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Interactive Creativity Activities in Remote Learning

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ASEE 2021 Gulf-Southwest Annual Conference


Waco, Texas

Publication Date

March 24, 2021

Start Date

March 24, 2021

End Date

March 26, 2021

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David G. Novick University of Texas at El Paso

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David G. Novick, Mike Loya Distinguished Chair in Engineering and Professor of Engineering Education and Leadership, earned his Harvard University in 1977 and his Ph.D. in Computer and Information Science at the University of Oregon in 1988. Before coming to UTEP he was on the faculty of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the Oregon Graduate Institute and then Director of Research at the European Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Engineering. At UTEP he has served in a number of positions including as Chair of the Department of Computer Science, Associate Provost, Associate Dean of Engineering for Graduate Studies and Research, and co-director of the Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce. His research focuses on college-level engineering education for entrepreneurship and leadership. He has authored or co-authored over 135 refereed publications and over $16 million in funded grant proposals.

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UTEP’s course in Innovation in Technology, inspired by CMU’s boot camp for entering students in the Entertainment Technology program, has been offered annually since 2013. The course, which enrolls students from both the College of Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts, develops design skills, building on the students’ technical knowledge to help them identify and find novel solutions for difficult design problems. To do this, the course enables students to improve their innovation skills and to understand the role of innovation in technology-based enterprises. Working with the innovation techniques of Liberating Structures as a central theme, the course integrates improvisation and story-telling to build creativity. Students will apply these techniques to develop mobile applications, and, more broadly, ideas for technology-based business and public-sector start-ups. Students will also develop perspective on how design affects translation to commerce or other use.

The Innovation course is, by its nature, highly interactive. Improvisation forms a foundational element. Fun games strengthen creativity and collaboration skills. And interactive ideation techniques provide the students with multiple approaches to brainstorming. Moving these techniques to remote learning, necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, led to adapting some techniques, pruning some techniques, and creating new techniques. Some techniques, such as “talking pictures,” translated directly to remote learning because they already relied on putting files in a common area. Likewise, in the “8 spaces” brainstorming technique the student uses a single sheet of paper; all that’s needed is a breakout room for the team to share their ideas.

Several techniques required adaptation to lesser and greater extents. For example, the 6-3-5 brainstorming method, also called brainwriting, normally involves passing sheets of paper among the team members; in remote learning, the team members pass files via DropBox. The teams’ lateral-thinking activities moved from whiteboards to JamBoard. And the improvisation activities became more “talky” and cerebral because the students could not interact physically.

Other techniques were dropped entirely, particularly the collaboration games adopted from improvisation practice. For example, a classic game such as “Whoosh Bong” was impossible to adapt because Zoom’s gallery view does not provide all participants with the same spatial relationship among their images. And another classic game, “Zoom Schwartz,” could not be adapted because Zoom’s gallery view does not make it possible to point physically to a specific person.

One collaboration game that did work in the remote-learning context was a modified version of “Thumper,” in which each participant has unique gesture/sound combination, and these gesture/sound combinations are passed from player to player. A collaboration game was developed for the remote-learning context: As a creativity exercise, the students produced a Zoom-based version of the “spoons” game. It should be possible to develop additional collaboration activities, such as tossing an imaginary ball or other object, where the object-tosser calls out the name of the object-tossee before doing the toss. However, this loses some of the complexity of games such as “Knife, baby, angry cat,” because the audio channel cannot provide comprehensible communication where multiple people talk simultaneously.

The course’s overall impact in remote-learning appears to have been similar to that in pre-pandemic years. The interaction was less physical, but DropBox, JamBoard and breakout rooms provided teams with means of effective collaboration to produce innovative ideas.

Novick, D. G. (2021, March), Interactive Creativity Activities in Remote Learning Paper presented at ASEE 2021 Gulf-Southwest Annual Conference, Waco, Texas.

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