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journal3#The art of creative teaching implications for higher education


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journal3#The art of creative teaching implications for higher education

  1. 1. POINTS OF DEPARTURE The ‘art’ of creative teaching: implications for higher education Robyn Gibson* Undergraduate and Preservice Programs, Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia Richard Florida’s The rise of the creative class (2002) delivered a strong wake- up call to higher education institutions worldwide. By linking creativity to technological innovation and economic prosperity, Florida argued that univer- sities and colleges should nurture creativity in their students. But for many years, the higher education enterprise has been criticised for dampening creativity rather than fostering it. This paper explores the subversive nature of creativity, the value of creative teaching and proposes a number of strategies higher education should consider if they hope to graduate the future leaders of twenty-first century society. Keywords: creativity; ‘the creative class’; creative teaching; student-centered learning Introduction In recent years, creativity per se has been heralded as a means with which to solve a plethora of social, political and economic problems facing the twenty-first century. In response, creativity as an area of educational research has grown with a number of educators and researchers suggesting strategies to cultivate creativity in educational contexts. Others have sought to discuss those factors which may impede or even block creative behaviour in the classroom. Background The publication of cultural critic, Richard Florida’s The rise of the creative class (2002) delivered a strong wake-up call to higher education institutions in Europe, North America and Australia since it had profound implications for educational priorities and curricula. In his subsequent text, The flight of the creative class (2005), Florida linked creativity to technological innovation and economic prosperity. As such, it provides a powerful mandate for universities and colleges worldwide to nurture creativity in their students. However, an environment that supports creativity is one that encourages risk-taking, independence and flexibility. This has significant implications for pedagogy (Haring-Smith 2006) since for many years, the higher education enterprise has been criticised for dampening creativity rather than fostering it. The intention of this short article is threefold. In exploring the subversive nature of creativity, I propose that it runs counter to many of the dominant influences in current higher education learning. In challenging a status quo which might be *Email: Teaching in Higher Education Vol. 15, No. 5, October 2010, 607Á613 ISSN 1356-2517 print/ISSN 1470-1294 online # 2010 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2010.493349
  2. 2. characterised as ‘teacher-centred’, I argue for the value of creative teaching as opposed to transmissive pedagogy. Finally, I provide a number of creative mechanisms tertiary institutions should consider if they hope to recruit and graduate ‘the natural Á indeed the only possible Á leaders of 21st century society’ (Florida 2002, 315). Creativity defined According to Eisner (2005), boundary pushing, inventing, boundary breaking and aesthetic organising are key features of the development of creativity. Yet the issue of creativity is multi-faceted and open to disparate and often contradictory definitions. In fact, Sternberg (2006) argues that ‘creativity as a problem of study is large, unwieldy, and hard to grasp’ (3). Creativity has often been viewed as a somewhat mystical phenomenon Á consider the visitation of the muse or serendipitous inspiration (Haring-Smith 2006). Yet, our understanding of it has grown through systematic study over the past 50 years. Prior to this, only 0.2% of all entries in Psychological Abstracts pertained to creativity. Since then researchers have observed and analysed creativity in subjects ranging from eminent scholars and artists to young children and even painting elephants (Florida 2002). Early research into creativity often viewed it as analogous to intellectual ability and devised various tests to measure it in those exceptional individuals with the ‘appropriate’ personality traits. Today, creativity is no longer considered synonymous with intelligence. A fact known to Albert Einstein when he commented ‘imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world’ (1929) more than 80 years ago. Creativity involves the ability to create meaningful, new forms. It ‘uncovers, selects, re-shuffles, combines and synthesises already existing facts, ideas, faculties and skills’ (Koestler 1964, 120). But it also requires self-assurance and the ability to take risks. Boden (1990) in The Creative Mind argues that creativity: involves not only a passionate interest but self-confidence too. A personneeds a healthy self-respect to pursue novel ideas and to [ultimately] make mistakes; despite the criticism from others. (255) Like teaching, creativity must be viewed as a subversive act since it disturbs and disrupts existing patterns of thought (Florida 2002). It is a capacity inherent to varying degrees in virtually everyone. Unfortunately, it is an ability that seems to diminish commensurate with the number of years devoted to formal education. If we are to believe the figures of the often-cited Robinson Report (Robinson 2000) we find that by the age of 5, a child’s potential for creativity is 98%; by the age of 10, this figure has dropped to 30%; at 15 it is just 12%; and by the time we reach adulthood, our creativity has plummeted to a mere 2%. If each of us is or can be creative to a lesser or greater degree if given appropriate opportunities, often referred to as ‘small c creativity’ than imagination is a key component. To support this argument, Haring-Smith (2006) states that: 608 R. Gibson
