Creativity or Conformity? Building Cultures of Creativity in Higher Education

Permission is granted to reproduce copies of these works for purposes relevant to the above conference, provided that the author(s), source and copyright notice are included on each copy. For other uses, including extended quotation, please contact the author(s). Abstract Whatever else it may be, creativity is intriguing; this view appears to be shared by the literature on the subject and by popular culture. While there is little agreement about the exact nature, processes and products of creativity, there seems to be a fascination both with its complexity and the sheer impossibility of providing clear explanations for it.

This paper does not attempt to generate yet another explanation, but instead offers a framework for exploring creativity in the context of teaching and teacher education. The nature of creativity in teaching is usually evidenced by its products: innovative curriculum design or original students’ work. The focus of this paper, however, is on developing opportunities for teachers to understand, explore and express their identities as creative practitioners.

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These opportunities are offered in the form of “creative reflection”, a framework of creative methodologies for engaging teachers individually and collectively in identifying and expanding their creativity practices. The notion of creative reflection challenges the action-reflection dichotomy of reflective practice and extends reflection beyond cognitive, retrospective models to encompass the exploration of possibility through play, image-making, writing, action methods and storytelling.

The paper offers examples of and reflections on these methods from the author’s use of creative methodologies in a teacher education programme at Queen’s University Belfast.

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Creative Reflection, Creative Practice: Expressing the Inexpressible The concept and practices of creative reflection have been developed in a teacher education programme at Queen’s University Belfast to enhance the model of reflective practice on which the programme is based. Creative reflection is a framework of creative methodologies whereby teachers explore their practice and the liminal spaces between action and reflection.

This work is a response to the need in teacher education for “the development of more complex models of reflection, related to purpose, which take greater cognisance of existing knowledge from other disciplines, particularly those aspects of psychology concerned with cognitive processes including problem-finding, insight, wisdom, creativity” Leitch and Day (2000: 186-187). Creativity itself is an elusive concept; the literature on the subject incorporates a range of perspectives and dichotomies, raising a number of questions.

Those pertinent to this paper include: - is creativity a cognitive process, or is it socially constructed? - is creativity to do with outcomes, or with processes and qualities such as fluency, imagination and originality? - what are the conditions which support the development of creativity? - what is the nature of creativity in education, and does it have a place in teacher education? One of the assumptions on which this paper is based is that teachers are creative; by extension, teacher education should therefore provide them with opportunities to identify themselves as creative and to enhance their creativity.

Craft (2001: 48) suggests that teachers are highly creative: Certainly some of the characteristics of high creators (childlike qualities, feeling under siege, being on the edge, high energy and productivity) which Gardner identifies in Creating Minds (1993), also emerged as a characteristic of ‘ordinary’ educators in one of my research projects (Craft, 1996a; Craft and Lyons, 1996). Craft’s allusion to productivity is complemented by Eisner’s exploration of the processes, the “artistry” and the “craft” involved in teaching (2002).

Both facets of creativity, product and process, are incorporated into the framework for creative reflection. Details follow as to how participants engage in process activities as well as in deliberation on the outcomes of these processes. The process of creativity, mysterious as it is, has long been a source of fascination and speculation. Helmholtz’s classical model, developed in 1826, includes the stages of saturation, exploration and incubation; Poincare added to these the aspect of verification (Balzac, 2006).

The four-phase model developed for this study incorporates and elaborates on these stages: Model for Creative Reflection Phase 1: Preparation This aspect of creative reflection recognises that the creative process involves uncertainty and possibility and that participants need preparation to access that state of receptivity, or Keatsian Negative Capability, which Keats defines as “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason” (Buxton Foreman, 1895).

In this phase of creative reflection, threshold activities are offered to enhance possibility and to free the imagination. One of the most successful of these threshold activities has been the invitation to participants to select images and quotations on a relevant theme: teaching, learning or creativity itself. This activity is based on the notion of “stepping stones” into a liminal world of exploration, as in Progoff’s system for entering the “twilight world” of process meditation (Progoff, 1980).

While participants are in the process of choosing images and quotations which engage them, music is played in the background to enhance relaxation and stimulate intuitive rather than rational decision-making. The activity is conducted without discussion to encourage focus and a connection with the unconscious. Another threshold activity is that of visualisation: for example, individuals are asked to imagine their learning about their practice as a journey and to articulate this in the form of images or writing. The sharing of the results is part of the process of synthesis described in the final phase of this model.

Threshold activities are directed at the group as a whole as well as at individuals: for example, participants are asked to imagine an ideal space for teaching and learning and to suggest in turn something which they might like to include in this space. Offerings range from comfortable chairs to the location of this space at the seaside and the presence of flowers and music centres. This activity generates ideas about inclusiveness and introduces into the discussion metaphors and symbols which enhance the learning process.

The idea of bringing an ideal situation or world into the realms of possibility through group visualisation is based on the process of reflective meditation in psychosynthesis (Ferrucci, 1982; Assagioli, 1999). Phase 2: Play This phase is based on the assumptions that a good deal of learning happens through play, that play is an essential aspect of cultural development (Huizinga, 1970), and that a group can create meaning, possibility and new insights through the processes of play.

