Cultivating Creativity

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Steven Tepper and George Kuh start by stating that

today it is cognitive flexibility, inventiveness, design thinking, and nonroutine approaches to messy problems that are essential to adapt to rapidly changing and unpredictable global forces; to create new markets; to take risks and start new enterprises; and to produce compelling forms of media, entertainment, and design.

At this time in history, we should expect our schools to be working harder than ever to foster creativity in students. But instead:

Regrettably, as other countries, like China, look to America as a model for how to educate citizens to be creative, we are undermining creativity in K-12 education through relentless standardized testing and the marginalization of subjects like art and music.

We know from research that creativity isn’t simple, it doesn’t just magically happen when you release people from constraints. Creativity requires a certain type of long-term education and preparation. These two authors argue that art education has some valuable lessons for how schools might do this in other subjects, such as science and math:

Today a consortium of foundations is working with the National Endowment for the Arts to collect similar information about arts graduates. The vehicle for this work is the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (Snaap), an annual online survey and data-management system designed to improve arts-school education. It is the most ambitious effort yet to track the training, careers, and lives of arts graduates.

The data from Snaap show that 94% of arts graduates have jobs, and 60% work in arts related fields. Over 80% say that creativity is important in their jobs.

These authors are particularly interested in arts education and its benefits; I am, as well. But still we’d all agree that it’s possible to teach any subject in a way that better prepares graduates to engage in creative behavior that builds on the knowledge they’re learning. It could be done in engineering, science, or history. The most promising developments are in engineering education; professors at engineering schools have been very receptive to the latest research, and the National Academy of Engineering has published reports backing a move to a more creative form of engineering education. At least one school of engineering, the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, was recently founded and built from the ground up on research-based findings about how to foster deeper understanding and creative expertise.

I’m now conducting a long-term research study of art and design schools, with the goal of analyzing and documenting their unique teaching and learning practices, and extracting universal principles that could be applied to any subject area. We all have a lot to learn from what these creativity experts do every day in their classrooms.

4 thoughts on “Cultivating Creativity

  1. Hello Keith, If you’re conducting a long-term research study of art and design schools, then the following might be of interest. Here in Newcastle a study funded by the ALTC into creativity and design teaching has been written up as a monograph. Details are: Williams Anthony Philip, Ostwald Michael, Askland Hedda Haugen, (2010) Creativity, Design and Education: Theories, Positions and Challenges (Strawberry Hills, NSW: Australian Learning & Teaching Council). Hedda Askland has copies and I’m sure she’d be happy to pass one on. She’s also probably the best to speak to about the study, cheers, Phillip.

    1. Thank you so much for letting me know about your study. I’ve contacted Dr. Askland to find out more. There really haven’t been studies of creativity and design teaching in professional schools of art and design, so your study is an important contribution!

  2. Marvelous post. Glad to see that you will soon be exploring the lessons of art and design. The topic is of great interest, as I am building arts-based professional development opportunities for educators in my home state of NJ.

    My work rests on the idea that artists are emblematic of innovation and problem solving in action; that is, constant observation and reflection, always with the intent to produce something novel.

    As I see it, creative expression is the bedrock of growth. Some thoughts on that in this post: ‘Why Creative Expression?’ http://thecreativepractice.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/why-creative-expression/

    I look forward to following your research!
    K. Campo

    1. Thank you! I liked your post, too. In BFA and MFA programs, artists and designers learn a way of approaching and solving problems, a way of seeing the world, a way of monitoring and improving their own creative process, and all of this can help with creativity in all professions.

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