Creativity in technical spaces: using rich pictures to produce rich assessments

What was the activity?

This activity was delivered in the first three weeks of the Building Pathology module for second year undergraduates studying BSc (hons) degrees in Real Estate, Building Surveying and Property Developers and Planners. The assessment formed 30% of the overall module and covered a learning outcome which is a) a core element for all those disciplines and b) a professional development competency for the future. As such, the assessment was aligned with a key ‘meaningful’ objective.

Students were asked to hand draw a simple picture within the framework of a simple Rich Picture (Checkland, 1981). Rich Pictures enable the students to ‘visually capture complex or multiple ideas in a picture which is rich in metaphors and stories’ with the capacity to ‘engage different groups in the process’ (Gifford, 2020). The students were required to demonstrate their research and understanding of three consecutive periods of architecture. They also needed to show the social and economic issues associated with that period of time and the change of circumstances in the built environment that created those building styles. This timescale also enabled them to include and evaluate the common defects associated with the chosen periods of time.

Students were given a range of timeframes from which to select their three periods and the lectures which supported this assessment covered all the timeframes. The students were also given a lecture about the broad theory of Rich Pictures and specific guidance on what needed to be included within the submission in order for it to be a Rich Picture, as opposed to say a storyboard, sketch or poster. The students then uploaded their picture along with a list of supporting references to the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for marking. 


Surveyors and property developers need to be able to develop an understanding of the built environment around them quite quickly in order to make informed decisions within their professional practice. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution when looking at different regions, types of property and periods of time – each era, for example, has different opportunities and issues. However, the subject of aging buildings is an almost incomprehensibly large topic, so there are limits to the level of depth and detail which is covered within this section of a twelve-week module. The issue, therefore, is that large amounts of information need to be researched and understood and the task can become overwhelming for students. This can create a lack of engagement. Rich Pictures provide the opportunity for students to express some freedom of thought and giving the students the permission to be creative in an assessment is also an opportunity to evaluate the engagement of students whilst making the assessment meaningful within the context of core competencies required for the acquisition of subject knowledge and employability.

How did it impact students?

Upon completion of the assessment I completed a survey asking students if they felt that construction was a creative industry – the results showed that 93% of the students felt that the industry was indeed a creative one. The backdrop to this is that these programmes of study are BSc degrees and heavily focussed on technical evidence and content. However, the competency elements are grounded in very human based subject matter in other words, buildings, their use and purpose. As such, whilst the learning outcomes are generally about achieving theoretical competences, students need memorable, relatable and thus ‘meaningful’  experience to link the two elements together in a practical (and employable) sense.

Promoting creativity is often overlooked in professional degrees because it is sometimes considered to have less value in its academic rigour. However, the conversations I had with students after this submission, reinforced by the survey afterwards, supported the idea that creativity and learning can indeed be mutually supportive (Beghetto, 2016). As a student in the survey commented, ‘It had a fun element to it as opposed to writing essays…’ and ‘this actually engaged me into completing an assessment rather than just going through the motion of just writing something for the sake of it, because I had the power to create what I wanted to show.’

Any advice for others?

There was some resistance from students who assumed that Rich Pictures are essentially an art-based submission. My biggest piece of advice is to address  this before even discussing the assessment criteria. The fear of drawing needs to be acknowledged – it is not about drawing, it is not an art-based assessment, it is effective use of a strong methodology which has a compelling pedagogical rationale behind it. I found that by explaining to the students these common themes from the outset and thus addressing the elephant in the room helped their confidence enormously. It also increased their engagement – I had a practically full lecture theatre for each session. I was amazed that by simply telling students all the things I knew they would hate about it or struggle with made them fully support and engage with it. 

My second piece of advice however is – just do it. It’s an amazing way of asking them to ‘reflect as much going on as possible without privileging, predetermining, or presuming a particular point of view.’ (Williams and Hummelbrunner, 2010).


Beghetto, R. A., (2016) ‘Creative learning: a fresh look’, Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, 15(1), pp. 6–23.

Checkland, P. (1981) Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. Chichester: John Wiley.

Gifford, D. (2020) Graphic facilitation and rich pictures. Available at: (Accessed: 23 June 2022).

Williams, B. and Hummelbrunner, R. (2010), Systems concepts in action: a practitioner’s toolkit. Stanford University Press.


How to cite

Love, E. (2022) Creativity in technical spaces: using rich pictures to produce rich assessments. Teaching Insights, Available at: (Accessed: 25 April 2024)

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Posted in Edition 2, Recipes for Success