Monday, May 18, 2015

Creativity and Lessons From Discomfort in Learning by Marie Brewer

On our first day in San Antonio, The Alpha Theta Phi team attended the Phi Theta Kappa Academy, a day long leadership and fellowship training. This was a bonus portion of the International Convention that we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend. The opening speaker was Dr. David Burkus, the founder of the podcast LDRLB (leader lab) and author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas. After his speech, we broke into small seminar groups that were lead in a focus group format on improving join rates for Phi Theta Kappa. We then came back as a large group for lunch and the closing speaker, cellist Stephanie Winters.

Dr. Burkus began his talk by touching on the creative process - specifically how we see creativity, and creative thinking skills. He spoke about Paul Erbös and the breadth of his knowledge outside his own field in mathematics. Erbös may have been a mathematician but he studied a wide range of topics and his research was highly interdisciplinary. With the focus on a major or specific concentration throughout college, interdisciplinary courses often fall to the side. The part of this speech that spoke most to me was when Dr. Burkus said, "Find that discomfort in learning and seek it out" because this is something I struggle with, yet I know this is how we grow. So much of our education system in the United States focuses on grades as a measure of success. If you don't have an A then you're experience in a class almost seems pointless. As an English major, I struggle to not only take classes outside my focus, but to enjoy them and engage in learning when I do. Instead of focusing on learning in the class, of getting something from it, no matter how small, I am overwhelmed by anxiety and stress at the thought that it may not be my best work. In other words, if an ‘A’ isn't on the horizon, why bother?

For example, when I was required to take a math class as a general education requirement, I waited as long as possible. I took the class I thought would be "most" easy (titled Math & The Modern World), and proceeded to panic when anything came up that I thought I couldn't learn or was beyond my current mathematical abilities. While it was ultimately a good choice for me in its emphasis on problem solving - perhaps a statistics class would have been the discomfort I needed to see the value of broad learning. I probably wouldn't have gotten an ‘A’ because our education system still needs a subjective measure of success, but I would have learned through the challenge of the class and isn't learning why we are here? Isn't college about exploring and learning, not about taking classes you already know you'll get an ‘A’ in?

I can understand this concept as theoretical, but when so many scholarships and admissions decisions rest on your GPA and whether or not you've proved yourself as a good student, it doesn't matter if you're learning. It would be great to see the educational system change to a more dynamic form of evaluation for classes, but that's idealistic and not likely. I can, however, remember Dr. Burkus' words and take advantage of electives and pass/fail options to explore topics beyond my normal field of study. Through being challenged and facing a challenge, there is the possibility to learn far more than just the topic of the class.

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