Monday, November 24, 2014

Prof. Anthony Brandt Demystifies the Creative Process: Why Students Need to Create More and How to do It Well

Last year when working on a digital project together, a colleague passed along an article by Troy Hicks and Kristen Hawley Turner called “No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait.” We were having our classes from separate campuses collaborate online via blogger while reading Shakespeare’s play, Richard III. At the time we were discussing quite intensely the purpose of the blog space and more specifically how we could make the site a more student-directed platform as opposed to one that relied more on the direction of the teachers involved. One of the many things the above article made clear was that students needed to be the creators and curators of the digital content and not just the consumers of whatever information may be posted on a platform such as blogger. This has been one of the many ways I’ve tried to push myself as a teacher; I’m continually asking myself: am I creating spaces for learning where students create presentations of information in addition to just consuming it?

For teaching to be maximally effective and relevant in our 21st century cultural landscape, instructors have to do more than employ technology to disseminate information more efficiently and expediently. The kinds of literacies required for today's world include the many modalities of digital communication that have recently redefined what it means to be an effective communicator in the professional and personal realms of human interaction. As an English teacher, I believe that’s one of the more important duties of my vocation - namely to help students discover how to express and communicate their passions and ideas as effectively as they possibly can. Just as students cannot become dynamic communicators by simply reading/listening to others’ impressive displays of verbal eloquence, the same is true of the more recent, nontraditional modalities of communication. Students have to write, make speeches, and give presentations themselves to complete the process of learning how to express themselves well. The same is true of blogs, videos, podcasts, etc.; students need to have opportunities to create such products to hone their digital literacy and rhetoric.

One question that comes up for many educators is how to assess creative demonstrations of learning whether digital or not, and this is something I’ve wrestled with as well. Oftentimes one will assign a creative project that gets students to make media through video or web 2.0 applications; students will follow the requirements listed, completing the project as instructed, but the digital demonstration of learning still lacks in presentational, aesthetic quality. What I’m getting at here is that all media-based projects will have an aesthetic component that, if ignored, could make or break one’s ability to reach their audience, and the fact of the matter is a lot of times students turn in poor quality products, aesthetically speaking, while the work still meets the requirements listed by the teacher. It's awkward to demand students to be more creative, especially when we tell ourselves that considerations of creative, aesthetic value are subjective in nature...

So how do we get students to make better products aesthetically speaking without seeming subjective? How do we assess the aesthetic component, namely its creative quality, while remaining fair and transparent? Teachers (myself included) often shy away from assessing creativity because we tell ourselves it’s too subjective, and I think this is partly why the arts gets relegated to the sidelines while the monolithic “high-stakes” testing industry emphasizes the more objective, quantifiable skills for each student’s curricular development.

I saw Prof. Brandt give a talk at St. John’s School in Houston when presenting at the SummerSpark conference back in June 2013. Watch Dr. Brandt's TED talk on creativity, the arts, and the need to value them more in all core-curricular programs:

Dr. Brandt's demystification the concept of creativity immediately triggered idea after idea for me in relation to helping students make better, more creative demonstrations of learning. I want my students to create, but I want them to do it meaningfully by doing it well. I don’t want them to just communicate information clearly; I want them to express it effectively by moving, inspiring, or pleasing their audience. That takes creativity and a keen aesthetic sensibility, and Professor Brandt’s breakdown of the creative process gave me a conceptual vocabulary that enables me to have that conversation with students. Creativity is not a mystical concept that some of us get while others don't; creativity is a core skill that can be learned and cultivated by anyone who is genuinely curious about the process. Our job is to fire up that curiosity by finding ways to structure projects that are relevant, meaningful, and interesting for each of our unique students. And there lies one of our many exciting challenges as 21st century educators...

-Jared Colley

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