Guest Post by Jasmine Hall
Creativity in higher education takes many forms. Some people study creativity or do highly creative work, while others take a creative and refreshing approach to teaching. But no matter how these educators are bringing creativity to the table, we think they should be lauded for their efforts. Check out our all-star list to find some of the most creative people in higher education today, bringing solutions to roadside bombs, educating Google, and even teaching German with the help of a Bavarian Barbie doll.
Tina Seelig, Stanford University:
Tina Seelig is so creative, she was asked to speak at Google about innovation. That’s right; Seelig knows so much about being creative that she has Googlers taking notes. But they’re not the only ones. As an award-winning Stanford University educator, Seelig has taught students and business leaders alike what it means to be creative. And this year, she wrote the book on it: inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity. In it, she explains why innovation is important for success in today’s new marketplace, and how we can enhance our ingenuity. Some of Seelig’s most important pearls of wisdom include: learning how to reframe problems, ask the right questions, challenge assumptions, and be observant.
In T. Mills Kelly’s course, Lying About the Past, students are actually encouraged to come up with lies to post on Wikipedia. Although these students “really, really annoy” Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and challenge the goodwill of the site, Kelly’s experiment is an incredibly creative way to learn about modern-day lies in history. It’s also a great lesson in the effectiveness of Wikipedia’s model, which quickly sniffed out the fakes planted by Kelly’s students. This time around, anyway.
Kathleen Condray, University of Arkansas:
Most students wouldn’t expect hiking through a state park to be a part of their German language course, but professor Kathleen Condray makes it happen. After reading Friedrich Gerstaecker’s Die Regulatoren in Arkansas (The Regulators [Vigilantes] in Arkansas), Condray’s students go on a hike through Devil’s Den State Park to better understand the “Wild West” days shared in the book. But this is just one of the many ways Condray engages her students and takes learning beyond the classroom. Students in her courses enjoy playing German word tag, learning prepositional phrases from a Bavarian Barbie doll, and even hitting the local cemetery. Dr. Condray offers an excellent example of enthusiasm and creative engagement in education.
Michael Steer, North Carolina State University:
One of the world’s leading electrical engineers, Michael Steer’s most well known accomplishment is his development of a method to detect roadside bomb cell phone triggers. For this achievement, he was awarded the U.S. Army Commander’s Award for Public Service, an award that was hard-won with 80-hour work weeks for four years, even working on Christmas. He shared this experience, too, enlisting the help of grad students, and he continues to share breakthrough education around the world today. With distance courses, Steer is able to teach on-duty Iraq soldiers online, and offers “on-demand” learning with questions sent to his phone seven days a week. Oh, and while he was doing all that, he turned his office paperless.
Allan Snyder, University of Sydney:
Allan Snyder is on a mission to make everyone creative. He believes that savant skills are in all of us, and with breakthroughs in brain science, we might all be able to become highly creative. Snyder’s research focuses on inducing savant-like skills in normal individuals, bringing creativity not just to his work, but to the world.
Michael Ray, Stanford Graduate School of Business:
Like Tina Seelig, Michael Ray has taught innovation to creatives in Silicon Valley, and his knowledge about creativity is coveted among students and even executives. In his courses, Ray encourages students to embrace their “inner child,” doing schoolyard dances and even crayon doodles in his grad school course. In Ray’s experience, these offbeat methods allow his students to go on to become highly successful creatives in business, including Jeff Skoll, VP of strategic planning at eBay, and Jim Collins, author of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Students say that Ray’s courses are very different from their other classes, and it is refreshing to “sit quietly in the dark or draw pictures for two hours,” something most would expect to find in a kindergarten classroom, not a world-renowned business school. But Ray’s creative methods offer a sort of grounding in the chaos of the world today, allowing students to tap into their internal creativity.
David Wiley, Brigham Young University:
Professor David Wiley is taking a creative approach to using technology in the classroom. Rather than focusing on making Facebook and cell phones a part of the modern classroom, Wiley considers how we can use technology to lower costs and improve learning. Using open educational content and tools, Wiley works to create materials that can be used not just by one (a single printed book), but by thousands (an online calculator). In his work, Wiley envisions a world in which students can take “robotics at Carnegie Mellon, linear algebra at MIT, law at Stanford,” and put them all together to make them a degree.
Lawrence Lessig, Harvard University:
Like Professor Wiley, Larry Lessig is a major advocate for finding creativity through open education and resources. Lessig frequently argues that unnecessarily strict copyright laws “choke creativity,” and by loosening them, we can better enjoy creative freedom. In fact, he’s a founding member of Creative Commons, an organization devoted to opening creative works up to share and legally build upon. Lessig’s academic career includes work with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the Stanford Center for Internet & Society, and his current position as professor and director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics.
Richard Florida, University of Toronto:
Focusing on studies of social and economic theory, Richard Florida’s area of expertise is on the rise of the creative class. The increased importance of this class, made up of creative professionals in science, arts, research, and education, was the subject of his national bestseller, The Rise of the Creative Class. In this book, and in his studies, Florida researches and teaches on the impact that creative people have on urban renewal and talent migration.
Byron Washom, UC San Diego:
Byron Washom has been called a “solar soothsayer” for his groundbreaking work in bringing solar power and alternative energy projects to the UC San Diego campus. As the director of strategic energy initiatives at UC San Diego, Washom’s just doing his job, but he’s done it in an outstanding and creative way. Washom got started with the university offering pro-bono work as a parent: his son was a student there. But after two years of donating 30% of his time to the university, he joined the UC San Diego team as an energy professional. Lauded for his willingness to explore and take risks, Washom is said to bring a sense of adventure to new energy at UCSD. Some of his main areas of focus include energy storage, engineering optimization, and increased analysis of what’s available and what can be stored. He’s great at managing human resources, too: Washom recruited four engineering students to his team, and they went on to win a $154 million allotment in clean renewable energy bonds for the UCSD region.