Teaching Creativity

The ability to be creative is valuable in any profession. But is it something that can be taught? Are we doing anything to cultivate students' creativity? If so, what?

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The ability to be creative is valuable in any profession. But is it something that can be taught? Are we doing anything to cultivate students' creativity? If so, what? An analysis of how creativity was being taught in seven engineering courses offers interesting insights and marks a good place to start thinking about the role of creativity in education. The study authors reference a variety of definitions for creativity, including one that describes it as “a type of novel thinking, where people redefine problems, see gaps in knowledge, generate ideas, analyze ideas and take reasonable risks in idea development.” (p. 418) Their analysis of creativity is structured around four “cognitive operations that underlie the creative process as a whole.” (p. 419) These four were identified by another group of researchers. Data generated by interviews of the professors teaching these seven courses and a small sample of students taking them revealed that the convergent-thinking component of creativity was “well represented” in these courses. Teachers were encouraging students to dig deeper into ideas. However, there was much less evidence of idea generation and openness to exploring ideas. And although there was some evidence that teachers were trying to teach creativity, assessing students' creative abilities was lacking. This is not the kind of research from which generalizations can be drawn, but the findings are not unexpected and likely are true of more than just engineering courses. Despite the importance and value of creativity, it's not something most teachers make a conscious effort to teach and not something that's assessed in any systematic, objective way in most courses. We tend to think of creativity as something that just happens, not as a skill that can be developed or a process that involves clearly defined steps. A particularly useful part of this research is the interview questions the researchers asked teachers and students. The questions for teachers can be used to prompt thinking about what we currently do or could be doing to develop creativity in our students. And those asked of students can encourage their thinking about creativity. Here's a slightly edited sample from both question sets (pp. 422-423). Questions for faculty: Questions for students:
Reference: Daly, S. R., Mosyjowski, E. A., and Seifert, C. M. (2014). Teaching creativity in engineering courses. Journal of Engineering Education, 103 (3), 417-449.