Creativity Research and Learning Around the Nation

Creativity Research and Scholarship

Researchers at Harvard and Vanderbilt misplaced gems from the best thinkers in have identified six “latent” types of our global history.
creative environments for students that move beyond the conventions of creative thinking that are measured and judged in a classroom. These are Networking, Nurturing, Idealistic, Renaissance, Social Media and Gregarious creativities. 5 Student narratives were collected and analyzed to determine when students—often unknowingly—“perceived their own creative contributions to campus life,” including hanging out with friends, working in a student organization, volunteering and other routine aspects of campus life . These findings suggest that students can be encouraged to build awareness of what environments best foster their creative thinking, how they can make connections to these environments through their course work and how scholars and students can “refocus attention from the intellectual rewards of the classroom toward the creative management of students’ extracurricular lives.”

Elizabeth Long Lingo and Stephen J . Tepper of Vanderbilt wrote in 2010 about the rising consciousness yet fragmented approach in higher education towards creativity and learning, stating in their Chronicle of Higher Education article, “The creative turn in higher education, however, remains only a series of ad hoc experiments.” Still, researchers are claiming creativity, or something like it, can be measured, and some creative campus programs are leveraging this research, which suggests that creativity is,

[R]ooted in a set of teachable competencies, which include idea generation, improvisation, metaphorical and analogical reasoning, divergent thinking that explores many possible solutions, counter factual reasoning, and synthesis of competing solutions. Creativity also requires an ability to communicate and persuade, and the skills and leadership to apply diverse and specialized expertise.6

Despite a renewed focus on what conditions in teaching and learning can foster creativity, what makes us creative and how we identify creative thinking is a question that has burned in our cultural consciousness for a long time. Maria Popova’s blog Brainpickings is an example of a public resource devoted to culling creative ideas and thinkers throughout history . Recently featured in The New York Times7 as a “big thinker,” Popova’s blog has generated a large readership simply by aggregating forgotten or misplaced gems from the best thinkers in history.

The Association of Performing Arts Presenters recently released a new white paper detailing the outcomes from all their Creative Campus Innovations grant recipients . The paper serves as a means of furthering the dialogue on how arts programming and teaching, and learning can merge on campus to profoundly impact student learning and creativity . The paper is balanced in its recognition of the challenges both artists and instructors can face when trying to integrate interdisciplinary projects and programs on campus: “Budgets, facilities, selection processes, and professional norms all work against innovative programming that places other goals (learning, engagement, conversation, community building) above more narrowly conceived notions of curatorial excellence . Furthermore, institutional structures and academic practices, from tenure to course review and scheduling and budgetary silos, also discourage faculty and other campus partners from embracing arts-based interdisciplinary inquiry .” However, the paper goes on to discuss the unique value of collaboration with performing arts presenters on campus, because they often,

[C]reate what scholars call “trading zones”—spaces where people can exchange ideas and learn from one another without the same external pressures tied to extrinsic rewards and strict disciplinary practices. The arts contribute to these trading zones in unique ways—they build “play” and improvisation into the creative process; they embrace ambiguity and uncertainty; they use story and metaphor to produce mutual understanding and bridge cultural differences. Moreover, artists are often project driven rather than discipline driven and process oriented rather than product oriented.8

The authors make the argument that arts programming can be an essential and critical part of infusing courses and campus communities with an appreciation and discourse on creativity and its many forms. It’s well worth reading the full report, available at: Campus White Paper w Exec Sum.pdf.

5. Pachucki, M. A., S. J. Tepper & J.C. Lena. “Creativity Narratives Among College Students: Sociability and Everyday Creativity .” The Sociological Quarterly 51 (2010): pp. 122-149.
6. Lingo, Elizabeth Long & Steven J. Tepper. “The Creative Campus: Time for ‘C’ Change.” Chronicle of Higher Education, 10 Oct. 2010. Web. Available at: http://chronicle .com/article/The- Creative-Campus-Time-for/124860/?viewMobile=1 .
7. Feiler, Bruce. “She’s Got Some Big Ideas.” The New York Times, 30 Nov . 2012. Web. Available at: nytimes .com/2012/12/02/fashion/maria-popova-has-some-big-ideas.html.
8. Brown, Alan S. & Steven J. Tepper. “Placing the Arts at the Heart of the Creative Campus: A White Paper Taking Stock of the Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program.” Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Dec . 2012.


