Editor's Note: The Power of a Creative Mindset in Higher Education

By Caitlin Salins, Project Manager, Bringing Theory to Practice

A “robot-proof” education, [Joseph E. Aoun] argues, is not concerned solely with topping up students’ minds with high-octane facts. Rather, it calibrates them with a creative mindset and the mental elasticity to invent, discover, or create something valuable to society—a scientific proof, a hip-hop recording, a web comic, a cure for cancer.[1]

In Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University, posits that the imminent rise of intelligent machines will irreversibly reshape our cultural landscape, most notably replacing many current jobs and making the proficiencies previously needed to complete them obsolete. His argument is that higher education, if its mission is to prepare students to live meaningfully in the world, must then adapt to create “robot-proof” learners, competent not just in what they’ve memorized but in new literacies and mental capacities, often previously considered “soft” or “superfluous” skills like entrepreneurial thinking, empathy, imagination, and a creative mindset.

The concept that higher education has a responsibility to do more than simply transfer knowledge aligns with BTtoP’s mission. We advocate that colleges and universities should be proving grounds not only for workplace preparation but as spaces that promote contextual, collaborative, and publicly minded learning; that support the well-being and personal development of students from all backgrounds; and that inspire them to engage with the “other,” with their community, and with the world at large.

In this issue of our newsletter, our authors explore through three different lenses how “robot-proof” qualities like imagination, creativity, and artistic expression can be embedded at all levels in the higher education enterprise to foster holistic and transformative learning experiences. In our Feature article, Carol-lynn Swol explores how a “creativity-infused pedagogy” can cultivate students’ engagement with the public good; in our Campus Highlight, BTtoP grantees Sarah L. Hoiland and Tere Martínez describe how they used approaches from theater and improv to encourage student agency and civic engagement; and in his inaugural Director’s Column, David Scobey sheds a light on both BTtoP’s history and his own—and how we might learn from innovative and imaginative partners, both within higher education and beyond, to develop a community of creative collaboration.


[1] “Overview, Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” MIT Press, https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/robot-proof.