GP 4 Foster creativity, innovation and imagination

In essence

Although there are many definitions of creativity, innovation and imagination there are a number of common characteristics accepted by educators. Creative and innovative learners are imaginative, observant, persistent, expressive, explorative, flexible, playful, and critically reflective. In creative disciplines risk-taking is also considered central. When students engage in creative, innovative and imaginative processes they transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like to generate new ideas, artefacts, products, interpretations or ways of viewing situations and/or problems.

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What you can do

Pedagogical approaches that best encourage creativity in your courses should provide activities where students can assemble, disassemble and transform prior learning and merge it with new knowledge to generate fresh outcomes. These approaches include:

  • providing adequate space and time
  • fostering self-esteem and worth
  • mentoring students in creative approaches
  • involving learners in higher level thinking skills
  • encouraging the expression of ideas through a variety of media
  • encouraging interdisciplinary integration of ideas by using topics that are of interest to learners

The following Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) can be used to assess skill in Creative Thinking:

  • Work Journal
  • Approximate Analogies
  • Concept Maps
  • Invented Dialogues
  • Annotated Portfolios

What it looks like

A number of educational factors can encourage or inhibit creativity in learners, namely the environment and atmosphere, teaching styles, methods and strategies, types of projects and outcomes, use of rewards, assessment and evaluation, motivation and learning styles, personality traits, and prior knowledge and skills (Dineen & Collins, 2005).

Creativity must be socially situated. The legitimation of creative work is dependent on community. Creativity must be judged and accepted as worthwhile by a disciplinary or knowledgeable audience and not the individual (Dineen & Collins, 2005, Gardner, 2006).

Myths busted

Creativity is found in all disciplines where design, research and innovation are practiced (Franklin & Theall, 2007)

Students need support to ensure they have situated rather than abstract notions of creativity (Walker & Gleaves (2008).

Did you know?

Academics need to be actively involved in nurturing their students’ creativity rather than only delivering a ‘creativity agenda’ (Kleiman, 2006).

How it is applied in disciplines

Visual Arts and Craft: a lecturer critically reflects on her emerging immersive art pedagogy that she believes contributes to a sense of creativity and enhances the imagination when making or responding to art. By employing an immersive approach when teaching art enables her students to explore experiential, playful, sensory, cultural and critical ways of knowing, make meaning and stimulate creativity and imagination in their learning and work. Read more Burke (2006).

Visual Arts and Craft: a systematic framework for students to enhance their creative practice which aims to foster creativity by encouraging learners to be independent and proactive. A creative process of learning is described, defined by five stages of First Insights, Saturation, Incubation, Illumination and Verification. Five creativity skills are cited to use as a framework for assessing creative works, namely Originality, Fluency, Abstracting, Elaboration and Openness. Read more Freeman (2006).

How it is applied in teaching contexts

ICT: a number of methods using online tools such as blogs, wikis, social networks and virtual worlds to ‘spark creativity’ are described. The strategies aim to help students understand, develop and improve their personal creative thinking processes. By using online tools, learning environments can be enhanced to allow students to explore, rationalize, combine and share ideas in ways that encourage creativity skills such as critical analysis, problem solving, development and implementation.Read more Northcott, Miliszewska & Dakich (2007).

What should you think about when fostering creativity, innovation and imagination in your teaching

Answer Yes to these

Teaching philosophy: I believe in student-centred learning. I think about the contribution I am making to the development of students skills and capabilities for their future professional lives.

Pedagogies: Approaches for fostering creativity, innovation and imaginationwhich characteristically emphasize constructivist learning suit my teaching.

Curriculum: There are specific learning outcomes I wish my students to have in my course.

Tools for learning: I can motivate my students to adopt creative, innovative and imaginative learningstrategies. I can incorporate strategies for creativity, innovation and imaginationinto my course.

Commitment: I can identify a ‘creativity, innovation and imagination’champion who will support innovative practice.

Why is it important?

Creativity and innovation are essential qualities for surviving and thriving in the knowledge-based society of the twenty-first century (Craft, 2006). Creativity is a necessary way of thinking and doing and is not just relevant to the cultural industries (McWilliam, 2007). Creativity and innovation are essential for managing complexity, challenges and turbulence of the economic and social orders in which we live where knowledge creation is a highly valued commodity (McWilliam, 2007; Swirski, Wood & Solomnides, 2008). The response of higher education therefore is to support and prepare students to effectively manage and work in such environments by supporting the development of creativity, flexibility and motivation (Knight & Yorke, 2003).

