Barnett’s Dispositions & Qualities and the Creative Attributes Framework

Barnett’s Dispositions and Qualities from A will to learn by Ron Barnett

 How do you recognise Barnett’s ‘qualities’ in the context of a course you work with? Think of a couple of examples.

My library colleagues have developed the LCAF, learning outcomes that tie in with UAL’s Creative Attributes Framework. Although we don’t use these to assess students, they help us decide what and how we teach. There are several similarities with Barnett’s dispositions and qualities. For example, under the heading ‘Resilience’ we have

  • Handle adversity in the research process; able to problem solve and overcome obstacles 
  • Work with ambiguity, uncertainty and unfamiliarity 

Relating to ‘a preparedness to explore’ and ‘determination to keep going forward’ we have

  • Build on existing knowledge; use research as exploration rather than as a tool to back up what is already known
  • Recognise research is a creative process; take an enquiring, analytical and explorative approach
  • Understand connections between information sources and ideas, and be empowered to take risks in order to make further connections

I think many of our learning outcomes are more akin to dispositions/qualities than skills or knowledge: we are hoping to enable the students to, as Barnett describes students “take ownership of her studies and imparts to it her own energies and direction”.

To what extent do you recognise Barnett’s ‘dispositions’ in your own approach to learning? Assuming this varies, what influences them?

I think if I do have some of these dispositions, it varies a lot. Unless I feel a very strong connection with a subject, self-belief is a big factor in the variation.

Are UAL’s Creative Attributes more like Barnett’s ‘qualities’? Or his ‘dispositions’? Is it just a question of phrasing? Comment on a couple of examples.

As to the character of the Creative Attributes, this varies. Quite often the Creative Attributes combine elements of the dispositions and qualities into one e.g.

Enterprise Creative Attribute

Here the “mindset to take measured risks” seems to be very close in character to the dispositions, but the second part, “the resourcefulness to pursue these opportunities in an ethical and sustainable way” seems to have more in common with the qualities, as it describes the manner or the style in which that “mindset” or disposition should manifest itself. However, the Creative Attribute for ‘Resilience” directly ties to one of Barnett’s qualities.

The major disparity between the dispositions/qualities and the Creative Attributes is that the attributes seem much more concerned with the individual whereas the dispositions/qualities are concerned with how that individual interacts with others to a much greater extent. For example, the only mention of interacting with others in the attributes are in the “Showcasing abilities and accomplishments with others” section below, but all these seem focused on how that individual transmits information or ‘showcases’ to others rather than reciprocal engagement.

Showcasing abilities and accomplishments to others creative attributes

Also, the qualities include integrity, restraint and respect for others, whereas the attributes, apart from one mention of being ethical, don’t mention anything of this kind. This is perhaps a little strange when the ability to work with people in a respectful and honest way would seem to be key skills for the creative industries.

The Creative Attributes are explicitly focused on employability and enterprise, i.e. on preparing students for socially useful occupations. What valuable attributes (‘creative’ or otherwise) can you think of that aren’t employment-focused?

Being employment-focused, these attributes are concerned with the commercial side of creative practice, but much creative endeavour is not commercial, and may hold a different kind of value to the artist and others. Perhaps a valuable attribute would be the ability to pursue something for the love of it, even though it will never bring commercial gain.

How are these attributes taught and/or learned at UAL?

I think these attributes are mainly taught via the methods by which the students carry out and deliver their work e.g. through collaborative project work, giving presentations, live projects.

As part of our information literacy workshops, we also teach these attributes as part of teaching students how to find, understand and evaluate information.

Barnett’s ‘qualities and dispositions’ are about learning, and the CAF is about creative practice. Are they more or less similar than you would expect, given this difference?

They are less similar than I would expect. They might apply in different ways to how Barnett means them, but I think all the dispositions/qualities could be applied to creative practice. As mentioned above, I think it’s surprising that some of them aren’t included.

How do these ideas connect with the theory you’ve been encountering on your elective unit (if you are doing one)?

