Creativity is a skill that can be learned. It’s also a competency Generation Y college students value highly; in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, professors Elizabeth Long Lingo and Stephen J. Tepper analyzed survey results showing that 84% of the students polled ranked creativity as “important” or “very important”, beating out problem-solving skills by 23% (Lingo & Tepper). Millennials, it seems, have definite ideas on where they want to go with their education, and they want “creative”.
Who is creative?
I have always valued creativity in the classroom, so I was not surprised by these survey findings. But the question remains: does everyone possess creative ability? Probably. Many of the educators I’ve worked with believe that creativity is not something one is born with: that is, some people have it and some don’t. Rather, we all have creative ability, but some of us know how to express it better than others.
In my college classrooms I’ve noticed an eagerness, even a longing among students to express creativity at the slightest suggestion. Given a choice between taking a test or presenting a creative project, students will opt for the project every time—even though the time spent preparing for it will be twice, even three times as long.
How can we put creativity into the classroom?
Nurturing Creativity in the Classroom is a compendium of scholarly essays asking the question “Is it possible for teachers to nurture creative development without drifting into curricular chaos” (Cambridge). The answer seems to be yes—if it is handled correctly.
Teachers have many concerns in the classroom, in addition to imparting knowledge. They must maintain order, satisfy the institution’s assessment objectives for every course, and keep students interested, among other duties. Adding a creative component to a curriculum can be a risk—but risk in itself is part of creativity. By adding creativity to the classroom the teacher steps up to the plate and becomes a creative teacher. But risk-taking must be done carefully. As Robert J. Sternberg notes in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Creative people take sensible risks and produce ideas that others ultimately admire and respect as trend-setting” (Sternberg).
Taking a risk with creativity
Recent studies show that one of the best ways to foster creativity is to encourage a collaborative learning experience (Simpson). I concur; I’m continually amazed at what students can come up with working in teams. A collaborative “experiment” I conducted in the classroom will serve as an example.
At the last university where I taught, I was asked to take over a required course in photojournalism. This course had long been considered an easy “A”, with nothing asked of the students except to go out on campus and take pictures. As a result, the course was always crammed with pupils who had little or no interest in journalism, some of whom didn’t bother to show up much.
Planning the course, I looked over the textbook in alarm. The concepts employed seemed completely foreign to today’s digital-and-Twitter-oriented media, and even I was bored as I perused the book. But photography itself is a creative subject, so I decided to try an idea I’d been nurturing for a while: developing a student magazine.
Creating a prototype for an online magazine
My first step was to explain the concept to the students. They’d be divided into two teams—each would produce a 12-page prototype magazine on the computer (our classroom was a computer lab). The magazines would debut at the end of the semester, with different sections presented midway as a sort of progress report, and the winning magazine would join the student newspaper in the pantheon of student publications for the university.
The students were ecstatic over the proposal. Everyone—football players, English majors, TV production people who seldom opened their mouths—apparently yearned to work on a magazine and, cameras in hand, they were ready to start immediately.
After dividing the 32 students into two teams of 16 each, I gave them their first assignment: come up with a name, an editorial concept, and a cover for a magazine, and present this to the class the following week. I was bowled over by the results. Using an overhead projector, each team unveiled a dynamic cover design, featuring photos taken by members of the class and using student models they’d recruited over the weekend. Original graphics and complete editorial concepts were also presented. Every student, it seemed, had been involved either as photographer, editor, graphic designer, or all three. Even students whom I knew were only taking the course as a “filler” had contributed creatively, and all were excited over the results.
And so it continued. In the following weeks (in between the required course lectures), the students presented a Table of Contents, feature sections, fashion spreads, sports pages, photo-interviews with other students, and even ad layouts. I would give them the number of pages due and the due date, and tell them what to focus on; how they completed the assignment was up to them. All the work was marked with a professionalism and creativity I had not yet seen in my two and one-half years at the university—although I had witnessed outbursts of creativity among individual students. But the collaborative process galvanized the students and made them take risks—the results were impressive.
Rewards of creativity
At the end of the semester we had two 12-page magazines worthy to be presented to the university community. The job of selecting the winning magazine was hard—in the end we combined elements of both. Several individuals who had been deeply involved came forth asking to serve as editor, or feature writer, or graphics designer, and with this editorial team a “real” publication was begun the following semester.
That publication is still going strong today. Yet it had its roots in the classroom—where students showed their creativity by working collaboratively within the curriculum.
Cambridge, Nurturing Creativity in the Classroom-Cambridge University Press. Retrieved November 6, 2010 from http://www.cup.es/us/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521887274
Lingo, Elizabeth Long & Tepper, Stephen J., “The Creative Campus: Time for a ‘C’ Change”, The Chronicle of HigherEducation, October 15, 2010, Volume LVII, Number 8
Simpson, Mary E., “The Effect Team Learning has on the Development of Creativity in a College Classroom”, 2010. Retrieved November 6, 2010 from https://beardocs.baylor.edu/bitstream/2104/8054
Sternberg, Robert J., “Teach Creativity, Not Memorization”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 15, 2010, Volume LVII, Number 8