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.