INTERVIEWS 5: Ron Zawacki

Creative Interview

Educator in Southwest Texas

Ron Zawacki is an adjunct instructor in the English Department at Southwest Texas Junior College. He has a B.S. in Education from the State University College in Buffalo, New York, an M.S. Ed. From Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, an Ed. D. (Curriculum Development & Systematic Change) from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and has pursued post-graduate studies in Theology, Gifted and Talented Education, and Psychology.

As literacy specialist, classroom teacher, and college instructor, Zawacki says he's had the opportunity to expose a wide range of learners to creative e-thinking and promoting creativity in the classroom and beyond.

"While I am not entrenched in relying on technology to promote creativity, it is a tool in gathering information and organizing potential sources in promoting a project among learners. Creative thinking and problem solving are my area of interest in literacy, research in the field of social sciences (e.g. educational pedagogy and psychology), and elementary sciences."

But he recognizes the challenges confronting not only his own efforts to promote creative thinking but those of his entire nation:

"First and foremost," Zawacki says, "the struggle to promote creative thinking or creativity in public schools seems to hinge on (1) budget cuts affecting the arts – music and art – at the earliest stages in education; (2) the pervasive use of state-mandated testing tied to school performance and teacher evaluation are too critical in promoting creativity – again, including music and art – in contrast to 'drill' and test preparation for the exams; and (3) a matter of social focus (e.g. electronics replace outdoor play, manipulative toy play with blocks, Legos®, and Lincoln Logs®)."

He advises teachers to "de-program" learners to step out of a "multiple-choice frame of learning" and accept the idea of risk-taking. Early instructional activities include genuine use of Bloom's taxonomy to stimulate prior knowledge, reduce likelihood of disengaging learners, and lay a foundation for central concepts in the content presented. But teachers must encourage students to take risks by "integrating the 'skill n drill' instruction with extended activities that support creativity, and promoting creative thinking and problem solving through authentic learning – projects that have an outcome of applicability to the learner's real world of present."

Also, he says, the use of personal diaries or an 'idea' or 'suggestion' box in the classroom (reviewed weekly in "an open-court, using a Socratic approach") would be useful in promoting creativity.

"It also may be a source to promote wider class participation and fulfill the needs of a student's affective domain," he says.

Positive reinforcement—such as valuing the learner's contributions to creativity, problem solving, and product— can make a difference, too. "Encouraging parent-education and involvement, such as the parents' presence at school functions… are steps that do not require any special equipment, programs, or exceptionally qualified personnel."

While Zawacki believes that having a creative parent can be an asset to a younger student, he doesn't think it's necessary for that student to thrive creatively on his or her own.

"I don't believe it to be essential to foster creativity in the child," he says. "If it was the standard, then students whose parents, for example, never graduated high school, would stand to reason the student is a 'lost cause' prophecy in the making.

"On the other hand, parents can be supportive and allow the levity in their young student's play, pursuit of curiosity and provide common resources (e.g. public library visits, quality television programming, engage the child in adult-household management) that contribute to developing creativity. Parents need not be the expert; they merely need to be a facilitator of opportunities for the student in the home setting."
Zawacki says creativity is both measurable and should be routinely integrated into lecture room instruction and assessment. A number of years ago, he says, the State of Texas field-tested a performance-based science assessment for fourth grade of which he was a part. "It was a productive and insightful experience for teachers and students," he says.

"There are some areas that we can observe experiencing a paradigm shift toward eclectic assessments that include the use of multiple-intelligent measurements," Zawacki adds. "We need to promote the paradigm shift on a broader scale; change at the earliest of education experiences is necessary to insure a society of creative thinking, problem solving, and agents of change."

Sandra L Cameli

State of Hawai Department of Education

Sandra L Cameli is a Teacher Leader and Accreditation Coordinator at a Konawaena educational facility in Hawai'i. She has been teaching for 28 years and has been a writing and literacy coach at different educational levels as well as a field supervisor for pre-service teachers.

Sandra is an Accreditation Coordinator and Visiting Committee Member for Western Association of Schools and Colleges and is also a coordinator and lead teacher of an at-risk program for disenfranchised youth. With decades of experience, does she feel that classrooms need to be more responsive to moments when students get a creative urge?

"Absolutely!" says Sandra. "Traditional learning, unfortunately, is still based on the assembly-line mentality of one-size-fits-all. As educators, we can't assume all learners "spark" at the same time; therefore flexibility is necessary in the lecture room in order to support the depth and range of creativity."

When Sandra started teaching 28 years ago, what would have been the definition of a 'creative' activity or class?

