Employing Creativity When Using Technology in the Classroom
What are your fondest memories of your education? I’d be willing to bet that somewhere in the corridors of your college past was an instructor whose teaching method was not so much dependent on a text but on his or her approach to the material. I have been fortunate enough to have had many gifted teachers yet there was one who was exceptionally inspirational. Though he never asked his students to stand on their desks or tear out disagreeable chapters from their schoolbooks like John Keating, as portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie Dead Poets Society, Professor Dan Jones did in fact teach poetry. Yet it wasn’t so much what he taught but how he taught. His classes were performances. I marveled at his explanation of Yeats’ Among School Children, which seemed to breathe life into what I had believed were mere words on a page. Professor Jones was so creative in his approach that he wasn’t just teaching; he was delivering a creative experience.
Having come across Yeats’ poem recently I began to think about creativity and how it can be harnessed in both blended and online learning. Is it really so mysterious or does there exist some useful methodology? I found two interesting articles. One addresses creative thinking while the other describes how to employ multimedia creatively in the classroom.
The first article comes from Harvard Business Review blogger Tony Schwartz who offers some useful suggestions in his post How to Think Creatively. Schwartz begins with a discussion of right- and left-brain functionality. He then goes on to explain how to use the reductive and nominal left brain in combination with the more visual and intuitive right brain in order to harness one’s creative potential. Essentially, Schwartz describes creative thinking as a four step process: saturation, becoming deeply engaged with the material; incubation, stepping away from the task at hand; illumination, the mysterious spark of original thought that happens when one stops trying to be creative; and verification, testing the validity of one’s creative ideas.
There are probably as many creative approaches as there are creative people. It stands to reason that some instructional techniques are more appropriate for traditional classroom learning while others seem particularly applicable to the virtual classroom or in blended learning. In the universe of online learning there are hundreds of useful tools serving hundreds of useful purposes, which can transform ordinary student experiences into extraordinary ones. And as Miller (2011) states in his paper, A System for Integrating Online Multimedia into College Curriculum, “students overwhelmingly indicate that they desire far greater technology and media integration than they now get in their classes” (¶ 5). Yet, and this is news to no one, simply adding bells and whistles to an online experience is not necessarily a creative approach. In order to creatively employ multimedia, Miller describes a process of conceptual planning that requires three considerations: the form, involving both the type of multimedia employed as well as its most appropriate implementation; the content, the academic information being imparted; and the purpose, or the instructor’s objectives.
If one considers Miller’s approach to multimedia integration while being actively engaged in Schwartz’s creative thinking process, technology appears as more of a means rather than an end—the laser pointer instead of the object of observation.
It probably goes without saying that these ideas are not in fact a methodology. The imagination is not bound by convention. Still, some signposts and suggestions—such as the ones referenced above—might lay the odds of favor less to chance and help discern the “dancer from the dance.”