Climate for creativity: permission to copy

Johanna Blakley offers some fascinating insight here into how we can make a distinction between creative innovation and copying. She explores the relatively free-of-copyright world of the fashion industry and suggests that it is this very freedom that forces innovative thinking and discovery. 

Within the context of the classroom, this open-sharing can be a real challenge. When we ask our students to research information that will inform their thinking, we are, in truth, asking them to first discover and second draw upon this existing knowledge to help them construct their own, new (to them, at least) knowledge. What we are desperate to avoid in this process, however, is a student simply copying the information that they discover and replicating what is already known. We want all our students to demonstrate a sophisticated degree of discernment in how they consider and select information as a part of their personal knowledge-construction.

When it comes to asking students to think creatively, then, what must we do? I think that Johanna’s observations here might help. She presents the case that in the least regulated industries, we find the greatest degree of innovation. Why? Because if your idea is easy to copy, then people will copy it. But they will do it within their own context, using the resources available to them and inevitably, it will be an adaptation of the original. It is at the point of adaptation that creative thinking takes place. Just as when 30 students are asked to write their own critical analysis of the same piece of prose, you know that you’ll get thirty different responses. 

This makes me consider the age-old difficulty of how we assess creativity. What must we ask in order to test the quality of creative thinking?

Well, Johanna’s talk prompted me to ponder this (and I am in no way certain as to whether this works or not, so bear with me, please)…

If you come up with something that is truly innovative, something that is underpinned by considered and sophisticated thinking, then this will be far harder to adapt and certainly, harder to replicate. In that way, it can stand alone and become a trend-setter in its own right and, if you’re lucky, not only stand the test of time but reach iconic status, and you with it. It is the depth of thinking that underpins the innovation that is put to the test here, alongside the creative output itself.

So I wonder how we go about assessing the quality of thinking (not limited to creative thinking alone, here). Once we have asked students to draw upon existing knowledge and to collaborate with each other to generate ideas, perhaps we can ask a few ‘test-the-thinking’ questions. These might look like this:

How easy will this idea be to copy? (Show me how you might do this)
How might you improve upon it and make it more accessible, more functional, more relevant etc? (Have a go at making the necessary improvements and adaptations and explain why you’ve made these decisions and changes)
What elements of the original idea will stand the test of time? (Identify these and explain the ways in which you think these elements will ‘stick’)
What might be created in time to replace this? (Create a design/ rationale/ proposal for a replacement idea/ concept/ design and explain how this supersedes the original)

The ideal conditions for this creative thinking to happen are openness, sharing and collaboration. A very different physical and pedagogical model from my own school experience. If this is the case, this serves as a great rationale to use when designing learning environments and considering our pedagogy so that it deliberately facilitates collaborative learning. 

As Johanna states in her talk, the democratisation of fashion leads to the development of trends; people copy others, but as they do, they place their own personal ‘twist’ on the original. To move from trend-follower to trend-setter, you need to stay ahead of the trends. It is here that new innovations are born. But what is also noticeable here is that it is the trend that drives the innovation, not the other way round. 

This makes me reflect upon moving my own pedagogical practice forward. It makes me wonder whether I can use this to reassure myself that the best kind of professional development comes about as a result of the prioritisation of teacher action research and enquiry in and between our own schools. When we think and discuss our world of learning in such an open and collaborative manner, then learning could well start to develop as our very own innovative global brand.  Perhaps it already has? As such it is characterised as a powerful movement membership to which is what everybody craves. After all, if we return to Johanna’s talk and the reasons why fashion is so copyright-free, learning is surely far too utilitarian to be copyrighted. 

So if we can continue to learn together within the open and accessible education community supported by Web 2.0 technologies (blogs and twitter at the very least) and through the establishment of professional learning networks then I reckon we will succeed in maintaining authentic participatory access to the brand of learning to as wide an audience as possible. 

Democratisation of learning is characterised by a shared ownership that cuts across all backgrounds, ages and culture. From within the existing masses of followers of our very own innovative learning brand, we may be starting to see the trend-setters emerging. These are the innovators, the collaborators and the applied ideologists. It is from here then, that new systems of learning will grow and develop which will indeed stand the test of time.

Well, that’s what I was thinking about when I listened to this talk. Thank you to @ICTtower for recommending it. 

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