"In 1985, Whole Language was a huge initiative," Sandra explains, "which allowed students to have choice and time in their English-Language-Arts development. Creative activities included: literary circles and discussion groups; book projects – posters, mobiles, dioramas, sculptures, game boards; creative writing pieces – narratives, poetry, scripts and dialogs; and drama options. All examples listed provided learners with opportunity to express their literary understanding through multiple intelligences."

Compare this to today – what is the current the definition of a 'creative' activity or class in her local area of Hawai'i?

"Currently, creativity is less about integration with content, and more about add-on approaches to standards-based curriculum," says Sandra.
She continues, "Whereas, 20 plus years ago, creativity was a natural component to lesson planning, today it tends to be a forced necessity burdening teachers with overflowing plates of requirements. Creative opportunities tend to be limited to elective courses such as Art, Music, Drama, and Physical Education; or in limited pockets across core content areas."

Does Sandra have any opinions on whether creative people have a tendency to over-react to stimulation? Sandra says that yes, this does occur with a particular age group more often than others.

"As a middle school educator for the last quarter of a century – based on the aforementioned statement," she says, "all of my students would be creative – since early adolescents (10-14) over-react and are easily stimulated!"
She continues, "I believe all students are born curious and have creative tendencies, but often-times traditional learning environments stifle these opportunities. I don't see an over-reaction to stimulation, but rather a liberation or freedom of expression."

How important does Sandra think writing skills are to creativity? Does she believe that there is more of a focus on writing because of the way we communicate online?

Sandra says that she does think so. "Writing skills are crucial for current and future success," she says. "With the caveat of partnering reading with writing. In order for learners to express themselves effectively through written communication, they must also be exposed to others' examples, thus reading in order to write. I believe a strong emphasis has been placed on reading, in order to boost standardized test scores; however, there is not equitable balance with writing.

Our students are able to answer comprehensive questions
adequately, but when asked to summarize or editorialize a
passage, they are befuddled and lack appropriate competencies, due to lack of time to teach the appropriate writing skills."

It has been indicated that negative experiences in our early lives can stunt creativity. How can creativity be encouraged in a student that is displaying this sort of problem?

Sandra says, "Center or station-based learning, common in early life and in very young educational environments," are all good ideas. She continues, "Encourage and develop creativity, and although not as widespread in upper years, the opportunity to learn in small groups and with individualized learning plans through centers and stations can ignite or re-kindle a student's creativity."

Has creativity been under-valued in the past, with a focus on academic performance over creative achievements? Does Sandra believe that this is shifting?

"Unfortunately, it has been undervalued," she agrees, "and with excessive emphasis on standardized test performance, creativity (viewed as time consuming) has been relegated to enrichment or elective status. The shift is over-due, although more emphasis has been directed toward curriculum programming reform."

There has been controversy and discussion over the last few years about the increasing pressures of standardized tests. How do you think the rise of standardized tests affect creativity?

Sandra says, "In the last 28 years of teaching, I have seen substantial decline in the ability of students to think critically, creatively, and independently. Specifically, in the last decade, learners have been conditioned to only find the "correct" answer, and are hesitant to take risks, hence the decline of creativity.

Personally, I've seen students' stress levels rise when assigned creative projects – they continually want to know what the final outcome should look like, rather than become enthusiastic about the potentials. It makes a seasoned educators disillusioned about the state of education."

Does Sandra consider herself a creative person? "Yes!" she says.
"I've never been textbook-bound as a teacher, since I remember the best and worst experiences as a child in school myself. In my 28 years in the classroom I rarely repeated a lesson or program the same way, always reinventing my practices and approaches. Part of my inspiration has always come from the desire to learn and to seek alternatives to the traditional modes; however, most of the motivation has come from my "clients" themselves. When faced with the choice of cloned, regurgitated-answered pupils or chattering innovation of lively learners – of course, I'll always opt for the latter!"

In Sandra's opinion, does creativity come in rhythms? What could a student (adult or younger) do when they have to complete a creative task and they have no inspiration? What have you found success with in the past?

She says, "Creativity does come in spurts and can be accompanied by dry spells. As a facilitator of learning, my best piece of advice involves allowing students to talk with others about their ideas. The synergy between like minds, and even opposing thoughts, can stimulate thinking and concepts. Human beings are social beings and ideally "grow" when stimulated by the readings, writings, dialogs, and interactions with others. When we isolate students in learning environments, we deprive them from essential inter- and intra-personal development."

Steve Wheeler

Learning with 'e's

The Learning with 'e's blog focuses on technology for the classroom. Steve Wheeler is a British academic, author, speaker and learning technologist. He is the Associate Professor of Learning Technology in the Faculty of Education at the University of Plymouth where he teaches on a number of undergraduate and postgraduate teacher education programs. He also tweets under the handle @timbuckteeth and has nearly 23 000 twitter followers at last count.

