Teaching Creativity in the Age of Copy-Paste

Post as appears on; https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/teaching-creativity-age-copy-paste-amina-islam?trk=prof-post

In the most watched TED talk ever, Sir Ken Robinson spoke about how schools killed creativity by focusing only on a specific type of intelligence and conditioning students to be frightened of being wrong. He says, “I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Having lived the moment where the world switched from pre-Internet to post-Internet, I have to admit that the academic landscape has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. In 1956, the educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom came up with the Bloom Taxonomy that classified educational objectives. I personally prefer the amended version developed by one of his students in the 90s, which takes the following form;

Teachers are taught to activate their students’ highest level of cognitive skills, but that’s a little bit tricky considering students stumble at the lower steps? And sometimes it’s not the students’ faults; nor the teachers’. The academic year is so fast-paced with so much crammed into its 12 [or 16] weeks that students [and teachers] barely survive. That’s why Graduation Speech jokes like this come as no surprise;

During undergrad, students used to call it ICP [Intelligent copy paste]. And sometimes, it was not so intelligent. I have a friend who copied a homework and when their professor asked them to read what they wrote, they said, “6x (equals to number)” instead of “sigma-x (equals to number)”. In their defense, sigma (σ)does look like a 6 that’s just lying down on its stomach.That raises the question, how do we even begin to teach students creativity under such stressful circumstances?

In Stop Stealing Dream, thought leader Seth Godin suggests that students be encouraged to solve interesting problems. Instead of having so many assignments that require students to exercise the speed at which they can copy and paste, teachers can focus on only a few projects that encourage divergent-thinking. That’s already done at the university level, but what about the school level?Even at the higher-education level, projects get defined during the middle of the term and are usually due the last week of classes. Practically that’s done because all the theory needs to be covered in class first. However, that’s usually the most stressful period of the semester, so it’s easy to see students skim through the material, tape together dodgy work and simply hope for the best. How about changing that so projects are defined at the beginning of the semester and are requested in the middle of the semester? That would push students to do some self-directed learning but since when was that a bad thing?Another suggestion is to encourage students to come up with interesting problems. They don’t need to actually solve those problems. They just need to put their observation and brainstorming powers to good use. I’m personally partial to the brainstorming rules of the design firm IDEO, which are as follows;

  • Defer judgment
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Build on the ideas of others
  • Stay focused on the topic
  • One conversation at a time
  • Be visual
  • Go for quantity

In other words, follow Google Scholar’s advice and teach them how to stand on the shoulders of giant. As a final note, as much as educators hate the copy-paste student culture, the copy-paste-edit culture is not that bad since at the end of the day we really shouldn’t be reinventing the wheel. As the author of Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work, Austin Kloen says, “Nothing is completely original. All creative work builds on what came before. Every new idea is just a remix or a mash-up of one or two previous ideas.”

Author’s blog: http://ahscribbles.com/