Giving concise and precise information about tasks to be completed can help reduce confusion and ultimately stress, particularly in an online environment. Breaking hour-long lectures into bite-sized 15-minute sections could help break the monotony. Adding in-class tasks after each small section works tremendously well. Filling these with useful trivia and quick research tips help students relate new knowledge and information to their tasks in hand.

For instance, in the case of deign students, if they were learning about colour psychology, a quick 5-minute task to research about colour and their cultural connotations across the globe at the end of one lecture segment, would help students realize how colours can be perceived differently in different cultures. Learning that some colours were traditionally made from toxic materials, or the same colours can have completely opposing symbolisms in different cultures ignites conversation and stimulates a sense of wonder and curiosity. This not only helps students with their concentration, participation and motivation, but it also flips the classroom by inverting the traditional teaching and learning environment, putting the onus of learning through research in their hands; allowing and encouraging them to take charge and share their interesting findings with others.

Another thing that might seem trivial but makes a huge difference is when educators or team leaders keep a cheerful disposition during sessions. Maintaining composure and keeping the camera turned on during an online session helps lost and demotivated students or team members refocus and reconnect.

With artistic courses and creative work, feedback and critique are essential to progress. Helping students and teams understand theories and principles which can assist them in their design execution process are crucial for great design creations. Equipping students and teams with the ability to analyse their own work is also necessary for them to grow as creative practitioners.

Switching things up during online critique sessions help keep things fresh and feel less monotonous. Some weeks, students or team members can be asked to share their screens to show their progress. On other weeks, they can be asked to upload their progress onto a shared learning platform. With the emergence of new technology, online critiques are no longer bound to just text in emails, but one could also write, draw, doodle, note, sketch and verbally critique work in real time – exciting!

Whichever approach is taken, students or teams could be encouraged to upload all their research and progress onto a collectively accessible cloud folder or an online collaborative learning platform such as Padlet or Miro for discussions and critiques. Setting up individual weekly progress and submission folders or virtual spaces encourages everyone to take ownership of their weekly learning progress. Knowing that these folders or platforms are available and accessible for all to see will spur them to ensure that they progress regularly to avoid being left behind, and best of all, keep each other motivated and inspired, while creating healthy competition within a group.

Teaching or leading a creative team is no walk in the park, online or offline. Keeping oneself motivated is hard enough, let alone maintaining motivation for young adults or entire teams. But maintaining contact, and having friendly conversations from time to time reminds students and individual team members that they are not alone in a strange environment. Giving helpful feedback with dashes of positive reinforcement can do wonders in a classroom of little boxes on a big screen, floating in an infinite void.


Maslisa Zainuddin
Department of Art, Design and Media


This article was first published in Business Today, 6 November 2022.