Fulbright Scholar Publishes Book on Creativity and Education in China

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Carol Mullen with students from Southwest University in Chongqing, China
Carol Mullen with students from Southwest University in Chongqing, China

Carol Mullen, a professor of educational leadership in Virginia Tech’s School of Education, has authored a new book, Creativity and Education in China: Paradox and Possibilities for an Era of Accountability, the result of her 2015 Fulbright Scholar Award and subsequent travel to the country.

The book is co-published by Routledge with Kappa Delta Pi, an international education honor society.

“I traveled to the other side of the planet to discover whether creativity occurs in China’s exam-crazed accountability culture,” Mullen wrote in the book’s preface. “I directly experienced the creativity paradox in China’s education system while interacting with Chinese educators, leaders, and students.”

During her four-week Fulbright assignment, Mullen was hosted at Southwest University in Chongqing. She also traveled to Shanghai, Nanjing, Jinan, and Beijing delivering lectures at various universities and institutes.

In one of the classes Mullen taught, she greeted students with lively Virginia bluegrass music. “At first, students lacked the confidence to be creative,” Mullen explained. “We held class in a theater, played the music and, before long, students began to express themselves. They felt confident enough to use microphones to present their projects on stage.”

Wanting to connect the two universities further, Mullen organized a teleconference between Virginia Tech and Southwest University. Scholars, and leaders from Virginia Tech used a live video feed to engage with attendees at Southwest University.

Mullen also visited as many types of schools as possible — rural elementary, university-affiliated, and Montessori — to meet with administrators and teachers. “I observed that children and teachers alike expressed their creative selves by beautifying and personalizing garden spaces and caring for the environment by growing vegetables and raising fish,” Mullen said.

Through her onsite research, Mullen discovered that “despite the high-stakes accountability culture that drives much of schooling, there is surprisingly creative innovation and expression occurring in some of China’s higher education institutions and PK–12 schools.”

Along with the Fulbright award in 2015, Mullen also received the Global Issues Initiative Research Support Program grant from Virginia Tech’s Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment. The grant funded a graduate student who accompanied Mullen on the trip and served as her translator.

Mullen received the Jay D. Scribner Mentoring Award from the University Council for Education Administration in 2016. She also received the 2017 Living Legend Award from the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration.

In addition to her latest book, Mullen has authored and edited 20 scholarly books and more than 200 refereed journal articles and juried book chapters.

She holds a bachelor’s degree from York University in Toronto and a master’s degree and doctorate from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.

The Global Education Office, a unit of Outreach and International Affairs, oversees the Fulbright Program at Virginia Tech and serves as a resource for student and faculty applicants.

Written by Rommelyn Conde Coffren