I am doing the ILTHE module and considering Barnett discusses various barriers to learning that students might face, it seems surprising that he doesn’t mention anything related to inclusivity or diversity in the chapter e.g. how the dispositions could be affected if a student perceived they were treated differently or found university to be in some way unwelcoming to them if they were from a particular background or had a disability. He mentions difficulties students may encounter in the course their studies, such as illness or disliking the teaching style, but seems to assume that all students start from the same point at the beginning of their course. This seems to differ with Paulo Freire’s views that we must take the social identity of students into account, consider the power dynamics that exist outside the classroom and practice a pedagogy that aims to dismantle existing power structures.

Blogging Task on Race

Resources used:

Shades of Noir

A Pedagogy of Social Justice Education: Social Identity Theory, Intersectionality, and Empowerment by Aaron J. Hahn Tapper

Room of Silence film

There are several ways that I can use the ideas expressed in these resources in library practice and teaching:

  • Using Shades of Noir resources to improve my knowledge of artists and designers of colour in order to ensure our collections are representative of different groups. We participate in the Liberate My Curriculum project where students can suggest library resources but it is important that we are proactive in doing this work ourselves.
  • Ensure that I use diverse examples of artists and designers when demonstrating searches for students
  • Consider the case studies in Shades of Noir and the experiences of the students in the Room of Silence film to consider how students of colour might experience the library space.

However, I would like to use the article ‘A pedagogy of social justice education’ to examine the idea of libraries as neutral spaces, where everyone has full and equal access to the resources and services. This idea has received much critique in recent years, but it seems that some library organisations and librarians remain quite complacent. Fobazi Ettarh has written about the idea of ‘Vocational Awe’, a term she uses to describe the view many librarians take that libraries are noble, sacred places and thus beyond critique, and how this silences people of colour who use and work in libraries. At a debate in America last February entitled “Are libraries neutral?” David Lankes argued that equity is not a neutral position, “If we do not address inequities, we are not neutral—we are harmful and instruments of oppression”.

We must consider the power dynamics that take place in the university and wider society as they are likely to play out in the library too. In their article, ‘In Pursuit of Antiracist Social Justice:
Denaturalizing Whiteness in the Academic Library’ Brook et al. describe how students of colour may have a different experience of academic libraries to their white peers. They may gravitate towards staff members who have a shared background or common language and a lack of diversity among the staff may discourage them from seeking help or using the library at all.

Across the UK library sector 97% of employees identify as white, compared to 88% of the labour force in general. What does it mean if the librarian sat at the enquiry desk, who could be perceived to be in a position of authority, is almost always white? Or how could the methods the library employs to manage the library space and enforce behaviour policies be construed?

Librarians often take an ‘anti-censorship’ stance when considering whether offensive materials should be kept in the collection i.e. many librarians would opt to keep a racist publication in the collection because that is perceived to be the neutral point of view, and an item being in the collection does not mean it is endorsed by the library. It is often argued that it is wrong to deprive students of any information, however offensive, and they may want to respond to or critique it. I have usually agreed with this view, but now I am wondering to what extent this viewpoint stems from a position of white privilege.

As Hahn Tapper says, for social justice education we must consider the social identity of our students and the power dynamics that exist in wider society. For example, we could start by considering the microaggressions the students in the Room of Silence film experience in their lives at university. If a student of colour is often having negative experiences within the university setting, and they come across a racist publication in the library, this could be very harmful. In keeping offensive material in the library, in Lankes’s words, are we being ‘neutral’ or are we being instruments of oppression?

I wonder if it might be a good idea to start a library services equality committee made up of a diverse group of students and staff to examine issues like these, and possibly library policy on a more ongoing basis. This would allow us to engage with students and discuss these issues deeply in a way that we do not do currently. Resources like these would be useful reference points for such discussions.

Not a problem? Still a mystery… Satisfaction with library services in the National Student Survey

I was inspired by Munday’s writing on problems and mysteries, and by the project by a PGCert alumni that investigated what students perceived by the phrase “intellectually stimulating” to look into what mysteries might lie within the library NSS results and how they could be investigated.

The NSS Library Question

There is one question on libraries in the NSS, Question number 19.