Steve believes that technology can be a major factor in driving change in classrooms, and a great way to enhance a student's creativity. "I always say to my colleagues, if you want the student to be creative, give them a camera and watch them go! The number of things they can do with that camera even without knowing what it can initially do for them is just incredible. You see some very creative actions emerging."

Are all kids inherently creative? "I think Ken Robinson originally said, 'Creativity is only imagination until you bring it out in some kind of act, or some kind of purpose.' Children have an incredible amount of imagination. So do adults, actually, but it's interesting that when you've been in school for a long time maybe when you are 12, 13, or 14 years old and in secondary school, your imagination tends to be stifled somewhat and your creative outputs reduce incredibly."

Steve has pointed out that there are tests on divergent thinking in children and adults. For example people are instructed to think about how many uses there are for a house brick or a paperclip.

Steve says, "When you are five, you can think of hundreds,
because there is no limit to your imagination but somehow by the time you are 14 years old you can only think of about ten. And as an adult, you can think of even less, because it seems almost as if school has knocked the creativity out of you!"

So what does Steve put this down to? "I think that's partly to do with the kind of 'factory' or the 'industrialised model' of education," he says, "but it's also to do with other things as well, like peer pressure and family life and so on." So does he think that technology could help with this?
"I think technology is not the only answer but it will help young people to be more creative and to put those creative acts "into being" through tools like cameras and mobile phones, for instance."

Steve is quite an advocate for game playing, citing the fact that it can help students retain the information and engage with it in new ways. However, it seems in the current school system, the older a student gets, the less "playtime" they are given.

Does this educator think that it could be possible (and beneficial) for secondary students and adult and university/college students to receive more time to 'play' while learning, for example, with games and active exercises?

Steve says, yes. "Absolutely, and in fact, I do I give my students a lot of playtime I give them new tools to play with I give them new ideas to kick around. It's a good way to experiment with making mistakes. What better way than finding out what those errors could be, except in a simulation, or a game?"

Steve points out that simulations and computer programs are often used to train many medical, armed forces and health students. These simulation 'games' allow them to practise their skills with games-based learning. These students can make their mistakes, and learn from them without having to endanger themselves or others.

In the past, it could be said that initially people thought computers were frivolous, gaming was just for fun, blogging wasn't a serious way to write and facebook was to be avoided. Times are changing, in particular, for advocates of social media. Is technology opening us up to how we look at these 'more disposable' forms of creativity? Does Steve feel that some teachers are slow to take up these new technologies?

Steve says, "Facebook is important because it's where young people are and if you want to know where young people are and what they are doing you need to go to Facebook. Any lecturer or teacher who is avoiding the use of Facebook because they think it's frivolous...well, they need to rethink and change their minds!"
Steve has a gentle warning for his co-educators, however. "They also need to be careful that they don't overstep the line – it's like 'down at the disco' – you go into Facebook and you try to use their language and you get it wrong and you look stupid. So don't try to 'get down with the kids' but do try to understand what they are doing!"

Some critics of the genre have mentioned that blogging is a 'disposable' form of journalism. Steve disagrees. "I don't think it is disposable; I think blogs are in a new culture, this new culture that has emerged. I wrote a book on this a few years ago called Connected Minds, Emerging Cultures: Cybercultures in Online Learning and in it we talked about a number of emerging cultures – things that are changing the paradigm, things that are disrupting what we've considered to be the social norms up until now.

And how does Steve think this will this affect mainstream publishing? "I have to say that a lot of publishers are getting worried, a lot of record producers and film makers are getting worried because their territory, their hegemony, is being eroded by these new technologies."

Steve says, "People are coming in and publishing for themselves, this kind of Levi Strauss notion of bricolage that started with the punk era of the 70s and the music and fashion industries."

"People started doing it (publishing) themselves, I was a punk musician and we created our own record label because we just couldn't break into the mainstream, so we sold our own vinyl disks, and distributed them ourselves. We created our own fanzines and so on, we didn't go though any publishers."

The educator continues, "In today's world things are different. One publisher came to me recently and said to me, 'Steve, we're very concerned because you are no longer writing, reviewing or editing for any closed journals – can we talk about this? You know, we're changing our models.' I told them, 'You're not changing them fast enough!' I've withdrawn all my support for closed journals I'm going for open access journals now, I'm going for blogging now, because it gains you a bigger audience."

