Collaboration and creativity

To be creative requires time alone and time connecting with others. This collaborative improv in the streets and subways of New York would have only required a small amount of individual time to prepare for a fun time as a collective. Putting a smile on the face of strangers – that has to be a positive outcome, making the world a better place to be.

Music and creativity

Music education

Even though the benefits of music for learning and personal development are well known, when there are budget cuts to education, music and the arts are often easy targets. Yet what we need is more music rather than less, as Peter Luff from the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and Griffith University tells a reporter from ABC news.

Watch interview here.

If you need to be reminded of the benefits of music education, Carolyn Phillips has a list of 12 benefits of music education, namely:

  1. Training and development of language and reasoning centres in the brain;
  2. Development of spatial intelligence, which includes mathematical thinking and the way we create mental models and perceive the world;
  3. Development of creative problem solving skills;
  4. Improvement on test scores in other subjects;
  5. Building of empathy and compassion through exposure to other cultural norms and practices;
  6. Learning the importance of detail and excellence;
  7. An appreciation of the value of sustained effort;
  8. Teamwork and discipline;
  9. Self expression;
  10. Learning the performance skills of communication and cooperation which translate into valuable workplace skills;
  11. Learning to conquer fear and take risks; and most of all
  12. ‘An arts education exposes children to the incomparable.’

Research into music, improvisation and creativity

This is some great research. Parag Chordia at the Music Intelligence Lab at Georgia University of Technology, Atlanta USA, has been researching creativity from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience. Three things of note here. Firstly, as a musician he argues that music, like language, is central to all cultures. Secondly, he believes we all have creativity inside us and that it’s not confined to only a talented few.  In this interview with a reporter from the online magazine, Science Nation, he talks about his research and how the brain functions differently when its improvising versus playing music from a set score.

Watch video interview here.

LaDiDa – iPhone app

The third item I found interesting about Chordia’s work is that he’s created an  iPhone app called LaDiDa.  For $3 you can sing into your phone and the app creates musical accompaniment. It mends your poor performance so that you sound great, complete with a backing band. It does wonders for the ego. Try singing your favourite power ballad into the app and you might decide to change your career today. (Yes, I can sing!).

Creativity and context: teaching creatively online

One of the great challenges for those interested in fostering creativity is the problem of context. This as you’d expect shapes what teachers and students do, and in the fully online course space the contextual issues are a constant struggle between making space for student freedom, autonomy and agency within the boundaries of a course limited by time and resources, where you only ‘see’ students as they present via their online persona.

MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) present a particular challenge. Do they present opportunities for creative change in online learning or reinforcement of traditional ways?  Always keen on the experiential approach to learning, I’ve enrolled in a number of MOOCs, which makes me a serial MOOCist,  MOOCee . . . or some such.

At the moment, MOOCs in the main, from my non-systematic reading, seem to be emerging as traditional online courses. Yes, with a few more students. I don’t think the majority are following George Siemens’ very loosely structured connectivist model. The majority seem to be structured on the traditional higher ed classroom presentation model.

I’m just now completing the Introduction to Philosophy course offered via the University of Edinburgh and Coursera. It’s traditional in that there are video lectures, weekly quizzes, a discussion board, and a final essay.

Signs of creativity? It’s philosophy, so it’s very much about analytical thinking, but creativity comes out in the examples chosen by lecturers to demonstrate points in their talks, and in the passion some of the lecturers show for their subject matter as they stand in front of the video camera, unaccustomed to public speaking in a room filled with one (themselves). There’s creativity in some of the lecturers’ responses to the online discussions. So, traditional, but okay and there are enough boundaries to keep me on track without boxing me in.

From the student point of view is there creativity? Well, it’s all up to you to get whatever you want out of the course. No one else cares. There’s not an overwhelming amount of content in this course so you have plenty of room to think – which is what philosophers want you to do. There’s room for activity  – and where there’s activity and reflection then there’s room for creativity. You can go and research more if you want, but only you care. Goals are very important in MOOC Land – your goals.

I’m keen to see how the Creativity Innovation and Change course stacks up later in the year. Apparently I will be exploring creativity to gain personal insights, solving complex problems and using creativity to drive change. Collaboration will be a big part of this course which it wasn’t for the philosophy one. How much collaboration do we need for creativity?

Creativity – what is your inspiration?

Creativity is part of change and change itself. But where does inspiration for creativity come from?

In this promo for the ‘e.g. conference’, artists and other creative people were asked this question.

In response they talk about expressing themselves, making connections and finding inspiration in e.g.:

–  ‘showing people what they can’t see for themselves’

– ‘everything’

– ‘history’

– ‘other people’s stories’

– ‘films’

– ‘helping visually impaired children’

– ‘solving problems that have been unnoticed or unsolved for a long time’.

