Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. Hansen, Associate Dean (Interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education
Creativity fosters learning so it’s important for online teachers to find ways to encourage creativity among students. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares ways to integrate creative approaches in the online classroom. Learn about designing open-ended assignments, being creative with assessments and more.
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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This is Episode Number 110: How to bring creativity into your online classroom. This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and we’re going to talk about one of my favorite subjects today, creativity in your online classroom. I love creativity. In fact, one of my favorite things is coming up with new ideas and trying them out.
We have to be careful about creativity. As instructors, if we’re too creative, we create a classroom situation that is not coherent for our students. Limited creativity on our part, when we’re putting the course materials out there, can be helpful. Use some creativity all the time in your teaching. Just don’t overdo it. Help things to have a focus so your students know where they are and what they’re doing.
Emphasizing Creativity in Students
How can we bring creativity out in our students? Let’s think about that. The first thing is to look at your classroom as an area where students meet each other and get together. How could you use that online classroom in a way that really fosters collaboration and creativity? Is there easy access to all of the materials? Is there a great way to put that out there that students will naturally navigate? What could you do that is a little bit different to make this even clearer in the next class you teach?
There are a lot of creative ways to do this. Some people do it through a roadmap that students follow where you just click the next thing and the next thing, and it sort of navigates, maybe there’s even a hyperlink that goes directly into the discussion and a hyperlink that goes directly to the announcements, the assignments, and all those things. Think about, likewise, how you navigate that with your students whether it’s through videos, announcements, or little things along the way to help them move from one thing to the next.
What about those students who love to choose the order in which they learn things? Is there a way for that week’s content to be a buffet from which they can choose instead of a sequential order? Some lessons do make sense that way. In fact, some courses can even be taught that way.
When there are themes or topics that don’t necessarily have to be sequential and they don’t necessarily build on each other, they could be chosen in any order. Then an assignment could be based on some of the basic principles, not on the content itself but on the skills.
So, think about your classroom as this communal area where people can access all of the things, and what kind of creativity can make that utilized in a new way? You can also ask your students what they think about your organization. Perhaps they’ll give you some suggestions and ideas that will really be wonderful and you can try out in your next class or in the next week of class.
Building Community in the Classroom
There’s another approach to this community that you can just view in the online classroom. That is to find ways for students to really kick off the week together. There might be an opportunity for you to have everyone do an icebreaker activity on the subject matter or some kind of an asynchronous game.
There’s an online app called Kahoot! where everyone can click on their answers in real time. There are other apps out there that do the same thing asynchronously. Mentimeter does that through the slide presentation and so does Poll Everywhere. I encourage you to check out creative apps and solutions that might allow you to have more community and also more creativity in the classroom generally.
Design Open-Ended Assignments
Another suggestion for building creativity in your online classroom is to leave your assignments open-ended. Now, that sounds a little wild and crazy, doesn’t it? Now, if you actually have your assignments open-ended, this means that students can choose the mode of expression. They don’t have to necessarily write an essay. You could give them several suggestions or several links to ways they could present the assignment, and then students could choose the mode that speaks to them the most.
Some might use the essay. Some might make a video. Others might record their own podcast episode. Perhaps they’ll create a slideshow. Maybe they’ll create something else that we haven’t even thought of here yet. Whatever it is, if you leave the mode of expression open-ended, then you can have the requirements of the content being demonstrated through that assignment and also how much they need to include and whether they need to discuss their sources or give personal opinions or things like that.
I always like to give examples of various formats of assignments whenever it’s open-ended, but there’s this danger when you do that. Some students will just copycat what you put in there. I’ve heard some instructors actually don’t give examples. They just leave it open-ended and list a few suggestions without showing what that might look like. For the creative students in your group, that’s going to be a real invitation, and they’re going to love that.
Change How You Think About Creativity
Third, think about creativity itself in a new way. Some people think creativity means it’s unclear, it’s hard to define, and it’s really just ambiguous and people are invited to invent things. I don’t think that’s really true. In fact, there’s some research out there that describes characteristics of creativity. They are fluency, flexibility, elaboration, and originality. It could be helpful to teach your students when you’re using creative approaches what creativity means to you.
Fluency itself is a person’s ability to generate a lot of ideas, solutions, or responses. So, you might have an assignment or a discussion where that is the goal, to come up with a lot of potential solutions and a lot of ideas about a particular topic that you’re studying. Inviting fluency of this nature can really help students get outside of the normal line of thinking, stretch the boundaries, and seek additional learning on the topic. That’s something we would all love our students to do.
