Creativity and its role in the adoption of education technology

Jim Turner
Liverpool John Moore 1998s University,

Educational technology needs to become embedded within teaching practice in order to successfully realise its potential. The focus of this process has been on academic staff training in technological skills and, more recently, educated in pedagogical implications. With this new information they are encouraged to create their own personal reinterpretation to fit their particular situation. The amount of innovation from the older established practice involved in this last process, will depend on many pragmatic, political and personal issues. What if we were to view the act of embedding learning technologies as fundamentally creative? Would the skills requirement tend to move towards staff developing methodologies of how to re interpret the new into the old? Does creativity hold hidden aspects to the problem of adoption that need further exploration? The study of creativity has given us different methodologies for enhancing, developing and measuring its different aspects. I propose in this paper that positioning creativity centrally to the adoption process, could provide a different approach to skills and training and also a different view point of the abilities needed to successfully embed technology in teaching practice.

Creativity, staff development, technology adoption, teaching practice

The success of a new educational technology, requires the adoption of its discoveries and innovations, by the wide staff and academic body. At the same time, academic institutions are being forced to review their activities, by pressure from external environmental changes, such as globalization and changes in student intake (Daniel

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1996). New technology is perceived as holding answers to these problems and the process of its’ adoption, as inducing the greater transformation, needed to cope with the new environment (Oliver et al 2005). There are various approaches to promoting and supporting this adoption process, by concentrating on; the managerial (Oliver et al 2005), the development of technical skill, providing pedagogical understanding (jisc) and by evolutionary steps (Laurillard 2002). The field of educational technology is rapidly developing, with new innovations that require greater levels of transformational change, to be successfully adopted. A good example of this, is the recent interest in Wikis. To be successfully adopted, they require more than a combination of learning the technological skills, and understanding of the pedagogic implications and principles (Guzdial et al 2001). They are also inherently flexible, allowing the adopter to be only limited by their imaginations, as to how they might intergrate within their teaching practice (Guzdial et al 2001). Ideas from research into creativity could help promote this required transformational change, leading to not only more successful levels of adoption, but also create change in teaching practice. “creative accomplishment, after all, is nothing if not a developmental shift, a significant reorganisation of knowledge and understanding, which can lead to changes in products, ideas and beliefs, and technologies . . . creativity is quintessentially a developmental mater” (Feldman 1999: 171) This is not just an issue with current technologies. For example, Microsoft PowerPoint has been widely adopted to improve the delivery of lectures. This change over required; large amounts of technical support, an investment by the institution, and technical skill development by the lecturers. All for what remains quite a small change in teaching practice. This technology offers more in terms of benefits to both lecturer and student, but the process has stalled at the first level. More technical skill development and pedagogical knowledge could scaffold deeper explorations of its potential. However, the leap required could be viewed as a creative one, requiring the adopter to think of more novel ways to intergrate the technology, going beyond the conformity to their current usage. Of course, creativity alone does not hold the answer to this problem, skills training and pedagogical knowledge will still be required. However, it does bring with it distinct opportunities to evaluate and redirect current activities

“Learning technology is still in its early stages, early adoption cycles have seen the most promising of aspects of technology, and its revolutionalising potential damped by the ways in which it has been adopted. Lecturers have not changed their practice and have merely carried on with minor adjustments to using technology.” (Elgort 2005) Elhort goes on to call for pedagogic development. But, I propose, creativity is inherently needed for successful change. Current models of organizational change and adoption The current models of technology adoption, also have interesting links with this notion of the importance of creativity.

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Moore’s (1998) model outlines the process of adoption of new technology within the market. A bell shaped curve diagram divides this market into different categories of adopters. There are small numbers of innovators and early adopters at the beginning, followed by the majority in the middle, and small amounts of luddites at the far end. Innovators and early adopters are characterized by their interest and excitement about the use of new technology, and changes in working practices. They are also happier with higher levels of risk. The ‘early majority’ however, are more risk adverse. They resist take-up unless the product is proved to be beneficial, and easy to adopt into their current practice. The space between these two groups is called ‘the chasm’. The general take-up of technologies by the mass market is critically affected by the jump across this ‘chasm’. The products that are being marketed rely on having their benefits very clearly defined to this ‘early majority’. There is a recognized need to minimize the creative step for the early majority to take. However, a particular type of innovation called ‘discontinuous innovation’ is one that requires an inescapable break from normal practice, even by the ‘early majority’ (Moore 1998). The idea of the ‘discontinuous innovation’ fits with the current problem, of types of adoption needed within education. This model has direct links with the larger field of diffusion research, which is defined below. “diffusion is the process by which (1) an innovation (2) is communicated through certain channels (3) over time (4) among members of a social system” (Rogers 2003) In the past, the diffusion models accepted view was that, each adopter accepted exact copies of the innovation and used them in the same, intended way. With simplistic innovations this remains true, but it became increasingly obvious that more complex, and flexible technologies did not fit this model. At this level, adoptions require adaptation, inspired by their incompleteness or inherent flexibility. This change by adopters, to innovations, is called ‘re-invention’. This process has been shown to provide a more lasting, and successful adoption by those that re-invent (Backer 2000). Some adopters see re-invention as a very desirable quality. The activity has on impact on a personal level leading them to overstate the amount of changes they have made to the orginal. Re-invention is not necessarily, a process of creativity. Misunderstandings can create error and diversity in the implementation of ideas, rather than a conscious creative act. Re-invention is becoming more prevalent as innovations grow in complexity and flexibility. (Rogers 2003) Creativity can also be implied within models of organizational change. Aldrich’s (1979) evolutionary model views change as a Darwinian response. Organizations try to find the best fit to their environment. They do this by taking advantage of ‘variations’ produced internally. The products of conscious creativity are viewed as ‘variation’, along with those created by error and chance. These are the raw materials needed to constantly move the organization on towards a better fit with the changing external environment. The more variation produced the more likelihood of success.

