Draw me a picture

“Draw me a picture, honey.”

If I had a nickel for every time I said the above words to my daughter, I would be a rich woman.  Essentially, this is my request for creativity—asking my daughter to make something that is her own.  This seemingly timeless request brings to the fore interesting questions in light a generation that has been labeled as “born digital” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008).  What does it mean to be creative for students who enter my classroom, especially when they grew up in an age that is technologically mediated much earlier than mine was?

In a digital world in which technology seems to be lurking around every corner waiting to support, augment, and improve all that we do, I am curious about the extent to which “creativity” needs to be reconceptualized. The dictionary definition uses language like “originality,” “expressiveness,” and “imaginative.”  What, though, counts as original, expressive or imaginative in the worlds of those who remix, sample, and reconstitute knowledge in new modalities?  We know that the “knowledge” they are exposed to is mostly mediated.  To what extent do these students have different ways of organizing that knowledge—cognitively—given the multiple modalities within which information intersects with their lives?  If this is the case, perhaps these students have qualitatively different schemas that help them make sense of information that is in many ways ephemeral.

[I would be remiss at this point if I did not take you to a citation on schema theory and given the overall emphasis of this blog—I will give you the technological citation (familiar to those digital natives who perhaps are walking into my undergraduate classes)– http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schema_(psychology) –and several original sources (below).]

When I bring schema theory together with this concept of digital creativity (remixing, sampling, and reconsitution)—I am left curious about whether our students are becoming more creative or whether they are simply operating with different kinds of schemas that are less static, entrenched, and prescriptive given their exposure to multiple modes of knowledge and interactions. In other words, is it easier for these students to create and recreate because the ways in which they organize and make sense of new knowledge (aka, learning) is substantially different? If so, what is the role of technology in this process?

Several questions remain:

  • How do I support creativity as an instructional outcome in courses for which it is appropriate?
  • To what extent do my “pen and paper” assignments constrain students’ natural and somewhat instinctual abilities?
  • How can I understand the schema students use to make sense of the technologically-mediated world around them? What is my responsibility in connecting with their schemas?
  • If creativity for those “born digital” invokes social networks, to what extent do we need to reconceptualize “sharing”?

I ran across a recent posting on Facebook that seemed to be the epitome of “remixing” that I’m tinkering with in this posting.  Here is the link–it is Hamlet in the genre of facebook Newsfeeds and it struck me not only as funny, but also creative.  The question remains, though–does it diminish the story?  Would a student doing this assignment (e.g., translate Hamlet into Facebook Newsfeeds) learn as much as one who had to write a traditional paper on Hamlet?  What does this kind of creativity add to the learning process and what does it negate from the learning process?

http://www.angelfire.com/art2/antwerplettuce/hamlet.html

I close with a picture my daughter “remixed” in her class last week.  Her assignment was to “create a collage (on the computer) of your family.”  Here is what she did:

My family (by Emma Grace)
When I asked her how she picked people for the collage (I was curious about the obvious discrepancies in her vision of my husband’s ethnicity as portrayed and his actual ethnicity) she said: “the computer wouldn’t let me make a real daddy.  So I had to pick that one.”

Ah, technology, I thought.  The great tool for creativity… within the limits of its database.

Despite my commitment to taking technology seriously, to experimenting, to jumping in “head first;” I then reverted back to what I knew best and asked her to do what I’ve requested so many times before…

“Draw me a picture honey.  Draw me picture.”

Anderson, Richard C. 1977. “The Notion of Schemata and the Educational Enterprise: General Discussion of the Conference.” In Schooling and the Acquisition of Knowledge, ed. Richard C. Anderson, Rand J. Spiro, and William E. Montague. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bartlett, Frederic C. 1932. Remembering. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press.

Minsky, Marvin. 1975. “A Framework for Representing Knowledge.” In The Psychology of Computer Vision, ed. Patrick H. Winston. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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