The Torrance Center for Creativity

This week, I’m visiting the legendary Torrance Center at the University of Georgia. I’m honored to be delivering the 2013 annual Torrance Lecture, invited by center directory Bonnie Cramond. My topic was “Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration.”

Paul Torrance was one of the first-wave creativity researchers, who helped to found the field back in the 1950s and 1960s. In the late 1950s, he developed the first version of his creativity test, which soon became known as the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, or TTCT. This test continues to be the most widely used creativity test in the world–often used for admission to gifted and talented programs, for example. You can read more about this history in my 2012 book Explaining Creativity.

In the mid-1960s, Torrance argued that schools should teach creativity, and that curriculum for all subjects should be designed to foster creative learning outcomes. He even developed a series of curricular materials that teachers could use to help students be more creative. He was way ahead of his time–in the last ten years, education leaders around the world have been advocating for creative learning as a “21st century skill,” and I also believe that we need to do a better job of fostering creativity in our students.

He lived a long and productive life, most of it at the University of Georgia, passing on in 2003–and leaving part of his estate to UGA to fund the Torrance center’s ongoing research.

It was awesome to stand in front of the glass display case containing all of Dr. Torrance’s awards. And I wish I’d had more time to peruse his book collection, which lines the walls of the center’s conference room. It was a wonderful visit–to be surrounded by people dedicated to the study of creativity.

Savannah College of Art and Design

How do you assess artistic creativity?  That was the theme of a three-day conference at the Savannah College of Art and Design last week, where I was one of the keynote speakers.  One hundred and thirty arts educators, from all over the U.S.  (and several other countries as well), were there to learn how they could assess the creativity of their students, and also the success of their programs.

I had to work hard at my presentation…because the problem is, there isn’t really a good assessment of creativity, creative thinking, or creative potential.  Of course I mentioned the Torrance Tests, because Paul Torrance spent most of his career up the road at the University of Georgia.  But I have a problem with any test that claims to measure general creative potential, because there’s so much research showing that creativity is always specific to one or another area.  The creative painters aren’t the same people as the creative writers.

As a result, I chose to focus on what learning scientists know about the kinds of knowledge that support creative, adaptive behavior.  This research has practical implications for teachers because it gives them advice about how to teach and how to assess, if they want their students to be prepared to use what they learn creatively.  A few key points:

  • Teacher deeper concepts, not memorization of superficial facts
  • Teach integrated knowledge–show how each concept is connected to other concepts
  • Teach in a way that builds on prior knowledge and directly confronts deeply held misconceptions

The implications for assessment are complex and not immediately obvious, but one thing is clear: tests that simply assess how much you’ve memorized are not going to tell you anything about creative potential.  Tests that assess whether you know a specific isolated piece of knowledge won’t tell you whether a student understands the connections to other important and related knowledge.  And researchers have known for years that students can get very high scores on tests, even when they retain very deep-rooted misconceptions that ultimately detract from their real-world performance.

While preparing for the event, I learned that my colleague Mark Runco (editor of the Creativity Research Journal) has left his long-time home at Cal State Fullerton, to become the E. Paul Torrance Chair at the University of Georgia, and Director of the Torrance Center.  Congratulations, Mark!