‘Creativity is the way we make change.’ ‘Creativity is important for the survival of our species.’ ‘Creativity doesn’t happen in a mental desert.’

Learning is a creative act, and learning with and through others is creative.  As you learn you change the way you see the world and change the way you interact with the world.

More inspiration? What do you see . . . 

Have a look at this other ‘e.g.’ video:  ‘What do you see?’. More inspiring individuals talk about the power of seeing. I think the passion of others is delightful, inspiring and catching.  As Albert Einstein is supposed to have said: ‘Creativity is catching. Pass it on.’



Creativity is all about connections – making connections, people connections, domain connections, international connections, serendipitous connections. Here’s a music connection – Dave Brubeck, jazz musician, working around political connections, art as corruption, and the power of music to connect people and make trouble and present moral dilemmas.

Serendipity and creativity

‘Only connect’ (E. M. Forster)

Serendipity has long been associated with scientific discovery and creativity in general. Its importance is now in the spotlight in relation to networked learning (Kop, 2012). Computer scientists are also beginning to recognise the importance of environment and the role of purposeful ‘hunting’ for connections and associations between seemingly disparate ideas (Paul et al, 2009).

What comes out of recent research is that what on the surface looks like chance, is most likely to be based on someone else’s previous work, whether that be scientific propositions, artistic self-expressions, altruistic ideas, whatever. In the remix and reinterpretation, creativity and innovation can emerge when unlikely ideas butt up against one another. And given the way new technologies often facilitate this process, we are likely to see more and more new ideas, new re-combinations rapidly building ‘by chance’ on what has gone before.

Can I have some help with my maths please?
One beautiful example of serendipity in terms of creativity and teaching, is the case of the Khan Academy. This not-for-profit organisation came about (serendipitously) because Sal Khan, an MIT graduate and hedge fund analyst, wanted to help his younger cousin improve her maths. After giving her some one-to-one maths coaching, he found that he could better help her and other family members who also wanted tutoring, by uploading narrated videos to the Web, explaining single maths concepts in simple terms.

Khan’s library of recordings  on YouTube allows the learner to go over and over explanations at their own pace. This approach is not unknown to those acquainted with online learning, but the escalation of the idea into a global learning resource is remarkable. The free, open source, on-demand library of videos is available for anyone, anywhere in the world. It’s now being used as a resource by some primary (elementary) schools and high schools to ‘flip’ the classroom: the videos are set as homework, which allows more time for teachers to work with students on maths problems in the classroom the next day.

Khan says ‘Its not my idea’, the way the resources are now being used in schools, but serendipitously Khan’s creative approach to teaching his cousin has led to creativity in other areas of learning and teaching. His idea has been picked up by others and remixed.

If you’re really interested in Sal Khan’s ideas, then I recommend watching this talk given to MIT students. It’s long (90 mins), but you can get the main ideas in the first 10 minutes. Otherwise, if you’re short of time, and really only have 2 minutes, then listen to Khan’s interview with Wired Magazine instead.

Rethinking Education – Sal Khan at MIT

Rethinking education Sal Khan

Paul, A., Schraefel, M. C., Teevan, J., & Dumais, S. (2009). Discovery is never by chance: Designing for (un)serendipity. Paper presented at Proceedings of the seventh ACM conference on Creativity and Cognition, Berkeley, California, USA.

Kop, R. (2012). The unexpected connection: Serendipity and human mediation in networked learning. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 15(2), 2-11.

Emerging from the swamp

Welcome to Teaching creativity and teaching creatively!Yes, it is all about me and the thesis.

I’m a PhD student in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology in sunny, sub-tropical Brisbane, Australia. I’m 18 months into my candidature and finally emerging from the swampy wet lands of the initial confirmation stage where I have been designing my research approach and immersing myself in the literature. I’m now looking for solid ground so I can kick off my research and get that data gathering happening. I have a set of case studies planned and there’s some survey data to be added to  the mix.


I’m looking into creativity – how the best teachers in higher education develop their students’ creativity, and how they themselves teach creatively. What motivates these excellent teachers? How do they think about creativity? What can we learn from these teachers and their students? How does the technology they use impact on their efforts to foster creativity?

TED ideas worth spreading: The Creative Spark playlist
I’ll use this space to reflect on my research and share ideas and resources with like-minded researchers and teachers. To initiate that process, the TED talks are a good place to start, and the TED playlist called The Creative Spark is a heartfelt collection of videos which I like going back to. They provide insights from novelists such as Elizabeth Gilbert and Amy Tan talking about where creative genius resides and hides, to Ken Robinson’s thoughts on the role of schooling and kids’ creative futures, and David Kelley’s motivating speech about self efficacy, purpose and creative confidence.

Please post your comments and share resources – otherwise I’m sitting here, chatting away to myself, as usual, the crazy PhD student, staring at my digital future . . .