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Research, Reflections and Innovations in Integrating ICT in Education

Improving creative thinking abilities using a generic collaborative creativity support system Florian Forster Technische Universität München, Department of Computer Science, Boltzmannstraße 3, 85748 Garching, Germany In this paper, we report on our experiences with a generic collaborative creativity support system with the focus on how users accept the system and how it influences their creative thinking abilities. The key idea behind the creativity support system was to facilitate creative thinking of groups by providing them a toolset of different creativity techniques under one single user-interface. A field study indicated that this effectively lowered the barrier for the team to try various creativity techniques for their problems, which in term had a positive impact on their creative thinking ("thinking-out-of-the-box"). Besides, we present some interesting results gained from a questionnaire after the study that point out other characteristics of the system that positively influenced the user's experience in the creative thinking process. Keywords: creativity, creative thinking, creativity techniques, brainstorming, IdeaStream.

1. Introduction „Creativity is the key to education in its fullest sense and to the solution of mankind’s most serious problems“ (J. P. Guilford, 1967) Creativity is the ability to find ideas that are are both novel and useful [1]. For many centuries creativity was considered a magical ability only specially gifted people were capable of. Creativity was tightly coupled with the concept of ingenuity, and therefore in particular ascribed to exceptional personalities and inventors like Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein. Not before the 1950s, creativity was considered a dedicated field of research, separated from related topics like intelligence research |2]. Rhodes proposed to classify the research activities in the field into four dimensions, which became known as the 4P of creativity research: the creative person (who is creative?), the creative product (what is creative?), the creative process (which activities lead to creative products) and the creative press or environment (where does creativity happen?) [3|. An important finding of this systematic approach to creativity research is that creativity and intelligence are – even though being both cognitive processes – fundamentally different abilities. While a minimal degree of intelligence is needed to be creative, an increased IQ value does not correlate well with a person’s creative performances. Intelligence can be measured quite reliably and validly with standardized IQ tests, which is not the case for creativity. Even though different approaches to measure creativity were proposed (e.g. the Torrance test), the significance of creativity tests is heavily disputed [4]. In addition, the reliability of creativity tests is weak, having people score different values on different days. Creativity seems to be a much less stable attribute than intelligence, which in turn raises the question how to influence the creative performance.

2. Creativity techniques A lot of creativity techniques have been proposed to foster creativity of individuals and groups [5]: famous examples are Brainstorming and –writing, Mindmapping, Morphological Analysis or the Six-Thinking-Hats. These techniques define certain rules, activities or constraints for the problem solving process, promising to be more effective than less structured approaches. As an example, the brainstorming technique proposes the following rules of conduct for the group meeting [6]: •Criticism is forbidden. •Quantity goes before quality. •Combine and expand existing ideas. •“Wild” or unusual ideas are desired

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Research, Reflections and Innovations in Integrating ICT in Education

Other techniques work with stimulating pictures, words or with more systematical approaches like checklists. Several studies confirmed the positive effect of the brainstorming principle [7|. Both individuals as well as groups generate more and better ideas when sticking to the brainstorming guidelines, which are the core of most other, more complex creativity techniques. Hargadon and Sutton showed that creativity techniques not only positively affect the result of ideation sessions, they also “enhance participants ability to do competent work in the future." [8]. This indicates that creativity techniques can be a promising way to learn (in sense of improve) creative thinking. The various creativity techniques each have their own characteristics. Some techniques tend to produce more “conservative” results, others more wild-creative ideas [9]. Some work best when practiced individually, while others yield better results in groups [10]. The actual problem to solve is also an important factor for choosing the appropriate creativity technique, since there are techniques that fit certain types of problems. E.g. the morphological analysis works best for product invention ideas but less well for other types of problems that can hardly be divided in sub problems. So it is obvious that to improve creative thinking performance in various concrete situations, it is important to be familiar with a diverse set of creativity techniques and to be able to make a sensible choice between them. While creativity research lacks a comprehensive theory of creativity techniques, this is mostly accomplished by practicing, e.g. in the context of workshops under the direction of an experienced facilitator. A less common way to learn and practice creativity techniques is by using electronical creativity support systems (CSS). Research showed that brainstorming and other creativity techniques are more effective when supported by a computer system than when conducted the traditional way [11]. CSS imposes a structure on the creative process, guiding users that are less familiar with a certain method (e.g. by switching on and off UIelements or displaying explanatory messages). This decreases the need for a human facilitator, making CSS a promising solution to learn and practice creative thining in situations where a facilitator is not available (or just too expensive). Most of the current CSS for conducting creativity techniques can be classified either as general or specialized systems [12]. General CSS provide only a basic framework to practice creativity techniques with (e.g. a virtual whiteboard that participants can concurrently draw on), but have no explicit support for creativity techniques; hence they cannot provide any help for users that are not familiar with a certain technique. Specialized applications are optimized for a certain creativity technique (e.g. brainwriting or morphological analysis) so the application can aid the user through the process. The downside of these solutions ist he lack of flexibility, since they support only one or a very limited set of creativity techniques. To be able to improve creativity thinking in a problem-adequate way, an individual would have to practice with a broad set of different specialized applications, each having different user-interfaces and learning curves. A generic collaborative CSS caould help to overcome this issues.

