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Anti-creativity, ambiguity and the imposition of order

Judith Harding, University of the Arts
Lynne Hale, Educational Development Consultant

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Although there are many ways of describing markers of creativity, one of the most persuasive was one of the earliest we encountered: the ability to tolerate ambiguity. It is precisely that ambiguity, valued in the arts for its richness of interpretive possibility, that is perhaps most at risk in the current sector and institutional climate of imposed order. An insistence on a rigidly enforced language of learning outcomes seems to value tidiness and clarity over the excitement and engagement of open-ended exploration. An emerging pedagogical correctness (focusing on easily assessable and quantifiable outcomes) threatens invention and critical questioning as not only an aim for students but also for teachers as part of the task of developing engagement with the culture of a specific discipline.
     This paper will, first, explore the idea of tolerance of ambiguity through the history of its critical discussion and relation to notions of metaphor and imagination. It will then look at the history and experience of participants in one specific group exercise designed to address issues of ambiguity, categorization and organisation. This exercise, drawing on the recognition of and imaginative connection between properties of natural objects, has been used widely in a range of educational and developmental settings with sometimes startling and certainly memorable results. It may not always, however, be seen as conforming to current demands for rigid clarity of intentions and learning outcomes, and can raise issues of the legitimacy of questioning, surprise and hidden agendas as pedagogical strategies and prompts to imaginative leaps.
     Finally, it will contextualise this discussion by looking in a broader way at the tone of imposed order in pedagogical literature, its application in e-learning methodology, and the ways that it may tend to discourage rather than reinforce cultures of creativity in teaching practice.

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Judith Harding first became interested in innovative approaches to teaching and professional development while completing her doctoral studies in art history at the University of California, Berkeley She also has a background in art practice and criticism, theatre design, counselling and group dynamics. As Associate Director of Learning Development at Middlesex University, she worked extensively with both new and experienced university staff to encourage imaginative thinking about learning and teaching. She has a keen interest in innovative applications of new technologies, and is currently a student on the MSc in E-Learning at Edinburgh University.

Lynne Hale trained as an actor and photopgrapher in the US prior to completing her MA in Applied Linguistics at the State University of New York, Stonybrook. These diverse elements, together with her background in English language, communications and cross-cultural issues, informed her fifteen years of teaching at New York University and Harvard. In 1994, she established the Middlesex University English Language and Learning Support unit,now one of the largest in the UK. She has designed staff development workshops and individual coaching in creative pedagogy, communication skills and leadership. She is a fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs.

The two authors now collaborate as Educational Development Consultants in Hale&Harding Creative Professional Development.