The creative academic


Creativity is a key facet of being an academic. Research is about investigating a problem or a real-life phenomenon; interpreting the data to make new meaning. Sometimes it involves relating this to a theoretical framework, like Activity Theory, other times it is simply about making sense of what the data is telling you. Jenkin’s (2009) lists 11 digital literacy skills that he argues are needed to be part of today’s participatory culture; I would add creativity to this list.

But what is creativity? It is derived from the Latin ‘creo’, meaning to create/make. It is about creating something new (physical artefact or concept) that is novel and valuable. It is the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, partners, relationships and create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations. For me it is an essential skill to deal with today’s complex, fast and changing society. Furthermore, discourse and collaboration are mediated through a range of social and participatory media.

There are four main aspects of creativity:

  • Process: mechanisms needed for creative thinking
  • Product: measuring creativity in people
  • Person: general intellectual habits (openness, ideas of ideation, autonomy, expertise, exploratory and behavioural)
  • Place: best circumstances to enable creativity to flourish

And five main stages:

  •  Preparation: identifying the problem
  • Incubation: internalisation of the problem
  • Intimation: getting a feeling for a solution       
  • Illumination: creativity bursts forth
  • Verification: idea is consciously verified, elaborated and applied

The illumination stage is key for me. I often find when I am trying to interpret data or trying to develop a new framework that I need to leave the idea mulling around in my head for a while and then a breakthrough suddenly occurs, often in the middle of the night. I don’t know the Physiological basis for this, I guess it is just that you have to let the idea fallow for a while and sub-consciously your brain slowly starts to piece things together. Alan Cann has provided a nice link to an article on the creative brain.

Verification is also really important, new ideas or concepts only have validity if others buy into them and can see their value. Take Communities of Practice (Wenger 1998), for example, the concept took off like wildfire in the education community, precisely because it represented a good way of describing communities, and, in particular, online communities.

Technologies can promote creativity in new and innovative ways. For example, by enabling new forms of discourse, collaboration and co-operation, and providing ways in which individuals can access and repurpose knowledge in different forms of representation. Social media provide a rich plethora of ways in which individuals can communicate and collaborate, and the sheer scale of our social networks allows for unprecedented aggregation and scale – knowledge is both distributed and collective.

I recently experienced this when I was co-writing the conclusion chapter for the second edition of Helen Beetham and Rhona Shapre’s ‘Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age’ book (Beetham and Sharpe 2007). Helen and Rhona brought a small group of us together for a face-to-face workshop. They had already put a draft of the chapter online and had invited the community to add their thoughts. In the workshop we brainstormed ideas for the chapter and then worked in pairs for 40 minutes solid to work up a number of themes. I worked with Chris Pegler on the notion of openness. It was amazing what we produced and felt like a really creative process. I think collectively we wrote about 8000 words! Helen and Rhona then took this text and the online version and created a coherent narrative.

Although a little far fetched, I think there is an analogy with the theme of the film, limitless. The central character is a writer with writer’s block. He takes this pill which means he is able to unlock everything he has ever thought or encountered. So if he has watched a Spanish film he is fluent in Spanish; picking up new skills is a breeze. In many ways I think the vast wealth of knowledge we have access to via the Internet and the distributed connected community of peers we are part of, means that we truly now have what Salomon called ‘distributed cognition’ (Salomon 1993). We are our networks. We are what Perkin’s describes as ‘person plus’. 


Beetham, H. and R. Sharpe (2007). Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital age: Designing and Delivering E-Learning, Routledge %@ 0415408741 %7 New edition.           

Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century, Mit Pr.

Salomon, G., Ed. (1993). Distributed cognitions - psychological and educational considerations. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.           

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning and Identity. Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive, and Computational Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.




22 Responses to “The creative academic”

  1. On creativity | The Body Electric Says:

    […] is another blog post following up on one Grainne Conole has written (at which is ironic, I suppose, given the nature of the topic. I wanted to chip in on the conversation […]

  2. » Blog Archive » The creative academic | Romina Jamieson-Proctor (PhD) Says:

    […] We are our networks. We are what Perkin’s describes as ‘person plus’. “ via Diigo About these ads var wpcom_adclk_hovering = false; var wpcom_adclk_recorded = false; var […]

  3. Carolyn Sullivan Says:

    Creativity is greatly enhanced today in the world of technological advances. Hardware and software improvements have enhanced our ability to organize and grow ideas from inception through fruition.