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“the general principal is that the greater the heterogeneity and number of variations, the more opportunities for a close fit to the environment selection criteria” (Aldrich 1979: 35) The ideas of ‘variation’ and ‘re-invention’ all contain creativity, and are seen as having major influence on adoption and organizational change. Creativity research There are numerous definitions of creativity. The following statement defines creativity by considering aspects that are common to most, and also analogous with this particular staff development focus. Creativity is a cognitive activity to create novel ideas or products, which are valuable (Csikszentmihalyi 1996, Boden 2004, Amabile 1996). The idea that creative products must have value or serve a purpose is contentious in terms of defining creativity (Nickerson 1999). However, when being creative within the relatively confined criteria of fitting technology to teaching and learning, value becomes very important. Creative thinking produces different levels of value, within a particular problem space. It can be measured on both a personal level, and on the impact it has on the wider social environment. Creativity research has developed a notional scale of creativity; at one end is the creative thought required in everyday activities, at the other, historical and revolutionary levels of change in the wider world. Boden (2004) defines these as Pcreativity (psychological and personal) that stays within the rules of a particular domain. And H-creativity (historically important) or transformative creativity, which breaks or develops new rules or domains. Other research takes a different view point, “creativity according to the connectionists goes on all the time, the real remarkable thing is when the mind can think in step-by-step routine” (Bereiter 2002, 180). Creativity at the lower end of the scale is therefore recognized as a necessary and natural thinking process in everyday life. The level of creativity within the proposed staff development would range at the lower end of the scale for revolutionizing the domain, but may demand high levels of creative thinking and transformation on a personal level. There is a long history of research into creativity, with approaches as diverse as; psychometric studies of the creative personality, experimental studies of the products of creative activities, and biographical and histometric studies of creative people and their environments. These have been carried out by researchers from many different disciplines using various methods and tools. The creative performance required by staff development links with particular elements drawn from this research. An essential part of creativity is the identification of the problem or subject, that requires exploration and/or a solution. (Csikszentmihalyi 1996, Amabile 1996, boden). The research into computer-based modeling of creative behaviour has been criticised because it ignores this selection process. It focuses on identifying solutions to given problems, rather than identifying the problem itself (Csikszentmihalyi 1996). Problem selection has major bearings on levels of motivation to find solutions. For instance,

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many people have continued a fascination with a problem or activity, that has been regarded by others as fruitless. Externally proposed problems do not always result in creative output (Amabile 1996) because of this lack of personal motivation and ownership. (Csikszentmihalyi and getzels 1971, Nickerson 1999) Research has identified that being told to be creative has a powerful influence creative on output (Manske & Davis 1968). Being explicit about creativity also has an effect. By discussing and identifying particular cognitive methods, or ways of thinking, creative thinking is promoted (Amabile 1996). This also fits with Polanyi’s (1964) model of tacit and explicit knowledge, that moving knowledge out of the hidden realm of the tacit, towards the visible explicit, helps to define and conceptualize understanding. Research has also attempted to establish methods or heuristics that enhance creativity. This has resulted in a range of thinking processes but few of which have evidence to substantiate their claims (Amabile 1996). Never the less, it is not an unreasonable objective to wish to devise methods to improve creativity (Nickerson 1999) and the lack of evidence could be caused by the difficulty of measuring the processes (Amabile 1996). Brainstorming is perhaps the most widely known enhancement tool. Although the word is in common usage, perhaps over-usage, our current conceptions of it are very far from the original. Osborn’s book (1963), in which he first outline this process, includes; initial activities of defining the problem, and strict rules for the production of solutions which included the with-holding of judgment. A central part of the process is the idea of quantity not quality, that the externalizing of these proto-ideas will lead to new associations being made within the group. However, this social process of creativity has been attacked for its naive understanding of the social pressures occurring within groups (Stein 1974). Research into ‘nominal’ group brainstorming, where the participants don’t meet, until they have developed a range of solutions individually, has been shown to provide a greater range of solutions (Stein 1974, Amabile 1996). Linked to brainstorming is the activity of free-association. This is the idea that we all have links, or associations between concepts within our minds. Over time some of these associations will become dominant, this will allow us to think more effectively when dealing with simplistic tasks. However, to think novel thoughts, we will need to travel down lesser pathways or even make new routes. De Bono has written extensively on this subject, perhaps his most interesting contribution being ‘serious creativity’ (De Bono 1995). The central focus of the book is on ‘provocation’. This is the act of providing the mind with stimulus to break from its normal patterns of thought. By doing this, different aspects of the problem are highlighted and new associations made. This is echoed in Koestler’,s (1976) biosociative idea of the creation of novel thoughts being at a collision point between two different concepts. Although Boden (2004) supports this notion, she also warns against the simplistic view of useful creative thought being generated from “shaking the bag of marbles”. She suggests that this is no replacement for having a rich store of knowledge and the development of different ways to move around it. A more systematic idea is the

