Innovation in education

Yes we can greatly improve the teaching of creativity in Australian schools and yes we can measure it

Creativity is once again front and centre in the call for educating more effective 21stcentury workforces in Australia with the release of David Gonski’s latest review of schooling. It echoes other national reviews in stating that the current industrial age model of school education in Australia must change.

Our national curriculum mandates the development of the general capability of creative and critical thinking. However, achieving this is severely hampered, as the report attests, by inflexible curricula, teaching models that limit differentiation and creativity, and stymied organisational leadership that limits teacher practices and de-incentivises schools as innovative environments.

Today we know that creativity is ubiquitous, that everyone is creative, and that all students deserve the opportunity to develop, learn and maximise their own creative thinking abilities, exploring what leading researchers such as Mark Runco describe as problem-finding and problem-solving. Having progressed through industrial and knowledge economies, we are now propelled into a dynamic creative economy of enormous complexity, interconnectedness and opportunity.

Legendary educational psychologist E. Paul Torrance’s research into intelligence and creativity in school children established clinical links between fluency, flexibility, original thinking and the ability to elaborate on thoughts as markers for creativity. Torrance’s creativity index could predict kids’ creative accomplishments as adults far better than IQ testing.

This is an argument we are still making today through our research at RMIT University’s School of Education, in developing a national Creativity Index that will measure creative skills and capacities alongside literacy and numeracy. Our research also shows an urgent need for a more ecological approach to improving creativity in schools, not just to measuring it. This means approaching schools as ecosystems in which teachers collaborate with other teachers, students and leadership, and teaching and learning is approached interdisciplinarily. It also urges the immediate incorporation of compulsory creativity training in all initial teacher education and professional development across the country.

Today’s creativity research such as the current Australian Research Council-funded study Transforming 21stcentury creativity education in Australasia now focuses on the need to move beyond siloed subject areas or teaching and learning practices, instead developing creative ecologies across school environments, regionally and nationally throughout the sector.

Whilst attention to design thinking and other ‘imported’ solutions grows, we advocate solving the creativity education ‘problem’ from within, with educators ourselves adapting such tools for our own contexts. We believe education reform should be addressed through a holistic systems thinking approach which can incorporate best practice from tools like Stanford University’s famous d-school Design Thinking Bootcamp, but doesn’t stop there.

With support from the Australian Research Council, we are offering new Australian research and practical tools built from the 600+ teachers, principals, and students expressed needs for improving creativity in their classrooms. Large-scale, current and empirical research and tools grown from withinthe Education sector can greatly enhance models like the Victorian State Governments’ Professional Learning Communities model currently offered. The Creative Ecologies Final Report(2016)shares Harris’ Whole School Creativity Audit, Creativity Index, and a Top 10 Creative skills and capacities rubric – practical tools for moving forward at the whole-school level, incorporating creative teaching, learning and collaboration as an integrated and evidence-based answer to Gonski’s most recent call for improving creativity throughout the sector.

Using practical and collaborative approaches like these we believe, can expand user-centred innovation possibilities and have the potential to radically improve Australian education, and more effectively implement the Australian Curriculum’s ‘critical and creativity thinking’ general capability.

Why is this so important?

 Multinational companies such as Adobe are now conducting their own research to stress the need for creative skills and capacities in their recruits. We agree that, while market needs shouldn’t drive education, they play a strong role in determining what gets taught, and how.

Digital technology too is playing an ever-greater role in the how of educational engagements. And we’re not talking about just being able to put an iPad in every learner’s hands, but actually using hybrid reality technologies and emerging digital technology to educationallymeet and extend our own and our students shared creative imaginations. This is not only good education but good business too.  From augmented reality and games development, to immersive world and virtual reality technologies, to smart homes, workplaces and smart cities, creativity and creative ways of thinking are at the forefront of educational needs today.

The dangers of divorcing STEM from arts-based learning

Here in Australia, we dangerously divorce Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education from arts-based inquiry learning, diminishing further opportunities for interdisciplinary, joined-up learning strategies. The worldwide knee-jerk reaction to promoting STEM subjects forges on despite a recent Australian Parliamentary Enquiry outlining that our teachers are placed in STEM teaching situations ill-equipped to deal with this changing role and concept, whilst further acknowledging that interdisciplinary connectivity of utilising arts learningand thinkingin STEAM approaches need to be investigated further.

If governments are going to ensure workforces of the future will be adaptable, creative, and visionary, then they too must adapt to best practice and Australian research, and alter the way they tectonically arbitrate change and coordinate the future visioning of education in this country.

Whilst even countries like the United States have been stalling on creative education innovation, and cutbacks in places like the UK threaten to side-line creativity education once again, our northern neighbours in China,Korea, and Finland are revolutionising the ways they incorporate creativity into their core education, and understand its crucial connectivity to global industry.

Australian chief scientist Dr Finkel in an Education Council Report calls for a reverse in the narrowing trend toward STEM and other ‘baseline’ measures, and opening toward a more contemporary, global skill set. Research is proving that subject interconnection, such as in Finland’s ‘phenomenon teaching’ in secondary schools, Korea’s lead in institutional and industry connectivity, and China’s vision to move significant manufacturing to cheaper labour markets in Africa whist embracing the vision to evolve from a re-creative to a co-creative and entrepreneurial powerhouse, are urgent reminders that Australia needs to change, and change now.

