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Does your edtech tool really promote creativity?

/ Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad


In recent years there has been a growing fascination with the conditions that help creativity flourish. This fascination has worked itself into the education system, as it’s identified as one of the most important skills for students to be successful in life. In typical education fashion, we try to scale it, replicate it, make a rubric, assess it and reinforce it. The very act of standardizing is the complete antithesis of creativity. How do we promote creativity and support students with the tools to be creative, without stifling it? We look at the conditions for creative environments and we ensure we are equipping students with the time, resources and coaching to help them be their most creative selves.
Below are 8 elements I’ve witnessed that are essential for creativity to flourish.

Chaos 

Creativity is not inventing something something from nothing. The central tenet of creativity is to take something that already exists and tweak it, or even completely disassemble it to create something new. Sometimes, the more we break something down or the more pieces we make, the more ideas are spawned that lead to something unique. Creativity is birthed from chaos. With imagination and discovery, those existing ideas disassembled can be reassembled and molded in new and surprising ways.

Originality

Think back at a time when you had an original idea. Did you try something new, that you hadn’t previously thought of, and it worked in an unimaginable way? What lead up to this experience? You most likely changed you mind about something, and you actively decided to change your thinking. Originality means we have be willing to change our mind and let go of any preconceptions. We must be continually learning even if it means that the ideas and notions that we’ve held for so long are allowed to morph or be let go of completely.

Mistakes

Fear of failure and mistakes are major barriers to creativity. It keeps us from learning something brand new (e.g. I’m learning french right now, but am scared to actually speak french to a native speaker) or taking risks, both of which are necessary creative processes. Creativity means we design, plan, make, test, and improve, embracing and leveraging the missteps and mistakes along the way.

Intrinsically Motivated

Creating something amazing takes time, patience, and hard work. A real desire and interest in what we’re creating provides us the energy to persevere to the end. When we are threatened with fear, or confusion, or just stuck in a rut, a whole-hearted love of what we’re doing is the only way to push through to the end. And not only push through, feel proud about what we’re doing and the end result, because of our passion and purpose towards the work. Let’s create what we love, not what we’re told.

Relinquish presuppositions

Creativity requires the willingness to let go of our most dearly held ideas if they are in contradiction to what we’re experiencing or keeping us from making new connections. It demands that we be hyper aware of the differences that may exist between something you observe or a new discovery and any preconceived notions. This relates to the chaos mentioned earlier. Allow your mind to open up to possibilities that don’t fit your current framework, mantra, box, etc.

Surprise

Surprise is when familiar an event occurs in a new context or create when you see something commonplace in a new perspective. It is the unexpected that creates wonder and awe. Surprise happens when we allow students to explore and discover, and then challenge them to put existing concepts together in ways previously unimagined.

Structure

We have to be careful with structure for reasons stated above. But creativity eventually must take a form and through a medium that allows a free flow of ideas but with all the functions necessary to mold something new. Additionally, the way we work and the questions we ask can provide a structure that help foster creativity, not limit it.

Connections

A innovative idea is essentially a new combination of familiar concepts and the capacity to turn familiarity into originality. These new combinations depend on the capacity and willingness to see relationships between concepts and ideas. The most creative people search for relationships between facts and connections between the dots.
While reviewing the above elements, consider technology tools you incorporate in the classroom:

  • Do these tools provide a structure for students to leverage chaos to be original?
  • Do they make it easy for students to connect ideas in new ways?
  • Does the tool allow them to improve their creation, allowing them to tweak and edit easily?
  • Does the tool provide rich content, imagery, or stories to help students challenge their own assumptions and experiences?
  • Is the tool fun and easy, and therefore motivates students to love what they create and never want to stop creating?

These are questions I consider a litmus test for creativity in the classroom to help determine if a tool truly supports and inspires students to create.