“I saw as a teacher how, if you take that spark of learning that those children have, and you ignite it, you can take a child from any background to a lifetime of creativity and accomplishment.” (Paul Wellstone)
Creativity allows novel ideas to flourish into achievement. The progression of research, technology, and society requires individuals to be flexible, open-minded and critical in their thinking. As suggested by the quote from Paul Wellstone, learning should promote this. So why are we often passive consumers? Particularly in higher education, is regurgitating facts for an exam really allowing us to explore and enhance our knowledge and creativity?
In University we are often taught information via lectures. However the effectiveness of this teaching method is continuously criticised within research. As suggested by Bligh (1998), in comparison to other methods, lectures are ineffective at encouraging thought, flexibility, open-mindedness, inspiring interest, and for personal and social adjustment. Therefore through the use of lectures, education loses its ‘spark’. For me personally, my motivation to explore areas of interest is often forgotten under the pages of lecture notes I have to learn for an upcoming exam. When did I lose my motivation to engage in creativity?
As a child, where everything is novel and exciting, this passive attitude to learning isn’t apparent. This active engagement is encouraged by the Foundation Phase, the education provided for children aged 3-7. This phase follows principles that encourage the child to experience things first-hand, through exploration and curiosity for the world around them. Children are taught to have positive attitudes towards new learning experiences, and write about what is interesting to them. They are expected to reflect on their answers and consider alternative solutions, and the aim is for the child to become an independent, creative learner (Welsh Assembly Government, 2008). These principles are in opposition to the higher education experience, where we are often a passive (rather than an active) learner, rarely given opportunities to explore areas we are interested in. Lectures teach us the ‘right answer’, yet as a child we’re encouraged to question everything.
Therefore I cannot help but question, why not apply these foundation principles to higher education? This could increase creative thinking amongst students, allowing them to discover novel ideas and have an enriched learning experience. An example of how this could be achieved is through blogging. In this module, we are expected to question, critically analyse and provide alternatives to educational practices. Studies have shown blogging is an effective method, increasing reflective analysis to ensure students are achieving deeper learning (Downes, 2004; Xie, Ke, & Sharma, 2008; Yang & Chang, 2012). Self-directed learning from blogs allows the student to become an independent researcher, and collaborative learning is encouraged through commenting on other’s blogs (Robertson 2012; Yang & Chang, 2012). Thus it appears this method of learning fits the foundation principles’ ideals.
It is important to remember that although students do not need too much knowledge so that thinking becomes inflexible, they need enough to have a basic understanding of what has already been achieved (Jusoff et al, 2008). Therefore if lectures are still used to provide this basic understanding, creativity and engagement can also be developed through additional strategies within the lecture. An example of this is the use of ‘interactive windows’ (Huxham, 2005). This is where problem-solving or discussion sessions are provided within the lecture, causing a small positive effect on learning and recall. Inevitably, there are a multitude of methods for enhancing creativity in students, including asking them to find solutions to a difficult question, or to creatively synthesise various information (Jusoff et al, 2008). One must question why these simplistic methods are often not used within university.
As said by the crayon company Crayola (2013), “The seeds of creativity live in everyone”. Regardless of whether an individual is in nursery or higher education, all they need is the provision of nourishing opportunities for creativity to flow. Thus if creative, active learning is considered important in the foundation phase, surely teaching methods should build on this initial principle, to ensure students reach their creative potential at later stages of education.