Serious and Playful Inquiry: Epistemological Aspects of Collaborative Creativity

By Sullivan, Florence R. | Educational Technology & Society, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Serious and Playful Inquiry: Epistemological Aspects of Collaborative Creativity


Sullivan, Florence R., Educational Technology & Society


The purpose of this paper is to further our understanding of collaborative creativity among middle-school students. National technology standards expressly discuss creativity as a desired learning outcome for K12 students (International Society of Technology in Education, 2007). This may be due to an envisioned need to address increasingly complex societal problems through innovation. Sonnenburg (2004) argues that collaborative teams will be an essential aspect of such creative work in the future. Collaborative creativity, then, is an important yet relatively new focus of research (Sawyer & DeZutter, 2009). As such, there is a limited amount of K12 educational research related to this topic. The research that does exist has shed light on two areas of collaborative creativity: group dynamics and local classroom practices.

Developing a shared understanding of a task through intersubjectivity is a key aspect of successful collaborative problem-solving (Roschelle & Teasley, 1995). However, it seems that for creative solutions, some level of disagreement or conflict regarding the task increases the groups' overall creativity (Chiu, 2008; Kurtzberg & Amabile, 2001), whereas personal or processual conflict will negatively affect the groups' creativity (Etelapelto & Lahti, 2008). Vass, Littleton, Miell, and Jones (2008) found that for a collaborative creative-writing task, students' emotional reactions to the assignment also affect the quality of their creative work.

Researchers have identified local classroom practices that bear on collaborative creativity. These practices include language play, musing, singing, humor, acting out, and role-playing games (Fernandez-Cardenas, 2008; Vass, et al., 2008). These practices serve to open a space for all students to engage and offer ideas for consideration. Collaborative creativity also includes practices such as planning together, sharing opinions, building on and integrating one another's ideas, arguing for one's ideas, negotiation and coordination of viewpoints, and seeking agreement on points of discussion (Rojas-Drummond, Albarran, & Littleton, 2008, p. 186).

This early research has begun to lay an empirical foundation for understanding phenomena involved in collaborative creativity. Yet, as Sonnenburg (2004) argues, we are still in need of a strong theoretical basis for understanding collaborative creativity, and as Sawyer and DeZutter (2009) point out, we know little about how creative ideas develop within a group. In this paper, I address both of these issues by examining the interactions of a small group of sixth graders solving a robotics problem. I analyze their interactions based on Bakhtin's (1981, 1986) theory of dialogism, providing a dialogic analysis of how a small group develops a creative solution to a technology problem.

Dialogism

Dialogism (Bakhtin, 1981) is a theory of communication that refers to the constant interplay of social forces on the meanings we make of the words we speak. In Bakhtin's formulation, the meanings of words are not fixed but are dependent on the socio-ideological position of the speaker of the words and the situation in which the words are spoken. Bakhtin (1986) theorizes that all communication is historically situated and responsive to the anticipated understanding and response of the addressee. In this way, each utterance is multi-voiced and temporally dynamic, containing the voices of previous speakers and shaped by the anticipated voice of future speakers.

Bakhtin (1981) argues that people develop their frameworks for knowledge by appropriating the discourses of others. These appropriated discourses constitute the lens through which experience is filtered. Bakhtin has identified two types of discourse: authoritative discourse and internally persuasive discourse. Authoritative discourses emanate from hierarchical sources, demand to be accepted as they are, and are not open to the perspective of the other. …

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