Stoking the Flames

At the end of last week’s post I touched on how I wanted to encourage creativity and original design, divergent thinking, etc. and laid out a few things I already do to facilitate that.

This week’s readings were nominally about assessment and grading, but they all repeated the point that students’ concerns about grades was a way to kill creativity. Dan Pink’s two videos¬†on the science of motivation said the same thing as well: numerical or financial incentives to perform are actually counterproductive and possibly harmful when creativity and original thought is needed.

I’m definitely de-emphasizing grades in my class and in most cases they’ll either be simple completion grades or a more holistic look at someone’s work–if they applied the concepts they learned and demonstrated original thought, that warrants a high grade, regardless of the “success” of the design. Their final project grades will be based on how accurately they can interpret their own results, improve upon them, and communicate their work to myself and the rest of the class, rather than a point-by-point rubric.

I’ve been thinking of more ways to help people generate more and better ideas for their designs in class, and the one I keep coming back to is discussion and collaboration. There are few better ways to strengthen your ideas or see their vulnerabilities than being challenged. Discussion is a great way to add other perspectives into an idea and incorporate things you never thought of before.

However, there are risks to solely using discussion, with nothing else. Since everyone in the class has learned from the same lectures, you risk creating an echo chamber, where everyone come up with the same idea–the one idea that they were taught. I’m unfortunately low on real-world experience with the concepts that I’m teaching, but I’ll hopefully gain much more over the summer. Thankfully there is another grad student who has that veteran experience who sits in on the class regularly to contribute.

I definitely want to include more real-world examples and challenges in my class, like bringing in a finished casting from an actual production foundry and asking the students how it was gated. Or to acquire the gating design for a produced part and have the students improve upon it. Whether or not I’ll be able to actually get any of these real castings this semester is another issue entirely.

(To those of you who were intrigued by the title, my apologies for writing a post that does not live up to it)

8 thoughts on “Stoking the Flames”

  1. Thank you for the thoughts. I think the incorporation of more discussion and collaboration are great ways to trying to facilitate more creativity. Sometimes I know, for myself, if I am creating something for a graded project that only my professor will see, I ditch the creativity and go for what I think will give me the A. By asking students to use each other as resources, I think you expand their audience and desire to come up with some interesting. You have the added benefit of students being able to build off one another’s ideas.

  2. Erin,

    One thing that might work with your students is to write a reflection on what they learned during the semester and the grade they expect to receive. There you might find additional information on their expectations, and what’s going on on their minds during the process (learning) rather than the outcome (final product, and grade).

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Can you link to some studies showing the efficacy of writing reflections? Last time I had to write one (really long time ago), I absolutely hated the idea and thought it was more work. Not sure if the teachers got anything out of it. Additionally, since I know that the teacher will be reading it I think there was an inherent bias in my responses to what I thought the teacher would want me to say rather than how I truly felt. For a lot of students first year courses are required classes and I’ve gotten the vibe that many of them wouldn’t want to be there if they had a choice. Maybe a reflection on what they expected out of the course and what they wish to get out of it maybe more appropriate?

  3. I hate that my lap top battery is about dead. Thank you for sharing your info. The people you love are lucky to have you in their lives. My professor turned me onto your write ups. You have the best ideas.

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