  3. 3. If all individuals have the potential to be creative and if creativity is a process that can be dissected and therefore taught, then colleges anduniversities can work to create curricula, pedagogies, co-curricula programming and a general institutional environ- ment to support creative development. (2) How do we go about fostering creativity in institutions of higher learning? How do we create places where creative individuals thrive? ‘Environments that let them be creative Á that value their input, challenge them, have mechanisms for mobilising resources around ideas and are receptive to both small changes and the occasional big idea?’ (Florida 2002, 40). Without doubt, the educational environment plays a significant role in developing students’ creative expression. In response to this, Csikszentmihalyi (1988) has suggested that the most fundamental question in creativity is ‘where is creativity’, not ‘what is creativity’. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves, is ‘it’ to be found in our universities and colleges? Creativity and higher education Such institutions are bestowed with the responsibility of producing future leaders in all fields of endeavour. But are we graduating members of the so-called ‘creative class’. A group of individuals Florida (2002) maintains has and will continue to shape deep and profound shifts in the way we work, in our values, and in every aspect of our lives. Apparently they are the students educators love to teach. Intelligent, open-minded risk takers who enjoy tackling challenges, value diversity and engage in flexible and creative problem solving (Haring-Smith 2006). Not surprisingly, this new class is reliant on the creative process as a mode of being, thinking and knowing. But have academics recognised and responded to the needs of these creative learners? Bourner and Flowers (1997) state that the time when academics in higher education could simply replicate the teaching methods that they experienced as students is quickly drawing to an end. In part, this is due to a falling level of real resource per student, an increasing focus on teaching quality and developments in the technologies used for communicating and disseminating information. While Bourner and Flowers call for greater effectiveness and great efficiency in learning and teaching, I would place greater levels of creative teaching at the forefront of this wider debate. Creative teaching Advocates of creative teaching argue that it results in deeper understanding among learners (Bereiter 2002; Sawyer 2004). According to Simon and Hicks (2006) integrating creative styles of learning and teaching in our educational practices is not only timely but necessary if our students are to be offered opportunities to explore their own creativity and come to ‘know’ without the pressure of formal modes of learning and assessment. Creative teaching requires an openness to experience, a willingness to take risks and healthy amounts of flexibility, spontaneity and open-mindedness (Ewing and Gibson 2007). Sawyer (2004) maintains that creative teaching should be viewed as disciplined improvisation because it always occurs within broad structures and existing frameworks. Within the creative classroom, there is a balance between Teaching in Higher Education 609
  4. 4. structure and script, flexibility and improvisation. Moreover, creative teaching acknowledges the active participation of students including opportunities for inquiry-based learning, constructivism, project-based learning and collaborative learning. It emphasises negotiation and collaboration in inquiry (Sawyer 2004). Grainger, Barnes, and Scoffham (2004) have explored the nature of creative teaching inuniversity courses as disparate as geography, music and English. Theyargue that creative teaching is a complex yet invigorating cocktail and have identified a number of themes associated with creative teaching. These include contextualisation, using metaphor, style and pace of delivery, tutor confidence and ability to inspire, valuing students, emotional engagement and challenging students to reflect upon their own learning. How do we go about fostering creativity in our students through the use of creative teaching methods? Amabile’s (1983) work on creativity and motivation highlights the importance of giving students and for that matter, faculty as much free reign as possible in their endeavours. It is here that we find an on-going tension between creativity and organisation. Elements of organisation including universities can and frequently do stifle creativity. Creative people experience and often cultivate a blurring of time. Artists, musicians, writers, scientists, inventors and many creative students have erratic and irregular schedules, working from home and seemingly playing at work (Florida 2002). This is because creativity cannot be switched on and off at predetermined times Á it does not always fit neatly into a university timetable. Furthermore, Amabile’s (1983) research found that creative individuals produce higher quality work when they are motivated by personal commitment rather