Art & Science of Learning

Can creative thinking be taught?

DSC_0003by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

This was the underlying question at Dr. Russell Carpenter’s workshop last week on Applied Creative Thinking.  Dr. Carpenter’s work suggests it can, and his recent book, Teaching Applied Creative Thinking, helps us to better understand how we might do so.  As I’ve reflected on the workshop and on the strategies laid out in this book, I’ve also been thinking about why it’s important to try.

Along with coauthors Charlie Sweet, Hal Blythe, and Shawn Apostel, Carpenter presents nine creative-thinking strategies that can be applied across a broad range of disciplines and contexts: perception-shifting, piggybacking, brainstorming, glimmer-catching, collaborating, going with the flow, playing, recognizing patterns, and thinking metaphorically.

For each strategy, the authors provide definitions, examples, and what they call “tactics for implementation” – specific kinds of activities and exercises faculty can adapt to help students to think more creatively.  Often, these strategies require students – all of us, really – to think in new ways about what class time is for and to live with a bit more fluidity and ambiguity than we might generally be comfortable with.  But the discomfort produced by fluidity and ambiguity is crucial to deep, transformative learning, particularly of the sort we aim for in the context of a Jesuit education.

No matter what our disciplinary background, no matter how specialized our work, creative thinking strategies can help us get outside of our own perspectives and imagine that fixed and certain ideas are changeable.  As teachers, we all know how powerful learning can be when students’ perspectives suddenly shift, when they find an unorthodox solution to an entrenched problem, or imagine an alternative reality and then work to make it so, or feel empathy for someone who seemed, only moments ago, radically “other” to them.

St. Ignatius privileged the role of the imagination in his prayer life and in the Spiritual Exercises.  For him, the work of the imagination was not separate from spiritual life: it was an essential element of the spiritual life.  Imagination was the cornerstone of deep connection and meaningful discernment. For those of us teaching in Jesuit universities, it also is an essential element of Ignatian pedagogy.

Do you have activities or exercises you use to get students thinking creatively?  Share them in the comments section on this blog.

Want to learn more about how you can integrate applied creative thinking in your own teaching?  Stop by the Reinert Center.  We’re always happy to help you imagine alternative ways of teaching – and of managing the discomfort that comes along with that!