Creativity in Information Literacy Teaching; Part One

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Summary of Creativity in Information Literacy Teaching; Part One

Page 8 Creativity in Information Literacy Teaching: Part One – Understanding Creativity Anthony Stamatoplos, University of South Florida St. Petersburg Take a moment and think about creativity and what it means to be creative. How would you define or describe it? What exactly makes something creative? Is it simply that it’s new or the fact that it’s different or fun? Also, beyond the ‘what’ is the ‘who’: Can anyone discover creativity within them and nurture it to improve their work and lives? For a long time, people saw creativity as a mystery, a quali- ty that only certain gifted individuals possess—but is that true? Additionally, people commonly associate it with the arts, popular culture, or perhaps technological break- throughs. But isn’t creativity present in all domains, as well as in our everyday lives? All these questions show that we often contemplate cre- ativity, but it is not as well understood by the average per- son as it could be. Fortunately for us, experts increasingly extol the relevance and benefits of creativity in education, and scholars have long studied and developed creative edu- cational practices. Librarians have joined in the growing interest in educational innovation, and seek to incorporate creative practices in information literacy and other aspects of the profession. To pick just one example, the theme of the LOEX2014 Conference is “Creative Visualization: The Art of Information Literacy,” which is testament to the fact that librarians see value in creativity applied to their work. It seems appropriate, then, to offer some thoughts about creativity and its application to teaching information litera- cy. To explore creative teaching, we must first understand some basics. The purpose of this two-part article is to en- courage creative thinking and action in teaching information literacy, and suggest some ways to prepare for and achieve creativity in practice. Part One is an effort to demystify and create a general understanding of creativity. My intent is to provide a framework in which instruction librarians can consider creative techniques and practice, and nurture indi- vidual and program creativity (applying these techniques and practice will be the focus of Part Two of the article). Creativity: A Brief Overview So what is creativity? Discussions of creativity center on its products and processes, and include perspectives from various disciplines. It is also useful to consider creativity as a behavior (Amabile, 1983; Mumford & Gustafson 1988), as it makes it less mystifying – it is something a person does. A recurring motif in creativity literature is the interre- lationship between creativity and problem solving (Newell, Shaw, & Simon, 1959; Runco, 1994; Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Mayer, 1999) and since problems occur everywhere, so can creativity. Creativity can be characterized as, “… the ability to solve problems that one has not previously learned to solve” (Mayer, 1989, p. 205). But there is not just a “solving” aspect – many scholars emphasize that the key to creative problem solving is “problem finding,” that is, iden- tifying the problem (Mackworth, 1965; Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Mayer, 1999; Sawyer, 2012, p. 90-93). Studies of creative people have found that “…the most important char- acteristic of creative people is an almost aesthetic ability to recognize a good problem in their domain; they know how to ask the right questions” (Sawyer, 2012, p. 65). Creative people “question the obvious,” and “sense problems before they are generally perceived and are able to define what they are” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996), p. 363). It is important to bear in mind, however, that the process does not always go “Step 1: Find problem; Step 2: Solve problem; Step 3: Success!”; selecting of a problem does not always occur at the “beginning” of the process, nor is the problem initially selected always the real problem that the individual eventu- ally addresses. When creative people ascertain there is a problem, they deviate from familiar or tried patterns; essentially, they “think different” (to use Apple’s famous, if grammatically incorrect, advertising tag line). How is creative thinking “different” from the norm? de Bono discusses what he calls “lateral thinking,” in contrast to the conventional “vertical thinking.” A well-known quote illustrates this idea: “You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper” (de Bono, 1968, p. 4). A popular and well- worn cliché for this idea is “thinking outside the box.” Simi- larly, de Bono and others discuss an aspect of creative think- ing they call “generative thinking.” Guilford and other scholars contrast two different types of thinking: convergent and divergent, characterizing creativity as involving diver- gent thinking. It involves open-ended thinking and focuses on generating multiple ideas about a topic, often to solve a problem (Guilford, 1950). Another key aspect of creative thinking is making men- tal comparisons and associations. Consciously and uncon- sciously, the creative mind connects ideas and finds new combinations. Over a hundred years ago, Ribot identified and discussed “the capacity of thinking by analogy” as a fundamental element of creative thinking (1906, p. 25). Most scholars still identify the use of analogy and metaphor with creative thinking, and several suggest specific ways such associations might occur in the mind, shedding light on the creative process.1 Metaphors and analogies can be a time for librarians to shine and creatively explain the information world, which our students often think