3. IdeaStream – a generic collaborative creativity support system IdeaStream is a creativity support system that is capable of supporting a variety of different creativity techniques. The back bone of the IdeaStream system is a process model which was developed by analyzing the process structure of more than 50 different creativity techniques and identifying repeating structure patterns as „building blocks“ of creative processes [13]. Using these building blocks, a virtually unlimited number of different techniques and technique combinations can be conducted with the system. The system supports both individual and collaborative use (the latter both in a synchronous and asynchronous way). On the technical level, IdeaStream is implemented as a multi-tier Java application, using a broad set of standard open-source frameworks (Spring, Hibernate, DWR). A servlet engine hosts the server part of the application, so the service methods of the application can be accessed via HTTP. Besides other approaches, we implemented an AJAX-based web interface so the users can collaborate synchronously on the virtual whiteboard using a standard web browser without the need to install or activate additional software. This way, the system can easily be used by collocated as well as by distributed teams. The main user interface for IdeaStream consists of three sections (upper, central, lower) – see Figure 1. The upper section provides the problem-related context of the creativity session. While always containing a problem statement, the section can be further enriched with additional information or stimuli, depending on the chosen creativity technique. The lower section provides user-awareness information (e.g. who is currently participating), a chat component for communication, a notepad for ideas that participants do not want to share (yet), and further configuration options. The central section is the virtual whiteboard. The participants of a creativity session, each sitting in front of their own device, use the virtual whiteboard to (simultaneously) express their ideas as virtual cards, either by adding text, images, or sketches or by combining existing idea cards to new ideas. The ideas can be freely arranged on the virtual whiteboard as it can be done with cards on a real whiteboard. Any changes to the ideas are immediately propagated to all participants. A

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Research, Reflections and Innovations in Integrating ICT in Education

locking mechanism prevents concurrent modifications of the same idea. The users can see who is currently working on a particular idea to improve the user awareness. Depending on the creativity technique that was selected when creating a session, IdeaStream can split up groups, hide or add certain information, impose time limits, anonymize the contributions, change problem definitions and rearrange the process in subsequent phases. The user only sees his familiar whiteboard interface, and doesn’t have to deal with the details of the creativity techniques process.

Fig. 1

Web-Interface of the IdeaStream application.

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Research, Reflections and Innovations in Integrating ICT in Education

4. User Study We conducted an early user study to see how users act with the system during a workshop with six members of a local student association named "The Entrepreneurial Group" (T.E.G.). The participants were all advanced students with an average age of 24. In a two-day workshop, T.E.G. planned to create a new booklet and flyers to represent their association. The workshop was a good occasion for a field study with our application, since the students had a real-world problem to solve that was likely to comprise creative tasks in a group context. The study took place in the premises of the Interface AG in Munich. The participants were working mainly on a desk, sitting in front of a laptop. Besides IdeaStream, the students had traditional means for group meetings like non-virtual whiteboards and writing pads and they were free to use the media they find appropriate for a specific situation. It was important to us to stay aside and observe them working, so we only intervened when a usability issue or technical bug came up. Before the workshop began, we did a briefing about the IdeaStream application and the various supported creativity techniques. Afterwards, the participants conducted a creativity session about a given fictional problem so that the students could get familiar with the IdeaStream user interface. During the actual workshop, the participants conducted a total of ten creativity sessions with a varying number of participants. During the study we monitored and journalized the participants actions and also noted any issues that came up. In addition, the IdeaStream application logged the user contributions for later analysis. We used the students’ working pauses and the time after the study was ended for informal interviews about their experience with IdeaStream. After the end of the workshop, the participants took a survey with 37 rating questions and 6 free text questions concerning the usability, effectiveness, advantages and issues of the system.

