Integrated Curriculum for Creativity in a Digital World

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The economic value of creativity is considerable in our chaotic, dynamic, digital world. Business and industry of the future will require workers capable of creative, collaborative and critical thought to sustain a market edge. In our world of change, conversations about fostering creativity are frequent in educational discourse. In contrast to the common view that creativity is the domain of the arts, creativity and innovation are not bound by discreet disciplines, but rather may be formulated in the overlap between areas of knowledge (Robinson, 2007). Craft warns that curriculum rigidity stifles creativity (2003). Making connections, thinking laterally and developing confidence to transfer knowledge and skills to new environments is the outcome of flexible, creative learning environments. These circumstances may also lead successfully to the development of strong digital literacy, required to make sense of the vast and dynamic digital world. It is now important as educators that we implement creative, multi-disciplinary learning opportunities across the curriculum; enabling cognitive connections and the development of creative confidence. As educators in a digital context we have tremendous scope to progress curriculum integration using technology.

Twitter attribution: Twitter ABC News Tasmania 19 May 2015

Creativity to Drive Innovation

Recently, artist Leon Ewing made the radical suggestion that high school students could be medicated with hallucinogenic drugs to foster creativity (Hewett, 2015). His comments rightly sparked a backlash, although underlying the extreme idea is a recognition of the societal need for creative thinkers and the observation that schools may not currently be succeeding in this objective; as Ken Robinson points out, schools are not prioritising this essential skillset (2012), failing to see the relationship between creative education and economic viability (Craft, 2003). In a world complicated by interwoven networks of information and a shifting landscape, students need to be dynamic, adaptable, critical thinkers (Robinson, 2012) and therefore the value of creativity is currently at the forefront of educational needs analyses. The Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA), have identified that confident, creative individuals are a highly desired educational outcome (Shaheen, 2010). Creativity and innovation is the top standard for students identified by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) (2015). Without creativity, our culture may suffer a loss of identity and self-independence (Shaheen, 2010). Shaheen refers to nations where rigid, standardised assessment is the norm and where industry evidence indicates that limited creative thinking prevents workers from productive problem-solving (2010). Starkey identifies creativity as the penultimate learning experience in a digital world. Above it, she places sharing (Starkey, 2011). Contemporary digital technology has changed the landscape of the future and it is emerging that the sharing of ideas and learning in a participatory environment provides rich opportunities to foster innovation.

Economic reasons are not the only imperative for the renewed focus on developing creativity. Creative behaviour has potential to improve self-esteem, motivation and achievement. It allows individuals to respond to change and challenge, manage risks and to be capable of leadership (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority 2004). McLellan, Galton, Steward and Page indicate that working creatively has a positive impact on students’ identity (2012) and Robinson states that creative individuals are more likely to find satisfaction and meaning in life (2012). These are important considerations in sustaining a healthy workforce, characterised by adaptability and confidence.

Creativity, pedagogy and digital literacy

Although the Arts offer extensive opportunities for creative learning, there may be many other ways to engage creatively to maximise the exposure and reach in education (Robinson, 2014); however, education in early childhood tends to limit engagement with creative thinking in non-arts disciplines (Craft, 2003). Craft emphasises the importance of fostering creative opportunities across the curriculum, to encourage transferable skills; her work promotes the idea that creativity will be nurtured through learning experiences that integrate arts, technology, science and social science (2003). Shaheen indicates that national curriculum and standardised tests have killed creativity and led to the production of clones (2010). This idea resonates with Robinson, who warns that creative thought is not compartmentalised in the brain into traditional silos (2007).

Video attribution: Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? 2007

Rather than a rigid curriculum that may stifle creative expression (Craft, 2003), Robinson espouses that valuable, innovative ideas often arise in the interaction of different disciplinary perspectives (2007). There is considerable academic literature to support the integration of curriculum areas to foster creative learning. The following points provide a sample of recent evidence:

  • Future Work Skills 2020 Report emphasises the need for students to develop a “comparative advantage” over technology (Davies, Fidler, & Gorbis, 2011, p.3). Their ten identified skills heavily reflect those that are possible through creative activity in a multi-disciplinary digital context.
  • Writing with the lens of postmodern theory, Julia Marshall articulates that integrated curriculum emphasises connectedness, enables deeper learning and “catalyses creativity” (2005, p.229).
  • Creativity: find it, promote it recommends that Education needs to move from a focus on existing information, toward creative learning, characterised by cognitive connections and links with existing knowledge (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority 2004). Strategies and environments that enable learners to apply existing knowledge to a new context are valued (McLellan, Galton, Steward, & Page, 2012).
  • Istance and Kools quote Dumont’s Learning Principles, which include the prioritisation of social and collaborative learning opportunities as well as linking concepts through “horizontal connectedness” (2013, p. 51).
  • The 2014 NMC Horizon Report calls for innovative practices that link curriculum for greater relevance and meaning; describing the model of discreet subjects as antiquated (2014).
  • The Arts introduction for the Australian Curriculum makes clear that an integrated approach to arts education has great value in providing innovative opportunities for creative engagement (2014).

McLellan et al. note that allowing authentic opportunities for cross-disciplinary creative activity is likely to enable students who do not see themselves as creative to use other forms of intelligence in a creative manner (2012). Employing opportunities for students to self-select their learning pathway can support this outcome. Constructivist learning models encourage student-directed learning experiences, with choice, multiple perspectives and rich media (Whitton, 2009). Ability to see connections between areas of knowledge is also identified as a key principle of Siemens theory of connectivism (Ravenscroft, 2011); both models fit well with the integration of curriculum for a digital age, where creative thinking can be developed collaboratively (Starkey, 2011) using technology to enhance learning and participation.