they understand (they know how to use Google and Facebook already, right?), but typically do not, especially for academic work. LOEX Quarterly Volume 41 Finally, the essence of creativity is the combining of ex- isting elements in a new way. Scholars and creators alike often characterize creativity as connecting the previously un- connected. This characteristic is key to understanding crea- tivity. More than 2,500 years ago, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed, “A wonderful harmony is created when we join together the seemingly unconnected” (von Oech, 2001, p. 12, 59-60). More recently, technology innovator and entrepreneur Steve Jobs observed, “Creativity is just connect- ing things” (Wolf, 1996). Over the years, scholars, philoso- phers, and creative individuals continue to rediscover and restate this notion (Young, 1960; Bruner, 1962; Koestler, 1964). Definitions of creativity vary widely, however they typically incorporate the ideas of novelty and value. Stern- berg and Lubart (1999), for example, define creativity as, “…the ability to produce work that is both novel (i.e., origi- nal, unexpected) and appropriate (i.e., useful, adaptive con- cerning task constraints)” (p. 3). Creative Thinking: Four Basic Stages As stated at the beginning of the article, misconceptions about creativity are prevalent, and they can hamper our un- derstanding (Sawyer, 2012, 12-14, 4-5-409). A common be- lief is that creativity occurs as a single act, an idea that ap- pears suddenly and virtually from nowhere. Another belief is that it springs only from the minds of certain exceptional in- dividuals. In contrast to this, creativity scholars have long generally described creativity as a recursive process with discernable stages. Almost 90 years ago, Wallas (1926) out- lined and discussed the process of creative thinking, which entails four basic stages: preparation, incubation, illumina- tion (today, many scholars call this insight), and verification. Preparation. During the preparation phase, an individual ac- quires knowledge and skills of a particular domain (Wallas, 1926, p. 80-88; Sawyer, 2012, p.93-96; Amabile 1983). The initial component of Amabile’s three-part framework of crea- tivity is “domain-relevant skills,” which form the basis for the rest of the creative process (1983, p. 362-364). Prepara- tion includes formal education and continued experience and practice in the discipline. Without such preparation, there would be no grounding for creativity. Creativity is the result of considerable thinking and hard work. And this always be- gins with what is already known and done. Without familiari- ty with a domain, there would be no context or raison d'être for a creative work. Jazz great Charles Mingus, who was known to reflect on his art, once said of creativity, “Go where you can go, but start from someplace recogniza- ble” (Charles Mingus). Incubation. Incubation is the phase during which work is in essence “put aside,” at least in terms of intentional work, conscious thought, or focused attention. Wallas referred to this aspect of incubation as an “abstention of conscious thought” about a problem. But the individual unconsciously processes information related to it, making associations and Page 9 bouncing ideas off of one another. Some refer to this as the “creative pause” (de Bono, 1992). It is vital to allow for this open-ended part of the process. Wallas (1926) and others point out the importance of working on multiple problems simultaneously, regularly taking breaks and diverting con- scious attention from them while working on other things, rather than simply trying to plunge forward. Authors, and creative people generally, use various metaphors, many of them culinary, to characterize the incubation part of the crea- tive process. Do you ever let a problem “simmer,” for in- stance, as you consider it? Lewis Carroll, perhaps the epito- me of a creative thinker, stressed the importance of this part of the creative process. In his essay, Feeding the Mind (1907), Carroll uses a diet metaphor to give advice on devel- oping and caring for one’s intellect. Discussing one’s “feeding of their mind,” he stresses the value of resting be- tween feeding intervals, to think over, for example, what one has read. During this time, one mentally “masticates” and “digests” the (intellectual) “food” (Carroll, 1907, p. 24-26). So literally, “let me sleep on it” is a good practice, as out of the incubation phase emerges what we often think of as the creative idea, that is, the illumination or insight. Illumination/ Insight. The illumination stage, also called in- sight by some, is the culmination of the conscious and uncon- scious work the individual has done. This is the phase that seems to get the most attention. People commonly focus on it or believe erroneously that it is the act of creation itself. Wal- las described this as the appearance of the ‘happy idea,” which he referred to as “illumination,” and many later au- thors call, “insight.” Though people might experience insight as a seemingly sudden occurrence (“Eureka!”), it really is the result of a lot of work and time invested. Have you ever won- dered why so many of your new ideas or solutions to prob- lems come to you seemingly out of the blue, such as in the shower, while exercising, or while otherwise not consciously thinking about your problem or need? Likely, without realiz- ing it, you were already hard at work on it mentally, making associations, with bits of ideas bouncing off and combining with one another. Your insight was just one point along the whole process. I think one of the biggest mistakes we make can be to believe and act as though we are done at that point, as though the result is fully formed and complete. But a key piece is still missing—verification. Verification. The