5. Results During the study, the participants successfully conducted 10 creativity sessions with 7 different creativity technique combinations. We observed that the participants were able to practice creative thinking following the principles of a creativity technique in the IdeaStream system. This external impression matched the impression of the group: The statement „I always knew what to do during a creativity session“ was confirmed with an average of 3.5 of 5 points. The consistent user interface made it easy to switch between different techniques (3.5 of 5). The system had a positive effect on the team’s creative thinking performance, both in quality (3.67 of 5) and quantity (3.6 of 5). Even important, the users had fun working with the system and trying different creativity techniques (4.67 of 5). Besides these positive impressions we also observed two major weaknesses of the system. Firstly, even though they users were able to conduct formerly unknown creativity techniques with the system, it was hard for them to decide which technique to pick when setting up a session for a concrete problem. The system provides brief explanations of the creativity techniques, but it pointed out that this information is not sufficient for making a sensible decision. as the processes can be fairly complex and the descriptions are on an abstract level. So we observed some trial-and-error-approaches were participants randomly selected a technique, just to find out after a few minutes that the technique just didn’t fit the situation. To avoid these demotivational moments, we will have to provide guidance not only for the creative process, but also for the technique selection process. E.g. this could be accomplished by adding a recommender system. Secondly, the current implementation doesn’t allow modifying the session context properties (problem, creativity technique, participants) once it is set up. In our study, the users often claimed that they wanted to change these properties while the session was running. Some participants would have liked to precise the problem definition after they had thought about the problem for a certain time. In other situations, the participants wanted to dynamically add another creativity technique to the running process as they realized that they couldn’t find more ideas with their current technique. As an improvement, the system should be able to handle these context changes during a session.

5. Conclusion We developed a generic collaborative creativity support system that is capable of facilitating the creative process for different creativity techniques, so also users with little or no knowledge of the subject can use it and

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Research, Reflections and Innovations in Integrating ICT in Education

improve their creative thinking abilities. The positive feedback of the user study mainly supports the theoretical considerations. We observed two major drawbacks of the current implementation and proposed changes of the system to overcome the issues. As next steps, we plan to consider the findings for a next iteration of the system, and to evaluate its use on a more profound user base.

References [1] M. Stein and S. Heinze. Creativity and the individual. The Free Press, Chicago, 1960. [2} R. E. Mayer,. Fifty Years of Creativity Research. Handbook of Creativity, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 449460. [3] M. Rhodes: An analysis of creativity. Phi Delta Kappa, Vol. 42, 1961, p. 305-310. [4] R. S. Albert and M. A. Runco, A History on Research on Creativity. Handbook of Creativity, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 16-31. [5] A. B. VanGundy. Techniques of Structured Problem Solving. Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988. [6] A. F. Osborn. Applied imagination. Principles and Procedures of Creative Thinking. Creative Education Foundation, 3rd edition, 1993. [7] S. G. Isaksen. A review of brainstorming research: Six critical issues for inquiry. Technical report, Creative Problem Solving Group, Bualo, New York, 1998. [8] A. Hargadon and R.I. Sutton. Technology brokering and innovation in a product development firm. Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 42, 1997, p. 716-749. [9] E. McFadzean. The creativity continuum: Towards a classification of creative problem solving techniques. Creativity and Innovation Management, 7(3), 1998, p. 131-139. [10] A. B. VanGundy. Idea Power. AMACOM, 1992. [11] R. P. Bostrom and M. Nagasundaram. Research in Creativity and GSS. Proceedings of the 31. Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences,391-398. IEEE Computer Society, Washinton, 1998. [12] F. Forster. Distributed Creative Problem Solving over the Web. Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Internet and Web Applications and Services, 2008, p. 283-288. [13] F. Forster and M. Brocco. Understanding creativity-technique based problem solving processes. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Knowledge-Based and Intelligent Information & Engineering Systems, 2008, p. 806-813.

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Improving creative thinking abilities using a generic collaborative creativity support system  

Improving creative thinking abilities using a generic collaborative creativity support system

Improving creative thinking abilities using a generic collaborative creativity support system  

Improving creative thinking abilities using a generic collaborative creativity support system

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