Ten ways to use tech to teach creativity

20th September 2016 at 12:00

Creativity is born when learners use their imagination to come up with new ideas. It’s a vital part of the learning process which teachers must encourage, and technology is an excellent tool to use. Why? Because it is interactive; it requires interactivity. It makes children engage in meaningful activities, encourages their curiosity and becomes a platform from which they can become inquisitive and collaborative learners.

Here are 10 effective ways to use tech to spark creative thinking:

1.    Collaborate in the cloud

Students bouncing ideas off one another helps encourage new ways of thinking, and technology has made group work seamless. Many apps, such as Google Docs, allow children to collaborate simultaneously on different devices; students and teachers can leave comments and edit a piece of work while it’s being completed, creating valuable opportunities for discussion and reflection.

This collaborative learning doesn’t have to stay local either. Using video calling services such as Skype, children can communicate with learners across the globe. Recently, my class video-conferenced with a group of pupils in Hungary. It was amazing to watch the exchange because the differing views sparked new ways of thinking.

2.    Create a mind-map

Why not use tech tools to generate new ideas through team mind-mapping? Websites such as Trello and Bubbl.Us are very effective at supporting children in this. It is astonishing to see the mind map grow rapidly – creativity spreading across the screen like wildfire.

3.    Share work online

Sharing work through tech is a great way to spark the urge to create. A former pupil of mine says: “I like to take photos of my good work and put them on Instagram so my friends and mum can see it. I get lots of ‘likes’.”

Clearly the days of working in an exercise book, which is looked at once by a teacher and then stored in a cupboard never to see the light of day again, are gone. Having an audience gives children a sense of pride when they achieve.

I have encouraged this online sharing through class blogs (using Blogger or WordPress), and also by inspiring pupils to photograph their work and share it on social media. More recently, my school has streamed live feeds (via Facebook Live, Periscope or YouTube Live) of performances and other school events. The students have all given positive feedback and like that there is a record of their accomplishments. However, it is important to educate pupils about e-safety and explain that for reasons of privacy and protection it is wise to share only with friends and family rather than publicly.

4.    Harness social media

Social media is part of our pupils’ day-to-day lives and teachers can harness it to teach creativity in myriad ways. Children can follow well-known, influential people on social media apps such as Twitter (for example, Lord Robert Winston). Receiving updates and information from accounts like these can generate new ideas. And with the information going straight to students’ mobile devices, this learning is current and accessible.

5.    Use familiar technology in new ways

Familiar technology can be used to help learners work in new ways. I have in the past asked my students to create a Facebook profile of a fictional character (Fakebook is a great website for this). Another idea is to ask pupils to “live tweet” an event: when my class was studying evolution, for example, they “live-tweeted” Charles Darwin’s voyage around the Galapagos Islands. If you are not able to do this on Twitter itself, there are plenty of tweet templates online.

6.    Display information differently

When students were confined to writing on lined paper in a book, it hampered creativity –with so many different learning styles, this method couldn’t cater for every student. Nowadays, we can use tech to transform how information is collected, stored and presented, which motivates students to think more broadly.

ThingLink is an app which makes images interactive. Simply click on the part of the picture you wish to focus on and add text, audio or video. This extra information will be hidden behind a pin icon; when you click on the icon, your hidden content will pop up.

Infographics are also becoming a popular way of presenting knowledge and data. Piktochart and Canva are simple but effective tech tools that can make this a piece of cake.

Slideshows, too, no longer have to follow the traditional linear order. Creativity is flourishing thanks to apps such as the presentation tool Prezi, which allows you to follow a path of information in a non-linear fashion.

All these apps can contribute to learning by giving children the option to create in the way they wish.

7.    Make note-taking an art form

Technology has changed the way we take notes; these days this is less of a chore and more a way to catch and collate new ideas. “Sketchnoting” is very popular, where written notes are combined with images and symbols. Paper & Pencil by FiftyThree is another simple app that provides a great way to create sketchnotes online. While some of my pupils still prefer bulleted lists, many now take notes in a more inventive fashion.

8.    Capture creativity on film

A large number of exceptionally creative children I’ve taught have sadly crumbled when put in front of an audience due to nervousness. Luckily, technology can be used to capture creativity and release it later. Video and audio recording tools such as Vocaroo are great tools for this.

A painfully shy former pupil of mine once performed the most amazing piece of poetry which the microphone picked up perfectly, allowing the class to enjoy her hidden talent. After this positive reinforcement, which she had never received before, I noticed her confidence blossom.

9.    Share inspirational videos

Another great teaching tool is to show online videos that inspire creativity; I have found Ted Talks on YouTube to be particularly insightful. Exposure to these videos has led to several of my students developing a passion for subjects they hadn't previously cared for. One student, who watched an artist at work, was inspired to copy their style but recreate it in a different medium to create a completely new take on it.

Another way to use online videos is by challenging students to create ‘mash-up’ videos, by finding and editing the best clips into compilations. I often ask my students to identify the most important parts of a video and use technology such as the YouTube Editor to edit it; this leads to content being presented in the most dynamic and imaginative ways. Not only does working in this way enhance students’ learning and allow me to check their understanding, but they can share these videos with each other, passing on the knowledge and new ideas in an accessible and engaging format.

10.  Make the impossible, possible

What better way to be creative than to use technology to make the impossible possible? Google Street View is a good example of a tool that can help you to do this. You can use it to visit nearly anywhere in the world, dive the Great Barrier Reef (virtually-speaking), and even look at live feeds from Nasa. I have also used the sights on Street View to inspire students to write and create artwork.

A new development, which has amazed my pupils, is virtual reality. I purchased some Google Cardboard headsets and the class was astonished at being able to walk anywhere in the world in Google Street View using the simple VR viewers. As one said, “I felt like I was actually there, Mr Jarrett, actually right there.”

It is clear that tech is certainly a medium through which to teach creativity. And with new innovative apps and hardware appearing daily, the future is indeed very exciting.

Neil Jarrett is a Year 6 teacher at an international school in Bangkok. He tweets at @EdtechNeil and his blog is EdTech4Beginners