By Dr. Cynthia Silvia, DHA
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Public University
Empowering students’ voices in the classroom leads to students who are passionate about solving real-world problems. Moving from the typical student-instructor interaction to a community of inquiry promotes a feeling of empowerment, allowing students to take charge of their learning experiences and promotes a deeper level of students’ curiosity on a subject, deepening the transition from a basic understanding to an application and analysis of the materials that can be implemented in the real world.
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Engaging students in classroom activities also prepares them to take charge and make effective decisions in the real world, according to educators Diane Casale-Giannola and Linda Schwartz-Green. Instructors must look for ways to encourage creativity through inclusivity, experiential learning, and instructional differentiation across a variety of learning platforms and intellects.
Creating an innovative culture in the classroom requires educators to establish a unique environment in which learning can take place. Harnessing the power of choice, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, and caring have the power to revolutionize today’s classrooms. These six Cs can lead to new solutions and possibilities that extend beyond the classroom.
The Power of Choice
As educators, we should be engaging students on a whole new level. Harnessing the power of choice may be exactly what students need to make the connection between the classroom and the real world.
According to authors Robert J. Marzano, Debra J. Pickering and Tammy Heflebower, when students are empowered to make choices, they perceive classroom activities with increasing importance. The power of choice is a strong intrinsic motivator that allows students to control the learning process, leading them to achieve a higher degree of confidence and educational value from the learning process. Choice increases the efforts and performance of students and provides the added boost students gain from new activity.
Inspiring students’ choices requires a curriculum that incorporates both cognitive and emotional functions in the learning environment. The best ways to accomplish this type of curriculum is to utilize creative arts, a variety of media sources, and programs like Padlet in the classroom that inspire students to think creatively and make choices as to what will benefit them in their careers.
As educators, we must find ways of encouraging students to make effective choices that will benefit them in solving everyday problems. Making intelligent choices connects students emotionally to classroom materials, helping them to develop new innovations that will benefit them in their careers.
The Osborn-Parnes Model of Creative Problem Solving (CPS) is an older, widely used model that suggests the use of divergent thinking to explore and challenge new ideas through choice. Making effective choices allows students to flourish and provides an environment where they feel encouraged to show novel ideas in new and effective ways that will allow them to solve worldly problems that they encounter in their daily lives.
The Osborne-Parnes Model of Creative Problem Solving also encourages students to explore problems from a different perspective. This outside-the-box way of thinking encourages students to reconstruct solutions to real-world problems using the six steps of creative problem solving, such as objective finding, fact finding, problem finding, solution finding, and acceptance finding.
The Osborne-Parnes Model can be broken down into three stages, including exploration, the generation of ideas, and a call to action in finding new and effective solutions to everyday problems. The first stage involves the exploration of the problem and starts with the selection of a problem, followed by fact finding or searching for what you know about the problem. The last stage of this first step is to determine what the real problem is.
Stage two involves generating ideas through the process of brainstorming. Brainstorming is an informal approach to solving problems that sparks creativity and outside the box thinking that take problem solving to a whole new level. This way of thinking provides a new framework and perspective that encourages students to reconstruct solutions to real-world problems using the six steps of creative problem solving. The third stage is a call to action where students can put their new and effective solutions into action.
The Role of Collaboration and Teamwork
Today’s colleges place a heavy emphasis on competition and individual achievement over collaboration and teamwork. If we expect students to engage in collaborative learning due to the complex nature of a task, these tasks must follow two key concepts needed for collaboration.
First, the task must be complex enough to engage students in a way that requires “positive interdependence.” These complex activities must promote collaboration through team building. These team-building activities must encourage speech-making leadership, decision-making opportunities, high levels of communication and trust in a way that enables students to understand the what, why, and how involved in the process of collaboration.
As instructors, we can inspire collaboration by assuming the role of a coach rather than an instructor. As a coach, we can encourage team activity that encourages all students to work together in a productive way that allows a team to achieve its goal.
