Can students be taught to be innovative?

I wondered to myself recently if ‘resiliance’ can be learned in a formal educational environment. You could learn some strategies for what to do when… you get bullied… or fail… of lose something that you cant get back. But its hard to say if anything except for those kinds of experiences can teach you to be genuinely resiliant.

Maybe the same could be said for innovation. Can students be taught to be innovative? The fifth facet of the Research Skill Development framework is ‘Students analyse and synthesise new knowledge’.  When we have a good hard look at what we have before us (analysis) and work out how different pieces can fit togther in novel ways (synthsise) we have a potentially innovative process going on. Students can be taught to analyse and to sythesise, but does that mean they can be taught to have that ‘spark’ that takes the process into innovative territory?

The affect descriptor that runs parallel to the cognitive domain of  ‘analyse and apply’ in the RSD is:

Creative

Arthur Koestler realised that:  ‘Creative activity could be described as a type of learning process where teacher and pupil are located in the same individual’. So, how can students be taught to teach themselves to be creative? Providing safe conditions for risk-taking, modelling and providing further models of creativity, and valuing and rewarding creativity are starters. Removing whatever stifles creativity  may be another way, including:

  • fussyness (referencing requirements for first year students comes to mind)
  • overly-prescriptive instructions
  • the flipside, lack of clarity or of boundaries
  • sterile learning environment
  • isolated students
  • dogmas
  • excessive work load
  • low teacher expectations

Providing the positives and removing the negatives provides an environment more conducive to students ‘teaching themselves’ to be creative. The need for innovation and creativity in research are absolutely pivotal to developing knowldge that deals with the supercomplex environmental, social and financial issues of the twenty-first century. As Einstein noted:

Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

Do you think innovation, creativity and imagination can be taught? What examples do you have of students developing their creative thinking, especially in the context of research, research question posing and innovative methods?

Author: johnwillison

Senior Leturer, Discipline of Higher Education, School of Education, University of Adelaide.

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