Previous to 2017 the library questions was:

“The library resources and services are good enough for my needs”. (NSS Question changes for 2017)

In 2009 Tracey Stanley gathered feedback from librarians on the library question and gained this feedback:

  • “It does not focus on the electronic aspects of the library service, which play an increasing part in overall service provision.
  • The phrase ‘good enough for my needs’ appears to encourage a negative response.
  • The question does not allow respondents to focus their response on satisfaction with either stock or services.
  • The question is linked with others also included under ‘Learning resources’ – most significantly, a question about access to specialised IT resources – which may skew the overall result for the ‘Learning resources’ section as specialised facilities may not, by their nature, be widely available to all.
  • It does not focus on the level of support for learning provided by the library service.”

I disagree with this in one respect: I think the phrase “Good enough” implies mediocrity and sets a very low bar, especially compared to the loftier tone of some the other questions, which ask students to consider whether their course has been intellectually stimulating, has challenged them to achieve their best work and explore concepts in depth. Finding that most students think the library service is “good enough” doesn’t seem to be something we should particularly celebrate, as many libraries have done. The University of Oxford even made the rather spurious claim “Oxford libraries voted best in the UK for second year running.” when they achieved the highest score nationally on the library question in 2013 and 2014.

The question was improved for the 2017 survey to the following:

“The library resources (e.g. books, online services and learning spaces) have supported my learning well.” (National Student Survey)

Although this is still somewhat problematic, as the question is still linked to other questions on specialist facilities and does not allow respondents to distinguish between library resources and services, the data yielded from this might be more reliable in telling us if the students feel the library is really doing a good job in supporting them in their studies.

This year the proportion of students at UAL who “mostly agreed” or “definitely agreed” with the rephrased statement above was 91%., slightly above the sector average for Q19 of 87%.

This appears to be a very good result, but it is too easy to be satisfied, there are still many questions to be asked of this data. I have listed a few below, and how they could be investigated.

What do students understand by the question?

What do students understand by the phrase “supporting my learning”? How do they think the library should be doing this? What are their expectations of the library? Is it still possible that the students have low expectations, perhaps because they are not aware of all the services the library offers? It would be interesting to conduct focus groups with students to ascertain what they understand by Question 19, and what their expectations of the library service are.

What are students’ perceptions of Library Services?

Recently Library Services conducted a Digital User Experience project where students were asked to map their research processes. It was found that some students were unaware of what the role of the library staff is. Some were confused as to whether we are there simply to manage the space and collections, and monitor behaviour, or whether we were there to help them. This reticence to ask questions certainly indicates there are low expectations of the ability of library staff and will inevitably mean there is a lack of awareness of library resources and services.

This 1500 CSM students attended a library information skills session in 2016-17 (Information skills can include how to use the online resources, database searching, evaluating the reliability of resources, referencing skills etc.)  and only 105 CSM students attended a one-to-one library tutorial. Many courses do not take up the offer of information skills training from their subject librarian, and the take-up of library tutorials is relatively low, so students may never be aware of the online resources provision and never have the opportunity to acquire more advanced research skills.

It seems possible that the highly positive NSS results could be actually be the outcome of lack of awareness and low expectations of the library service. As well as focus groups, we can look at other measures available. The results from the Library Survey that took place in the Autumn of 2016 give a fuller picture of how the students and staff view the various aspects of the library service, and as shown in this infographic, it is a more complicated picture than the NSS results suggest.

Library Services Satisfaction Infographic

Could the good results be masking a problem?

Although only 9% of students across UAL did not agree that the library supported their learning, it would be interesting to find out more about that 9%. What if disproportionate numbers of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, BAME students, international students, or students with disabilities felt that the library was not supporting them? I can not discern this from the dashboard data as it only breaks down each question group, not individual questions, by student profile. It would be interesting to see responses to question 19 across UAL by student profile to see if there are any groups that do not feel the library supports them. If there was, this would then require further investigation to see why. Mainly, it is important to remember with statistics that a positive result can mean you are serving the majority well, while some groups may not be being served well at all.