The world of publishing information has drastically changed as new technologies have emerged: "For example, I produced two papers in 2006 and one of them took three years to publish in a closed journal. Three years is unacceptable in any sense, let alone the field of technology where things are changing. So I produced this paper, it was reviewed and (the publisher) sent it back to me. It took them 18 months to review it, because they couldn't find two reviewers (would you believe!) that would look at it and I sent it back to them with the corrections fairly quickly. It then took them another 18 months for it to appear in paper because of the backlog."

Steve feels (understandably) that this is an example of a wasted opportunity. "It was coming up to the time of our research excellence framework exercise; this is the time of year when everybody starts publishing," he explains. "The second paper was sent to an open access journal and it was reviewed by three people, openly. There was no blindness; I knew who they were, they knew who I was, and all the names were open."

Steve continues, "It was 'open review' and therefore had a kind of transparency. I am attracted to the openness of journals and blogs; you can usually see who is writing. Both versions of my papers were published online as were the review comments from the journal reviewers, as were my responses to them."

Steve parallels this to more traditional publishing: "My closed journal has had 36 citations to date and my open access journal has had 550. There's no comparison. Anybody who reads that paper can see where it comes from and the provenance of it, how it was responded to, and so on. For me, that's the future of publishing academically. Forget the closed journals, they are dead."

Blogs, journals, papers, social media, conventional news: there are so many creative resources in the marketplace now, it might be fair to say that many educators may not know where to begin when sourcing resources for their students. If an educator wanted to try to get started with new media in a classroom situation, what would Steve recommend?

"Firstly, I would suggest some kind of social media link," he says. "Obviously, you need hand held devices too, so those are the two things I would choose." Steve mentions that, "Handheld devices where students can move around are essential. The students should be able to take the portable devices with them, so they are not tethered to a table or desk. It's important that they can move around the space...they can go outside...they can use the hand held device anywhere," Steve feels that these things are the most essential to contemporary learning.

"Whether it's a mobile phone, an iPad, Android, whatever it is, it doesn't matter! As long as they can gain access to all the same resources as everybody else," he explains.

"The second thing I would recommend is some kind of social media link. I advocate Twitter, in fact I have Twitter walls in my classroom so we can converse not just with everybody within the group (with the back channel that Twitter offers) but also, we converse with experts outside the room, somewhere else in the world." Steve has been very progressive with adopting this technology.

"Twitter is really cool because they can actually converse with the authors of books they are reading," Steve says. "A lot of people are locked into my Twitter stream. I have over twenty thousand followers and when they see me tweet something out from one of the students, they will respond and it comes up live on the screen and the students think that it's amazing!"
So, does Steve find that the students are teaching the teachers about these technologies in some cases? When answering, Steve cites the opinion of an American-Canadian novelist:
"William Gibson said, 'The future is already here but it's just not evenly distributed.' What he means by that is, not everybody will adopt everything, there's always going to be innovators and early adopters and late adopters and laggards."

"My belief is that we all have a huge potential, to be who we want to be, to make sense of the world in new and creative ways to be creative in terms of inventiveness and in terms of how we connect with each other. I utterly reject the learning styles theories that exist that say, 'He's an analyst, she's a reflector, he's a pragmatist.' Each of us has the ability to all of those things in different contexts we just need to give people the opportunities to express themselves in these ways."

"I think Howard Gardener (an American developmental psychologist) has the most appropriate model where he talks about multiple intelligence – that each of us can specialise according to what we want to be. But we all have all of those elements inside us."

Looking towards the year 2020, could the classroom of the future have one kid at the front studying math and one kid at the back studying Shakespeare? Is that a good idea, or is there something to be said for collaborative group learning?

Steve says that this is already in effect in some places. "There's a school in Auckland called Albany Senior High School which is a very innovative school. They were one of the first schools I've seen to do this. Albany has open spaces, open software, open 'bring your own device' policies and the teachers there all teach in the same space and the students are allowed to move around between classes as they wish."

He continues: "This way, you are seeing a breaking down of the silos of curriculum, breaking down of the compartmentalisation, which is false anyway. It shouldn't exist as all subjects are related to each other and if you back to the great classic Greek educators they educated students in every which way all the time constantly asking questions."

Steve goes on to mention another example of modern 'deconstructed' education practices. "There's also a school in England called Skipton High School for Girls, which is innovating in different ways too. It's a girls' engineering college, it's the only one I know of anywhere in the world. It's a secondary school and engineering is at the heart of everything they do. This relates to design, ergonomics, how to use technology, how to apply science; all that is within their curriculum. They'll do things like study physics with music, or art with science, or maths with English."

