Recently, an infographic from Mentoring Minds came across the Twitter stream, encouraging educators to “raise critical thinkers to best face the challenges that face our modern society.”
The language used in the above infographic is familiar to us in postsecondary settings as we are consistently asking for our students to use higher order thinking skills in their studies and their performance in our classes. A good educator (whether a faculty or professional staff) will push and challenge students to demonstrate mastery in all these components described in the infographic above. An excellent educator will ask for more – far more.
The University of Kentucky’s UK Core program was built on design principles that derived from committees of faculty, staff and students – all committed to finding new ways for teaching and learning in the 21st century. One of the most innovative aspects of the University’s new general education program was the new learning outcome associated with an expectation that all undergraduate degree-earners will show they have experienced, understood and undertaken creative endeavors. UK Core courses in Intellectual Inquiry in Arts & Creativity do just that. These courses (see the listing for Fall 2013 here) allow students to “transcend the conventions of utility, whether that involves the mastery of rules or the decision to break them, the desire to identify and refine the expressible or to recognize and prize the ineffable.” However, we in the Division of Undergraduate Education should not just leave the teaching of creativity to those few course instructors – we challenge all the University community to demand creativity and disruptive innovation at all levels of our interactions with each other.
In a recent international study sponsored by Adobe, “Barriers to Creativity in Education: Educators and Parents Grade the System,” parents and K12 educators bemoaned the lack of creative outlets for student learning. However, the parents and educators interviewed for this study felt that teachers spend their time in the classroom (and assigning homework for) training students to pass standardized tests. 94% of the educators interviewed felt they could do more in fostering creativity but that they didn’t have the “necessary funds or resources” to do so. In education, more resources can never hurt – but the well-funded classroom does not always foster creativity. We might argue that in traditional settings – even those that are fully funded – policies and traditional cultures of pedagogies might well stifle the teaching and learning of creativity. We should all examine our own approaches in the classroom, the office and in our everyday interactions to see if we are part of the problem – and stifling our creative selves.
Since the University of Kentucky has already made creativity integral to the curriculum, and funds the provision of tools and training for those educators who choose to work in this field, there seems to be only one last hold on the teaching of creativity at UK. We can be vigilant for those systemic processes that hinder creativity – and demand that the barriers to creativity in education be lifted. We can ask of ourselves more than just critical thinking skills. We as faculty, staff and students can embrace, proactively and joyfully, the more imaginative elements of higher education. This will take a passionate belief in each and every one of us in the need for creativity – even if it makes some of us uncomfortable in its often stumbling disruption of the norm.
Very often, since the creative mind must also be reflective and quiet at times, an innovative idea will seem to have come out of thin air! But we can be ever curious, open minded, and happily encourage even the most outrageous ideas if we are strong enough in ourselves as members of a creative community of thinkers. Attributed to the Nobel Prizewinner in Physics, Albert Einstein who came in 1931 to dedicate the building and its observatory, a plaque in the astronomy building of Pasadena City College reads: “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” In a university, the whole community – not just the classroom instructor – should take up the challenge to foster that joy in creativity.