As we wouldn’t think that some bad feedback meant that everything we are doing is wrong, it is important not to see good feedback as an endorsement of everything we do. We must look beyond the data to ensure that there are not bad reasons for good feedback.

Blogging Task on Faith

For this blogging task I considered the three resources below and how their ideas and the resources themselves could be used in library practice.

Religion, belief and faith identities in learning and teaching

Religion in Britain: Challenges for Higher Education. Modood & Calhoun Stimulus Paper 

(I mainly concentrated on the sections ‘Multiculturalism’, ‘Religion and dissent in universities’ and ‘Religion and knowledge of religion in UK universities’.)

Kwame Anthony Appiah’s lecture on ‘Creed’.

Supporting enquiries on faith in the library

I occasionally receive enquiries from students relating to religion and I am always aware of asking for more details from them in a sensitive way so that I can help them appropriately. In the UAL Case Studies on the ‘Religion, Belief and Faith Identities in Learning and Teaching’ website, I agree with Angela Drisdale Gordon’s comments on approaching discussion on religion “from a perspective of curiosity”. Being curious and asking open questions is a good approach.

This resource shows how important faith is to many students and that this is something they wish to explore in their work. As well as supporting study needs, I believe that the library can play an important pastoral role. It should provide resources to support well-being, explore aspects of their own identity and come across unfamiliar beliefs too. As Modood and Calhoun also make clear, faith is inevitably a part of public society, not just a private matter and can’t be ignored as an aspect of class, community, economics, public policy and geopolitics. Therefore, it is a subject on which the library should hold a good selection of resources.

Calhoun mentions librarians as playing a key role in supporting knowledge of religion, along with other university staff, and that it would be beneficial if staff could improve their knowledge. Recently a subject guide on ‘Faith and Belief’ has been created by staff at LCF. This lists books on different faiths and themes and although it may need further development, it could be a good starting point for librarians and students alike. As Angela Drisdale Gordon mentions, it is also beneficial to do our own research into subjects the students want to explore but with which we are unfamiliar. This could be partly achieved by the many online courses in religious literacy such as this one from Harvard: Religious Literacy: Traditions and Scriptures

At CSM Library we recently allocated some extra funds to buy books on faith and spirituality as it was felt that our resources were not adequate to support student’s research. However, I have been unsure how to go about deciding what to purchase but having read these resources I would like to ask the UAL SU faith societies, such as the UAL Christian Union and the UAL Islamic Society, the UAL Religion, Belief and Faith Identities in Learning and Teaching Community of Practice, and staff and students more widely.

Library displays on faith

It would be interesting to do a project with students where groups of students or individuals could create library displays relating to their faith, using items from the collections and/or their own work.  The displays might show to other students who have a faith that it is something that the library embraces. All these resources could be used to start discussions about faith in universities, and what the displays could contain and how they could be presented. For example, it might appear divisive if each display cabinet contained items from one religion. On listening to Kwame Anthony Appiah’s ideas about faith not being just about beliefs but also about practices and community, I thought perhaps it would be interesting to theme each cabinet on a practice or community event e.g. prayer, festivals and celebrations, art, dress, mourning. This might highlight similarities as well as variance between and within faiths.

Here are some images of previous library displays as an example

Zines Display, CSM Library
Green Week Display, CSM Library

One of the main messages in the Modoon & Calhoun paper is that secularism is also a complex ideology rather than the absence of ideology, so the displays would need to include secularism, humanism and atheism too. Kwame Anthony Appiah noted in his lecture on ‘Creed’ there is much diversity within religions, so it would be important to respect that. This could be addressed by ensuring as many students as possible are aware and able to take part if they wish, and by adding a notice to the displays inviting students to add further content to make it an ongoing process.

Blogging task on Gender

Supporting Trans Students UAL website

There were two quotes from UAL students on this website that I felt had particular resonance for library work.

“It’s good to do a bit of your own research. Focus on resources written by or at least with the community you’re looking into. Everyone is their own expert: you on you, me on me.”

Julius Jokikokko

This shows how important it is that the diversity of LGBTQ identities are represented within the library collections. We should ensure we purchase resources by authors from across the LGBTQ spectrum, as well as using those resources within workshops.

