Technology and Creativity in the Classroom

In a world filled with technology, where vast amounts of information are available at the flip of a switch, how do we encourage creativity in our children? This is the question asked by Peter Warsaw and Peter Nilsson at their “Technology and Creativity in Education Today” presentation during Deerfield’s Parents Fall Weekend.

Peter Warsaw began the talk by introducing the story of Riley Ennis. While still in high school, and shortly after watching a NOVA research special on horseshoe crabs and how their immune systems work, Riley read an article on cancer immunology. With his mind drifting between these two very different topics, it occurred to Ennis that it might be possible to generate a vaccine for cancer based on the horseshoe crab immune system. This out-of-the box approach to research allowed him to discover a never-thought-of-before way that allows the human immune system to recognize and combat cancer and other diseased cells in the body. 

If we want to encourage this kind of cancer-curing creativity, the first step is to find out what is currently known about it. For example, is creativity more prevalent in a market-driven environment, or non-market? Is it more likely to occur when an individual works alone, or in a group? Steve Johnson describes four quadrants of the marketplace that include the individual, the networked group and both market-driven and non-market driven motives. He then suggests that creativity is more prevalent in a non-market, networked environment.

University of Chicago psychology professor, founder and co-director of the Quality of Life Research Center (QLRC), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, believes that the ideal place where creativity will occur changes during the creative lifecycle. For example, complex, stimulating environments are best for insight, and isolated, focused, distraction-free environments are best for the evaluation and elaboration that follows.

These both suggest that bouncing ideas around a large group encourages creative ideas, and working in smaller teams helps to refine them. Once we begin to understand the Creative Place, we then look at the creative process. Creative Systems Theory defines five states of creativity, called Pre-Axis (incubation), Early-Axis (inspiration), Middle-Axis (perspiration), Late-Axis (finishing & polishing) and Integration (contextualization).

Returning to the focus of this talk, we are then asked how we currently engage in technology and how this can influence creativity like the kind shown by Riley Ennis. Technology is all around us–from our mobile devices to our desktops and from our home to our business or school. It is used to enhance productivity, as a social medium and for our entertainment. We’ve learned that a stimulating environment can encourage creative insight, and an isolated environment can help refine ideas. We’ve also defined the “Creative Process” as beginning at incubation and continuing through to contextualization. With this in mind, we look at the amount of technology that seems to increase around us every day. The question then becomes: How does this technology benefit and/or threaten creativity?

This question was put to the audience, and left for parents to think about. Groups were encouraged to suggest ways they think Deerfield can help to encourage creativity in our students. But, we were also asked how we, as parents, can encourage creativity in our own children.


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