The infrastructure of education continues to undergo stress and change. To meet new challenges, educators and administrators must approach their roles within the changing structure with as much creativity as is routinely expected of students. In this article, Kevin Dalby, professor at the University of Texas in Austin, explains the creative process as an infrastructure of learning.
The coronavirus has upended nearly every aspect of life for students, teachers, and administrators. Uncertainty reigns as some schools open to students, others remain closed, and still, others employ a hybrid approach to in-person teaching. Now, more than ever before, faculty, staff, and students must learn to utilize the process of creative thinking to their role in the learning process.
British psychologist Graham Wallis outlined the creative process in his book "The Art of Thought" in the 1920s. His four-stage model of the creative process has withstood the test of time and remains popular today.
Stage 1: Preparation
A worldwide pandemic provides little time to prepare for the changes that will be immediately required. Student safety and containment of the virus must be the priority considerations. But, nearly a year into the current health crisis, educators have had time to define and understand the challenges they will encounter moving forward, at least as far as we can estimate what the future will look like. The creative process at this stage includes gathering information, identifying sources of inspiration, and acquiring knowledge about the problem.
Stage 2: Incubation
While it is true that the overwhelming challenges facing education today were thrust upon us unexpectedly, the incubation period for creative solutions is ongoing. In this stage, diverse ideas seemingly unrelated to the current problem can start to find application in unexpected ways. While educators focus on the immediate tasks associated with providing the best education they can, given the current circumstances, new and creative ideas are percolating in their minds.
Stage 3: Illumination
As new and creative ideas simmer in the minds of visionary educators, they will inevitably erupt in exciting epiphanies. The most rewarding part of creative thinking, these "aha moments" bring clarity to what was just a clue that a solution existed. As illumination occurs, a vision of the new infrastructure needed for learning will emerge. At first, it was what we were already familiar with, like applying traditional teaching methods in virtual classrooms. Using the powers of creativity, we will need to rise above this temporary stopgap measure and find new ways of delivering meaningful content to learners regardless of their location.
Stage 4: Verification
Like any discovery, there will inevitably be failures and missteps. Creative educators must be willing to use critical thinking skills to evaluate new education solutions, measure their results, and work to allow them to be refined.
Rarely does the creative process play out in an orderly fashion. It should be expected that competing ideas will conflict with each other. Creativity can be a messy process, but only by thinking creatively will we find the best solutions to enable education to meet our current needs while preparing us to meet future challenges. This pandemic will end, but rather than revert to struggling with the pre-pandemic difficulties of education, let's think creatively and position education to emerge more effective and resilient.