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'geneplore' model (Finke et al 1992). This model is distinct from scientific methods of exploring ideas, via the hypothesis creation and testing method. It involves cycles of generative and explorative thinking (gene-plore), using pre-inventive structures to prompt thinking. In Amabile (1996) extensive review of different heuristics to support creativity, she sees one method above all, has shown results. “findings on the deferment of judgment are reliable and meaningful” (Amabile 1996: 248). Elements of this idea can be seen in the methods described above. By deferring judgment, whether individually or in a group, allows for a proto-idea to develop into something more substantial, or perhaps act as a opening for others. By dismissing ideas straight away they will have little opportunity to grow. Although methods of enhancement hold some promise, as (Amabile 1996) puts it, perhaps the best we can do is avoid undermining it. Her studies focus on the effects of the social environment on creative output. This is a recent approach to creativity, as Csikszentmihalyi (1996) proposes, “creativity does not happen inside people’s heads, but in the interaction between a person’s thoughts and a sociocultural context.” (Csikszentmihalyi 1996: 24). Csikszentmihalyi model views creativity placed within the three way interaction between the individual, the subject domain in which they are working, and the field or social system that governs the development in that domain. The balance of power within this system can have a positive or negative effect on the creative products within it. So, if the environment is right then the skills on an individual cognitive level will develop by themselves (Amabile 1996). Perhaps the most interesting part of this particular view of creativity is Amabile’s (1996) extensive research into the relationship between the individual’s motivation, and environmental factors have on the creative product. She uses the ideas of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic being the personal and emotional engagement with the problem, the extrinsic being the forces from non-related issues, such as external monitoring, rewards for product, constraints from external directives and un-supportive evaluation, that does not pertaining to the activity itself. “intrinsic motivation is conducive to creativity; controlling extrinsic motivation is detrimental to creativity, but informational or enabling extrinsic motivation can be conducive, particularly if initial levels of intrinsic motivation are high.” (Amabile 1996: 119)

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Social-environmental influences on creativity Positive General Autonomy/sense of control Importance/urgency of work Optimal challenge Reward that confirms competence Intrinsically interesting work Task matched to interests Sufficient task structure to support competent performance Organizational Recognition that failure provides insight Mechanism for considering the new High-level encouragement for innovation Immediate supervisior encouragement Coworker skill diversity Coworker openness to new ideas Rigid status structures Coworkers challenge ideas constructively Emphasis on intrinsic motivators Competition with outside organizations Constructive work focused feedback Clear strategic direction Cooperation Collaboration Negative General Threatening critical evaluation Expectation of evaluation Surveillence Contracted-for reward Restricted choice Abitary/unrealistic deadlines Competition with co-workers

Organisational Lack of communication Lack of cooperation Emphasis on status quo Emphasis on extrinsic motivations Win-lose competition Rigid procedures Apathy towards project from others in organisation

(Amabile 1996: 120) There are many reasons why this should happen. Some identified by Amabile (1996) include; external concerns filling up valuable cognitive space, that reduce the likelihood that novelty will occur. The social pressure to perform, which directs activity towards the obvious, or already established answers, and reduction of the desire to take risks. There is an interesting link with Csikszentmihalyi (1996) ideas of intrinsic motivation within creativity itself. His notion of ‘flow’ is an attempt to define the feelings of being so deeply involved in a process that you loose sense of time and of yourself. The flow state becomes deeply satisfying and almost addictive in quality, as individuals find the state desirable and wish to return to it. Some aspects of the external environment influence the level of flow, for instance, the task engaged with must be of a level of challenge as to be just beyond the current capabilities of the individuals. The process gets to a point where it is enjoyable for its own sake, having an intrinsic value to the individual.

