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Iowa State University

Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Creativity as a Course Module

Existing Course Modules

"Creativity Routines." Visible Thinking

This website describes a number of routines, or "patterns by which we operate and go about the job of learning and working together in a classroom environment." General; can be adapted for any subject.

Forbes, Neil S. (2008). A Module to Foster Engineering Creativity: an Interpolative Design Problem and an Extrapolative Research Project. Chemical Engineering Education 42.4

This article describes a teaching module designed to enhance engineering creativity in an introductory chemical engineering course. The module includes an exercise to design column packing material, and an open-ended research project to describe the societal impact of chemical engineering. These assignments were created to illustrate the benefit of generating many ideas independent of analysis. The results of two years of survey-based assessment showed that these techniques improved students' confidence and ability with creative problems.

Kinzel, Gary. "Lecture Module." Gateway Engineering Education Coalition

General overview of creativity in engineering.

Miami University, Farmer School of Business

This MBA creativity module "introduces the MBA student to creative thinking by assessing personal cognitive styles, applying methods to stimulate creativity, developing methods for idea selection, and launching related initiatives."

"Module: Creative Thinking." Department of Philosophy, University of Hong Kong

General outline of principles, cycle and heuristics for creativity; for any subject.

"Two Year Modules." Babson MBA (56 KB PDF)

The Creativity Program in this MBA gives first-year MBA students exposure to the creative process via forms of artistic expression. "The primary goal is to help students (re)discover the power inherent in their own creativity, and thus to enrich their lives as students, citizens, and future business leaders."

Templates for Module Development

You may want to adapt an online module or follow one of the suggestions in the links above; or, you may want to develop a module specific to your course. Here are three suggestions to help you develop a creativity module. In each case, the emphasis should be on collaboration and on play, or playful competition. The rewards for "winning" could be a snack, naming rights to something connected to the course, or simply bragging rights. With the exception of courses in fields such as design, entrepreneurship, and creative thinking as a field, creativity should not count heavily in students' course grades.

Simple Four-Part Module

This is adapted from Elena Karpova and Sara Marcketti's presentation on "The Efficacy of Teaching Creativity," described in the Creative teachers section of this website.

Recognition: What opportunities exist in a course, a classroom, a field for creative thinking? In their textiles and clothing field, Elena and Sara ask for a "bug list": colors that fade, clothes that don't fit well, hems that fray, or anything else about clothing or accessories that "bug" the students. Steve Mickelson, Professor in Ag & Biosystems Engineering, asks for similar real-life problems in his sophomore-level design course.

Generation: Multiple solutions to the "bug problem" can and should be generated ? the more, the better. Part of creativity is delaying, where possible, the final decision, so generating multiple ideas is important. The heuristics mentioned in the Fostering creativity section of this website may be useful in generating ideas.

De-Inhibition: Self-censorship is among the major impediments to creative thinking, so it is important to foster an atmosphere that welcomes freewheeling thought. (At the same time, of course, the class activities can't simply devolve into trivia.) De-inhibition can occur at any stage in this module; many instructors include de-inhibition in an initial team-building challenge. Some common challenges include

  • The shoe-stack: Students create the tallest  tower of their own shoes in 8-10 minutes
  • Straw and tape: using drinking straws and masking tape, students create the highest freestanding structure possible within an allotted time
  • Index cards: Students make a tower of index cards with no tape allowed (they can be bent, folded, woven, etc.).
  • Rube Goldberg: Using a given set of materials (e.g., construction paper, pipe cleaners, marbles, bandages), students create as many steps as possible to perform a simple task.

These exercises should be chosen with regard for the cultural and personal expectations of the students (for example, in some cultures shoes would not be considered playthings). In addition, it is important to take time, even if a few minutes, to "debrief" by discussing with the students how they began the challenge, whether they jumped into action or thought about it first, what they would do differently another time, and so on.

Evaluation: Only after imagining multiple solutions to the "bug problem" should students evaluate and decide on a solution. In the case of a de-inhibition exercise, students could discuss the different approaches to the challenge and reach consensus on which was the cleverest as well as which structure was tallest or most complex.

Divergent Thinking Module

This is loosely adapted from Williams, F. E. (1970). Classroom ideas for encouraging thinking and feeling. (2d Ed.). Buffalo, NY:  D. O. K., and Williams, F. E., & Eberle, R. F. (1967). Content, process, practice: Creative production in the classroom. Edwardsville, IN: American of Edwardsville.

Some theorists hold that creativity is the product of divergent thinking, that is, thoughts and ideas that differ from the "norm." To make this kind of thinking happen, instructors may set up friendly in-class competitions centered on a pre-defined problem, or may require that students come up with their own question that requires creative approaches. As members of a team or on their own, ask your students to understand and exercise the following concepts with regard to the problem. (This could happen in a single class meeting or over several meetings.)

FLUENCY ? how many responses can students come up with in response to the issue? Ask for many responses in a limited amount of time in order to maximize creativity.
ORIGINALITY ? encourage unusual or clever thinking by rewarding students for responses that are off-the-wall.
FLEXIBILITY ? flexible thinkers can move between concepts and alter their thinking. Ask for students to review all their responses, choose a set percentage of them, and change them in some way.
ELABORATION ? using their own responses or those of another student or team, students should add to, expand, complete or complicate ideas that have been offered.
RISK-TAKING ? creativity requires that students be open to failure, be willing to play a hunch. Reward students for responses that involve some risk.
APPLICATION ? after seeking multiple responses, changing and elaborating on them, students should visualize solutions, decide on a proposed solution and seek possible impediments to the solution (these roadblocks may represent problems that begin the creative thinking process all over again).

Bloom's Taxonomy Module

This is not a module per se but a beautiful visualization of learning objectives for teaching creatively, adapted by Rex Heer from A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.  More materials on Bloom's Taxonomy appear in CELT's collection of Techniques & Strategies for Teaching and Learning.