May 09, 2008

Stephen Heppell: Measuring creativity

How do you measure creativity. How can we work out the struggle of the 'exchange rate' of assessment. What is "the equivalent" of a 1500 word essay?

  • an animation?
  • running an online discussion for a week?
  • scripting and posting a 3 minute podcast?
  • authoring an explanation in Flash?
  • annotating a week's worth of delicious links?

What are your suggestions of 'equivalence' in an ingenius, creative school system?

David captures things differently over here, and managed to get the Q&A session tapped in.


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This a very pertinent question and I think is the reason why education systems find it hard at times to move forward. If creativity is the future then current assessment practices just don't hold up. Creativity as you say should allow for multiple answers to questions or solutions to problems. The essay is not the only way of thinking ... in fact it is probably the least preferred way. So what is the exchange rate?

I would be great to see more discussion on this.

We can if we assess the ability to create an animation by doing an animation
Ablity to work in groups and communicate by using range of online tools with qualitative criteria. Communications Core Skills would allow a lot of ths - and has done for years.

This happens now in other bits of learning arena - and hopefully arrives with Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland in Schools. Art departments have had to make decisions like this comparing and grading different artifacts for years too

SCQF does much to draw together vocational and academic in Scotland

But how do you measure creativity - mmm broader question - can we teach it in first place ? and is it about being able to do useful things and/or how creatively you do things. There is an unacknowledged tension here too. But makes for good debate at a conference - Our society seems only to recognise true creativity posthumously, is this then the time to assess ;-)

This is something I'm very interested in exploring now that the community on is developing. I don't have any answers yet but one of the key factors i think is to be able to easily aggregate content. Some of the student to student discussions on NUMU about music technology and guitar techniques would definitely equate to a 1500 word essay but the presentation may need to be made more 'essay like' for current assessment.

Have heard Heppell with this argument before and it remains pertinent. Two things spring to mind. First, a 1500 word essay is not normally a measure of creativity. In current parlance it could be seen as a mash-up of lecture notes and quotes from key texts (I stereotype, I know). The other options could be equally derivative although this factor is hopefully reduced by these activities being more engaging and with greater opportunities for originality.

The second thing that I think is important is how any of these assessment activities align with the intended learning outcomes and then how the teaching is designed to support this. I can see opportunities to demonstrate communication, facilitation and analytical skills in these alternative pieces of assessment which is great if these are the things that we want students to learn at that point. I'm not saying that we don't, by the way(!) more that we have to be clear about our objectives and how we then measure attainment or achievement.

Overall, I see essays as pretty poor measures of demonstrating various skills that are desired. I don't, however, think that you can start equating different forms of assessment in this way, so that for instance, 2 podcasts equals an essay. We have to determine what best will demonstrate that someone has achieved a desired learning outcome and use that method. This method may of course be a menu of assessment instruments and not just an essay or a podcast etc.

Nigel's got a point about equating like with like. The closest I ever got to worrying about this was when a student submitted a poem for a "write any way you please" English exam. Suddenly all the usual parameters shifted - 100 words instead of the expected 800 was only the beginning. I had to bring different criteria to bear on this piece of writing.

Is that why we are stuck with essays? People know how to deal with them? Ask a musician how she evaluates a student's composition. I have a feeling the evaluation may be even more subjective than essay marking, but I suppose there are objective criteria in all the areas you posit.

Just a thought.... why can't they all be equivalent? Instead of either or, they are all legtimate ways to respond to a question, topic, concept. In a creative school all would be equally acceptable.

How about somerthing like this ? An amazing illustration and piece of creativity

Glad to see so many thoughtful comments. I raised this before (as Cliff mentions) as part of a JISC look at where creativity had gone in HE and as prof of New Media Environments at the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice ( this is central to my work. It is interesting to reflect that 50 years ago to get a 1st class degree you had to SURPRISE your professors; these days a 1st class degree in many places is the LEAST surprising script. So essays COULD be creative, but in a tick-box incremental world they rarely are. I certainly agree with Chris "why can't they all be equivalent?" and it is not hard to review those equivalenceis annually (think how hard podcasting once was, and how simple now), but it is also important to create an entitlement for students where they might normally EXPECT to be assesed by a portfoli of strategies. I have a Ph.D student, Mark Readman, at CEMP who is exploring this whole area as his Ph.D... so please keep debating please!

Oh.. and if it helps, here is the summary page of the on-line JISC conference on Creativity in e-learning:

Why are we measuring Creativity as a finished product? Is it not a process? Quality of the process varies a lot - play is creative but is simple. Are we looking for mastery of a skill/ concept to show ceativity?

I don't know if it is implied that creativity is the end result - normally there is a product of creative process, rather than simply an "ooh, wasn't that creative". In that, you're spot on. In terms of whether we should measure that process, the answer I think has to be yes, since we can't know if the end product has more or less of a chance of being great without a good creative (and technical/skills-based) process in behind it.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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