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The selection above is not a comprehensive one, but gives a starting point to help to define what creativity can offer technology adoption. What is the different approach? By outlining particular elements of creativity research, it is possible to make predictive assumptions on how they could appear within staff development activities, and how they might benefit this process. These would impact on different levels within the organisation; the activities within the training, the focus and the organisation of training, the influence of that training within the organisation, and finally the engagement with organisational, aspirations. Firstly, we will need to make explicit the need for creativity to assist successful technology adoption by staff. As stated above, the level of creativity required is not at the revolutionary end of the scale, and claims of such may alienate staff. Rather a more subtle approach is called for, but within all levels and stages of the organisation. The aim would be to influence the adoption process away from conformist notions of technologies as being fixed answers, towards transformative ideas of possible uses. At the very least, the training events should explicitly recognize the need for creative thinking to successfully adopt technologies. This recognition should feed through to the different levels of the system, rewarding and encouraging activities of this kind. Training events need to move further away from concentrating on the problem of learning the technology and its given uses, towards identifying problems and creatively exploring technology to solve them. Ideally these problems should come from the staff members, but could start by themeing events around existing problems such as, student feedback. A range of technologies and methods could be explored, with active participation by staff in suggesting, devising and deciding on the best solution. The ownership of the problem should connect with the intrinsic motivation to find solutions to it. However, this range of technology should be so technologically advanced as to require great lengths of time to learn the skills of how to use them. Rather, the technologies should either be simple and easy to use, such as wikis, or well established such as PowerPoint, but all should be flexible enough to allow for a range of uses. The focus of any training can then be on developing the range of possible solutions, to identified problems, within technologies that all can use. The group brainstorming within training could be disadvantageous to creativity because of the social pressures discussed above. Using the ‘geneplore’ model, individuals could be encouraged to anonymously suggest a range of solutions for a problem or uses for a particular technology. By collecting and presenting them as proto-ideas in preceding events, could provide stimulus for individuals. The process of explaining and encouraging contribution, would also give a focus to explaining creative thinking methods, such as the suspension of judgment. The most difficult area is the organizational social environment impacting on the individual’s creative efforts. The extrinsic motivations mentioned by Amabile (1996), such as to conform to current practice, apathy in other team members and critical

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evaluation, all threaten this process more than anything else. Making these forces explicit to the creative individuals has shown to reduce their affects (Amabile 1996). By creating a strong community culture of mutual support amongst those attempting to adopt, could help reduce institutionalized negative motivation. At some point direct action will be needed to re educate and influence the larger support, surrounding structures that can have this damaging effect. Conclusion and further research There are links between creativity and the issues surrounding technology adoption. These can be seen within the models of technology adoption of Moore (1998) and Rogers (2003), and within the organizational change model of Aldrich (1979). There is also some evidence from the current types of technology being introduced into education, that their flexibility will require imagination to place them successfully into context. The need can also be recognized by the past adoption of falling short of their promise. Creative research has some interesting aspects that could be used within staff development practice. The methods proposed will need further research to prove their value.

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Finke, R., Ward, T. and Smith, S. (1992). Creative cognition. Cambridge: MIT Press Elgort, I., (2005). E-learning adoption: Bridging the chasm. Paper presented at the 22nd Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE). Brisbane, Australia. Vol.1 pp. 181-185. Guzdial, M. R., Jochen, K. C. (2001). Beyond Adoption To Invention: Teacher-Created Collaborative Activities In Higher Education. Journal Of The Learning Sciences, 10(3), 265-279. Koestler, A., (1976) The act of creation, Hutchinson. Laurillard, D., (2002) Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework For The Effective Use Of Learning Technologies, New York : Routledgefalmer. Manske, M. E., & Davis, G. A. (1968). Effects of simple instructional biases upon performance in the unusual uses test. Journal of General Psychology, 79, 25–33. Moore, G.A. (1998), Crossing The Chasm – Marketing & Selling Technology Products To Mainstream Customers, Oxford: Capstone. Nickerson, R. S. (1999). Enhancing creativity. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of creativity (pp. 392-430). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Oliver, M and de Freitas, S. (2005),. Does E-Learning Policy Drive Change In Higher Education?: A Case Study Relating Models Of Organisational Change To E-Learning Implementation, Journal Of Higher Education Policy And Management, 27(1), pp. 81-96 Osborn, A., (1963). Applied Imagination: Principles And Procedures Of Creative ProblemSolving. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Rogers, E. M., (2003) Diffusion Of Innovation, New York: Free Press Stein, M., (1974) Stimulating Creativity. New York: Academic Press. Polanyi, M., (1964). Personal Knowledge: Towards A Post Critical Philosophy. New York; Harper

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