I was recently asked to answer a number of questions about creativity in education by the editor of an upcoming book on the subject. The questions stimulated my thinking on the link between creativity and education. I became concerned with two major questions:
1. Is creativity a goal to strive for in (higher) education? If so, how do we measure it?
2. What are classroom strategies for improving creativity?
Tackling the first question, the obvious answer is YES, creativity is one of the goals of education in general. and of higher education just as well. Why? The benefits of creativity include independent thinking and adaptive problem-solving, and success when meeting new and unexpected challenges. Creativity is also a key prerequisite for academic research: it drives scholars to asking new questions and finding innovative answers. A creative learning environment fosters the freedom of thinking in participating students (and teachers) and stimulates the combination of different elements in new and unexpected, interesting and useful ways.
So if practicing and teaching creativity are so important in higher ed, why is there talk about a “Creativity Crisis”? In an article of the same title, Kyung Hee Kim, a researcher from the College of William & Mary, reaches the conclusion that creativity in the US is on a down pointing curve since 1990. Torrance test results of children as well as adults show a growing tendency to be conformist in one’s thinking and to deliver the expected answer to a task rather than to innovate or go outside the established borders.
So what are the obstacles between universities’ aim to be and inspire others to become more creative and the reality uncovered by the research cited above? Some of the large causes are “a standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing”. This means that in fact the education system does not prioritize creativity, since the rules encourage standardization, memorization and delivering of quantitative nation-wide tests.
You may say that these three negative features are not typical of universities. I agree. However, the freshman students of today are the kindergarten, secondary school and high school students of yesterday. They come to the university schooled in a way of thinking that is not encouraging nonconformist, out-of-the-box thinking. On the contrary, the selection process delivers to the higher education level those students that are most conformist, those who deliver best according to the standardized rules.
The same thing can be said about the faculty. University teachers are also trained within their own discipline (a word that brings to my mind Foucauldian references to punishment, an idea I discussed in an earlier post). We are also schooled in making fast decisions on the basis of experience. As Kim’s article shows, even adults (though not necessarily teachers) score poorly on the creativity test.
Try this simple test (not from the Torrance battery) yourself:
Connect these 9 dots with 4 straight lines, drawn so that the pen is not leaving the paper (one continuous movement).
• • •
• • •
• • •
A couple of solutions can be found here.
As you see, one needs literally to think outside the box, outside the given frame. And this is not easy…
This point leads me to the second question I wanted to raise, which creative strategies can be used in the classroom. I do not want to put forward a list of techniques. The two strategies I advocate are 1) the continuous education of teachers in creativity and 2) a more daring and experimental attitude.
For the first point, universities should be interested in sponsoring the pedagogical improvement of their faculty. And there are many workshops and courses that can be commissioned for this purpose (including very interesting ones about the uses of technologies in the creative classroom). For the second point, teachers themselves must push the limits of their own comfort zone. It is indeed more time consuming and less secure, but it can turn out to be more fun and exciting. Not all experiments succeed, but all experiments, even the failed ones, are part of a learning process.)
Anamaria writes from Lund, Sweden. She is one of the founding members of the editorial collective at University of Venus.
 I define creativity in its most simple form as the capacity to form an original idea.