Reframing creativity as a distributed and participatory process: Establishing practical assessments for complex 21st century skills.


Clapp EP. Reframing creativity as a distributed and participatory process: Establishing practical assessments for complex 21st century skills., in Global Learning Alliance Conference. Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY ; 2014.

Date Presented:

April 9–10, 2014


Within this paper presentation I address the focal concept of “assessing creativity” by suggesting an innovative approach to the assessment of 21st Century Skills rooted in a reframing of creativity as a distributed and participatory process. Since J. P. Guilford established creativity as an educational imperative in his 1950 address to the American Psychological Association, psychologists and educational researchers alike have spent great energy trying to define student creativity and develop metrics for assessing it. Most famously, E. Paul Torrance established the Torrance Tests for Creative Thinking (TTCT), which have been widely used to gauge individual student creativity. Despite their popularity, the TTCT and other psycho-metric creativity tests have been deeply criticized by both educational researchers and practitioners. Building off of contemporary systems-based theories of creativity—that suggest creativity is not a singular effort, but rather a group process—and my own empirical research of three teaching and learning environments that hold creativity as a core outcome, I argue that educators who maintain traditional, individual-based understandings of creativity are focused on the wrong unit of analysis. Rather than attempt to gauge creativity within young people, it is of greater value to identify the many ways young people participate in the development of creative ideas—and explore the learning and 21st Century Skills development that takes place along the way. To that end, this study considers the central role of an idea as that which is creative, highlights the participatory and distributed nature of group-generated creative ideas, and explores the dialectical learning that takes place when groups of young people generate creative ideas. By pursuing this line of inquiry, my intention is to reframe creativity as an educational experience students participate in, rather than something one either is or has. This reframing will (a) relieve the stress of fostering creativity within individuals that many educators now face, and (b) allow for the emergence of new pedagogical practices aimed at developing teaching and learning environments where creative ideas—and the broad spectrum of individuals who participate in those ideas—may flourish. Ultimately, this reframing of creativity has the potential to significantly shift our thinking about pedagogy and instructional design, just as it may lead to new ways of thinking about how creativity can be understood and assessed in a variety of educational settings.

Last updated on 04/20/2014