You are on page 1of 5

ARTS EDUCATION POLICY REVIEW, 111: 5962, 2010 Copyright C Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 1063-2913

DOI: 10.1080/10632910903455884

Teaching Creativity in Higher Education


Larry Livingston
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA

Individual creativity is ubiquitous. New technologies both enable and urge fresh approaches to creativity in the context of education. University-level education offers a natural place to adjust pedagogical structures in favor of a more individual approach to learning that organizes the intellectual community into new patters of interaction and time allocation. This direction is made possible by the vast improvements in access to information, data, knowledge, and opinion. College students live in this world of access, in an ever-expanding sea of material. Networking second-by-second is central to their zeitgeist. The result is far more than social. Interaction and collaboration are now important in most workplaces, and are expected to be even more important in the future. Higher education needs to use its natural resources in ways that develop content knowledge and skills in a culture infused at new levels by investigation, cooperation, connection, integration, and synthesis. Creativity is necessary to accomplish this goal. When central and culturally pervasive, creativity becomes exemplied and enhanced for every student. Problem solving becomes the driving pedagogy. Problem solving is a technique that can be advanced through practice, but practice takes time. Universities must meet the challenge of reapportioning time if suggested changes are to occur. These matters are important to P12 arts education, because colleges prepare teachers and citizens who then provide leadership. Possibilities abound for changing paradigms that now hold arts education back in many policy situations. It is important to take advantage of opportunities inherent in the coincidence of present conditions, youthful energy, technological capabilities, and interest in creativity. Keywords: creativity, curriculum, higher education, student learning, technological culture

Human beings are inherently creative. We confront and deal with issues large and small through our capacity to produce and invent as a means of negotiating life. A carpenter designs a window frame of irregular shape and brings into existence something heretofore unseen. A chef comes up with a recipe for peach amb and generates a work of culinary art. A e football player runs a passing route but suddenly diverges to catch a touchdown pass, and, in the process, performs an unplanned act of striking originality. As a result, creativity is neither foreign nor new to our students. They come to school with a life history of creativity, whether it is manifested in the use of the Internet, various extracurricular pursuits, or even, occasionally, the classroom. Hence, we need not fret over how to encourage creative behavior in our schools. However, we do have an obligation to explore the means by which we may anchor creativity in the mission of our educational institutions.
Correspondence should be sent to Larry Livingston, University of Southern California, 2438 North Altadena Drive, Altadena, CA 91001, USA. E-mail: llivings@usc.edu

To establish a new experiential paradigm centered on cultivating creativity requires nothing less than an institutional intervention. As long as we cleave only to traditional pedagogies and courses of study that leave little or no room for new experiences, we will not nd the time or space necessary for nurturing the act of creativity. How can we nd or make room for creativity? One solution may lie in turning the technological expertise of our students into a greater asset. We start by fully accepting a fact. Operating with almost organic technological facility, our students traverse the ether like Evelyn Woodstrained virtuosos of old foraging in a library. Although the label might seem stiff to them, college freshmen are highly procient researchers at heart, chasing down books, friends, ideas, facts, clothes, experiences, and musicand the list is much longeron a global scale, instantaneously connected, rarely lingering more than a few seconds on any Web site. Across this increasingly more powerful modality of behavior, creative thinking, being, and doing are constants. In fact, it is the play of creative interaction, dialogue, inquisition, and imagination all ring concurrently, that feeds the young. It is

60

LIVINGSTON

what we might have wished for long ago if we had only been prescient enough to see it in the ofng. We must nd ways of integrating the use of the Internet not only into the mission statement, but into the curriculum itself. Second, we must be willing to honor and live up to the priority of the university as an institution about learning, not teaching. Historical assumptions that these two actions automatically articulate are more than ever in need of review. If indeed, learning is the goal, we need to rethink the role of pedagogical constructs, such as the classroom lecture, that have long stood as absolutes in the university catechism. Although lectures can be provocative and highly personal, the format itself presumes that requiring students to sit in a lecture hall and parallel-process information meted out by a sage on the stage is a powerful didactic strategy. In fact, much of what is presented in the typical university lecture can be easily acquired on the Internet. Imagine Philosophy 101 in an alternative paradigm. The professor gives two lectures at the beginning of the semester covering the major points and concepts to be comprehended, and then, fully supported by a digital syllabus, ofce hours for individual help, and the Web itself, simply gives midterm and nal exams based on the course content. In this arrangement, the student is given the responsibility to do the work, but on a schedule of his own making. Those students who wish for or need more personal help can nd it by accessing the professor in private tutorials. Meanwhile, the professor and students are now released from the constraints of a lecture-oriented class-meeting schedule to interact in small group settings and creatively explore the applied and social viability aspects of Philosophy 101. We have always learned from each other. As universities have evolved over centuries, they have become environments in which credit is given for enrolling in classes, with the community of students and faculty presumed to be value added. At its nucleus, the academy has a pedagogy that entails a highly organized means for conveying information, ideas, and concepts. However useful traditional pedagogy has been in the service of human enlightenment, the goal of a school cannot simply be the dissemination, but rather, must be the absorption, of information. In recent years, the cost of higher education has soared, running well past the annual consumer price index. Concurrently, the job market is fraught with rapid change and the evanescence of stable ongoing positions. Now, only in the credential-dependent professions, such as medicine or law, may a college diploma be a reliable asset. This circumstance begs the question, Why go to college? The answer may be found in the universitys greatest asset: human capital. Because the Web acts as an Archimedes spiral of content, information expanding outward from each site and link in the vast realms of the digital domain, virtually everything can be studied at home by a student who is motivated, enterprising, and technologically facile. What is not easily available at home is a community of individuals,

