Friday, October 22, 2010

The Creative Spark


The statement below is true.
The statement above is false.


What is creativity? How is it expressed in our thinking? How vital is it in our lives? 

To what degree does the education system we have gone through and the one we send our children through --- be that in the US, Singapore, the UK, China or anywhere else -- help enhance creativity? Can creativity even be taught and learned?

These are all questions that Ken Robinson addresses in this short 2006 lecture from the now famous TED series. 

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity | Video on

If you liked that, please watch Robinson's second TED lecture from May of this year entitled Bring on the Learning Revolution!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Proverbial Lead Balloon

I admit, I have always been a bit naive, and perhaps a bit overambitious. I remember that when I was five or six, I was lingering down by the barn on my Grandpa Elder's farm, contriving a way to catch one of the cute piglets that was in the feedlot (in the shadow of its grumpy 200 kilo mother sow) so as to keep it as my own. I had to have my own pig! And now I recall how I had also brought my small tricycle to the feedlot gate and set it there as a corner post for my would-be pen, along with a hodgepodge of boards, a watering can and some string.

Oh yeah, sure, I was really gonna catch that piglet and keep it fenced within that crude set up. 

Several years later, I had another ambitious plan: to start my own museum. In my hometown of Thornville, Ohio, Grandpa Blackstone had a hardware store. On the second floor of the stately 19th-century building, there was an empty room, overlooking the front sidewalk and the village's main street. There was also a staircase that ran down to the street from my would-be museum space.

What a perfect place, I imagined,  to display my various collections of heirlooms and collectibles, including some Native American artifacts, old jars and jugs, a minor coin collection, and souvenirs from multiple family trips to Canada. So I worked relentlessly at cleaning that empty room; I convinced my patient great-grandfather to build display tables, which I then set up, and I set out all of my treasures with carefully measured attention.

In all my effort though, I had missed one important point:  Why would anyone besides my grandpa, my great-grandfather and my bullied younger siblings ever make the effort to walk up those dusty stair to visit a lackluster museum with my odds and ends? 

I had similar big ideas in a couple other stages of my life, with similar results. The proverbial lead balloons.

That's a bit how I now feel about having my students utilize the NUS Wikispace for their group research projects. It's great for everyone to be able to view and comment on each other's work. It's useful for a tutor to be able to access, assess, and admire student achievements. It's a good idea having students archive their group work in a common, mutually-accesible space. And so there it is on the NUS Wiki Dashboard, Professional Communication BB, neatly available for student use.

What I discovered today though in reviewing student work was that several research teams had set up their own wiki space right there on NUS Wiki but not in "my" space. Others had understandably used a space more familiar or workable to them, like Google Docs.

And so, I faced a dilemma. Castigate those who had created alternatives that were more suitable for their own research team's needs or be amenable to the deviation from my plan and adapt to the "beautiful" reality of the situation. 

Being more realistic and practical than I am either naive or ambitious, I decided I could adapt, that I should accept the learning apparent as students developed a system that worked best for them. 

The pigpen idea I gave up when I suddenly realized that separating the tiny piglet from its gargantuan mother was going to be a life-threatening affair. The museum idea I dumped after my first visitors walked up and back down the hardware store stairs *without* making any entrance fee contributions to my coffee can at the door.

And what of NUS Wiki? Why persist in forcing students who had set up other wiki sites for archiving their research project documents to export them to my long-established space just for the sake of ceremony? 

Well, I think you know the answer already.

I will be happy to review my students' materials on the site they have created, wherever that might be. That's more practical and realistic than transferring data just for the sake of some prescribed scenario.

Adaptation is survival.

The Mock Interview (revisited)

What sort of jobs have I interviewed for? Here's a partial list:

U.S. National Security Agency country/regional analyst
People Airlines (now defunct) flight attendant
retail store assistant manager

Those are jobs that I applied for, got interviewed for, and was not hired for. (Thank god!) During my university studies, I never even heard of a course such as the one I now teach, a communication skills course in which a segment is dedicated to assisting/familiarizing students with resume and application letter writing, and then with preparing for and performing at a job interview. If I'd had such a course, who knows where I would be today....

Where was I today? In class facilitating mock interviews. In each class there were several interview teams. Each team of three or four students read and evaluated the application materials that another team's individual members had prepared, peer reviewed and revised in advance. The evaluating team, much like a hiring committee or HR group, would rank those individuals from the other team based on the quality of the materials in relation to a specific job, internship or graduate program application and then begin the interview process.

The interview process entailed setting up the room in office-like quadrants, with one team per corner behind a row of desks. In their respective stations each team created their first set of interview questions, set for the peer they'd ranked #1. During a point in the question preparation process, each team then lost one of its members, that being the person who was ranked as having the best set of materials. She or he, along with the top ranked person from each of the other teams, was directed into the corridor, there to wait until being called upon by the peer team for an interview of approximately 10-15 minutes.

Back in the classroom, each team crafted its questions, and each individual adopted a particular stance, whether friendly and smiling HR person, impatient and brusque interrogator or something in between. A request was made for Academy Award worthy performances, both from the interviewers and the interviewees. No matter what the demeanor of each interviewer was set to be, all sessions had a principle interviewer and a note-taker, the person whose main task was to reflect on the verbal and nonverbal behavior of the applicant. When the first round of interviews finished, the process was repeated in a second round then in a third, and then in a fourth. In this way, every student had an opportunity to be an interviewer multiple times, and to be interviewed once.

After all the rounds were completed, a debriefing session was held where students were encouraged to share something about their experience.

This is another opportunity for such a debriefing. How do the students view the process and these interviews? That's exactly what this bog post is all about.

Students, please add your thoughts. Innocent bystanders, please see the commentary below.