Weekly Teaching Note
Apr 27 2011
Developing Creative Classrooms

When IBM’s Institute for Business Value recently (2010) surveyed 1500 chief executives to find out the qualities CEOs value most in today’s business marketplace, the quality that rose to the top of the list was not dedication, a sense of humor, or technical expertise. Creativity is seen as the skill that helps businesses respond to changing customer relationships and operational problems.  In A Whole New Mind (2006), Daniel Pink emphasizes creativity as the basis for workers adept at what he calls “high touch” and “high concept,” and concludes that right-brained people will rule the world of the future. In The Creative Workforce (2008), Erica McWilliam stresses the same skill as the cornerstone of a twenty-first century education.
Yet even as the evidence mounts as to the importance of creativity, we see gifted programs cut from public schools and creativity not a showcased part of college curriculums.  Creativity must be seen on a par with those other skills businesses claim they need colleges to be teaching—i.e., team work, critical thinking, and communication (identified in a 2007 AACU survey as the big three). Interestingly, even the influential Foundation for Critical Thinking has started linking critical and creative thinking as part of the same process.
How many of you have creativity listed on your syllabus as a student learning outcome? If you have, do you intentionally teach creative thinking?  Have you thought of how to assess creative thinking in your field?  Obviously, in recent years business has jumped aboard the creativity bandwagon traditionally driven by the arts and humanities, but what about the sciences, health, education, and so on?  Every field needs creativity, and it has a place in every field.
In “Kubla Khan,” Coleridge compares the creative thinker to a demon. In “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” Shakespeare notes the similarity between the poet and the madman.  The point is that most of us are afraid of the unknown, and sometimes college professors develop creativity-phobia.  The greatest enemy to fear is knowledge.  We are going to have to start to learn and teach creativity in the college classrooms.
Practically speaking, to teach creativity, you need to model it.  You must also turn your classroom into a creative hothouse.  And you must learn some simple process techniques, such as brainstorming, piggybacking, and perception shift.
Start with the basics.  You need to adapt the definition of creativity to your field.  The two key ingredients of creativity are novelty (it must be innovative) and usefulness (it must serve some purpose, solve some problem).  Most experts break creativity down into four categories (mnemonically recalled by the alliterative “P”):

  • Product (an invention)
  • Person (characteristics of a creative mind)
  • Process (steps to creativity that can be taught)
  • Press (environment)

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes,” claims Scott Adams of Dilbert fame.  In so pronouncing, Adams suggests the biggest change we can make to our classrooms—we can allow our students to take risks.  But before they do, we have to.

  • AAC&U. (2007). College Learning for the New Global Century. Accessed 4/24/2011 at http://www.aacu.org/leap/documents/GlobalCentury_final.pdf   
  • Azzam, A. (2009). Why Creativity Now? A Conversation with Sir Ken Robinson. Educational Leadership 67(1): 22-26.
  • Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. (1816). Christabel, Kubla Khan, and the Pains of Sleep.
  • “Growing Creativity” Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, accessed 4/24/2011 at http://www.celt.iastate.edu/creativity/homepage.html   
  • IBM. (2010). Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the 2010 IBM Global CEO Study. Accessed 4/24/2011 at http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/ceo/ceostudy2010/   
  • McWilliam, E. (2008). The Creative Workforce: How to Launch Young People into High-Flying Futures. University of New South Wales Press.
  • Paul, R. (2008). Thinker's Guide to the Nature and Functions of Critical & Creative Thinking. Foundation for Critical Thinking, 1 edition.
  • Pink, D. H. (2006). A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. Riverhead Trade.
  • Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night's Dream – Act 5, Scene 1. Lines: 3-23.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet
Teaching and Learning Center
Eastern Kentucky University

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