teachers and students alike, who provide opportunities for sparking and enlarging ones creative processes. Each human being has a unique way of looking at the universe. As well, each has a distinctive imagination, the seedbed from which true originality grows. If the academy wishes to center its mission on honing creativity, it can best do so by pedagogies that maximize opportunities for students to practice being inventive. Although it is a normal form of human behavior, creativity is also a technique, a skill that can be developed and rened over time. The classroom lecture format is, by nature, not a natural laboratory for interaction and collaboration. Making the curriculum about interpersonal exchange opens the experience for every student to express, share, and test his or her creative instincts. Exchange turns the historical paradigm around and makes the presence of other students and faculty the core attribute of the curriculum and the scheduled classes value added. In Daniel Pinks seminal book, A Whole New Mind, he makes the point that in the twenty-rst-century workplace, collaborative thinking and interacting will be increasingly core. Although jobs will change, diverge, and morph, employers are more and more going to seek workers who are adept at teamwork and capable of contributing original thought to group assignments and tasks. As the universitys purpose lies beyond mere career preparation, it is also incumbent on the academy to validate the college diploma as relevant to the future of its graduates. Therefore, the curricula must be intentionally formed around courses, projects, and seminars in which both collaboration and creativity work in consort. Through such normalized routines as social networking, text messaging, playing interactive games on the Internet, partying, or simply enjoying each others company, young people coact as a matter of course. The road to collaborationbased curricula and programs has been paved by the students themselves. They have presented us with a gift that we need only unwrap. Young people show up at our doorsteps as informational omnivores, which the digital domain both prompts and cultivates. If we are to challenge and stretch students creative capacities, we need to enthusiastically celebrate the reality that each of them has long been a habitu in a multidiscipline e world. It is the university that has clung to discipline-specic study and has only recently been attracted to interdisciplinary concepts as meriting inclusion in the academy. The reason our students are technological omnivores is because they can be. The Internet does not parse information by siloed characteristics, but is instead an open-ended system that the navigator organizes based on his or her predilections. Our students investigate all manner of diverse topics without being trapped by discipline-based limitations. They do so because no one has told them otherwise. The university has been invited by every entering class to build experiences that ow gracefully into the stream of

TEACHING CREATIVITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION

61

learning behaviors by which students have grown up. The multidiscipline river is ours to use as we wish, to swim and wade in rather than dam up or portage around. By what means could this task be best accomplished? By carving out time in the curriculum to work in collaborative, smallgroup formats, addressing issues both relevant and timely. By seeking creative solutions to problems that cut across a battery of subjects or disciplines. By using human capital as a credit-bearing framework for shared quests. By providing time and space for students to mentor each other. By letting go of the need to replicate old pedagogical models as educational anchors and instead crafting new formats that tether students to each other and to joint enterprises that can only be realized through cooperation. By importing into the daily business of the university the all-night informal dialogues, sometimes known as bull sessions, which have been for decades the sine qua non of dormitory life. Our graduates face a world of ever more perplexing change. The stable days are gone, perhaps forever. The crux of creative behavior is all about change, or at least changing something. If we can transform our educational institutions to make change part of every topic we study rather than the daunting future we face, creativity becomes our most powerful tool. Inventive people relish challenges, surprises, and even impediments. I remember the parting comments of Norman Hackerman when he retired from his role as President of Rice University. Citing the many things he would rue losing, Hackerman said, I will miss most the problems, for it is the problems which inspire our best selves, our most rewarding days, our most creative acts. Practicing problem solving as a team game should be part of every students experience. The problems can be specic or general, big or small. The question is how to develop facility in responding to problems. This, like any technique, can be practiced. Tackling a problem by oneself is useful and can help build skill. Practicing problem solving as a group initiative, however, opens doors to new approaches and devices for coping. The university is a perfect beta-site for working at acquiring a bigger repertoire of strategies. Creativity is often referred to as a panacea, as part of the new must be good jargon in education. It is important to remember that creativity absent a meritorious goal is not automatically a good thing. Hitler was very creative. So were Osama Bin Laden and Bernie Madoff. Creativity becomes a force of great value when it is applied to causes that benet humankind and the world at large. The study and application of creative behavior, then, should also be designed around social justice and objectives that promote the general welfare. The motto, It is not enough to do well. One must also do good, should pertain to every curricular experience, in every forum in which creativity is being nurtured. Universities are among the oldest institutions on the planet. They have survived for many centuries by contributing not only to the education of their students, but also by enriching the commonweal. As part of their vaunted history,

