I’ve recently returned (jetlag and all) from Egypt, where I had the opportunity to speak at the American University in Cairo’s EURECA conference, an event that offers a showcase for undergraduate research as well as events focused on the intersection of research and creativity, a topic many of us at ProfHacker are passionate about. For me it was also an education, as I was able to witness some of the approaches to research and undergraduate education on display and participate in discussions surrounding the challenges of bringing creativity into the classroom.
One of the week’s highlights for me was a panel with faculty from a range of disciplines (including rhetoric, science, and architecture) discussing the challenge of “teaching” creativity. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the word “creative,” as often we attribute it as a trait to people or work when we want to talk about something that’s difficult to measure. Perhaps most importantly to me, the act of being creative demands that we and our students take risks and break things, and in that act of breaking (or hacking, if you prefer) we may or may not construct something of value. The process of getting to that outcome may be even more valuable then anything actually produced, but that process is difficult to assess or reward. In undergraduate education, then, it’s easy for creative thinking to be an afterthought to more measurable outcomes.
Changing projects and assignments to break out of the standard methods of research and assessment can of course be one way to integrate the creative process into the undergraduate research experience. This method was on display at the EURECA “Creatopia” day. The Creatopia event included both interactive exercises for creativity (like filling circles with images under a rapid deadline, or creating something new from random lines and dots) and a showcase of creative research projects by students, including a collection of games developed in a creative seminar course. Those games (including the ones shown above) represented a range of approaches to educational game design. Maha Bali’s students made games with found and reclaimed materials, including one fun game that asked players to compete to build objects out of “trash” destined for the recycling bin, and another that re-imagined Monopoly through a lens of intentional poverty and charity. You can learn more about her module in the university’s Creativity & Creative Problem Solving course on her blog. After seeing (and playing) some of the results of this type of interdisciplinary collaboration, I wish I’d gotten to take a course like it when I was an undergraduate.
You can read more about the conference in Maha Bali’s posts on the panel and keynote, as well as my slides on creativity as a form of research and scholarly communication. There’s also a fantastic sketchnote of the talk by Mac Toot, which is itself a great example of creative discourse. Events like this one serve as a reminder of all that is possible within undergraduate education, particularly if we create expressive opportunities for nontraditional outcomes of research.