Just how creative are they?

We are re-thinking creativity in our classrooms, especially within ICT and new technologies. Ewan Macintosh, an internationally renowned blogger and West Lothian educational innovator in new technologies and now working for Channel 4’s ICT company 4iP, has recently issued a sober warning that we shouldn’t assume that a proliferation of ICT and a familiarity with technology guarantees that our children are being digitally creative. ‘We romanticise the technological creativity of our youngsters online. While large numbers now upload material online (close to 78% of teens according to most recent research) most of this material is photographic – i.e. mobile snaps from nights out. Creating and publishing original narrative, original code or Facebook apps or even mashed up video or code is not currently a regular pass-time of your average British kid’.

This should be a stern warning for all of us as educators. Very often, and I can be the worst for this, we focus on ‘stuff’, rather than on what we do with the ‘stuff’. More and more at our school we are shying away from paid for software and towards free software, often online, as our focus is now much more on the application of technology to achieve tasks rather than gaining familiarity with a new bit of kit. It’s not that we don’t put a lot of effort (aka money) into remaining technologically current, we do of course, but rather that we put a lot of effort in to thinking about how we can get the most out of what we have.


Ewan continues, ‘however, most [children] don’t come close to the kind of creativity illustrated by a young Mark Zuckerberg, [founder of Facebook], who avoided his near flunk at Harvard art class with some online creativity, a story recounted in WWGD. With a few days to go until his final exam, for which he hadn’t done any work (well, he was creating his $15b company), he created a site with copies of the artwork that was likely to appear in the final exam, put in some comment boxes under each one, and let his fellow students know that he had created a collaborative study guide. All they had to do was fill in the blanks. Not only did a cheeky Zuckerberg pass with flying colours, but his classmates also did better than normal thanks to their formative assessment that Zuckerberg offered them. But here’s the tough question: how many youngsters actually do that, or even think of it as a possibility? Today’s literacy benchmark is copy and paste. A media literacy strategy, instead of talking about how we block copying and pasting, and enforce filtering, rating, copyright and IPR restrictions, could begin the hard work of illustrating how copy, paste, open sourcing and creative commons-ing can lead to much better content and information for all.’

Here’s my potted view of ICT development in schools: 1990s – Buy lots of kit and use it to teach ICT in ICT lessons… 2000s – Buy lots more kit and use it to do cross curricular tasks in an embedded kind of way… 2009+ – Develop children’s creative thinking (making use of free and Web2.0 technologies)

Ewan’s blog is a a bit of a kick to remind us all not to get comfortable simply because the so called digital natives are at ease with technology. We are sometimes so amazed at their ability to rip, edit, burn and  share that we stop asking just how innovative and creative we are helping them to be. Don’t you think?


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