universities have also been highly adaptive, able to re-valence themselves in the face of large cultural changes. We now confront a challenge of perhaps greater import than ever before as a result of rising costs and the availability of increasingly competitive and easily accessed alternative forms of learning centering on the Internet. It is precisely at such a tipping point that curricular transformation, or, more to the point, experiential transformation, is ours for the taking. We have the critical mass of equipment, buildings, staff, and, most significantly, the human capital to once again adapt. It is simply a matter of will. Although universities are optimally positioned to address the place of creativity in the collegiate experience, their preparation of K12 arts teachers is a natural subset of that initiative. Taking action is important for P12 arts education in a number of ways. Colleges prepare P12 teachers in the arts and other disciplines, and, as well, educate a signicant proportion of the citizenry. What colleges teach and the ways they teach impact the future of arts education and public understanding, not only about specic knowledge and skills required for graduation, but also about the content and nature of knowledge and skill development. P12 arts education suffers in the policy arena, partly because there is no common understanding among a critical mass of people, including the college educated, about connections across arts study and the development of individual capacities and capabilities to work creatively with content. There seems to be a disinclination to nd solutions that work when more than one solution is possible. The arts are thus seen either as a nonintellectual realm, or as an intellectual realm that is unconnected to more serious pursuits like science, technology, engineering, and math, a realm that encompasses and nurtures a glamorous playground for the talented and their patrons. In this benighted paradigm, serious arts study is viewed as perfectly ne for the interested and talented, but not necessary or particularly useful for anyone else; artistic creativity is placed in a jewelers box and admired as something beautiful but unrelated to other kinds of work. Over time, the kind of curricular transformation recommended here can counter the thrust of this paradigm, particularly if university professors who teach the arts and prepare arts teachers seize the opportunities of the present time. Such transformation can address perennial problematic conditions and current needs by establishing a new, experiential strategy that centers on cultivating creativity. If we work purposefully within higher education, P12 arts education can be brought into a new relationship with P12 education in general without losing the essences of the arts disciplines or the rigor and goals for excellence that they exemplify. The ultimate question, then, is not how to teach creativity, but rather how to understand, harvest, and build up the very creativity that every student already possesses and uses. The answers may be multiple and diverse, but, inevitably, we must summon the courage to reexamine the typical university curriculum. By reexamine, I do not mean simply yet another

62

LIVINGSTON

exercise in curricular revision culminating in a new design that is little more than an ornamental version of the old one. I mean a fundamental commitment to transform the university experience based on the unprecedented opportunity that the modern information age makes possible. I mean looking afresh at how four years can be structured to place the quest for enlightenment at the center of the institutional mission, and to focus on the development of the whole human as an emerging societal adept. I mean making the sacred asset of human capital core to the educational purpose and curriculum of the academy. I mean placing collaborative fora in the heart of the curriculum. I mean helping to forge decision makers who see creativity as an art form, as the instrument by which one becomes not only an able responder to, but also an agent for change. I mean helping young people take

advantage of their instinctual imaginings, which may begin with the fantasy palaces of youth, but which can be shepherded into the magical corridors of adult purpose. I mean centering school on helping students become agile brokers of their own destinies, determined to spread goodness in the culture at large. I mean focusing our efforts on how we want the graduates of our universities to be, and not just on what we want them to know. I mean growing the Ninja citizens of the future.

REFERENCE
Pink, D. H. 2005. A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. New York: Penguin.

Articles in this symposium are derived from several presentations held at the Teaching Creativity conference at University of Wyoming, February 2426, 2009. This conference was part of a four-conference series titled Creativity, Curiosity, Collaboration, led by Richard E. Miller, Chair and Professor of English at Rutgers University, and Mark Sheridan-Rabideau, Professor of Music at University of Wyoming.

Copyright of Arts Education Policy Review is the property of Taylor & Francis Ltd. and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.