Creativity in the Digital Age

Several years ago, I read a book titled The Rise of the Creative Class.  As a poet, the title intrigued me.  Although, I don’t consider myself old, I grew up in a world where being creative was synonymous with the starving artist cliché.  Perhaps many still operate in that cliché, as, if you read Curriculum 21 by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, she discusses the idea that schools are still largely run in the industrial revolution fashion.  However, the world has changed dramatically in just a few short years with the development of the Internet and social networking sites, and this has led to tremendous changes in how we operate and live.  In fact, in The Rise of the Creative Class, the author discusses the idea of change, both technologically and culturally, in an interesting vignette.

Say you place a person from 1900 in the 1950s and a person from the 1950s in 2000.  Who would feel the most foreign, he asks?

At first glance, this would be the person from 1900 going into 1950, since the innovations in technology had totally changed the household in those years; cars replaced horses, household machines such as the washer and refrigerator replaced manual labor, and a myriad of other inventions existed.  Still, the author argues, society was much the same.  In a way, the 1950s was a time when we were “doing old things in old ways” and while it might have looked very different from the 1900s house, society still operated in much the same way.

In that vein, the author states, the man from the 1950s placed in 2000 would experience drastic culture shock.  Society would be completely revamped with equal rights, the Internet, and changed societal values and norms.  This he argues, is in large part due to the rise of the creative class, an economic movement in which we live in a world where creativity and innovation are valued and esteemed.  Of course, in this scenario, creativity is not limited to poets.  Creativity and innovation are important in every field.

Yet, in On Assessing for Creativity: Yes You Can and Yes You Should by Grant Wiggins, we see that teachers are still hesitant to assess creativity.  Wiggins argues that we can assess anything, and yet we fail to assess creativity, perhaps for fear of hurting students.  Some state that creativity cannot be assessed, but Grant gives us a rubric from which to work, and frankly states that creativity is a far less abstract skill to assess than organization in writing or even working collaboratively.  It seems that we fear assessing creativity, less because we can’t and more because of the connotation of the word.  Perhaps we still believe in the starving artist cliché.  Perhaps we believe that creativity cannot be taught, thereby labeling students as creative and not creative.  Perhaps, it is not something we value yet.

However, as evidenced in The Rise of the Creative Class, creative individuals are the new success stories and the economic powerhouses.  And, in Bloom’s New Digital Taxonomy, creating is the highest order of thought.

I believe creativity is an essential skill that we must foster in our students.  Part of it is my own bias as a poet; writing is therapeutic and good for the mind.  However, I also believe creativity is a skill that can be developed in everyone.  Julia Cameron has written a series of books, beginning with The Artist’s Way in which she takes readers on a journey to unlocking their creativity.  Everyone is creative, she states, and everyone can unlock his or her creativity.

This belief can be proven simply by observing young children.  Children play imaginary games.  They run away from monsters in the bathroom.  They make pretend soup and cookies and feed them to you via the air.  They pretend to eat the floor and then jump over big crevices in the living room.  They talk to their dolls and to themselves and to just about anyone.  In this imaginary world, children role-play and learn how to solve problems.

As children grow up, the creative child gets replaced, perhaps as the academic child, the athletic child, or the shy child.  Is the loss of creativity and imagination a natural phenomenon, or is it the way we organize schools?  The way we present information?  The way we assess knowledge?

If we value the creative process, if we teach creativity in problem-solving, writing, lab reports, and presentations as the essence of understanding, will we perhaps start to see the imaginative child re-surface?  Will we see students re-engaged with school?  Will fostering creativity naturally develop critical thinkers?  Curious learners?

Wiggins recounts an incident whereby he observed student presentations that were remarkably better than average.  When he asked why, he saw that there were only two criteria:

  1. Was it factually accurate?
  2. Did it keep everyone fully engaged the entire time?

In this example, the less specific the criteria, the more creative and engaging the presentations produced by “average” students.

We all have the same goal: to inspire students to succeed and do well in our contents and in our schools.  The means vary and I will argue that valuing students’ creativity, fostering it, and developing it, will serve to reinvigorate schools and will result in better understanding, more interesting results, and more engaged learners.

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