Play is also important because it has the potential to free participants from external concerns so that they may enter the state of “flow”. According to Csikszentmihalyi (1991, 1997) this is an optimum state in which the person is fully focused and immersed in what he or she is doing, usually with a successful outcome. The activities in this phase are conducted quickly; their purpose is to generate energy, enjoyment of the group process and a range of new ideas. The processes involved provide opportunities for divergent thinking; they include mind mapping, creative thinking and brainstorming.

The brainstorming methods in this model of the creative reflection are informed by Kelley and Littmann’s (2002) methods for enhancing fluency of ideas and innovation within the context of team-building. Phase 3: Exploration This aspect of creative reflection is active, with the purpose of creating a product. The processes involved may include creative writing, storytelling, or the use of art materials, or action methods based on psychodrama to concretize the experience (Moreno, 1994). The exploration phase may be individual or collective: it may take place in pairs or small groups.

In one particular activity, an individual selects one of his or her identities as a teacher from a list; this list includes the more obvious identities such as mentor, helper and instructor, as well as more metaphorical ones as foot soldier, sower or bridge. The individual then elaborates this identity through writing and art, imagining in detail, for example, what this identity might look like, its voice, its tools and how it engages in relationship. The image below depicts the process of exploration on both individual and group levels.

Participants, given the task of expressing their understandings of themselves as reflective practitioners, arranged together the quotations, images and artefacts which they had chosen as individuals to express this notion. The circle of people made from tissue paper was created as a collective piece for the final image; this suggests that the group product extended beyond that of a loose arrangement of individual ideas to a creative collaboration of knowledge and understanding. [pic] Phase 4 Synthesis In the final phase of creative reflection, which is akin to the verification tage of the Helmholtz/Poincare model, participants present and reflect on their ideas, stories and collective images. In this phase, which is adapted from McNiff’s process of “dialoguing with the image”, participants engage with and reflect on the artefact engendered by the creative process (McNiff, 1992). Through this process, the experience and learning are synthesised into new understandings, or the identification of new questions which might be raised about professional practice. The image below represents the world of reflective practice as created by a group of practitioners through the use of props. pic] Discussion about this image revealed that each of the scarves, which are circumscribing and containing the world of reflective practice, represents a strength owned by one of the practitioners, while the Russian dolls and the teddy bear on the edge of the circle symbolise those learners who exclude themselves from learning. The act of dialoguing with the image engendered ideas amongst the participants for engaging those who are currently on the outside and who have not yet found a satisfactory means of expression.

In many ways, the process of writing this paper has been a struggle to express that which is inexpressible; it is challenging to articulate the complexity of the spaces between reflection and practice, as well as the complexity of creativity itself. It is hoped that further research will indicate whether the processes of creative reflection can take sufficient cognisance of these complexities to support teachers in recognising and expressing their creativity. References Assagioli, R. (1999) The Act of Will: A Guide to Self-Actualization and Self-Realization, Knaphill, David Platts Publishing Company

Balzac, F. (2006) ‘Exploring the Brain’s Role in Creativity’,Neuropsychiatry Reviews, Vol. 7, no. 5, May 2006. http://www. neuropsychiatryreviews. com/may06/einstein. html Accessed 14/11/2006 Buxton Foreman, H. (1895, Complete revised edition) The Letters of John Keats, London : Reeves & Turner Craft, A. (2001)’ “Little c Creativity”’, Craft, A. Jeffrey, B, and Leibling, M. (eds. ), Creativity in Education, London and New York, Continuum, pp 45-61 Craft, A. (1996a) ‘Nourishing educator creativity: a holistic approach to CPD’, British Journal of In-Service Education, 22 (3), 309-322.

Craft, A. and Lyons, T. (1996) Nourishing the Educator, Milton Keynes: The Open University Seminar Network Occasional Paper Series Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997) Creativity. Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York, HarperPerennial. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991) Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. New York : HarperPerennial Eisner (2002) ’From episteme to phronesis to artistry in the study and improvement of teaching’, Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 18, Number 4, May 2002, pp. 375-385 Ferrucci, P. 1982) What we may be: techniques for psychological and spiritual growth. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam Gardner, H. (1997) Extraordinary minds: portraits of exceptional individuals and an examination of our extraordinariness New York : BasicBooks Huizinga, J. (1970) Homo Ludens: a study of the play element in culture, London : Maurice Temple Smith Kelley, T and Littman, J. (2002) The Ten Faces of Innovation: Ideo's Strategies for Beating the Devil's Advocate & Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization London: Profile

Leitch, R. and Day, C. (2000) ‘Action research and reflective practice: towards a holistic view’, Educational Action Research, Vol 8, 1 pp179-193. McNiff, S. (1992) Art as medicine: creating a therapy of the imagination Boston, MA. : London: Shambhala Moreno, J. L. (1994, Fourth Edition) Psychodrama and Group Psychotherapy, Mental Health Resources. Progoff, I (1980) The Practice of Process Meditation: The Intensive Journal Way to Spiritual Experience, New York: Dialogue House Library.

Updated: Jul 20, 2021
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Creativity or Conformity? Building Cultures of Creativity in Higher Education essay
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