    Take the company “Quirky” for example. Inventions are very expensive to take from idea form into a 3-D physical model. Quirky is available now where you can submit your idea and others vote on their acceptance of your idea; changes or edits are suggested along the way. If enough people “like” the idea and the decision-makers at Quirky feel the initial cost for production would be repaid by market-acceptance and profitable orders, then the product is actually produced.

    Our lives today are more about networking than ever before. Who ever thought that their every move could be catalogued for others (or perhaps some would wonder WHY we would want someone to know our every move!) Our students are masters at social networking so their networks are in place. Our job as educators is to focus their interest in learning projects that are productive and interesting to them; worthwhile to their development and where their creativity knows no bounds.

  4. Celeste Boggs Says:

    Allowing students to access technology will enhance their learning and creativity. Finding the boundaries for their access to technology during the school day should be included.

  5. Gráinne Says:

    Good points Celeste!

  6. Sharron Zachry-Withers Says:

    From an academic standpoint, I agree with the post. I also believe however, that excessive use of technology can “dumb-down” a child’s creativity. I think there must be exposure to a range of creative outlets, including tactile/kinesthetic and “real life” creative processes to nuture an individual’s creativity.

  7. Gráinne Says:

    Yes agree Sharron a variety of creative outlets is really important - getting kids to explore all of their senses…. I learnt a lot in Art for example about viewing things differently, for example drawing the spaces between trees rather than the trees themselves….

  8. Monica Wedler Says:

    I absolutely agree that we should give students learning projects that interest them, where they can explore endlesly about something they really like, using all the technology in their power. The good thing about kids is, they are not afraid to use technology, so they will keep investigating.

  9. Sheri Boule' Says:

    I also believe there is a place in our children’s learning experience for technology but there seems to be of a need for quiet time to allow the mind to wander and think through problems or issues. Our time is so filled with activities that rarely we have time to stop-rest-and have quiet time to allow our minds to be creative and not distracted by all the things in our daily lives.

  10. Gráinne Says:

    Yes agree Sheri

    Some people are promoting the notion of slow learning, like that concept.

  11. Jesse Cisneros Says:

    Creativty in the classroom is somewhat complex as it could hinder the students ability to truly think for themselves. It’s a double edged sword. Simply supplying information and having a application or program do the rest isn’t creativity.

  12. laura Says:

    Creativity in the classroom is complex. I think it really allows each student to learn their own way but with the elementary classrooms it tends to create chaos.

  13. John Kostibas Says:

    I certainly agree that we need to allow time in our lessons for creative thinking. As teachers we must initiate the process by posting questions that trigger creative thinking without limitations.

  14. Rosemary Gilbert Says:

    We as professional educators must think outside the box because many of the jobs in the next 20 to 25 years have not been created so, we must have a mind set open for students to go beyond the now. Student need the freedom to think outside the box of the past and open the digital worlds beyond 2014.

  15. Jimmy Mangus Says:

    Creative thinking in the classroom increases the students’ desire to learn beyond the basics. The correct use of technology can facilitate such learning.

  16. Marci Littleton Says:

    As teachers, it is hard to “grade” creativity. But, I do believe that when we ask kids to be creative and “think outside the box”, then we see some of their best work. This shows up in so many forms either through digital means or artistic means. We have to give our students the opportunity to think creatively…whatever this may look like for each is going to be different.

  17. Christy Troost Says:

    Creativity in the classroom is very complex. We need to allow our students the time and opportunity to think creatively. We are such a digital world so the use of technology will help facilitate creative learning.

  18. John W. Leininger Says:

    Creativity is a variable that is hard to grade. Some students need more time to be creative than others so it is hard to put a time limit on a project in class. In our digital world it is important to give all students the opportunity to express themselves, especially through videos.

  19. Carmen Kaiser Says:

    Creativity in the classroom looks different for every child. Some children are better artistically, some are technologically advanced and some shine through literature and paper-pencil activities. It is our job as educators, to find each child’s gift and encourage and extract that talent. WOW! That is a very hard, almost impossible job now days with class sizes and behavior issues, but we keep trying.

  20. Fran Vasily Says:

    Creativity is the key to our children’s future. Not only in the education environment as well into their adult life. They need to be taught the basics and fundamental processes involved in becoming a good creative thinker.

  21. Nicholas Anderson Says:

    Creativity in the classroom is complex and new for all children. Children need the freedom to think outside the box of the past and present of this great planet.

  22. Rudy Duron Says:

    Creativity is thinking outsude the box, making the mind think away from the norm. Being a creative learner is a concept that kids can taken into their adult years,.

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