“To be creative a person must exist and have a feeling of existing, not in conscious awareness, but as a basic place to operate from. Creativity is then the doing that arises out of being. It indicates that he who is, is alive.”
D. W. Winnicott, Living Creatively
Dr. Jan Holmevik, author of Inter/vention: Free Play in the Age of Electracy, practices a kind of invention-based, trickle down pedagogy in his graduate and undergraduate classrooms. This past fall I happened to be on the receiving end of that learning experience, and I am going to describe the process for the HASTAC community because it has changed the way I think about teaching and learning.
First a little background: I’m a first year PhD Student, but I’m in my eighth year teaching at the college level. Two years ago, I started my own business and began teaching online courses to working and retired professionals in the areas of literature and philosophy.
I took Jan Holmevik’s Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Technologies course and by the end, I felt like a superhero. He introduced us to various Adobe products that we have access to as part of the company’s pilot program with educational institutions. I was brand new to this software, so the learning curve was steep. Like most superheroes, I was a little clumsy with my new powers.
We used Adobe Premier, Adobe Spark, Lightroom, and the brand new Adobe Rush. On my own time, I also played around with After Effects and some others as well. The skills I learned were secondary to the creative process, but I do not want to undervalue them. The ability to make a video or present beautiful content to convey my message is an invaluable resource.
So let me give you a brief run down - we read one book each week and were required to make a three minute response video - ex-nihilo. During the course, we were given brief tutorials and workshops on the technical side of things, but most of what the students learned was self-taught (or YouTube tutorial taught).
One of my passions, and the reason I started my business offering online courses that are geared toward the public instead of academia, is to make theory and philosophy accessible. After students read the thinker's words for themselves, I aim to ditch the jargon and break down ideas and terms with language my students can actually understand.
My goal is always to simplify the impenetrable language and offer synthesis -- and doing this with visuals and music in my videos allows me to set the mood in a way that prompts the viewer to not just read or watch the message, but actually feel the message.
The videos I created for our course were designed with this same end in mind. Everything I made was fashioned together and delivered by the deadline each week and subsequently available for my wider audience of world-wide students, email subscribers, and blog readers in my Book Oblivion community.
From a student’s perspective, it’s encouraging to know that my academic work is going to be seen by more than just my professor or classmates. From a teacher’s perspective, it is a unique product that I’m delivering that combines my intellectual insights with personal experiences. When I responded to Paul Virillio’s Open Sky, for example, I had a unique perspective from spending my twenties sky-diving, base-jumping, and bungee jumping. I was able to bring those high intensity experiences into what I created.
In the process of creating these videos, we were given a single word - a creative heuristic - that was to be our muse as we made our videos. For Open Sky, our creative heuristic was Vertigo.
Some students included Alfred Hitchcock references. Some created an effect of vertigo with the camera. The possibilities are endless and each week we were increasingly blown away by the risks our fellow classmates were willing to take - not just in developing their skills with green screens or cartoon figures, but intellectual risks that had us linking thinkers with entertainment or music or videogames.
Dr. Holmevik talks about the interesting fusion that takes place in your mind when you combine the known (the reading) and the unknown (creative heuristic). This is where we each tapped into our hidden superpowers.
Every superhero has limitations, and our boundaries were few:
the video should be 3 minutes long
the video should respond to the assigned reading
the video should incorporate the creative heuristic
We also only had one week to sit with the creative heuristic. Dr. Holmevik wanted to be sure we practiced knowing, doing, and making in a way that does not over-emphasize perfection, but left room for quick and creative compositions.
Everything else was up to us. If you want to empower your students to create or invent, I mean - really give them superpowers, try incorporating this method into your composition classroom and you'll be absolutely blown away by what the superpowers they will display.
About midway through the semester, I asked Dr. Holmevik to be my mentor for HASTAC scholars. Because I was so changed by the creative experience in his class, I asked him if we could keep going. I sent him a reading list and for each book, he will provide the one word creative heuristic while I continue to create response videos to the readings that will be delivered to my various audiences.
Here are a few samples from the semester:
- Video Title: The Unconscious Is Real: Roland Barthes on Photographing the Unconscious
- Text: Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes
- Creative Heuristic: Felt
- Video Title: Structure, Sign, and Hacking: Free Play in the Age of Electracy
- Text: Inter/vention: Free Play in the Age of Electracy by Jan Holmevik
- Creative Heuristic: Fashion
- Video Title: Imagine Sisyphus Happy
- Text: The Art of Failure by Jesper Juuls
- Creative Heuristic: Triumph
If you are interested in following our collaboration, you can find me on YouTube. If you’ve tried something similar in your classroom, I’d love to hear about it.