Case Studies, Teaching Stories

Creative Futures: Tools for changing the world (Case Study)

About the unit:

In order to innovate in whatever field, from healthcare to engineering, education to the arts, we all use visions of the future – consciously or not. But where do such visions come from? Whose visions and whose futures are they painting? Are these futures universal? Innovating towards a better world needs to happen at an individual, community and planetary level. At all these levels, there is no single future, but rather a multitude of futures.

Part of Bristol Futures, the Creative Futures open unit explores futures studies from radically different perspectives: how designers and leaders create visions for the future and how these visions help shape more inclusive, caring and radical futures. We engage with these futures conversations in creative and playful ways.

Students experiment with creativity tools (no previous training needed) to respond to discussions about futures.

About the context:

This was the first year of this unit and it coincided with drastic changes in future narratives due to the novel, emerging and transformative practices and visions emerging in the year 20-21 during the covid-19 pandemic. Conversations in class were very current and reflective of these changes. Much of the literature we studied, and the creative exercises, were framed by this.

Creative Reflection Video Piece by Kate Begley 

About the Assessment:

The assessment is 100% coursework, a portfolio that showcases Bristol Futures skills framework, based on theoretical discussions, creative experiments and teamwork that is facilitated in weekly 2-hour sessions, referred to as ‘Creative Lab’. There are no essays or exams.

Each week, students record their “experiment” and some reflection about it. Each week’s topic is about a futures model. Each experiment is recorded as a portfolio entry, 9 in total. The student must select their best 6 experiments to prepare for submission. The selection is based on the student experience exploring a creativity to, firstly, respond to a theoretical framework of the future and, secondly, apply it to their context and their own worldview or discipline. The idea is to encourage students to select and curate their own assessment, aiming to:

  • Develop an understanding of tools and models for creatively addressing futures and global challenges.
  • Facilitate the development of a creative portfolio of future-oriented case-studies.
  • Develop knowledge and skills of creative approaches, including presentation of ideas for different audiences in a variety of creative media.
  • Develop skills in critical reflection work.

The marking criteria was:

Connect Ideas

  • Demonstrate that you can use and connect Unit’s main ideas and key terms (lecture, readings, videos, Creative Lab discussions).

How do your experiments connect with ideas of the course?


  • Demonstration of future thinking via creative practice or method. (ILO 3)

How your experiment opens discussions about critical futures


  • Creative response to the brief, including presentation and visual language. (ILO 2)

How you record and communicate Experiments.


  • Reflection, analyses, capacity to build arguments and present your ideas persuasively (ILO 4)

How you critically evaluated ideas and were able to assume your own position.

Authentic Assessment Principles:

Cosmology illustration by Kristin Light

Values & Cosmology:

A big part of the unit was encouragement and processes that support students’ interrogation of their own values and visions of the world, and the interrogation of the theoretical content in relation with these values, as well as how these values transformed or not during the course of the unit.

Experiment Oriented:

It was important for the unit to inspire and validate other ways of knowing and alternative (even conflicting) models of thought. For this, the unit constantly emphasised the idea of “experimenting” with the models: how are they useful (or not) in the students’ context? and in the context of the pandemic? what dimensions or discussions do these models open (that others don’t)? how do these models enter in tension or friction when confronted with student contexts (either disciplinary or their own life experience)?

In addition, we were not “teaching” or “assessing” creative skills, we were opening a theoretical discussion and using creative tools to respond to it (rather than writing an essay). Students had little or no experience using such tools. The idea of the experiment was important to allow students to test different media, with permission to fail, some experiments were more effective than others. This was an open invitation to take risks, to explore, and what was important was the evaluation of these processes rather than the outcomes. Each student had very different outcomes working in a wide range of mediums including creative writing, poetry, illustration, painting, collage, film, audio recordings, sound recordings, sketching, and 3D prototyping.

Video Piece by Luwezo Lumakangilu 
Link to video:


The assessment was individual; however, the content was developed in teams.

We were aiming for a productive tension, from which students could reflect individually about teamwork learning, including issues of leadership, consent creation, balancing dominant ideas and timid ideas, politics and ethics of team formation. The Lab sessions were inspired by collaborative design workshops, delivered online using a combination of mural canvas, co-constructed lectures, round tables with conversation leaders.

