University of Calgary

Idea Generation

November 24, 2008

Creating the Idea Generation

Robert Kelly is working to make creativity a primary rationale for education

Robert Kelly

Robert Kelly
Creativity is not just the exclusive, rarified territory of artists. Business leaders and economists are embracing it, social theorists are calling for more of it, ordinary people are tapping into it to create their own content in online spaces like YouTube and MySpace. Society as a whole is starting to acknowledge that creativity is the fundamental human trait that transcends disciplines and leads to design, invention, collaboration and innovation.

Robert Kelly, an associate professor in the Department of Art, proposes that the cultural impulses fuelling the explosion of creative outlets like YouTube videos, blogs and music remixing, need to be applied to our most fundamental cultural institution: the education system. He is working to make creativity a primary rationale for education. Kelly believes that in order to raise the kind of engaged citizens that the 21st century demands, our predominant learning culture of standardization and measurement needs to be balanced by more creativity. He’s advocating for the evolution of a learning culture of creativity that values and promotes idea generation and invention across traditional educational disciplines and organizational structures.

Front cover of Creative Expression, Creative Education

Front cover of Creative Expression, Creative Education

“We are a culture of consumers and I think that in general terms in education systems, we turn out consumers who primarily deal with outcomes that are already known. We have easy access to huge amounts information at any time, but what’s the sense of being able to do this if you are unable to use this mass of data in constructive and innovative ways where outcomes are often unknown?” Kelly says. “Ideas and creativity are the primary currency of the emerging Conceptual Age across all disciplines and media.” He hopes to change educational thinking in Alberta and across the country. With his book Creative Expression, Creative Education, launched this fall, Kelly and co-editor Carl Leggo of U.B.C. have designed a primer to help parents and educators understand creativity theory, and to inspire them to create an educational culture of creativity. “Our goal was to demystify the concepts, practices and processes of creativity, in order to enhance personal creative growth and contemporary educational practice” Kelly explains. The book investigates the nature of idea generation and development, and features prominent poets, playwrights, actors, composers and other creators from across Canada examining their own creative processes and their thoughts on creativity.

The research and development for Creative Expression, Creative Education was funded by a conditional grant from Alberta Education, with the goal that the book will be used as a potential resource for the provincial government as it undertakes a revision of the Alberta fine arts curriculum at all grade levels. This fall, Kelly was contracted as a consultant with Alberta Education, to facilitate the initial generative phase of the curriculum review that will ultimately revise the fine arts programs for kindergarten to grade 12 in Alberta over the next several years. He is continuing his research in the creativity area with the development of two more volumes, one that examines creative practices across disciplines including engineers, scientists, and business people, and another that will detail examples of practice within an educational culture of creativity.

Kelly is also working to change the way educators are trained to think about creativity. He has designed and piloted a course called Creativity and Educational Practice: Creating an Educational Culture of Creativity. The course helps students in the Bachelor of Education program understand the creative process by encouraging them to engage in it, while emphasizing collaboration and interdisciplinary exploration. This course is one of the launch courses for the Faculty of Education’s new Expanding Horizons initiative, a program available to educators and students wishing to upgrade or engage in professional development. By teaching teachers to bring creativity into their classrooms and to encourage curiosity, investigation and risk taking in their students, Kelly hopes to inspire people who don’t necessarily think of themselves as creative. “Every human uses creativity in everyday life, but these attributes need to be developed and practiced longitudinally to encourage people to not only reach new potentials, but to create new potentials.”

Robert Kelly can be reached at

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