Steve was there fairly recently. He says, "I asked one of the girls, she was only about 13 years old, during a presentation, 'What was it about doing all these curriculum things together that you like?' and she said 'It helps me to understand the world better.'

Steve, like many other educators is spreading the messages of new media in learning to other students and teachers who are ready to step up to new challenges in education.

Susan Smith Nash

E-Learning Queen

Susan Smith Nash has a diverse background. She is both an energy industry professional with graduate experience in economics and an active e-learning consultant with a Ph.D. in English. In e-learning since the early 1990s, Nash is involved in e-learning and hybrid learning at universities, corporations, and not-for-profits. Her books include E-Learning Success (2012); E-Learners Survival Guide (2010); Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques (Packt Pub, 2010); Klub Dobrih Dijanj (Ljubljana, 2009); and Excellence in College Teaching and Learning (CC Thomas, 2008), co-authored with George Henderson. She is currently writing a book on The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Her blog, E-Learning Queen, has received multiple awards, including the Top 50 School Technology blogs, the Top Reading and Writing blog, and the Top 40 Most Trusted Education blogs. Nash also received an award for being one of the Top 50 Education Innovators on the Web.

Nash says she has read Dr. Kim's report and finds it pretty compelling.

"The crux of the issue is that we've made child-rearing a factory in many ways, and have completely industrialized education in public schools, where teachers and administrators live in dread of underperforming on standardized tests," she says. "The consequences are nothing to be scoffed at -- after all, if you miss your target, you'll potentially lose funding for your school, which consequently means job losses and other punitive actions."
However, Nash believes Dr. Kim's findings might benefit from a little investigation.

"Would everyone agree with her metrics? Are they simply supporting a convenient narrative that is, at its heart, a jeremiad and vaguely apocalyptic? I would argue that one problem may be in how we're measuring creativity. If creativity means finding unusual and unexpected ways to do a task, or make something into existence, which has at its heart a unique process or outcome, then aren't we by definition unable to assess creativity with an uncreative instrument or evaluation tool?"

Although she doesn't necessarily buy the pitch that creativity has declined in the human population, Nash says she thinks "our socialization processes can punish deviance. After all, by all qualitative measures, creativity is deviant. It deviates from the norm. In that, it requires freedom."
Even what we often call "creativity" is simply conformity, she says. "Being truly creative, and having creative solutions and creative self-expression are not always recognized as such because we tend to have conformist ways of thinking about creative processes and output."

When we asked her about the role of technology in creativity, she said, "I like to think of various philosophers and their stance on technology when I think of the role of technology in creativity. Here are a few:

"Heidegger: Technology is about finding ways to understand the essential ontology of things and the cosmos. Technology reveals 'being in the world' -- it makes things possible to unveil themselves, and to understand the 'frames' in which the world is truly built. Technologies let something come forth; they open up reality into something bigger, deeper, and more profound. They teach us about the world.

"Marcuse: Marcuse looks at technology as a form of control, and suggests it controls our lives. That said, it's easy to see how Marcuse was responding to those he viewed as technocrats, and the way that the factories of the 20th century controlled workers, and essentially dehumanized them."

Nash says she thinks it's clear that information technology both unveils the world and also exercises control over our minds, behaviors, and destinies, insofar as human beings can be controlled.

"Given that toys are very preprogrammed these days, particularly those based on computers (tablets, smartphones, etc.)," Nash says, "it allows a child to be passive and let the device do the creating for him or her. On the other hand, a good video game allows a child to envision new worlds and to consider the possibilities that magic can happen and that infinite agency is just around the corner. Superhero status is democratized."

What are the implications for education and e-learning?

"They're pretty profound. It places within those who would define knowledge (via standards and assessment) a deep desire to use technology to control all aspects of the learning and the assessment processes."

"Thus, the race is on," she says. "Whoever creates the most amazing technology controls the world. Is that the case? Based on behaviors and beliefs, I'd say 'yes."
When we asked her if this technology could be used to measure creativity, Nash said, "People think that creativity is measurable. Isn't that all you need in order to develop instruments and to measure whatever it is you've decided is the phenomenal manifestation of creativity?

"The problem is, the moment you define creativity and then make it measurable, you defuse its power, and destroy the magic of what it is that elevates creativity to the truly life-engendering.
All cynicism aside, creativity should be rewarded, especially if it manifests itself in the germination of new life, marked by unusual pathways, procedures, products, etc."

Nash shared a few practical tips for educators looking to foster creativity in their classrooms:

"I'd advocate a new approach to socialization -- it would involve 'inverse role-playing' -- role-playing upside down and to go backwards in processes, to break stereotypes."