Individual critical evaluation of the teaching & learning processes

Based on the experimental nature of the assessment, what we were supporting was a reflection and evaluation, not just in content (models of futures) but also in students’ own learning, their teamwork, their change of values or cosmologies, on the nature of the experiment itself. The students were at the same time constructing and designing their assessment and assessing the unit.

Application of learning in context

Two out of five of the assessment criteria were on “making connections” and applying ideas and tools to students’ own lives and to their own disciplines. Creative Futures had a cohort of almost 100 students from 19 different disciplines. Transdisciplinary collaboration and exploring the nature of one’s own epistemologies was a key part of the course. The process of editing the experiments to 6 for submission allows students to draw out the most relevant work to them personally.

Studying theory – responding with creative explorations

Please visit some of the student work that they selected to submit. Each of them is a response to a future model:

  • Video response to more-than-human futures, presented a critique of anthropocentric (human-scale) perspectives of futures by presenting an imagined interview to The Downs Park, to Wifi and to Physical Touch. The student engaged with 3 things that were important for her, for her community and for the planet. She explored issues of gender violence, lockdown isolation and online exhaustion in a witty and funny way.
Video Pieces by Caitlin Claxton 
Link to work:
  • Audio or podcast response to Levitas’s Utopia as Method. She creatively reflected on anxiety and imagined how something precious to her would help her in an utopian future.

Link to Audio:

Prototype by Rowena Marshall
Link to work:
  • Students experimented with making in different formats: rapid prototyping, modelling and mapping (physical and digital). Prototype example of a future society led by environmental and musical values and ideas, using “what if” as a tool for accessing plausible futures.

  • Some of the assessment explored visual media and tools to creatively responds to their application of future literature to their context. Students used a range of collages, sketching, mind mapping.
(Left) Model by Charlotte Rodgers; (right) Collage by Charlotte Carpenter.
  • Writing for online media, blogging and exploring the use of vignettes, was an important part of the section of the student work for submission. The following is an example of a student exploring images and creative writing to compose vignettes in reflection upon how past visions of science-fiction inform our current future trends and narratives.
Vignettes by Elder Harriet
  • Connections: students were tasked with bringing examples (in their life experience or discipline) to illustrate theoretical models and to find inspirations for the creative responses.

Final Reflection

Students were evidently anxious about authentic assessment, it was very new for them, the idea that they had to design and curate their own assessment, select their own content. In addition, the notion that each student would have different outcomes depending on their context was also disconcerting for them. This emerged in class conversations, in the continuous feedback and during office hours. Student asked for examples of right or wrong and took them time to get to pieces of the idea of experimentation. The assessment method definitely presented friction and resistance. It took the teaching team extra work “scaffolding” and teaching about the style and assessment method, in order to build trust and support student confidence. We trialled peer assessment opportunity before summative assessment something we want to expand for 21/22. We supported the students with constant peer reviews activities and formative assessment: office hours were always full and were spaces for in-depth discussions.

This is an example of a student’s work using poetry to evaluate the unit:

The Intro I have chosen to do this week theme of Manifesto in a form of a poem. This course has truly taught me how to be creative, use my imagination and acknowledge the power I have within this corrupt system. I have a voice and it is important i use it because not everyone I know is lucky enough to freely be able to express their thoughts.

The future.

We all ask questions about the frightful future.

We all ask questions about where we will be.

We all ask questions about who we will see.

But who will ever know? We could know.

The future is in our hands and on our lands and we can make it our plans to create bans that will protect our world.

It is up to us.

If we do not stand up to protect our world do we even deserve to be here?

Protect the dolphins, sharks, turtles.

Reduce the plastic.

Stop slaughtering scared animals.

It is up to us. Defend any human.

No matter their gender No matter their race No matter their sexuality.

It is up to us. Stop war.

Stop the fighting.

Stop the hate.

It is up to us.

This module teaches us exactly that.

Freedom Creativity Expression Imagination View the world how you want Don’t think you can’t.

The only thing to do is to imagine It can happen.

The future is ours.

Conclusion This is what the module has taught me.

By Jennifer Fuller

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