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Creativity Crisis


1   Creativity and post-constructivism

Universities are creative through their research but not their pedagogy. Thanks to consistent alignment of learning outcomes, activities and assessments, students are effectively trained to game their studies, to read the clues for high marks and study strategically. Imaginative responses are punished for deviating from the optimum conformity to expectations. Constructive alignment, though well-intentioned, favours uncreative study, infusing programs with a regulatory principle of measurability and discouraging learning outcomes that may vary organically. The chapter proposes a post-constructivist approach that is not based on the student’s construction of knowledge but the student’s identification with beautiful opportunities, an educational ontology rather than an epistemology.

2   The root of all learning

Quantitative methods are unlikely to solve the problem identified in higher education, where institutions boast about creativity and then fail to deliver on it. But a purely subjective method will not serve either; instead, current preoccupations must be triangulated through the history of ideas. Learning outcomes are used as an example, where philology reveals the same limitations and artificiality intuited from experience. A history of learning is proposed, showing the close parallel between teaching and learning as an enchanted narrative, contrary to the emphasis on learning outcomes, which require deconstruction.

3   Engagement

Despite noble origins, constructivist methods have left us with a dismal method for achieving student engagement. It is, broadly, to force students to engage through assessment and to monitor their contact with unprecedented degrees of surveillance. Conducting a history of engagement, this chapter reveals the hidden compulsion in the term, rooted in the European understanding of a pledge. The contemporary wisdom on collaborative participatory learning paradoxically invokes engagement with its archaic and uncreative emphasis on the contractual.

4 Being nice

Among the subjective preconditions of creativity in education is a benign and receptive teacher who creates a safe space for imaginative expression. A great deal in the pressured environment of higher education, however, discourages teachers from realizing this signal benefit to students. Conducting a history of niceness, this chapter reveals that concepts of kindness are twisted and convoluted, explaining much in the neurosis by which teachers feel a need to emphasize uncreative rigour at the expense of the generosity inherent in imaginative thinking.

5   Telling

The contemporary emphasis on group work, team and collaboration obscures a deeper urge on the part of imaginative students, namely to tell someone about their learning. The chapter outlines a history of telling, which reveals rich connexions with counting and accountability. When you tell someone about your learning, you account for ideas to yourself and confirm your view of yourself. Your identity is created through the rehearsal. Learning is thus socialized on an intimate scale according to the autonomous impulse of the student. The deeper internalization of knowledge and desire to imagine the background of knowledge are thus optimally served.

6   Student-centredness

Among many claims to student-centredness—like student choice of syllabus, time and mode of learning—the least persuasive is the contemporary idea that students are empowered and have learning in their own hands thanks to two constructivist precepts: first that learning ‘is what the student does’ and second the alignment of assessment, delivery, activities and learning outcomes. Historicizing the very concept of a centre, this chapter suggests that a more creative approach to student-centredness recognizes the mutual dynamic between student and teacher.

7   Expectation

The premise of modern pedagogy is that students should know at each stage what to expect in order that they can plan and have their learning in their own hands. There is a problem, however, when this premise encounters the creative, where expectations must organically adjust to opportunities that unfold in the course of doing. This chapter examines the curious link between waiting, attention and expectation. Through a history of waiting, it suggests that attention to an idea without an expectation is integral to imaginative learning and that the creative impulse depends upon a management of patience proper to the individual.

8   Subjectivity

To act creatively, students need confidence in their own subjectivity. With appeal to fairness and an understandable distaste for the arbitrary, however, academies are guarded about the subjective. Subjectivity is poorly understood, because the subject as person is grammatically confused with the subject as topic. Conducting a brief history of subjectivity, this chapter contemplates how much we need to redeem what used to be called the soul—your inalienable singularity, not necessarily depending on metaphys-ics—to protect the integrity of the student’s creative identity.

9   Leadership

Student success depends in most instances on the ability to follow. Increasingly, educational design makes it clear exactly what to follow, what to do and what criteria to satisfy. It makes followers rather than leaders. For all that, the concept of leadership needs to be deconstructed; and, conduct-ing a brief history of leadership and student success, this chapter reveals how closely related they are. To be creative, we cannot remain followers; but our ability to lead in a creative sense is linked to our ability to follow, albeit with an imaginative vengeance.

10   Waste

Waste in education may be necessary, as when we commit time to learning what later seems redundant. But it is less excusable to waste potential; and that is what happens when we systematically discourage student creativity. But there is a twist. Though resented, waste also seems concomitant with creative endeavour. We never know which idea is worth investing in without trying; and so much is tried that ends in failure. Proposing a history of waste, this chapter identifies the necessary peace that we have to make with waste in seeking creative results. The idea of luxury is crucial to the case, because some generosity is needed to afford the licence to be creative.

11   Flux

Lecturers are sometimes despondent with the disparate abilities of their student cohort. They fear boring the advanced students and also losing the struggling students who are all in the one class. This chapter begins with a solution in the form of flux between the sophisticated and the grounded, where the lecturer rises to heights of abstraction but never for long at a time, returning the talk to the concrete at regular intervals. This motif of flux is then used as a metaphor to describe the way that creative processes organize themselves, racing convulsively between tangible examples and lucid extrapolation. It helps for teaching delivery to have the same fluxing character as the creativity that it stimulates.

12   Ownership

We learn best when we feel imaginative ownership of the syllabus. Reflecting on the materialistic basis of ownership, the chapter discovers an unconscious shyness over proprietorial attitudes to knowledge, as if these are selfish, greedy and mean. Noting the closeness of ownership to the self or identity, however, the argument defends high levels of ownership in the name of creativity, which means owning one’s impulse and failure. Creative ownership is contrasted with responsibility, which is seen as a negative contractual concept that does not favour imagination. Creativity, meanwhile, entails the individual’s ownership of ideas in an expansive self-propagation of purpose and identity.

13   Reflexion

Reflexion is well-recognized in pedagogical literature but has also attracted suspicion. Conducting a history of reflexion, ‘a history of second thoughts’, this chapter finds a mysterious dimension in the metaphor that makes reflexion peculiarly congruent with creative thinking. Reflexion is a conversation that you have with yourself and which propitiates the intimacy of creative thinking. Reflexion is an inherently poetic condition, imaginatively matching ideas and experience. Through reflexion, one thing equates with another through a jump, an uncertain parallel, which is symbolic: the return of a reality as an image, which creatively invites other realities and images in its train.

14   Conclusion

Summing up the arguments of the book, creativity and imagination are integral to sustained learning and are not confined to paradigm shifts of genius. Given that contemporary syllabus design does not favour creativity or imagination—and given that the current system is unlikely to change in the near future—it is worth contemplating how creativity and imagination can be cultivated within constructivist parameters. Greater use of non-competitive assessment is suggested as well as the teacherly resources of colour that ontologically support creativity and imagination in spite of the constructivist dullness that circumscribes them.

Creativity Crisis

   by Robert Nelson