“If you’re an LGBT person and you don’t know who these 2 women are [Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera] , go change that, because they changed the world for you.”

Charlie Craggs

This indicates how essential it is for people with LGBTQ identities to be aware of the history of those communities in order to build solidarity.  UAL’s libraries should ensure they are places where students find out about their history and find authors they identify with in the collections.

The libraries already seeks suggestions from students, including through the Liberate My Curriculum project, but it would be beneficial for the collections to have a closer relationship with the UAL LGBT+ student network to gain a deeper understanding of any imbalance in the collections and how that could be redressed.

It is also important to use language carefully. In an article Jessica Colbert also proposes ideas for patron-driven subject access, which although imperfect, could help to make library systems more responsive to the LGBTQ communities at UAL and ensure they are able to access information using preferred terms.

Student responses to LGBTQ-related resources and how they are organised within the library, could be used to provoke discussions in workshops about the importance of LGBTQ history, how this is recorded and preserved and accessed.

bell hooks : Understanding Patriarchy

hooks quotes John Bradshaw on the destructive effects of patriarchy, including

“the repression of thinking whenever it departs from the authority figure’s way of thinking.”

We need to look at the concept of “authority” in library resources carefully and critically.  As Alan Carbery says in his lecture on ‘Authentic Information Literacy’ (mp4 video) it is too simple to assume that someone with a PhD has authority and someone without a PhD does not. He proposes that in teaching information literacy we should show examples of individuals speaking truth to power. As hooks argues, a system of authority and control damages everyone even those who supposedly hold the power. Critical Information Literacy puts forward teaching methods we can use to democratise the classroom, question the idea of authority and control in information, publishing and libraries, and recognise that everyone has their own authority. Using texts such as hooks and these methods could encourage all students to think critically about the relationship between power and information and how that can be challenged,

Pay it no mind: the life and times of Marsha P. Johnson

Watching this film, I was thinking how great it would have been for the LGBTQ community in Greenwich Village had had a library that catered for them where they could find out about LBGTQ history and build solidarity.  Libraries can be safe havens for marginalised communities if they are truly inclusive, or if not, they can be another institution that marginalises and oppresses groups.

To be inclusive, libraries must preserve information on the lives of people in marginalised communities and ensure access to all. Michael Musto who appeared in the film said in a panel discussion about the film that he was “happy that her life hadn’t fallen through the cracks of LGBT history”, suggesting the precariousness of individual lives within the historical record.

Often the physical documents that could be collected  – magazines, zines, pamphlets, photographs, oral history- are fragile in nature and may not be preserved. This film shows how the importance of how, for all the problems they have, open access digital resources such as Youtube can play an important role in creating, preserving and disseminating knowledge and experiences from communities such as Marsha P. Johnson’s.

Resources such as this film and student responses to it could be used in workshops to raise discussions about why some people have 500 page biographies written about them and some don’t, why some identities might be underrepresented in library /archive collections, and the importance of including different kinds of materials to ensure inclusive, diverse collections.

“The heart of the matter lies beyond all regulation”. Aoun, Whitehead and Palmquist/Kant

I found the main recurring themes in the readings were how universities should teach and how they should be run. They all seem to agree that the promotion of imaginative or critical thought is the main purpose of university, rather than the acquisition of knowledge alone. Interestingly, Aoun and Whitehead both mentioned that if we wanted students to only acquire knowledge all they would need are either books or a library card, as if all that can be found in the library are dry facts. It seems to be stating the obvious to say that libraries and their resources can feed the imagination just as much as good teaching.

I was prompted, particularly by Pamquist and Whitehead to consider the link between the purpose of the university and regulation, and whether all regulation is necessarily a bad thing. In Pamlquist, we see that Kant acknowledges the need for regulating the faculties which train professionals, but that the philosophers, while keeping the other faculties in check, should not be subject to regulation themselves, as they should have “reason alone” as their authority. Whitehead argues that public opinion is the only effective measure of a good university, and that the authorities must not attempt to treat universities like businesses.

