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Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Penn State engineering professors cultivate creativity worldwide

Penn State faculty members announce the launch of the Coursera course "

Creativity, Innovation and Change, now available on Coursera, is a Massive Open Online Course available free to the public. The course was developed by faculty members within the College of Engineering and aims to discover and promote the utilization of every individual's unique creative potential. 
Photo: Penn State

Although creativity is most often associated with the arts, being creative is really about thinking differently and taking action in innovative ways, something that can provide an edge in almost any field. Four faculty members from Penn State felt creativity was so essential, in fact, that they joined forces to develop an entire course around the concept. 

The faculty members wanted to create something that could have a far-reaching impact, so they developed a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and worked with Coursera to offer it free to students around the world.

Creativity, Innovation, and Change with Jack V. Matson, Darrell Velegol, and Kat

The concept for the eight-week MOOC titled, “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” (CIC), began in 2013. Jack Matson, professor emeritus of environmental engineering, recruited Darrell Velegol, distinguished professor of chemical engineering, and Kathryn Jablokow, associate professor of mechanical engineering and engineering design, to help him design and teach the MOOC.

“I didn’t really know what a MOOC was, but it sounded like a lot of work,” said Velegol, who initially turned Matson down but soon changed his mind when he realized this was the opportunity he had been looking for.

Jablokow had a similar reaction: “I jumped in without really knowing what I was getting myself into, but it felt like an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.” 

The College of Engineering was also very supportive of the MOOC, as was Penn State’s Office of Outreach and Online Education. Velegol said both former Penn State President Rodney Erickson and Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering Amr Elnashai made videos to support the course.

As the newly assembled threesome began to develop the content for the course, they realized they needed a team to help them and the guidance of others whose expertise would build on their own. One of the most influential was Susan Russell, associate professor of theater and recent Penn State Laureate. Russell taught the instructors how to effectively engage their audience using video modules...

Creativity in engineering
The course creators strongly believe that creativity is something we are all born with, and, like any other subject, creativity can also be taught. But beyond some creativity nurturing that happens in elementary school, it’s very rarely taught, even to engineers.

“One of the myths this course addresses is that you’re either creative or you’re not and that we, as engineers, are not,” said Velegol.

Conversely, successful engineers are people who think creatively both inside and outside the box to develop solutions to everyday problems. They come up with ideas that often change the way we think about the world – sometimes incrementally and sometimes radically. In addition, engineers are often entrepreneurs, and innovation is the basis of entrepreneurship, so being able to think and act creatively is incredibly important.

“Creativity comes in many different shapes and sizes,” said Jablokow, “and we teach students to recognize and appreciate that creative diversity in this MOOC.”

Matson, Velegol, Kisenwether and Jablokow have a long history with creativity. Each of them has been incorporating creativity into their engineering courses for more than 15 years. They understand the huge competitive edge that students gain from learning about creativity.

Matson, the initiator for the MOOC project, came to recognize creative potential after sustaining a life threatening lightning strike three decades ago. He used creativity to recover from his injury and made it his mission to bring creativity into the classroom.

“How can I get metaphorical lightning strikes to our students?” Matson asked. It took many failures for him to get his students to see the benefit of focusing on more than just solving an equation and getting a good grade.  

“If you’re not using your creative potential, it’s a waste,” Matson said. “I’m an environmental engineer, so when you think of waste, you think of many different things, but to me, a waste of creative potential is the biggest waste of all.”

All of the instructors share in Matson’s passion for developing and using creative potential. The team admits to using many of the creativity concepts taught in the course as part of their day-to-day instruction at Penn State.

Source: Penn State News and coursera Channel (YouTube)

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