than extrinsic rewards. This conclusion has interesting implications for the grading systems used by most universities of higher learning. We know that creativity and knowledge flourish in communities that embrace diversity, collaboration and interdisciplinarity (Cutler 2003, x). Creative people gravitate to centres of creativity. From classical Athens and Rome, to Florence during the Renaissance, to the Left Bank of Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century; communities that provide stimulation, diversity and a richness of experience. These are the very initiatives that we, in higher education need to pursue. Creative strategies In an educational setting such as a university or college, an environment which contributes positively to the development of creative potential is likely to include adequate time for creative thinking; rewarding creative ideas, thoughts and products; encouraging risk-taking; allowing mistakes; imagining from various perspectives; questioning assumptions (Sternberg and Williams, 1996); identifying interests and problems; generating multiple hypotheses; focusing on broad ideas rather than narrow facts and thinking about the thinking process (Starko 1995). Furthermore, according to Amabile (1989) competition, restricted choices; conforming pressures, evaluation, frequent failures and rote learning can easily destroy creativity in any educational setting. As an arts educator, I am offered ample opportunities to teach creatively and thereby encourage and facilitate the growth of creativity in my students. Yet like many, I work at a university which accepts potential graduates based on a competitive ranking system, which continues with a transmissive pedagogical process 610 R. Gibson
  5. 5. that being, mass lectures and seems to delight in final semester, stress-inducing examinations. Traditionally, teachers in higher education have focused on imparting content knowledge rather than on considering how different students learn and which strategies might in fact, promote that learning. In her paper ‘Creative teaching: Effective learning in higher education’ (2007), Cornish argues that ‘we need to design learning activities that are supported by instruction and modelling, that include a collaborative and problem-solving element, that are engaging and relevant, and that require both reflection and articulation of that reflection’ (4). However, she concludes that it is not enough to restrict this approach to learning activities, assessment tasks must also incorporate these skills. The issue is complex but not unmanageable. How do we go about implementing a student-centred approach that focuses on active learning and healthy doses of creative activity? It is apparent that students are demanding more relevance and ‘real learning’ in the university courses (Sotto 1994). We need to listen to, and acknowledge, the student ‘voice’. A highly successful mechanism for empowering students and thereby encouraging them to take ownership of their own learning is through curriculum negotiation. Negotiating the curriculum is a process in which students have an active voice in the design and content in both the learning journey itself and its outcomes (Boomer 1992). It aims to alleviate the power relations between student and teacher and thereby create a student-centred environment. From experience, many university students are initially uncomfortable about taking hold of their own professional autonomy since they have often gone through a primary, secondary and tertiary system of education that rewards conformity. A process that has diminished their creativity levels to a mere 2%. The situation is dire but one which the higher education enterprise needs to address. Asking students to take ownership of their learning requires them to develop the capacity to plan and manage their own learning and to make the conceptual shift from learning a subject to becoming an active problem solver. Using curriculum negotiation encourages students to become active participants in their own learning. If employing this approach, it would be incongruous to then assess this learning via traditional, expository essays or multiple-choice examinations. If, as Ramsden (2003) suggests, assessment should be used to encourage interest, commitment and intellectual challenge, it is imperative to utilise authentic assessment as an on-going learning activity in order to make it a more qualitative function of learning. However, in many higher education institutions, assessment is flawed since students rarely play a role in determining exactly how they will be assessed. Furthermore, assessment is rarely integrated into the learning process. Instead, it is often seen as a separate entity (Ewing and Gibson 2009). I offer my students a range of alternate modes of assessment that complements their unique style of learning. My aim is to involve the students as much as possible in the formulation and manner of the assessment as a means of exploring the meanings and consequences of ‘flexibility’ in learning (National Advisory Committee 1995). This flexibility is evident in the range of innovative assessment options I offer the students and my willingness to take other possibilities on board. For example, students can present a rationale for the Creative Arts via an artform such as photography, performance or musical composition. They can detail their ‘learning journey’ through the course using a reflective scrapbook Teaching in Higher Education 611
