Creativity: Use It Effectively to Enhance Your Online Teaching

Article excerpt

Sometimes, you get lucky. For some time, I have wanted to write a column on the use of creativity in teaching online courses. Not only have I used it very effectively within my distance learning courses, but I've talked with numerous online instructors who found its proper implementation to be invaluable. And so I happened to mention this to a friend, Cathy Skora, a master's student in the prestigious International Center for Studies of Creativity program at State University College at Buffalo, and I was quickly given the missing pieces I needed to make such a column happen. The information she shared with me allowed for a true melding of academic research and experiential teaching, and I saw the use of creativity in my courses become more productive. Thus what follows is just downright cool - and extremely practical - when it comes to the use of creativity in distance learning pedagogy.

Most folks, of course, tend to use the term creativity in a general, "Hey-I'm-thecreative-type" context, understanding, perhaps, that being creative means going from working within what is to pushing beyond to something not yet defined. In this spirit - when done effectively - students become more engaged, are more interested in learning, have fun, and more concretely embrace the subject matter. But once the theory and practice of creativity is understood - wow! These outcomes can be brought to an even higher level.

After several hours of conversation with Cathy (hence the joint credit for this column) on all things creative, I've taken her knowledge, suggestions, and insights on creativity and combined them with a few thoughts, musings, and adventures of my own with using creativity in teaching online to bring you several approaches to sprinkling creativity throughout your courses. Use them - you won't be sorry.


When a distance learning course is "given" to an instructor nearly all of that course - if not all - is pretty much set in stone: due dates, assignments to be completed, lectures, readings, and so on. These were not put together helter-skelter, of course; sage educational minds thought about how all of these can work best for a great student learning experience. Yet, these courses are also very much like a soup without spices: fine for nutrition, but adding some spark to it can make the soup more exiting. So, too, with adding creativity to a course: effectively added in choice spots within a course the students become more engaged, a stronger student-instructor rapport is created, the course has greater whiffs of fun, and the students have a stronger lock on the subject taught.


There is a tendency to view the classroom in a linear fashion - that is, each component of our course is often used as a standalone unit, only involving other parts of the course when built into that segment (e.g., a discussion topic might focus on an upcoming assignment). Yet we must look around and see where unusual or unlikely connections in the course might result in another learning experience for the students. An example? Take that same discussion I just mentioned, then ask the students to connect the topic of the discussion to ... an animal or a city or a color or ....? By bringing in this thread of creativity the students think about the subject from another view, have a bit of fun, and the subject is once more embraced by the students.


Why should you have all the creativity fun? Turn the tables and ask your students, as an example, to give you their most creative yet practical uses of the subject being studied (or a portion of that subject). Have the students pick a historical figure, and then use their new knowledge of their subject to improve upon something that historical figure attempted. Have the students discuss a topic of the course subject as if it were a recipe, then have each student pick one word that best defines his or her relationship with the subject - and explain why. …