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FLEXchange - Incorporating Art's into Student's Learning at University

A prospective interdisciplinary curriculum integrating arts, health, and humanities at King’s College London

Image from Flexchange Workshop

A group of academics at King’s College London are working together to develop a new flexible interdisciplinary curriculum focused on arts, health, and humanities to provide students with a diverse sub-set of skills and experience after graduation, and for employability.

Last summer, a two-day workshop called ‘FLEXchange’ took place at King’s College London. The event provided a unique space to listen and receive feedback from King’s students, academics, as well as prospective students, on their views of the development of this new prospective interdisciplinary curriculum.

Inspire the Mind reported on the event — we had a presence there to collect input from attendees. Our previous blog Reflecting on Day 1 of FLEXchange: An Interdisciplinary Curriculum Development Workshop in Arts, Health and Humanities at King’s College London, discusses in detail of the presentations and activities that were held on the first day of this two day workshop series. We have written a full report on the overall outcomes and this article aims to summarise the report.

A quick recap of day 1:

Artist Celia Pym shared a beautiful story about how her passion for knitting to mend clothes for her loved ones gave her a profound experience to reflect on the memories that they had together, Celia described that “garments tell stories and a narrative of physical body and the person themselves, the memories of the person i.e., occupation, gender — ultimately who they are”.

Image from FLEXchange Workshop

We also heard from academics including Dr Alex Mermikides and Dr Flora Smyth–Zahra, on various student led projects incorporating arts, health and humanities. An example shared of art interventions was the SHAPER Project with its ‘Melodies for Mums’ programme, aiming to help mothers experiencing postnatal depression, and how this has been integrated into healthcare services.

The first day to the workshop was nicely concluded with a great example of a collaborative research project bringing together scientists and artists presented by Professor Seb Crutch, and artist Charlie Harrison. They told us how drawing could be used to help understand the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Dementia.

A rundown of day 2:

Day 2 of the workshop was once again filled with great guest speakers, presentations, and creative art activities for participants to practice — but this time, with a particular focus on how this interdisciplinary approach has been implemented into many different employment sectors.

The morning started with a presentation from organisations ‘Creative UK’ and ‘Breathe’ — an NHS led intervention group incorporating arts into the healthcare sector, giving the spotlight to their recent project called Breathe Magic. This initiative helps children with hemiplegia (a condition that causes paralysis on one side of the body) to perform a variety of different magic tricks to help improve their hand coordination. It provides an innovative method from standard physiotherapy by incorporating creativity, and its fun for the children to do.

In the afternoon, a group exercise had participants rolling up their sleeves once again, this time to design their own interdisciplinary project focused on healthcare.

Image from FLEXchange Workshop

How have arts, health and humanities helped students in their own learning?

Part of Inspire the Mind’s role, throughout the event, was to conduct a series of interviews where we listened to the feedback from participants, including current university students, prospective students, and academics, all sharing how they felt about the possible curriculum, and providing their own ideas on what they would like to see it become.

When we spoke with current students from King’s College London, it was interesting to hear about their own experiences of learning about art, health, and humanities, and how this had provided a useful tool in facilitating their own learning journey. One student mentioned that drawing had helped them to understand difficult concepts in science classes and further suggested that using imagery would be useful for students who are visual learners.

A medical student mentioned that undertaking film and photography subjects — studies which were vastly different from their ongoing medical degree — helped them to better understand the impact of health on daily life. They also noted that such opportunities enabled them to enhance core skills such as communication and a better insight into their work profession, when they become a doctor after graduation.

Another student beautifully highlighted:

“Everyone has different hobbies and interests, and to learn something new out of your profession makes you a more complete human being”

It is very clear by speaking to students that where they have had the opportunity, art, health and humanities has only helped them with their studies and demonstrated how easily and beneficially art can be used across different subjects.

It was also important to listen to prospective university students who could share how an interdisciplinary curriculum would be important for them as they look to apply for, and begin degrees.

One prospective student shared their experience of learning humanities at school and how this gave them the tools to be able to better discuss important topics on societal matters. They also suggested that when starting university, they would be interested in using this interdisciplinary approach to understand wellbeing for students. This reflects back to the presentations delivered by Professor Carmine Pariante and from Breathe on how different forms of art, such as singing interventions, have been implemented across mental health.

Finally, a key question that we asked academics about this interdisciplinary curriculum was how we could bring science and art communities together.

It was interesting to listen to the responses of academics who have highlighted that there needs to be a shift, by academics, to be able to explore areas that are outside of their initial interests. One academic highlighted that collaboration between scientists and artists is not a novel concept:

“Artists and scientists have been collaborating for a very long time, especially when it comes to health discipline and health sectors. I mean for a very long-time, scientists, biomedical scientists, have been thinking about ethics, literature, philosophy, and humanities in general and how it feeds into the medical practice”.

They also mentioned that digital technology could contribute to enhancing this drive forward — which was an interesting reoccurring theme that came up in group discussions throughout the event.

Overall, the feedback from participants gives a nice snapshot of how the interdisciplinary approach would be very welcomed by both students and academics, and how implementing artistic crafts could be beneficial for students’ own learning at university and self-development. It was interesting to also receive feedback from prospective students on topics they would be interested in exploring within this curriculum.

Thank you to all the attendees for their valuable feedback about the development of this new curriculum and to the organisers for arranging such an insightful workshop.

I just want to conclude with a statement from Professor Shitij Kapur, President and Principal at King’s College London that nicely illustrates the FLEXchange initiative:

“At FLEXchange we hope to demonstrate that this way of working is incredibly valuable, not only because of the outputs that will emerge, but the unique experiences and insights people have gained from these collaborations. If successful, FLEXchange will act as a blueprint for curriculum development across King’s”



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