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How The Creative School is transforming education for an uncertain future

Plus, the inside scoop on its latest solution to meet emerging needs in the industry

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In the face of unprecedented disruptions in technology, social dynamics and the environment, academic institutions are reconsidering their approaches to education. With the creative sectors uncertain about the future, they lean on these institutions for guidance, yet also have the ability to transform the very purpose of higher education. It’s crucial that they foster a relationship between students and industry, urging both to adopt forward-thinking approaches and collaboratively embrace change.

Offering a diverse range of programs for more than seven decades—from film and fashion to media production and journalism—The Creative School at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) engages with the creative sectors on refining its curriculum and extracurriculars to help fill vital industry gaps driven by new technologies and shifts in the workforce. At the helm is Ramona Pringle, renowned media expert, award-winning professor and director of The Creative School’s Innovation Studio and the Global Campus Studio (GCS).

Embracing collaborative approaches to innovation

The Innovation Studio emerged as an all-encompassing and cross-collaborative entrepreneurial hub, following the success of the Digital Media Zone (DMZ), an entrepreneurial venture launched by former TMU president Sheldon Levy. In this space, artists, entrepreneurs, technologists, researchers and academics can join forces to develop unique startups or projects. Various programs and areas, including the GCS, the Transmedia Zone and the Fashion Zone, cater to a diverse student body. Together, they form a one-stop shop for people devoted to collaborating on creative exploration and cross-disciplinary innovation. Since its inception in 2019, the studio has generated $194 million in revenue, earned 74 awards and grants, and incubated 382 startups.

This ongoing dedication to the research and development of new forms of education is helping students succeed. “Entrepreneurship and innovation are fundamentals that everyone needs,” says Pringle. “It’s not just about starting a business. It’s about being a self-starter, identifying problems or challenges, and wanting to solve them.” With so much fear regarding artificial intelligence (AI), job displacement and climate change, Pringle believes educational systems should instill hope and encourage people to shift their perspective on challenges, looking at them instead as opportunities to innovate.

Accessible learning offers unparalleled possibilities

Recognizing that not every student can fully engage in extracurricular activities, Pringle aims to integrate entrepreneurial teachings and methodologies from cross-collaborative zones into the core curriculum. This ensures all students have access to these valuable and relevant experiences as part of their educational journey. For example, Global Campus Studio has been integrated into an official faculty-wide course that enables students and partner institutions worldwide to collaborate with diverse international teams on dynamic projects.

A student wearing a VR headset to experience immersive reality in an educational setting

This virtual hub has helped launch dozens of global initiatives, from virtual reality concerts and digital art installations to conscious shopping apps and environmental awareness campaigns, to teach students about the importance of collaboration and flexibility. Participating students must learn to adapt quickly, managing different time zones, language barriers and more, to effectively collaborate and innovate with peers from global institutions, including Canadian University Dubai, the Amsterdam Fashion Institute and the Seoul Institute of the Arts.Another offering is the Design Solutions Supercourse, presented by The Creative School’s industry partners, which brings together up to 100 students from across the university to collaborate on creatively solving real-world problems in a practical, knowledge-building environment. Pringle says the school is in the midst of a significant shift as more modified courses are in development.

Students at The Creative School have the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning experiences and curate projects from start to finish

“Our goal for all our students, whether they’re a journalist or an interior designer, is to strengthen their core skill set,” says Pringle. “What we’re equipping them for is not just an industry, but a very unpredictable future and the ability to be flexible. Not just comfortable with change but excited by it and to see it as fuel.”Indeed, Pringle says her mission is to equip students with the skills to adapt to rapid global change, but more so to be able to shape the future. Pringle founded the aptly named Future Makers program, a collaboration with the city of Toronto’s Creative Technology office, with the goal of helping both students and creative industry members plan for the future through a mix of strategic foresight, creative innovation and hands-on skills development.

Delivering creative opportunities for all

Another new project the faculty is unrolling is The Creative School Pro, an initiative dedicated to fostering lifelong learning and skill enhancement within creative industries. Pro offers a wide series of upskilling workshops identified by the creative industries as highly sought after and led by a pool of professional industry experts.

Interior Designs building a structure for their final design assignment

Delivered virtually, these upskilling workshops are designed as short, intensive experiential-learning sessions that provide creative professionals with the technical, artistic and business skills essential for success. The program is designed for creative professionals seeking to enhance their expertise or explore a new field, recent graduates wanting an entryway into the job market, and seasoned professionals in fields supporting the creative industries who are seeking to enhance their support. Most importantly, there are no prerequisite degrees or certificates needed to take part in these workshops.

Students at The Creative School have the opportunity to bring their designs to life at the Design + Technology LAB

Upcoming Pro workshops will focus on the gaming, visual effects, film and television sectors, but the plan is to expand into other domains, including fashion, graphic communications, music and creative AI. The first two programs, Introduction and Advanced Unreal Engine for Games, Animation, VFX and Film and CASO (Computer Animation Studios of Ontario) Production Management for Animation and VFX Workshop Series, are set to launch on May 6. Each course consists of four separate workshops that provide participants with the option to take as many or as few as they’d like. 

Students work with technology to explore projects in 3D printing, laser cutting, and more
Evolving for the future

Education is a lifelong journey, but educators never thought about it that way in universities until now, says Pringle. “Education should evolve to meet the needs of changing industries, and it’s not something that you do in just four years,” she says. “Part of The Creative School Pro is meeting immediate industry needs and forecasting where the gaps will be in five to 10 years so our students and graduates won’t constantly have to play catch-up.”

In this digital age, lifelong learning is not a choice but a necessity. The Creative School’s objective is to “future-proof” students by equipping them with the necessary tools to tackle whatever tomorrow holds. When looking back at this decade of massive digital disruption, Pringle nods at the inevitability of higher education also being disrupted. 

“We really are at this moment of unprecedented change, and it can be very scary, but education has always been a source of hope because it’s this opportunity to take the future into our own hands and make it what we want for future generations,” she says. “We have the opportunity to make systems better, more sustainable and more equitable. That’s really exciting.”