Creativity and Arts Integration: Around the Nation

Many of the programs listed below were underwritten by the Creative Campus Innovations Grant to “support exemplary campus-based performing arts presenters to develop and implement programs and strategies beyond conventional practice that integrate their work across the academy.”

It’s important to note that you don’t need to be funded or flush with budget money to infuse your course(s) with creative approaches to learning; this entire issue is presented to give educators ideas on how creativity can be explored at the course delivery level, as well as by leveraging programming that may already exist on your campus. For example, talk to your campus’ arts programming staff and discuss ways you can integrate visiting artists, on-campus performances and cultural events with your course teaching and learning goals. Here, we provide you with some inspiring snippets of what’s happening nationally in creativity and teaching and learning:

• Creative Thinking, a new undergraduate course offered by Montclair State University, developed by the Office of Arts and Cultural Programming and the Research Academy for University Learning. The course is the first of its kind in American university learning, which incorporates the creative processes of visiting artists and faculty instructors from multiple disciplines, who expose students to unique approaches to design and idea generation. Currently the lead instructor is Dr . Iain Kerr (see sidebar p. 4) who infuses the course with a revolving and evolving set of creative exercises and projects co-developed by MSU faculty from Math, Physics, Music, Theatre, Computer Science, Marketing, Art and Design, and Philosophy to present interdisciplinary approaches to creative problem-solving, perspectives and learning.

• The Creative Process, a University of Michigan undergraduate course: artsonearth .umich .edu/creativeprocess.php. This course seeks to “de-mystify creativity for students in all U-M units and years: to teach students that creativity is not a character trait or an event, but a process—one that will challenge their sense of competence and mastery, but that they can understand and eventually master, transforming both themselves and their work.” Like the Creative Thinking course at Montclair State, Creative Process is taught by a cohort of faculty from many disciplines and models how the creative process can be developed through various interdisciplinary approaches.

• The Scientific Imagination: a virtual symposium discussing creative learning in the sciences—with specific examples of course content and teaching practices, sponsored by the Creative Research Center at Montclair State University. The video is available for free online via the CRC website creative-research-center.

• Envisioning the Practice: Montreal International Symposium on Curating the Performing Arts, April 2014:

• Vanderbilt University’s The CURB Center: For Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy . Vanderbilt’s program to promote a national conversation on arts and education to promote creative thinking and learning is a prototype for campuses that want to connect arts programming, research, community projects, and creative teaching and learning . The seven core principles that inform their mission include a critical observation that “Creative insight and critical assessments are not solely the purview of the lone genius—instead they emerge through bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise.”

• Feet to the Fire: Exploring Global Climate Change from Science to Art. Another project funded by the Creative Campus grant initiative, Wesleyan University developed and presented a unique creative project that “included research and learning opportunities for students and faculty to explore the effects of global warming and the intersections between scientific and artistic approaches to the issue, and to foster a deeper understanding of issues surrounding global climate change through multiple lenses.”

• Class Divide: The HOP at Dartmouth . The Hopkins Center for the Arts (HOP) at Dartmouth was the recipient of a Round 1 Grant from Creative Campus Innovation Grant. The HOP developed a multi- dimensional approach to integrating the creative arts in community outreach and campus initiatives. Watch their documentary on Youtube (some excellent ideas on how to merge your course goals with creative arts programming here); search for “The Class Divide.”

We hope you enjoy and are inspired by the articles presented here. To learn more about how Montclair State is leading a growing initiative to focus pedagogy on creative teaching and learning, please contact the Research Academy for University Learning at, or visit

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