An example is when I used to be a music teacher live, face-to-face, I played a lot of recordings of actual performing artists on various instruments. For the jazz kids, I would play actual jazz artists like Wynton Marsalis and Miles Davis and different people. I would encourage my students to find good examples out there and bring them into the class.
Pretty soon, my students were listening to jazz at all hours of the day, skimming through examples, finding selections, and bringing in new and different artists that we hadn’t met before, virtually, or on their MP3 players. So, the more you can help students develop fluency on the topic, the more they’re really learning and inventing new areas that they’d like to learn about within that subject matter.
Another characteristic of creativity is flexibility. This is a person’s ability to look at a situation from a different point of view. This is a really helpful skill in life, in business, in professional endeavors, in relationships, and in studying your academic content. The more you can see things from different point of views, the more you can see things with greater insight and greater perspective.
A third aspect of creativity is elaboration. Elaboration is a person’s ability to modify or expand an existing idea. This is known in the Clifton Strengths as the maximizer trait. Basically, we have an idea that we’re learning about and we could stretch it in some way, make it better, expand on that idea. Maybe we can apply it to something new or improve the quality of it. Whatever we’re going to do with elaboration, we’re really helping students to stretch their thinking and become, of course, more creative in the process.
Lastly, originality. Originality is a trait of creativity. In fact, most people think that’s what creativity is. It’s the ability to come up with a unique idea or a unique solution. So, this framework is going to help us teach our students to be more creative.
Believe it or not, creativity can be taught. It’s a skill that can be learned. I know some people think they are naturally creative. They grew up creative. Maybe they are not creative, something like that. Everyone has a belief about their own level of creativity or their ability to be creative. When you start to add more options about creativity in your online classroom, you help your students to grow not only in the subject matter, but in the ways they think about everything and the ways they live. So, bringing creativity in has so many benefits, and it really speaks to the whole purpose of education.
Now, here’s an example from an article in a book called “Teaching Strategies for the Online Classroom” by Magna Publications. This example is a chemistry instructor who could have students explain an oxidation reaction from the point of view of an electron, for instance. A history instructor could choose to focus on the elaboration aspects of creativity and have students outline a debate that argues both sides of a controversial topic.
An animation application, like GoAnimate. You can go to goanimate.com to check it out. Students could demonstrate their understanding of the course concepts while showcasing their creative approach. So, there are a few of the examples there from the article I’m looking at, and I encourage you to check out more options for bringing creativity into your online classroom.
Be Creative with Assessments
One area that we haven’t talked about is in the assessment area. Assessments don’t always have to be tests, and they don’t always have to be essays. Assessments are the opportunities for your students to tell you what they’ve learned. They need to demonstrate they understand the subject and they can utilize it in some way. So, they’re going to synthesize it, or they’re going to get creative with it, or they’re going to apply it. Whatever that is, the assessment should show their true understanding.
When you’re teaching online, sometimes we focus on objective assessments that are simply easy to grade. Online quizzes are like that. They can be automatically graded if you use multiple choice options. So, it’s easy to design modes like this, and it’s easy to automatically give the feedback, it reduces the instructor grading time.
However, when we use those options, we really reduce student learning down to some very basic modalities. If we include instead creative options, like students creating a video, building a mock interview, having a multimedia presentation, animating it in some way, creating an emoticon that describes it with some prose, some words that talk about it, or some other artistic work, we can really bring out more creativity in our students, and they can have fun while they’re doing it.
Be Mindful of Creative Elements
In closing, while you’re thinking about bringing more creativity to your online classroom, I want to caution you to be careful about your own exploration and what you included in the class. As I started with at the beginning of this episode, it’s really easy to make your online class so creative that it becomes a little chaotic for your learners. So, as you’re including creative elements, review it for cohesiveness as well and the learner’s experience.
You might have someone walk through that course and give you some feedback. Does it look easy to follow? Are the instructions clear? Can students tell what they’re supposed to be doing? Can they follow step one to step two and so forth? Can they figure out what they’re supposed to be clicking on and learning about and watching and doing, whatever that is?
If it’s super clear to your students, then you’re all set for a good experience, and you can run it and have students complete the course and take a look at their feedback. Of course, I always recommend getting student feedback along the way, asking them what they like, what they suggest improving, and what their experience really is so you can adapt. But for many of us, that can be challenging if you have a course that is completely written before you launch it. It’s very difficult to change that along the way, but you can modify it, make small changes, give it increased guidance through videos and announcements, and communicate with your students regularly to help them have an even better experience.
If you think about creativity as simply a method to help your students become owners of their learning, this becomes a really fun tool to use in your teaching. I hope you’ll think about it and explore what it might do for you and what it might do for your students. I wish you all the best this coming week, thinking about creativity in your online teaching.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit BethanieHansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.