"I'd also advocate a great deal of 'alone time' -- allowing students to think by themselves and have their own private journals, projects, math equations, chemistry experiments, engineering creations (robots running amok!) and more.
"I'd also advocate reading and listening to short stories, tales, and novels from the 19th century. That was a time of great self-reflection due to rapid change -- both in the beginning of the 19th century and at the end of the century."

Flipped classrooms are also part of Nash's prescription: "The beauty of the flipped classroom is that it encourages action and experimentation in the classroom. Reading, media, and practice assessments have been done in anticipation of class time, which is designed for the application of knowledge."

As far as the student-teacher relationship goes, Nash says, "There needs to be a predictable level of trust, and unconditional love (which is not the same as accepting all kinds of behavior). Rejection can never be a factor. People do not take creative risks when they are suffering from fear."
Nash says creativity is vital in her own life and profession. "It's the key to my success," she says. "I have to create - and, I have to get a little messy as I do so, because I have to be aware of how knowledge is being used, why it's used, how it's measured, why and how it's useful -- all that is considered 'education' - but it's really a technology -- a great unveiling and revealing of the frames of consciousness and ontological possibilities in the world and of the world."

In terms of teaching, Nash finds herself first advocating a vision, and then defusing the pressure by introducing the absurd and the experimental.
"It's fun to see just what we can do. We start with a vision, and then we gather around and see just what might be brought into the frame -- with the goal of pulling the curtain back and revealing an entire new body of existential scaffolding. It makes us accept ourselves and our bonds with others -- we must not judge; on the other hand, let's judge as harshly as we feel -- after all, it's the subjectivity within our own essence that causes us to passionately believe in our own emotional responses. They're valid. On the other hand, perhaps they are not. Society decides. So, why not conform? The reason is simple. Survival requires risk and risk-taking, and creative production involves the very essence of risk."

As far as "creative people" are concerned, Nash believes we should abandon the notion of the overly sensitive artist who reacts impulsively to bouts of inspiration.

"Creative people are very disciplined and self-regulated," she says. "Otherwise, they would not have the ability to practice, practice, practice -- which is what really is required in order to perform at all, with any assurance of a recognizable outcome."

As far as background or home environment is concerned, Nash says, "I think that parents who understand the importance of creative expression are vital. On the other hand, 'creative' parents may unconsciously imprint the student with his or her own form of conformity and unwillingness to try new things."

In addition, "a child who has been abused, neglected, or in the midst of radical uncertainty (war, constant moving, lack of bonding) may not thrive if they are pressured to demonstrate 'creativity.' What they need is tantamount to a kind of Maslow's hierarchy -- before embarking on the requisite risk-taking required for creative endeavors, he or she will need to feel solid, stable, supported."

Finally, we asked Nash if she thinks graduates and professionals value creativity more than they did when they were in college, and, if so, how that can be remedied.

"Education focused narrowly on the acquisition of a single skill set has a very short shelf life unless it's combined with more of a meta-education, which is sadly out of fashion (humanities, liberal arts)," she says. Because the job landscape changes so quickly these days, people "may need to re-educate, retool, and re-envision themselves."

"It's not necessarily easy to do so," she says. "The reinvention of oneself is probably the most creative -- at least the most sustained period of creative endeavor - which an individual will do in their lifetime."

Thomas Whitby

My Island View

Thomas Whitby is passionate about sharing ideas via technology. His blog is perfect evidence of that. It is apparent that some educators are slow to take new technologies up, and Whitby has attributed a few different reasons for this.
"There really are a number of reasons; there's no one reason. For many educators, they find that they are scared of social media and they are afraid to make mistakes in public. There are educators who are just not comfortable with it, because they don't understand it. Also – it's been used against teachers. We all build up relationships with our students and sometimes in social media that relationship can become confusing. Many school districts and parents take it the wrong way."

Whitby mentions that not all teachers and students use social media effectively. "On the other side of that, there are also educators who are 'not smart' because they do occasionally 'do the wrong thing' and unfortunately the media seizes on the people who do the wrong thing as if that is the norm and it isn't. I've read blogs of teachers who were knocking parents and making fun of their students on their blog and I feel that's just not right. It's dumb! There was one teacher in particular that the press picked up on, and as a result many administrators started coming up with policies to prevent teachers from contacting students through social media. So that scared quite a few people off."

Is blocking social media the solution? Whitby says, no. "One of the things we don't do (and this is what drives me nuts!) often I hear about administrators trying to block teachers out from contacting students through social media. Yet if a teacher lives in the same community as the students nobody counsels them not to have contact with the students in the community – it doesn't make a lot of sense!"