This has a great deal of resonance today, in view of the new frameworks for regulating universities, particularly the TEF. This diagram from WonkHE illustrates the TEF metrics.

Aoun also argues that it is imperative for universities to prepare students for work in the future, which I believe is important. One of the TEF metrics is the numbers of graduates gaining skilled employment. Concerns were raised in the discussion group over whether the TEF would force university teachers to concentrate too much on useful skills at the detriment of inspiring the imagination and allowing students the chance to play, discover, and take risks without adverse consequences.  However, I have found that sometimes having a structure to guide your work and aims that will help the students in their working lives can be a positive thing. In the library service we have used UAL’s Creative Attributes Framework to develop learning outcomes for our information literacy workshops.

Creative Attributes Framework logo

Often, we only see students for one or two workshops per year, so having a clear aim for each session is helpful.  We can select an appropriate goal for the workshop and then plan exercises that aim to achieve that. By linking to the CAF, we can also show how the library sessions are key to meeting course outcomes and not just an added extra.

I think our learning outcomes also show that teaching for employability doesn’t necessarily disallow creativity. The outcomes emphasise the importance of encouraging the students to research independently, find inspiring resources, solve problems and think critically regarding information and publishing practices, which I think all fit into the key skills and literacies set out by Aoun, particularly critical thinking. All these skills can be useful in employment and life generally, but I don’t believe they compromise creativity. Therefore, it shouldn’t be assumed that teaching for employability means we are seeking to produce automatons, as it can mean helping students acquire the skills they need to work and live creatively.

I was also inspired by his views on how powerful learning can be when students take ownership of it, “it is one thing to have a story told, it is another to be the protagonist”. I am interested in ideas of critical information literacy , involving teaching methods such as ‘flipped classroom’, which I already use in one workshop, where the students carry out a simple research task with very little direction then present their findings back to the rest of the group. This is effective as the students discover the resources for themselves and they are they are interested to hear from their peers about what they have found.

So far, academic libraries have been free from external regulation. However, libraries have always felt under pressure to prove our value and many, including UAL libraries, have been willing to sign ourselves up for mechanisms such as the Customer Services Excellence framework. This sits uncomfortably with me. Although it can be a good idea to have standards to aim towards, it demands a great deal of staff time in compiling data and evidence, and it feeds the trend of framing students as customers. This trend can be seen in the direct link between new government regulations and funding models, as having demanded students pay higher tuition fees, the government is now deeply concerned over ensuring they receive ‘value for money’ plus demonstrate appropriate use of government money.

So, although I don’t think all effects of the TEF are necessarily negative, I think the marketisation-regulation-marketisation merry-go-round that Whitehead warns against is potentially damaging, As students are increasingly framed as customers, and universities even begin to view themselves as providing a service, students might engage less in constructing their own university experience, and may be less likely to become independent, critical thinkers. I don’t know what the effects of the TEF and the new Office for Students’ powers will be, but it seems that teaching the skills and literacies such s those set out by Aoun is increasingly important, and not just to shield future graduates from the growth for artificial intelligence.

Why am I doing the PG Cert?

I’m Beth,  an Assistant Academic Support Librarian at CSM. Like many librarians, I have not had extensive training in teaching skills, apart from a few workshops and what I have read myself. A major part of my role is supporting the Foundation Art & Design, BA Jewellery and BA and MA Performance: Design and Practice courses. As part of this I do around 50 hours of teaching per year, including information literacy workshops and 1-to-1 library tutorials to support individual research needs. I also deliver open workshops as part of the Academic Support offer, such as on Referencing and Fake News.

Since starting at CSM I have tried to develop inclusive and engaging workshops that will improve students’ research skills and inspire them to make the most of the library resources. I have learnt to include techniques such as interactive exercises, peer learning and group discussions. However, I would like to explore various teaching methods and different ways of learning in more depth in order to improve my skills.

I am hoping that the PGCert will enable me to improve my contribution to students’ learning by underpinning practice with theory. This would give me the knowledge and confidence to develop new ideas. I am interested in studying the Inclusive Teaching and Learning in Higher Education elective unit, which would improve my ability to make workshops welcoming and productive for all.