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Creativity and its role in the adoption of education


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 re-
interpretation 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 P-
creativity (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

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

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:

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Social-environmental influences on creativity

Positive Negative
General General
Autonomy/sense of control Threatening critical evaluation
Importance/urgency of work Expectation of evaluation
Optimal challenge Surveillence
Reward that confirms competence Contracted-for reward
Intrinsically interesting work Restricted choice
Task matched to interests Abitary/unrealistic deadlines
Sufficient task structure to support Competition with co-workers
competent performance

Organizational Organisational
Recognition that failure provides insight Lack of communication
Mechanism for considering the new Lack of cooperation
High-level encouragement for innovation Emphasis on status quo
Immediate supervisior encouragement Emphasis on extrinsic motivations
Coworker skill diversity Win-lose competition
Coworker openness to new ideas Rigid procedures
Rigid status structures Apathy towards project from others in
Coworkers challenge ideas constructively organisation
Emphasis on intrinsic motivators
Competition with outside organizations
Constructive work focused feedback
Clear strategic direction

(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
Creative research has some interesting aspects that could be used within staff
development practice. The methods proposed will need further research to prove their

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