What about creativity in social media? Do these new platforms mean that creative ideas are easier than ever to spread and share? "Yes, very much so," says Whitby.

"We don't call it 'group thinking' we call it 'collaboration'," he says.

"Collaboration has always been with us. To explain it best, I will go back in time. I worked in an English department with nine other people and if I wanted to present something on Shakespeare I could go to those nine other people and say, 'What have we all done for Shakespeare?' and we could actually work out something together. Somebody would have a Shakespearean lesson that they previously used that they could show to me. Really, this was a form of collaboration, and it was very good."

However, it was not always perfect, says Whitby. "The problem would come in if I said to them, 'I want to use technology to present some kind of Shakespearean lesson.' At that point, those nine people were usually not as well-versed in technology as I was," he says. "So I could not collaborate with them about an essential need that I had."

The education landscape is constantly shifting. What skills are teachers emphasising towards 2015 more than they did in previous generations? Are teachers focusing on creativity more or less?

Whitby believes that new technology is much more a factor in teachers' rooms discussions today than it ever was. "Technology has changed the way we do things," he explains.

"For instance, let's go back in time again. In English class, we would have students do creative writing and the best that we could do with our students was to have them submit their creative writing to a publisher," he points out. "The publisher would then decide whether it was publishable or not. As an English teacher, you would always take pride in the students who were able to get things published. That was the ultimate goal."

"Today, we don't need a publisher. The computer is a publisher, so these students are able to publish at will and it doesn't have to be text, it could be music, it could be video. Remember, this is where we got Justin Bieber from!" the teacher points out.

No one would be surprized at Whitby's comparison, and the Justin Bieber story is most certainly true. YouTube is where the singer and superstar first got noticed by publishers back in 2008. Now he is one of the most successful recording artists in the world, with multiple hits, sell-out concerts, a hit movie and he hasn't even hit the age of 21.
Whitby admires his determination; "Justin Bieber put his music out on the internet, and as a result, he's a multi-millionaire today. He didn't need anybody's permission to do that. He just did it and was accepted. The idea behind this, is that if students can create without permission we're not doing what we need to do as educators to get them to be responsible and to do things while critically thinking about what it is they are doing."

The question remains, do some students seem learn differently? Are some more 'creative' learners and some more 'analytical'? Whitby says that in his experience, "Yes, they are."

However, his thoughts on the matter stress that teachers should not aim to pigeonhole students. "I cannot say whether they are more 'creative' or not!" he says, just that they learn differently. "It also depends on whether or not we are giving them the ability to be creative," he points out.
"You have to remember that our educators today are still putting students in rows and still dumping content on them via direct instruction and lectures. So that doesn't leave a lot of room for creativity."

He mentions shifting ideologies as a factor in this: "The idea is to have this paradigm shift where teachers are actually enabling students to make decisions about their own learning. To do problem-based learning and project-based learning which enables that creativity is so essential."
"Once again, let's come back to technology. We find that technology gives us the tools to enable students to do be more creative. This happens not only while they're in the classroom, but to be creative wherever they are, or wherever it is they find and use the new technology."

The teacher continues: "As far as younger students go, it's amazing to me that some of the largest social media networks are geared to students who are under ten years old."

"Webkinz and Penguin World would be two examples," he says. "Younger students learn collaborative skills on social networks like these. They begin to 'learn how to learn' collaboratively, and then they go to their educators and their educators say, "I'm sorry, we don't do that 'social media stuff' here, so we're going to put you in rows and you're not going to be able to learn the same way as your peers."

So, is creativity seen much in the younger grades? Whitby says yes, it is, but limited in places of learning where they have students sitting in rows and strict content delivery. Does Whitby think that some students respond better to the old-fashioned type of learning? Should a single classroom be able to support different types of students at the same time?

"It's not impossible," says Whitby. "It's hard work. Ideally, that's the way it's supposed to be! If we could have individual education plans for each and every student in a place of learning, that is the 'the ultimate goal'."

He does admit, "It's a difficult job to do. Once again, the technology enables us to do that, and more so with technology than without it. We are getting to point in time with education where we can address each individual student's needs and allow them to do that."

Trista Nabors

Teacher at Oak Mountain

Trista Nabors is a photography teacher in Oak Mountain in Birmingham, Alabama. In 2011, Oak Mountain was named a Blue Ribbon educator by the US Department of Education, the highest honor awarded to any secondary school, public or private.

"I do think creativity has declined over the last 10 – 15 years," Nabors says. "I have been teaching since 2000, the beginning of No Child Left Behind. I am now seeing students that have known anything but NCLB and you can tell. Over the past 10 years especially, 'teaching to the test' has reigned supreme. It is very difficult now to get students to try things outside of the box because they have never been taught how.