verification stage is where the individual “goes back to work,” consciously refining and testing the idea or product. “The creative idea is evaluated, developed, and refined during the verification stage” (Lubart, 1999, p. 341). The work during this phase is analogous to work in the preparation phase. It involves reflecting and questioning the idea or creation, considering it critically. This generally in- volves selecting ideas and making decisions and implement- ing the final product. One might think of this as a “production” and “marketing” phase, in which the result or product solidifies, is elaborated on, and a field recognizes it for its value. Number 1 LOEX Quarterly Volume 41 LOEX Quarterly Wallas’ influential model remains at the core of the thinking of today’s creativity scholars (for example, see Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Sawyer 2012; Torrance & Safter, 1990). Some modern scholars attempt to unpack the stages suggested by Wallas or suggest additional stages of the crea- tivity process. I will apply an eight-stage version to our practical consideration of creative teaching in Part Two. Creativity is not the great mystery that some may be- lieve it to be, nor is it the province of a special class of peo- ple. It is something we can understand, nurture, and apply to our everyday lives and work. If we embrace and develop our own creativity, we can encourage creative practices for the benefit of others and ourselves. Part Two of this article will focus specifically on under- standing creativity in the context of teaching information literacy, and applying that knowledge to developing and implementing creative educational practices. To prepare for that, you might ask yourself some questions. For example, are there certain needs or challenges in your information literacy efforts which could use a fresh look from different perspectives? What knowledge areas, experiences, skills, and resources do you have? Thinking about creativity in terms of “making connections,” what is available for you to connect, combine, or remix? You should include things out- side of your traditional or assigned work, such as your other interests, avocations, disciplines you have studied, and even popular culture. The important thing is that you think about the “building blocks,” tools, and skills at your disposal, and challenge yourself to think differently. You might be sur- prised at the possibilities. References and Footnote Amabile, T.M. (1983). The social psychology of creativity: A compo- nential conceptualization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(2), 357-376. Bruner, J.S. (1962). The conditions of creativity. In H. Gruber, G. Terrell, & M. Wertheimer (eds.), Contemporary approaches to creative thinking (1-30). New York: Atherton Press. Carroll, L. (1907). Feeding the mind. London: Chatto and Windus. Charles Mingus. (n.d.). In WikiQuote. Retrieved April 6, 2014, from Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Perennial. de Bono, E. (1992). The creative pause. In Seriously Creative: Using the Power of Lateral Thinking to Create New Ideas. (86-90). New York: HarperBusiness. de Bono, E. (1968). New think: The use of lateral thinking in the gen- eration of new ideas. New York: Basic Books. Guilford, J.P. (1950). Creativity. American Psychologist, 5(9), 444- 454. Koestler, A. (1964). The act of creation. New York: Macmillan. Lubart, T.I. (1999). Creativity across cultures. In Handbook of Crea- tivity. (339-350). New York: Cambridge University Press. Mackworth, N.H. (1965). Originality. American Psychologist, 20(1), 51-66. Mayer, R.E. (1989). Cognitive views of creativity: Creative teaching for creative learning. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 14 (3), 203-211. Mayer, R.E. (1999). Problem solving. In Encyclopedia of Creativity. (Vol. 2, 437-447). San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Mumford, M.D., & Gustafson, S.B. (1988). Creativity syndrome: Integration, application, and innovation. Psychological Bulletin, 103(1), 27-43. Newell, A., Shaw, J.C., & Simon, H.A. (1959). The Process of Crea- tive Thinking. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation. Ribot, T. (1906). Essays on the creative imagination. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Rothenberg, A. (1976). Homospatial thinking in creativity. Archives of General Psychiatry, 33(1), 17-26. Runco, M.A. (Ed.). (1994). Problem Finding, Problem Solving, and Creativity. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation. Sawyer, R.K. (2012). Explaining creativity: The science of human innovation (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. Spearman, C.E. (1930). Creative mind. London: Cambridge Universi- ty Press. Sternberg, R.J., & Lubart, T.I. (1999). The concept of creativity: Pro- spects and paradigms. In Handbook of Creativity. (3-15). New York: Cambridge University Press. Torrance, E.P., & Safter, H.T. (1990). The Incubation Model of Teaching: Getting Beyond the Aha! Buffalo, NY: Bearly Lim- ited. von Oech, R. (2002). Expect the unexpected (or you won’t find it): A creativity tool based on the ancient wisdom of Heraclitus. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Wallas. G. (1926). The art of thought. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company. Wolf, G. (1996, February). Steve Jobs: The next insanely great thing. Wired. Young, J.W. (1960). A technique for producing ideas. Chicago: Ad- vertising Publications. 1 For more detailed discussions of various theories about how associ- ative thinking may work in the creative mind, see for example: Spearman’s discussion of “correlates” (1930), Koestler’s discussion of “bisociation” (1964), Rothenberg’s discussion of “homospatial thinking” (1976), and Sawyer’s discussion of metaphor and analogy (2012, p. 119-121). Page 10