What is it and how does it support learning? What does recent research say?

The creative mind often goes against the grain, breaks new ground, asks new questions and considers unfamiliar ideas (Gardner, 2006). They are independent, confident, sensitive, curious and committed (Franklin & Theall, 2007). Creative learners explore new ways of thinking and derive unexpected answers. They are tenacious and will risk failure to make a difference (Gardner, 2006). Aligned to creativity, imagination is the ability to speculate alternative realities and to explore personal, social and aesthetic possibilities (Greene, 2001).

Creative learners need to learn to give and receive constructive criticism and to decipher what criticism they have received is to be accepted or ignored. They need to learn to internalize and anticipate criticism and as a result become their own best critics (Gardner, 2006).

Creativity is found in all disciplines where design, research and innovation are practiced (Franklin & Theall, 2007) and even though there may be conceptual variations in how it is understood, underlying characteristics of creativity involve “notions of novelty and originality combined with notions of utility and value” (Kleiman, 2008, p 209).

Creativity must also be socially situated because the legitimation of creative work is dependent on community in that creativity must be judged and accepted as worthwhile by a disciplinary or knowledgeable audience and not the individual (Dineen & Collins, 2005, Gardner, 2006).

McWilliam (2007) argues that creativity can be taught in all disciplines but a number of pedagogical implications need to be considered so that learning is not about the passing of fixed knowledge. In building students’ capacity for creativity in future work environments, she suggests the ‘prod-user’ model where students and academics work collaboratively to ‘edit reality’ and produce outcomes through assembling, adapting, experimenting, meddling and playing. They use processes that include mixing, juxtaposing, comparing and discarding information to arrive at a solution and have abilities to judge and assess the quality of work.

A recent small scale study by Walker & Gleaves (2008) that investigated students’ perceptions and understandings of creativity as an assessment criterion found that students need support to ensure they have situated rather than abstract notions of creativity.

Kleiman (2006) builds on research that explores the ways that academics conceptualize creativity in relation to their teaching. His study in the arts, humanities and science disciplines revealed five variations that view creativity as an experience that can be constraint-focused, process-focused, product-focused experience, transformation-focused and fulfillment-focused. He also suggests that academics need to be actively involved in nurturing their students’ creativity rather than only delivering a ‘creativity agenda’.


Angelo, T. A. & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques. (2nd ed). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Burke, G. (2006). Towards an immersive art pedagogy : connecting creativity and practice. Australian Art Education, 29(2), 20-38

Craft, A. (2006). Fostering creativity with wisdom. Cambridge Journal of Education, 36(3), 337-350.

Dineen, R., & Collins, E. (2005). Killing the Goose: Conflicts between Pedagogy and Politics in the Delivery of a Creative Education. International Journal of Art and Design Education, 24(1), 43-52.

Franklin, J., & Theall, M. (2007). Developing creative capacities (writing, inventing, designing, performing in art, music, drama, etc.) Retrieved October 9th, 2009.

Gardner, H. (2006). Five minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Greene, M. (2001). Imagination and Transformation, Part 11, in Variations on a Blue Guitar: The Lincoln Center Institute Lectures on Aesthetic Education. New York: Teachers Colleges Press.

Kleiman, P. (2008). Towards Transformation: Conceptions of Creativity in Higher Education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 45(3), 209-217.

Knight, P. T. & Yorke, M. (2007). Assessment, learning and employability. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

McWilliam, E. (2007). Is creativity teachable? Conceptualising the creativity/pedagogy relationship in higher education. In Enhancing higher education, theory and scholarship : proceedings of the 30th HERDSA Annual Conference, 8-11 July 2007, Adelaide, Australia.

Northcott, N., Miliszewska I. & Dakich E. (2007). ICT for (I)nspiring (C)reative (T)hinking. In 'ICT : providing choices for learners and learning' edited by R Atkinson, C McBeath, A Soong Swee Kit and C Cheers, pages 761-768. Singapore : ASCILITE, 2007

Swirski, T., Wood, L. & Solomnides, I. (2008). Developing creativity : aligning community, learning and teaching practices. 'HERDSA 2008 : Engaging Communities' edited by M Barrow and K Sutherland, pages 318-328. Milperra NSW : HERDSA, 2008

Walker, C., & Gleaves, A. (2008). An Exploration of Students' Perceptions and Understandings of Creativity as an Assessment Criterion in Undergraduate-Level Studies within Higher Education. Irish Educational Studies, 27(1), 41-54.