The Development of Communication Skills
Communication and the development of a creative mindset is dependent upon communication skills that set the stage for reflection in which students test ideas collaboratively with their peers. This tactic leads to a reflective approach to learning that builds critical thinking skills and confidence that results from shared experiences.
Creative learning is built upon the basics of sharing communicative stimuli in an educational setting that is supportive of creative thinking. The value that develops from school-based learning is an important part of the communication skills that stimulate the readiness of students to cope with the world in which they live today.
Many schools and universities are limited to constraints in curriculum requirements that often stifle the learning process. Learners need a wide array of opportunities to apply their skills, communication, and knowledge as well as instructors who can guide them and provide students strategies between their experience and their communication skills.
Students need instructors who can apply skills and knowledge towards strategies that will help them form connections between learning and real-world experiences. Conversation is a dynamic concept. It is important that educators create an appropriate learning environment that facilitates communication.
Harnessing Critical Thinking Abilities
Critical thinking has played a key role in the traditional classroom as part of the cognitive learning process. Critical thinking is based upon the ability to think using specific characteristics associated with the critical thinking process as noted in the California Critical Thinking Dispositional Inventory.
Critical thinking typically takes place in a classroom that encourages active learning. Active learning is a top-down approach where the instructor is the expert and students are the ones who seek knowledge.
To promote active learning and critical thinking, instructors must provide students with opportunities to practice evaluative skills and knowledge that encourages the students to experiment with critical thinking. Typically, this requires the use of the seven dispositions necessary to foster critical thinking, including:
- Seeking the truth
- Thinking with an open mind
- Thinking systematically and analytically
- Seeking knowledge
- Having the confidence to trust in one’s own judgement
- Cognitive maturity
- Problem-solving ability
This teaching method allows students to develop insight on various topics through the perspective of other students in the classroom. Students then interact with their class materials, which produces discussion and promotes evaluation. When students and instructors interact in critical thinking, cognitive magic takes place.
In “Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching,” Edgar Dale suggests that learning through experience, observation, discussions and participation enriches the learning experience far better than reading and observation alone. Cooperative learning tales place when students are actively involved in classroom discussions where they share experiences, making the process of understanding and remembering key concepts effortless. Cooperative learning is a process that must be carefully planned and executed to ensure that active learning is taking place.
Dale also suggests that the least effective method of learning involves information presented through verbal communication. The learning methods at the bottom of the Cone of Learning involve direct and purposeful learning, including hands-on learning and field experience, where direct experiences are the closest thing to the realities of everyday living.
The Cone of Learning depicts the typical retention rates associated with different teaching methods. The greatest level of learning takes place as the individual progresses towards the bottom of the cone. When choosing the best method of instruction, it is critical to remember that including students in the process increases knowledge and information retention.
When students use perceptual and sensory learning, the results can yield a 90% retention rate, according to Dale. Classroom activities that involve real-world experience can have a direct impact on purposeful learning experiences in the classroom, resulting in innovation and experiential learning.
Creativity: Sparking the Creative Genius in Students
In today’s universities, most students experience a gap in creativity in the classroom, according to writer Lauren Davis. Creativity is not just an enrichment activity or add in. Creativity is a defined and measurable set of psychological skills used to enhance the learning process.
NASA once conducted a study to measure the creativity of NASA’s engineers and rocket scientists. The test, developed by Dr. George Land and Beth Jarman, was successful for NASA. But scientists were left with several questions, including:
- Where does creativity come from?
- Is creativity something we are born with or is it a learned trait?
In the study conducted by NASA, scientists found that of the 1,600 4- to 5-year-olds tested, 98% were rated at the genius level in imagination. The scientists then conducted a longitudinal study testing the same children five years later.
The study revealed that only 30% of those same children now fell into the genius category. The same tests were then given to the children at 15 years of age, and the results revealed that only 12% were rated at the genius level when it came to imagination.
After conducting the same test with adults, it was discovered that only 2% of the adults scored at the genius level in imagination. Test results revealed that our educational system contributes to a steady decline in our creative imagination over time.
