Creativity – a journey through time and tech

These days, creativity is a highly prized attribute. In a world that is moving fast through new stages of technology, it seems that all universities want creative thinking students and every business wants creative thinking staff on its pay roll. But where does creativity come from and how do we develop and support it?

Unicorns and dinosaurs

Some of the most natural creative thinkers on the planet are young children. Unconstrained by societal norms, opinions of others or arbitrary rules, their imaginations run wild and free – creating fantastical worlds where inventiveness and reality collide. For the most part, at this life stage, parents are happy to go along with the stories invented by their children; encouraging them to explain their play or asking them about their imaginary friends – thereby nurturing their creativity and free-thinking capabilities as they progress through their early years.

It’s ironic that for such a cherished quality that is so desired in later life, the school environment, as a place of learning, is where reality bites and creativity can become crushed. Not through any direct fault of schools; they do their utmost to encourage it, but the requirements of a more formalised learning setting has its impact. In addition, as children mature and become more self-aware amongst a sea of other pupils, this also changes how they may think and act.

Testing times for creativity

In this environment, it’s these kinds of issues that can have a detrimental effect on creativity. For instance, as Leslie Owen Wilson, Ed. D, writes in his essay on children and creativity, the pressures that come with testing can quash a student’s creativity as they feel pressure to deliver the single “correct” solution, or have been told that the exam board will be looking for a particular kind of answer, or they simply just don’t feel free enough to be themselves with someone looking over their shoulder.

Peer pressure is also a factor. If a student comes out with an off-the-wall creative solution to a question, this may provoke behaviour from their peers (e.g. making fun, bullying, jealousy, and so on) that will affect how that student feels, making them check their natural creative responses to questions and change the way they answer in future.

In a recent essay on creativity, Gareth Loudon, Professor of Creativity at Cardiff Metropolitan University, states, “The fear of failure is one of the biggest barriers to creativity”. And a fear of criticism may play a part too. At school age, most students just want to fit in, so marking themselves out as different in any way also may affect how they respond to questions.

Technology is key

To counterbalance these issues, schools are now much more aware of the need to encourage creativity and are proactive in doing so. Classroom layouts are flexible and less hierarchical; wall displays are student-led, interactive and inspirational; students are encouraged to share ideas or reflect on what they’ve learned together; assignments are less rigid than they used to be – with students being given choices about what format to deliver them in. Most importantly, answering creatively is encouraged and celebrated. However, it’s the use of technology that really makes a difference when it comes to enhancing education and creativity. Students become absorbed in tasks when using tech in lessons and the possibilities it brings allows them to find a path back to the kind of creative thinking they did as youngsters.

Tools such as NetSupport School really support this kind of learning in the classroom. Not only can teachers inspire students by delivering a variety of learning materials (i.e. showing videos to bring concepts to life, sharing screens to collaborate on projects, using an interactive whiteboard for brainstorming and guided web browsing to maintain focus, to name a few), they can encourage the very kind of questioning needed for creative thinking by using a variety of question modes.

Apps are also a useful addition to lessons, prompting students to think about how best to apply them to the task that they’re doing – and assignments such as blogs or video-making allow them to apply their own individual style and creativity as they interpret what has been asked for. Thanks to technology, it’s an exciting time for learning in schools and it will be interesting to see what impact future technological developments will have on our students’ creativity.

Further reading

How technology enhances creativity:

Creative thinking through art:

19 creative thinking ideas for the classroom:

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