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Reflecting on Day 1 of FLEXchange

An Interdisciplinary Curriculum Development Workshop in Arts, Health and Humanities at King’s College London

Today, our Inspire the Mind team were involved in FLEXchange, a 2-day collaborative workshop run by King’s College London aiming to kickstart the development of a flexible curriculum that encompasses ‘arts, health and humanities’. As explained nicely by Adam Fagan, Vice President of Education and Student Success, this pilot workshop provides a voice for students and academics to make sure the curriculum is “relevant, interesting and captures the attention of all our students.” This concept was further developed in the introductory section, hosted by the event’s organisers, Richard Wingate, Tony Woods, Nikki Crane, Joanna Kieniewicz, and Leigh Wilson all from King’s College London.

With a creative spirit, our Inspire the Mind team are at the event to capture the key ideas and to facilitate further discussion from creative outputs for dissemination.

An artistic piece created by the students in a warmup workshop prior to the FLEXchange event

So, at the end of the first day, what did we do at this interesting workshop?

Throughout the day, we were introduced to a number of speakers all from different perspectives and all working in interdisciplinary fields. But we were also immersed in some engaging physical activity.

To get people moving, in the morning Dr. Suzy Willson, Artistic Director of performance company Clod Ensemble, dove into an ice breaker session that encouraged the group to be present in the moment. Eyes closed and grouped together, we focused on our breathing and identified where in our bodies we carry our stress. We analysed our position in our space and used this as an opportunity to get to know other people. With this, we discovered how performance and movement can also be used to understand thoughts and feelings. In a subsequent talk, Suzy also showed us photos of examples of the cross-disciplinary projects run by Clod Ensemble, particularly performances inspired by medical practice.

Building upon this concept, in the afternoon Artist Celia Pym conducted a more hands-on session in which she expressed the therapeutic value of ‘working with our hands’ to regulate thought and emotion. Teaching us the beauty of darning (a sewing technique for repairing holes or worn areas in fabric), Celia explored the concept of repairing our ‘seen and unseen damage.’ With years of experience mending clothes, Celia recognised that such damage speaks a story about a person. Who they were, what they did and how they spent their time.

Reflections from students participating in FLEXchange

Both activities gave us a taste of how artistic approaches can facilitate wellbeing and help us understand ourselves and others.

But the relevance to mental health doesn’t end here.

The morning talks started with Professor of Biological Psychiatry, Carmine Pariante, who shared with us the work of SHAPER, a Wellcome Trust-funded intervention program to scale up the use of artistic mediums in mainstream clinical care. Carmine has written a previous blog on this.

Dr Alex Mermikides, Senior Lecturer in Arts and Health, further opened our minds to the interesting perspective of medical humanities — a module that uses narration and film to better understand medicine and patient needs. In this intriguing talk, Alex explored the interfaculty drama projects that she has been involved with, as a means to integrate the departments of art and medicine.

Meanwhile, Sam McLean, Philosopher of Science and Lecturer in Global Health and Social Medicine, took us on an enticing journey through western history to explore the artistic representations of madness and what this may tell us about the problems of modern day addiction. He spoke of how art has influenced his teaching and research, and that imagination is a very important quality of the mind. As such, he nicely summarised that art is a ‘“way of being in the world” and that it evokes an imaginative spark.

In the afternoon, we also had Professor Seb Crutch and Artist Charlie Harrison, working closely with the Rare Dementia Support Group, presenting on ‘Created out of Mind’, a collaborative project for dementia patients that explored art through the painting of yellow lines. Not only was this an example of an interdisciplinary project, but they also told us about their emphasis on patient and public involvement and on improving public awareness for dementia.

But what could this interdisciplinary curriculum actually look like?

Professor of Culture & Creativity Nick Wilson told us that ‘art is caring about experience’ and that the interdisciplinary module should be a space for students to connect and create. A space to accommodate and integrate different aspects of care (e.g., for our bodies, for our environment and for others.)

Reflecting on the clinical humanities module that has been added to the King’s College London Dentistry course, Dr Flora Smyth Zahra exampled how the curriculum may look. As described by one of the students, an assignment in which they had to relate a museum object to the themes of the module helped to promote a change in perspective. With this, Flora further emphasised that we need to ‘look outward towards arts and humanities to develop critical thinking.’

Photo by Cloudyaaa on Unsplash

But what do the participants think?

One undergraduate attendee notably said that they appreciated hearing the differing perspectives from academics across multiple faculties, and how it bridged together, giving a clearer picture of what the curriculum may look like.

In an interview with our team, another undergraduate attendee commented that the reason they liked the concept was to be able “to have more of a holistic view of world.”

There were also group discussions where a number of themes were reflected on. One of these themes was ‘learning space.’ While a variety of spaces (such as green spaces and the Science Gallery) are available, often students do not utilise this space unless they are told to go there or go with someone, based on the notion that you need ‘permission’ to use it. Students would therefore benefit from embedding these permissions into the curriculum.

Another theme was the role of technology. Given the shift of care and communication to a digital platform following the Covid-19 pandemic, questions were raised about how digital technology could be utilised in the context of arts, health and humanities. Reflecting on various projects and initiatives that have adapted to digital media and found success, there was ample discussion on the concept of digital health and humanities.

Reflections from students participating in FLEXchange

Overall, day 1 was really productive with plenty of discussion, and we are looking forward to day 2.

While this is a whistle-stop tour of what was covered today, we’ll be sharing further ideas and discussions that will come from the whole event as further blogs, videos and podcasts. This will be used to facilitate further discussion, and hopefully we will see the future development of the FLEXchange curriculum implemented at King’s College London.


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