The NASA results suggest that two kinds of thinking take place in our minds — divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking accelerates the imagination and creates new possibilities, whereas convergent thinking involves making judgements and decisions that stifle our creative efforts.
Land suggests that as instructors, we must reactivate the power of the brain and reawaken the creative imagination in our students. We must:
- Encourage a question-friendly environment
- Generate new ideas
- Encourage skills development
- Provide creative models
- Use the jigsaw classroom method of inspiring creativity that makes students dependent on each other to succeed
Sparking curiosity and inquisitiveness is a necessary component needed to nurture a creative mindset. We must encourage a friendly classroom environment where students can ask questions in an open environment that sparks curiosity and requires instructors to spend more time teaching and monitoring classroom activity that will nurture that sense of wonder in students. To unleash the power of creativity in the classroom, instructors must lead by example and spark enthusiasm and original ideas that inspire creative thinking.
Building a Better Student Through Caring Classroom Leadership
Nel Knoddings, an educational scholar and philosopher, champions caring relationships as a fundamental part of the teaching and learning process. She advocates the goal of preparing young adults to care about knowledge, the planet and each other, rather than focusing solely on curriculum alone. It is without doubt educational classrooms are those that focus on caring settings.
A Canadian study revealed that 66% of college students get very lonely in the last year of college. In the U.S., the National College Health Assessment showed that 19% of all students felt things were hopeless, 50.8% felt a sense of being overwhelmed, and 25.5% felt an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. To prevent these situations, we educators must build a sense of caring, connectedness and compassion into our colleges and universities that will benefit our students and society.
It is not enough for instructors to dive headfirst into their work. Students need to feel a genuine sense of caring in the classroom.
It is vital that teachers promote active engagement as part of a mutual exchange in order to achieve this concept of caring in the classroom. When we build trust into the curriculum, students become more actively engaged in the materials being taught.
Discovering information about a student’s strengths and interests allows instructors to tailor material to better meet the student’s needs. Fostering that sense of community transforms the classroom into a place where students feel connected and secure. As a result, no one feels alone.
A caring classroom experience revolves around the three Rs: respect, recognition and reciprocity. Respect ensures that students voices’ and their real-world experiences are valued and heard. Recognition promotes acceptance of each individual’s differences in opinions and everyone’s uniqueness is welcomed. Reciprocity suggest that every student has something of value to contribute to the classroom.
By cultivating inclusiveness, we can learn and grow together. Caring university classrooms can be a life-changing situation for young adults who find themselves navigating a critical and stressful path to achieving their lifelong goals.
Most professors have a desire to teach in academics because of a passion for teaching and for engaging students. While all of these responsibilities are important, this task can be overwhelming. We must remain focused on building relationships and a sense of community in the classroom for all students, as we embark on the path of learning and discovery.
As educators in an online setting, we must continuously strive to provide students with learning activities that stimulate and pique students’ interest and spark creative learning. As role models for learners, we can demonstrate our passion for teaching by delivering course material with a high level of energy and enthusiasm that encourages student learning and critical thinking.
Tailoring material to students’ personal interests will inspire learning and allow students to achieve a level of mastery specific to their individual needs. Teaching by discovery, engages students in the learning process and permits them to discover and explore the underlying principles of each lesson.
Affording students more control over how they engage with classroom materials and other learners provides each individual student with the opportunity to achieve an optimum level of mastery best suited to their needs. Engaging students in collaboration and teamwork stimulates individual contributions in resolving complex real-world problems.
About the Author
Cynthia Silvia, DHA, is a faculty member for the School of Business at APU. She is also a member of the faculty at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. Dr. Silvia received a Master of Healthcare Administration and a Doctorate in Healthcare Administration from the University of Phoenix and a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Elementary Education from the University of Rhode Island. She has been teaching at the university level both online and on campus for the past four years. What she enjoys most about teaching for APUS is helping her students learn and master the skills necessary to succeed in life.
Additionally, Dr. Silvia has held various retail management positions over the past 37 years for F.W. Woolworth/Woolco, Bradlees, Ames, Sears, Toys “R” Us, Babies “R” Us and CVS Pharmacy.
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