Limits on Creativity

Creating something new is challenging.

The way I see it, there are two major obstacles to “creating.”  The first is having creativity – you actually have to think creatively to create!  The second is skill – you need certain skills to go from an idea to a product.  For example, if I wanted to draw a picture, I need to be able to envision what I want to draw in my mind (creativity), and then I need to have drawing ability to actually produce the work (skill).  The same can be said for producing music, or writing a short story, or landscaping your backyard, or designing and building a shed, or preparing a delicious meal.  Each of these examples requires having creativity and skill.

I have often felt that I have a desire to be creative but lack the skills to actually produce quality work.  Recently it occurred to me that technology has improved my ability to create because it lowers the barrier on skill.  Technology makes creation more accessible.  For example,  with only a rudimentary level of skill in digital photography, my DSLR camera helps me take (some) great photos.  In addition, programs like Adobe Photoshop, and Lightroom have allowed  me to turn great photos into stunning images that I am incredibly proud to share with friends.  These technologies help me to produce a level of quality that I never could have attained with my limited skills.

Over the past 2 years, I have been thinking a lot about fostering the creativity of my students.  I continue to look for opportunities for students to be creative in my lessons and assignments.  Since technology lowers the barrier to creativity, it has often been the conduit through which my students express themselves.  For example, I have had great success with student blogging, film making, and designing infographics.  My students have started poking fun at me saying,

“Sir, none of our other teachers have ever used the word ‘infographic’, and you say it at least twice a week!”

These days, I am excited to explore  more low-tech forms of creativity in my classes (such as creative writing and drawing).  Sunni Brown gave a great 5 minute TED talk called, “Doodlers, unite!”  In it, she explains the benefits of doodling for brain processing.  I found the talk inspiring  and I am already making plans to incorporate doodling into my Physics lessons on a regular basis this coming semester.  My hope is that doodling encourages a deeper (or more concrete) understanding of concepts in Physics.  And, as a bonus, I might be able reuse some of their cartoon gems to teach concepts to future classes!

Photo Credit: Kim Petersen

Student Assessment Using Video Feedback

I often feel stifled in my writing because I feel like I should only produce a blog when I have something big to say.  I am realizing, however, that I have come to know about so many great technology resources simply because other bloggers have shared their experiences.

I have decided that one way for me to ensure that I blog more consistently is to establish some routines.  Since I am always experimenting with different ways to bring effective technology practices into my classroom, I am going to make an concerted effort to post a blog every week about a single piece of educational technology that I have tried.  Mostly, I just want to share my experiences (good or bad) and I hope to be able to articulate the following key ideas:

  • What is it and where I heard about it
  • How and why I tried it
  • If it worked well or not and why

This year, I tried something entirely new to me:  providing students with feedback through recorded videos.  I got the idea from one of my favourite bloggers, Shelly Blake-Plock, author of TeachPaperless.  The basic idea is  that you read through a piece of student work on the computer and use screen capture software to record a video of your comments as you are reading their work.  I used a free program called Jing.  The program is incredibly easy to use and the videos can be downloaded to your computer or uploaded to Screencast using the 2Gb of storage provided to when you sign up with Jing.

Seeing as I am accepting more and more work from my students electronically, using screen capture software allows me to give descriptive feedback in a way that is far more natural and personal.  I was motivated to try this method for a two main reasons:

1. Time Saving

I am always frustrated with how much time I spend writing comments on student work.  It seems there is no way to communicate complicated ideas quickly and effectively.  In general, the less I write, the poorer the quality of the feedback.  In the past, I have found myself writing comments like “unclear” or “incorrect,” or sometimes even “no!” or “?“.  Clearly these comments are of no real value to a student.  If something is “unclear,” why is it unclear and what can be done to fix it?  Recording feedback is useful to me because in a video recording I can SAY so much more that I could ever write.

2. Personalization

When a student watches the video, it’s as though I am reading their work with them sitting right beside me.  They can see exactly what sentence/idea I am referring to and commenting on.  I also feel as though students will be more willing to watch the entire video to receive the feedback.  In many cases, I find that students are not much interested in written feedback on paper assignments.  The video feels more like a conversation, which is a much more natural way to give and receive feedback.  In addition, the video feedback is sent to the students directly as a link in an email.  They can choose to watch the video when it is convenient for them.  I think this is far better than handing out 30 assignments at the end of a period before the students go off to another class.

I have included an example of some video feedback that I recorded for an assignment last semester.  The assignment was called, “Forces in Everyday Life” and it involved students taking pictures or capturing videos of places in their community that are experiencing forces.  Students were to draw force diagrams of the object(s) as well as write a brief description of how Newton’s Laws applied in each situation.

For my first time creating feedback videos I feel like it worked very well.  My students seemed to take positively to the technology as well.  I am looking forward to using this approach more often in the coming year to see how effective it is with repeated and consistent implementation.

Photo Credit:  quinn.anya