By Pat Bowden, published October 17, 2017.
“This looks interesting: a Coursera six week MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Creativity. I’m a fairly creative person, this should be a cinch.”
These were my thoughts when I decided to enrol in “Ignite Your Everyday Creativity” presented by Dr Cindi Burnett and Dr John F Cabra at The State University of New York.
Early in the first week students were encouraged to download a template to make a portfolio of creative ideas as we progressed through the course. This template was available in a choice of forms: PowerPoint, PDF, Word docx, and Google Doc. We were advised that our portfolio would serve as a peer-assessed assignment in the final week of the course. In this way, it was easy to add to our portfolio as we progressed through the course.
Most projects went into the portfolio, but there were a few course activities that were not required there. I created a folder for the course on my computer and saved these extra activities as documents so I would have a record of them. There’s also the opportunity to create projects that we didn’t want to share as part of the peer assessment, and these also went into my personal folder.
Week one went well, with videos, readings and supplementary materials easy to access. Portfolio activities were clearly explained and students were also encouraged to share their thoughts on particular topics in the discussion forums.
A Stumbling Block
Week two featured the first creative assignment. This was a big hurdle for me, as the peer-assessed assignment was to create a decorated light switch plate or a similar small item. The assignment was presented as solving the problem of ivory-coloured light switch plates clashing with freshly painted white walls.
I didn’t want any decorated light switch plates in my house. As a retired person, I didn’t want to go out and buy a light switch plate either (even though they only cost a few dollars). Another stumbling block for me was that I’m hopeless at drawing and painting. What to do?
After a few days of thinking “This is too hard, I’ll just forget this course and try something else,” I was walking past a shop and saw a back-issue car magazine for a rock-bottom price. I might not be able to draw, but I can cut pictures out! My husband was happy to read the magazine before I attacked it with the scissors. I cut the top off an old plastic milk container, covered the bottom with paper, and glued car pictures and some stickers on it to make a pencil holder for a young relative. He was delighted with the pencil holder and I was delighted when my peers gave me full marks for creativity.
A major premise of the course is that we constantly face challenges in life. Often without realising it, we solve problems creatively, even if we think we have no creative ability. Many of the activities were designed to help us think in more creative ways and discover a wider range of possible solutions to everyday problems. We were asked to think of a complex problem we have solved and analyse the process. How did we solve the problem? What could we have done better?
Later we were prompted to make a to-do list for a current project. I found this activity particularly helpful. I thought of a daunting project that I want to complete and used the activity to break it into small, achievable parts.
I found some of the activities surprisingly time-consuming, particularly those that requested students to come up with unexpected solutions to problems. I sometimes felt that “I’m not as creative as I thought I was” as I puzzled fruitlessly to think of more ideas. Occasionally, I would wake up in the morning with more answers after my brain had relaxed into the diffuse mode of thinking described in Coursera’s “Learning How to Learn” MOOC.
As well as the many small activities, there were five peer-assessed assignments in the course. All of the assignments included a discussion of the creative process. Prompts such as “What did I learn from this assignment?” and “ How will I transfer my learning to nurture my everyday creativity?” helped us think of practical applications for our creativity.
The final week featured two assignments. One was the Creative Portfolio mentioned above. Because I had added to my Portfolio as I worked through each activity, it was a simple process to review it and make sure I had completed each part. The other was a Final Reflection on our progress.
The Final Reflection was an eye-opener for me. As I analysed the various tools and techniques presented throughout the course, I had a breakthrough in my thinking. For many years I have used brainstorming when tackling a tricky project: writing down ideas on a large piece of paper, then analysing them later. With the help of techniques such as SCAMPER and Forced Connections, I realised that I have been analysing and censoring my ideas even before writing them down, thinking some of them were too silly or way-out. What are SCAMPER and Forced Connections? You’ll have to take the course to find out.
I have now stuck a note on my computer to remind myself to let my imagination flow freely. The note says “No idea is too silly!” I need to remember that it’s okay to record all kinds of silly ideas. The answer might just lay in building on a silly idea. After realising this truth, I found thinking up ideas a lot easier.
A Final Thought
Whether or not you think you are a creative person, this course might help you. I was surprised by the range of techniques used to boost creativity and help us with everyday problems.