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Educating the educators for creativity: setting the climate for lecturers as problem-based learning students to experience the PBL process as creative and challenging

Terry Barrett, University College Dublin

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Two teams of lecturers were completing a module on problem-based learning (PBL) that was part of an education development Postgraduate Diploma in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, in an institution in Ireland. Problem-based learning was both the content and the process of this module. The lecturers were problem-based students for the module. The research question for this paper is: ‘What can we learn about educating educators for creativity from how lecturers as problem-based students talked about the PBL process?’ This paper is part of a wider doctoral study.
     The paper uses conceptual analysis based on identification of interpretive repertoires informed by critical discourse analysis. From analysing how students talked about the PBL process, the illuminative concept of the PBL process as finding and being in flow was derived. The concept of finding and being in flow (Csikzentmihalyi 1997) is very apt for describing and understanding the different experiences and states that teams go through in the PBL process and for exploring its creative potential.
     I argue that the PBL process is one of finding and being in flow and that this process of finding flow involved experiences of the anxiety of confusion and the uninterest of boredom en route to the experiences of being in flow, for the students in this study. It is at the edge of chaos in the PBL process that flow and creativity can happen. Combining an analysis of student talk with O’Connor’s (1998) model an adapted form of this edge of chaos model was constructed to discuss the features of the PBL process that encourage the development of creativity and flow. I assert that academic staff should first experience PBL as PBL students so that they can reflect on the impact the experience had on them cognitively, emotionally and philosophically and so that they can understand some of the ranges of reactions and changes that their students may experience when they are PBL tutors. This can facilitate them maximising the potential of the PBL process for encouraging student creativity. I argue that PBL has the potential to stimulate students’ creativity but that building in specific features to the PBL process may create favourable conditions and climate for supporting students’ creativity. Writing is seen as a form of research and this paper imaginatively combines academic prose with visualisations and poetry.


Csikzentmihalyi, M. (1997) Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life New York: Basic Books.
O’Connor, J. (1998). Leading with NLP: Essential Leadership Skills for Influencing and Managing People. London: Thorsons

Author Bio(s)

Terry Barrett is a lecturer in education development at the Centre for Teaching and Learning, University College Dublin. Previously, she was a lecturer in education studies at Dublin City University and Programme Leader of the Postgraduate Programme in Learning and Teaching at Dublin Institute of Technology. She has published and given keynote papers on problem-based learning (PBL). She is particularly interested in the creative potential of the PBL process.