Howell refers to Lessig’s idea that technology is an enabler in creative learning (2012). The considered inclusion of digital technology allows opportunities to share knowledge and experience (Istance & Dumont, 2010). Although technology inclusion alone will not initiate creative learning and critical thinking, it can affect instruction (Becker, 2010) and provide new possibilities. Young people are regularly passive users of technology and Kivunja warns against “click and go” use; outlining the need for deeper engagement through well-planned creative interaction (2015, p.614). Resnick also argues for creative use of technology, promoting "coding to learn” to improve digital literacy (2012).

Video attribution: Mitch Resnick: Let's teach kids to code 2012

The potential for creative, cross-curricular engagement with technology is exemplified by the maker movement, emphatically promoted by Martinez and Stager in their 2013 publication, Invent to Learn. This movement not only encourages the creative integration of traditional curriculum concepts with technology but also promotes sharing in the potentially global community (Martinez & Stager, 2013).

An integrated approach to curriculum correlates with literacy for the digital age. Seeing connections between areas of knowledge supports the ability to assemble knowledge from a variety of sources, digital and traditional (Bawden, 2008).

Image attribution: flickr photo by POPOEVER shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Web 2.0 has enabled participation on a global scale, enabling students to connect and learn from and with people from a range of contexts (Craft, 2003). Hybrid curriculum using technology where students investigate, make, construct, collaborate, evaluate and share provides a wealth of opportunity. These processes are not new, however the digital context has broadened the options and scope (Chase & Laufenberg, 2011). In an Australian context, it is possible to meet outcomes for the Australian Curriculum Technologies framework in other areas of the curriculum (ACARA, 2015). Considering curriculum from a well-planned holistic school perspective could progress opportunities to integrate traditional silos with technology.

Despite the appeal of integrated curriculum solutions, there are a range of prohibitive factors. As implied by Chase and Laufenberg, teaching to promote digital literacy in a cross-disciplinary context can seem daunting (2011). Additionally, there are diverse views among practitioners about the nature of creativity and the capacity to teach it (Robinson, 2014); causing a possible impediment to the necessary paradigm shift. Wong warns that considerable planning is needed to develop curriculum, allowing preparation time and resourcing for educators to facilitate successful structures (2012). From an arts perspective, Wong also raises the concern that the arts, a curriculum area already at the bottom of the educational hierarchy (Robinson, 2007), may become diluted (Wong, 2012). Whilst consideration of these cautions is necessary, a holistic approach to curriculum design may enable the implementation of effective curriculum integration.

Twitter attribution: retweet David Culberhouse

The role of the teacher

In a bleak future vision, Michael Godsey presents the possibility that tomorrow's classroom teachers will be no more than behaviour and technology managers, supervising the online education of their students (Godsey, 2015). However, this vision is not aligned with an education model where creativity is fostered. In order to think creatively, individual students will benefit greatly from differentiation and scaffolding to build knowledge (McLellan et al., 2012). McLellan et al. advocate a balance between processes that allow challenge whilst mitigating the risk of debilitating failure. Learning to be creative relies on opportunities for learners to follow unique pathways and navigate the vast repositories of online information and ideas (Thomas & Brown, 2011). The teacher’s role is essential in establishing navigational frameworks and boundaries (Thomas & Brown, 2011).

Availability of content does not necessarily lead to good pedagogical implementation and support for individual student needs (Ravenscroft, Wegerif, & Hartley, 2007). Opportunities to develop digital literacy and creative thinking require a carefully developed, inquiry-focused curriculum (Chase & Laufenberg, 2011). It is advocated that the role of the teacher is to encourage the exploitation of creative possibilities through structured digital experiences, but also that education to support teacher skill development is essential (Hall, 2012). It is the role of the teacher to encourage students beyond passive use (Hall, 2012) and into active creation through making and constructing. Istance and Kools emphasise the need for diversity in the approach of the teacher, encouraging an inquiry process alongside explicit instruction. Nothing works for “every purpose, for every learner, all of the time” (Becker, 2010, section: The Edutainment Dilemma) and therefore curriculum for effective development of creative skills requires some level of personalisation and scaffold.

Craft asserts that anyone can be creative (2003); however, Robinson tells us that schools educate students out of creativity with their focus on structure and traditional academia (2007). Conversely, Robinson has found that students may be filled with hope and ambition by teachers with creative vision (2014); a teacher’s input to nurturing self-belief is necessary to ease students’ fear of creating and presenting their work (Sliney, 2012).

Therefore creating a culture where experimentation is valued, the process is commended and where students experience a level of success through encouragement, inspiration and mentoring is essential (Robinson, 2007).

Video attribution: Will Sliney TED: Creative changes in storytelling 2012


Economic competition has driven a recent rise in the perceived value of creative workers to foster innovation. It has been well-established that connections between learning areas may develop skills in creative thinking. Technology is a significant enabler in the development of integrated curriculum and a holistic view of curriculum development may allow considerable opportunity for fostering creativity even in reluctant students who have lost their creative self-belief. Teachers have an important role in developing student creativity, as long as their position fosters the whole being. Teachers determined to help students discover they can be creative will support the active contribution of their students to the dynamic, digital world.

Written by: Lisa Plenty for CSU INF530 (Concepts and Practices for a Digital Age)

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