We as teachers get frustrated and mad at students due to their inability to be creative or for being too scared to try, but it is not their fault. It has been drummed into their heads to do everything a certain way, to do it fast, and to memorize and regurgitate information to score well on all the standardized tests that kids are forced to take."

In her own discipline, photography, Nabors says it's not creativity that has changed; it's the tools.
"I began photography in the early 1980s and then went on to study it further in college (1993 – 2000). I learned 35mm black and white film photography with a wet traditional darkroom. This past year was the first time I taught both film and digital photography. The creativity is still there. The need to 'see,' compose, create, and manipulate are all still there, but now we do it with memory cards and printers instead of film and trays. Everything you can do with Photoshop you can do by hand; it just takes a LOT longer."

Nabors says she still includes assignments that students have to do by hand, and even finds that, in these scenarios, students take more pride in the work they create. "But," she says, "it has to be blended. It is not practical or beneficial for them or for me to only teach the 'old' ways; both old and new methods have their place."
When we asked this teacher about the wider use of technology in creativity education, Nabors re-emphasized that there needs to be a balance of hands-on, organic creation and digital tools.

"It is hard to beat technology when it comes to research now. Why would anyone sit in the bottom of a library for hours pulling books and flipping pages when you have the world at your fingertips? But students still need to make things with their own hands. It gives them such a sense of ownership and pride when they can hold their product in their hands and say, I made this. Technology is a tool, but it should not be used alone or as a crutch for thinking on your own. I definitely think they should be blended, though, to get the best amount of learning and creativity."
Nabors is a huge proponent of project and product-based learning in cultivating creativity. She says, "Going deep into one subject and creating from that subject can and will cover so many areas. I think that is much better than touching on a lot of different subjects but never delving deeply into that subject. You miss so much. You might get the question right on the test, but do you really know what you have just 'learned'?"
Nabors would also advise other educators to be flexible in allowing students to indulge their creative urges, but believes you have to draw the line somewhere.

"Sometimes you can't just produce a creative thought. It can come in the shower, in the car, that time between waking and sleeping, etcetera. I have extended due dates for students that have it hit late in the game as well as giving extra assignments to those that got it right off the bat. That is the hard thing about creativity—it knows its own timetable, not your class schedule. But students have to understand deadlines so that they will be successful in the real world. Paying customers are not going to wait patiently while you get your creative juices flowing. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and get it done."
Another danger in indulging every creative impulse is overreacting to stimulation.

"I consider myself a creative person," Nabors says. "I am 39 years old and I know that I can overreact to stimulation. I can get super jazzed about something and I better jump on it right then because when the excitement is gone, I no longer want to do the project. My students and I get super obsessed with things, and when the energy is gone, it is just gone and you are exhausted. The problem with that is, if you were not finished with the project/product it is hard to go back and finish it. Many things often go uncompleted."

As far as measuring creativity is concerned, Nabors says it may be safer to recognize, rather than quantify, creative expression.

"I don't know if you can create a standardized test based on creativity. That seems to be an oxymoron in itself," Nabors says. "I do think that creativity can be graded with appropriate rubrics—specialized rubrics, not a generic ones found on the internet. Original thought can be recognized and rewarded as well as be assessed. Creativity is taking the base assignment or example given, and then making it your own."

Nabors believes it's never too late to encourage a person's creativity. "You just have to get them over the hump of being scared that they are going to do it wrong, or someone is going to laugh at it," she says. "Creativity is a very personal thing. You are creating something from the inside of yourself and then putting it on display for others to judge. That is very difficult."

Background is important, Nabors adds, but doesn't think a student's parents have to be creative for that student to be creative. "I do think that the parents have to understand and encourage creativity in a young student that shows talent," she says. "We also need teachers and administrators who think creativity is important. If you get squashed at home or at school, or both, it can lead creative kids that don't fit the "cookie cutter mold" out in the cold. And that can lead kids down a bad path."

By way of advice, Nabors says to "start off small" and "encourage, validate, and reward projects/products that are being created." Even if a student's work does not quite make the mark, but reflects effort and personal investment, you have to encourage them or they will not try again. "The next one will be better. Creativity takes practice just like math."

"I see people fighting to get creativity and the arts back in, but it is a tough fight," Nabors says. "This all gets tied into politics, money, and how the job market is going. It is hard for parents and administrators to push creativity when they want to make sure these students can get a job when they leave the education system. I just think that people have forgotten how much creativity is needed to be successful in anything. Creativity is being talked about a lot more these days, and that is making me much more hopeful."

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