  6. 6. which incorporates both text and image. The manner in which the assessment task can be delivered Á written, electronic, performance or visual modes Á is also negotiated. Marking these assignments is time-consuming but never tedious. But how can we persuade university lecturers that this process is worthwhile? Many lecturers teach undergraduate classes of 100' students and face enormous pressures on their time especially within the current higher education climate. Once again, we need to think creatively. If assessment involves us (teachers) in learning from our students’ experiences, why do we assume that this needs to occur on an individual basis? Academics need to consider the use of partnerships or learning teams who can work collaboratively on the assessment task. The use of peer assessment is another option that may offer more time and space for the lecturer to actually get to know the students in their classes. The process of creative teaching is ‘typified by experimentation, trial and error, [sometimes] a reluctance to ‘‘let go’’ control of the teaching situation, exhaustion as seemingly ever-more effort is put into planning new activities and assessment tasks, and most of all by creativity’ (Cornish 2007, 7). But the possibilities are unlimited. Conclusion Debates continue about the purposes of higher education and how these are prioritised depending on those involved. Clearly there is a tension between the intellectual concerns of universities and colleges and the development of skills with which to meet the economic needs of society (Rowland 2006). I am conscious, however, that creativity is often omitted from these debates. Yet by fostering creativity in our students, we learn about our own teaching and ultimately become more creative teachers. It seems clear that if we, in higher education institutions hope to produce individuals who will succeed in our complex and rapidly changing world, the focus must remain firmly on creativity as an essential capacity. One that must be nurtured, valued and acknowledged as the key to our future! References Amabile, T.M. 1989. Growing up creative. Buffalo, NY: The Creative Education Foundation. Amabile, T.M. 1983. The social psychology of creativity. New York: Springer-Verlag. Bereiter, C. 2002. Education and mind in the knowledge age. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Boden, M. 1990. The creative mind: Myths and mechanisms. New York: Basic Books. Boomer, G. 1992. Negotiating the curriculum: Educating for the 21st century. Washington, DC: Falmer. Bourner, T., and S. Flowers. 1997. Teaching and learning methods in higher education: Glimpse of the future. Reflections on Higher Education 9: 77Á102. Cornish, L. 2007. Creative teaching: Effective learning in higher education. Paper presented at 32nd international conference on improving university teaching: The creative campus, July 4Á7, in Jaen, Spain. Csikszentmihalyi, M. 1988. Society, culture and person: A system view of creativity. In The nature of creativity, ed. R.J. Sternberg, 325Á39. New York: Cambridge University Press. Cutler, T. 2003. Foreword to Australian edition of Richard Florida’s (2002). The rise of the creative class. New York: Basic Books. Eisner, E. 2005. 2nd General Session. Paper presented to the 2nd general session at The National Art Association annual convention, March 6 in Boston, MA. 612 R. Gibson
  7. 7. Ewing, R., and R. Gibson. 2007. Creative teaching or teaching creatively? Using creative arts strategies in preservice teacher education. Waikato Journal of Education 13: 161Á79. Ewing, R., and R. Gibson. 2009. Empowering students through negotiated assessment. http:// (accessed December 10, 2009). Florida, R. 2005. The flight of the creative class. New York: Collins. Florida, R. 2002. The rise of the creative class. New York: Basic Books. Grainger, T., J. Barnes, and S. Scoffham. 2004. A creative cocktail: Creative teaching in initial teacher education. Journal of Education for Teaching: International Research and Pedagogy 30, no. 3: 243Á53. Haring-Smith, T. 2006. Creativity research review: Some lesson for higher education. Peer Review 8, no. 2: 23Á30. Koestler, A. 1964. The act of creation. New York: Macmillan. National Advisory Committee. 1995. All our futures: Creativity, culture and education. In Negotiated assessment case study, ed. K. Robinson et al, 1Á242. London, UK: National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education. assets/other/casestudy1.pdf (accessed December 10, 2009). Ramsden, P. 2003. Learning to teach in higher education, 2nd ed. London: Routledge Falmer. Robinson, K. 2000. The creative enterprise: Investing in the arts in the 21st century. New Stateman arts lecture. London: The Arts Council of England. Rowland, S. 2006. The enquiring university. Berkshire: Open University Press. Sawyer, R.K. 2004. Creative teaching: Collaborative discussion as disciplined improvisation. Educational Researcher 33, no. 2: 12Á20. Simon, H., and J. Hicks. 2006. Opening doors: Using the creative arts in learning and teaching. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 5, no. 1: 77Á90. Sotto, E. 1994. When teaching becomes learning. London: Cassell. Starko, A. 1995. Creativity in the classroom. White Plains, NY: Longman. Sternberg, R. 2006. Introduction. In The international handbook of creativity, ed. J. Kaufman and R. Sternberg, 1Á9. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sternberg, R., and W. Williams. 1996. How to develop student creativity. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Teaching in Higher Education 613
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