Learning and Creativity

In an age of Google, Facebook, and Amazon, management theory and approaches to supervision are fixated on the idea of fostering creativity. To do this, companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are celebrated by their ‘minimum specs’ approach; they let the employees do whatever it is they want to do; or at least that is the common narrative surrounding these companies.

Yet, what if our conceptions around creativity, and specifically how to foster it in the workplace, are wrong? What if we should not be lowering paramaters but rather making them clearer and more concise? Those two questions were shooting around in my head as I listened to the newest episode of StarTalk Radio on the science of creativity.

The episode was an interview with the former frontman of the Talking Heads, David Byrne. Host Neil deGrasse Tyson and Byrne talk about a lot of topics, but early on in the episode Neil states something to the effect that in science it is important to increase paramaters as it allows the scientist to engage in a creative approach.

This started my brain in motion.

In supervision, (specifically supervision using the Learning Partnership Model), we talk about lowering paramaters to foster development in students. We think that increasing the control of the process for the learner (i.e. the student) will further their development towards self-authorship. Yet, my thought process has me thinking that the assumptions of the Learning Partnership Model may be incorrect.

In my work in the Office of Residence Life at Miami University, we rely heavily on the Learning Partnership Model in our supervision work. It is the core of the departmental curriculum and values. During training, professional staff (i.e. graduate students and full time resident directors) will discuss the Learning Partnership Model and encourage everyone to create programming models with minimal paramaters for the learners. I have used the Learning Partnership Model for two full semesters in my supervision and have been generally happy with the quality of work the students I supervise have come up with.

And then this podcast.

One thing I have struggled with while using the Learning Partnership Model is that often the students struggle with developing programming. I create minimal paramaters for the students and they are charged with creating programming that supports the learning outcomes of the department. Both semesters, the students I have supervised struggled with this task.

Could this idea that Neil presented in his podcast, the idea that science is at its most creative when there are many specific paramaters, be the solution to the problem I have seen? What if the common narrative of the Learning Partnership Model is wrong? What if minimum paramaters is not the answer, but more, specific paramaters is?

Does this undermine the work of Marcia Baxter Magolda and the Learning Partnership Model? Or, rather, does this just make the common narrative around the Learning Partnership Model incorrect? I think it is the latter.

So what does this realization that the common narrative around the Learning Partnership Model is incorrect? How will this improve our practice? It means more paramaters for students to support their success (and the goals of the department in which they work).

Increasing paramaters could be the key to fostering creativity amongst learners. Instead of simply charging learners with the task of ‘implementing the residential curriculum’ with a few other paramaters, (e.g. one program for each goal, collaboration with peers is allowed), it may mean more specific paramaters will enhance creativity amongst the learners.

In student affairs work, we often talk about enhancing our creativity in the workplace. We need to do more with less. We are focused on ‘the next big thing’ that will enhance our office or division. Yet, what if this creativity bug that we are fixated on because of the rise of Google, Facebook, and Amazon is wrong? What if the idea of minimum specs and few paramaters is just a misunderstanding on our part of how to foster creativity? What if we need to create more, not less, paramaters to foster creativity?

It was happenstance that the subject of this latest episode of StarTalk Radio was creativity during a time where I am rethinking my programming model and supervision practices. I was mulling over how to support creativity and learning amongst the students I supervise while having minimum paramaters.

But now, because of Neil, I will be taking a rather scientific approach to my supervision. I will increase rather than decrease the paramaters for the students. I will reorganize our meetings to further allow collaboration and creativity in our programming efforts. Supervision (and the Learning Partnership Model) may not be about following the lead of Google, Facebook, and Amazon but instead following the lead of science and scientists.




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