Now that I’ve shared my nervousness about starting my new PhD program (see below), I’d also like to reflect on the other new start I’ll experience this week – as an instructor. I teach ENG 101 at NCSU, the mandatory first year writing requirement for all students at the university. With a couple of years “under my belt” (metaphor!), I’m confident in my knowledge of the subject, assessment abilities, and classroom management. This semester, though, I want to start focusing on something that has become a really important issue for me: fostering innovation and creativity among a group of students who haven’t had to do that yet in their young lifetime in the classroom.
One of the books I read this summer, Thomas L. Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, emphasized the destructive consequences of America (and the whole world) remaining addicted to oil and other traditional energy sources. (I’d love to tell you about the entire book, but seriously – go read it for yourself. I promise it will change the way you think about consumption, and hopefully how you act too.) One of his solutions? Innovation and creativity. How did we get this far today? Without American (and global, too) ingenuity, we wouldn’t have the Internet, knowledge of what causes cancer, solar energy, and the thousands of other discoveries/inventions that we rely on daily. And the only way we can solve future problems is through more creativity and ingenuity. So I want to teach my students to think – really think– and get involved in issues that they care about. Starting with helping them find an issue that they really care about, teaching them to open their eyes to all of the smart writing and ways that they can find out more about these causes.
I’ve designed the final half of my course around this mission. For their third essay, students will write a literature review, identifying a cause/social issue/problem they see in today’s world and what research currently exists on the topic. This will help them to really get into one issue deeply and hopefully open their eyes to what others are doing about it. Their final project is a policy proposal, where they take the research that they have found for the literature review and then come up with their own idea(s) for solving the issue and have to convince the appropriate audience to take action on said proposal. I’ve had success with these two projects in the past, but now want to focus on fostering critical thinking about issues throughout the semester.
So – how can I encourage creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, ingenuity, and all-around dissatisfaction with the status quo among my students all semester? I don’t have a perfect answer. Of course, through reading. I’ll have to start by finding them for the students, but then, I hope they’ll start searching for readings and ideas on their own. I want to encourage them to be global citizens without being preachy. This is where I need some help – what else can I do? Any good readings to suggest? How can I enact my ideas in the classroom for my students?
I’ll plan on blogging about our progress throughout the semester and share successes and failures as well.