Incorporating Australia-centred, education-adapted design thinking that mindfully intersects with cross disciplinary and creative pedagogies in pre-service teacher education rather than in retrospective and ad-hoc approaches, as well as within professional development plans of our current teaching workforce, can mark significant change forward. And these are changes Australia urgently needs.


Read more in Anne Harris’s book Creativity and Education


Anne Harris is an ARC Future Fellow, and Vice Chancellor’s Principal Research Fellow (Research Associate Professor) in the School of Education and the Design and Creative Practice ECP at RMIT University. Her research focuses on the intersection of creativity, performance and digital media at both practice and policy levels. She is the creator and editor of the Palgrave Macmillan book series Creativity, Education and the Arts, and the ABER co-editor of the Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy. She is the Director of Creative Agency Research Lab, and for more information on Creative Agency go to:


Leon de Bruin is a Research Fellow at RMIT University School of Education and Creative Agency Lab. He is an educator, performer and researcher in creativity, cognition, collaborative learning, creative pedagogies, and improvised music, and also works in the Faculty of Education, Monash University. He is co-editor of the forthcoming Brill Publication: Creativities in Arts Education, Research and Practice: International Perspectives for the Future of Learning and Teaching, and co-author with Anne Harris of Creativity in Education in the Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Education.


Why teachers should use virtual worlds

There has been a worldwide increase in the use of virtual worlds from 136 million in 2009 to 28.8 billion in 2014. Despite this increased usage, the successful use of virtual worlds in education is still rare.

A virtual world is an online electronic presence that imitates real life in the form of a personal presence through someone’s avatar (a graphical representation of themself in the virtual world). A virtual world that many children play in today is Minecraft.

Educators face many hurdles in their attempts to use virtual worlds in their classrooms. These include technical issues (such as low Internet bandwidth, computer hardware difficulties, computer operating systems not being of the right standard, age of computers), distractions (when students are distracted by the virtual world and not engaging with the educational benefit required at the time), time (this goes in hand with distractions – students thoroughly engage with the virtual world and therefore spending too much time in-world), monetary (occasionally the virtual world can be costly) and the training of other educators (to share the load).

However, there are great benefits to using virtual worlds in classrooms.

While the initial funding might be a problem, once virtual worlds are up and running they can be very cost efficient. Instead of creating a “bricks and mortar” building which can amount to millions of dollars, a virtual world can be set up and in use for as little as a few thousand dollars, and on many occasions much less than this (and even free).

For example, Second Life  could be used where educators enable others to use their space without cost to anyone. Setting up one’s own avatar is also free.

Students can go on excursions or field trips relatively inexpensively, from their own home, through the use of a virtual world. Through the use of their avatar, a student can sit on their lounge and go visit places around the world that appear real and have other people there to talk to. For example, students often visit the Sistine Chapel where they can immerse themselves in Michael Angelo’s artwork or NASA where they can go in a rocket and explore space.

Virtual worlds are also excellent for distant education when students are unable to be in the same space as the educator. These can be for various reasons such as distance, cost, disability, or time factors.

Virtual worlds provide a space for students to work together on projects. This collaborative use provides engagement and for students to work with other students when it may not have been possible by other educational means. They provide excellent spaces for communication, via text or through audio. Virtual worlds are visually engaging for students and are also of benefit to those who are kinaesthetic learners (i.e. those who fully engage in their learning through touching and interacting with things, because they are doing things with their hands to engage in their learning).

Through the building and scripting of virtual worlds, students can increase their skills and thus provide opportunities for interacting with the online tools instead of viewing static pages, again of benefit to kinaesthetic learners.

One great benefit of virtual worlds is giving students the opportunity to undertake role-play in an authentic learning scenario. Historical re-enactments and other recreations are also another way in which to engage students. Virtual worlds can also provide simulations for students in which to learn.

Even students who can’t personally visit the virtual world can benefit. An educator can create machinima (in-world video) so that students can view the virtual world session in their own time. When an educator isn’t able to be present synchronously with the students, they are able to engage the students through treasure hunts and web-quests that they can do in their own time.

Virtual worlds have been compared to face-to-face learning, challenging our basic ideas of how schooling works. Through much research we know that virtual worlds are an authentic tool for educators and can be of great benefit to students.

Research continues as to how extensive the use and benefits could be. The immediate challenge is for schools and institutions as to how they might support and encourage educators to embrace the use of virtual worlds.

To read more, please visit  VIRTUAL CLASSROOMS

Sue Gregory no bg copyDr Sue Gregory is a long term adult educator, Chair of Research in the School of Education and member of the ICT team at the University of New England, Armidale, Australia. She teaches pre service and post graduate education students how to incorporate technology into their teaching. Sue, through her avatar Jass Easterman, has been using Second Life by applying her virtual world knowledge to expose her students, both on and off campus, to the learning opportunities in virtual worlds since 2007. She has been involved with many national and university projects on creating and using learning spaces in virtual worlds. Sue was the lead for an OLT  project “VirtualPREX: Innovative assessment using a 3D virtual world with pre-service teachers”, a team member on three other OLT projects and received an OLT citation in 2012. Since 2009, Sue has been Chair of the Australian and New Zealand Virtual Worlds Working Group. Sue has over 80 publications on teaching and learning in virtual worlds and completed her PhD on this topic.