Arts Leaders in Savannah

I’ve just returned from delivering a keynote address at the annual meeting of the National Council of Arts Administrators, hosted by SCAD in Savannah. Actually, I did my first collaborative keynote address…tag teaming interesting stories with Mk Haley, the associate executive producer of the Entertainment Technology Center at CMU and also with a leadership role at Disney’s Imagineering team. The topic of the conference was “PUSH/PULL: The Artistic Engine of Innovation” and  Mk and I talked about the arts as a driver of cultural and societal innovation. Our message was that collaboration is the key to effective arts departments and programs.

Also on the program were some fascinating people, including Natalie Jeremijenko, an artist working in New York and on the faculty at NYU; Dennis Keeley, chair of photography at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, and Sally Gaskill, associate director of SNAAP at Indiana University.

As always, it was a joy to return to beautiful Savannah!

Savannah College of Art and Design

I’ve just completed a six-month sabbatical (Jan-Jun 2010); I was in residence as a Visiting Professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design, usually known by its acronym “SCAD”. I stayed busy!

  • I taught a couple of classes in a new creative MBA program (that’s actually an MFA) called “design management,” with the titles “facilitating creative thinking” and “managing the innovation process.”
  • I worked on a campus-wide strategic initiative called the Collaborative Learning Center.

But most exciting for me was the research I did while there: I did an ethnography of their culture of teaching and learning for creativity. I videotaped studio classes, and interviewed professors and students. And because I was a professor there, I was a “participant observer” as the anthropologists would say.

Education researchers have long observed that many of our schools are dominated by a model of teaching and learning called instructionism: the teacher delivers relatively superficial information to passive students. This is a problem, because cognitive research suggests that students learn most effectively when they are active, particularly if we want them to learn deeper conceptual understanding, and how to think creatively with what they’ve learned.

So a few researchers have gone in search of “communities of practice” that have different, more active and participatory, approaches to teaching and learning. The most obvious one, found in many of the world’s cultures, is apprenticeship, and studies of apprenticeship have recently had a fairly strong impact on educational theory.

The model of teaching and learning at SCAD is closer to apprenticeship than it is to instructionism. But it’s really a totally new alternative to instructionism, a third way that you might call the studio model. What’s exciting is that many features of the studio model are surprisingly similar to the latest research about how to best teach math, science, and history. So I hope that what I’ve learned at SCAD can help us expand how we think about teaching and learning in all subject areas.

I’ve gathered a lot of research data, and in the next few years, I’ll be publishing articles analyzing the studio model and identifying important lessons for enhancing student learning across the board.

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!