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Creating a Creative Education

As of this Wednesday, I’ve finally earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. As I’ve progressed through this curriculum, I’ve observed that all of the core classes are geared towards preparing students to enter the tech industry in some capacity – most prevalently as software engineers. With this in mind, all of these classes are designed to teach either a software development process or how to use a new programming language/tool. Something like this is the norm for every engineering discipline I’ve observed, as entering any engineering field requires a tremendous amount of training before anyone can be considered capable.

The part of this structure that’s jarring is that there seems to be little to no focus on creative thinking in these degree programs. The curriculum designated by these programs does an excellent job of training students to function at a working level in these industries, but arguably at the cost of removing emphasis from the role of the “right brain” in designing true solutions. There are a myriad of articles out there detailing how colleges are killing creativity by focusing too heavily on purely analytical educations, and there don’t seem to be any clear solutions to the issue.

Sure, colleges are preparing students for the job market, but don’t companies seek out creative problem-solvers for the majority of their positions? Wouldn’t a creative education make the student a massively valuable asset to any corporation?

“If you think about it, the left brain is really kind of a pretentious jerk by the end of college.” - Right brain, probably

The left brain likes to embrace a clear delineation between the two hemispheres of the brain. The right brain likes to see it all in terms of wibbly-wobbly mindstuff.

Look at any large university, and the infrastructure is already in place for a change like this. Most major universities have arts classes, independent research programs, and initiatives/clubs to pursue outside interests. But if students want to get involved in any of these initiatives, they have to do so at the expense of their coursework; if not, many of the opportunities that are available are heavily restricted as to who can participate in them. College course loads are demanding, and many students who could flourish with exposure to the arts and outside creative learning can’t seize these opportunities because they simply don’t have the time.

For a solution, let’s look to some of the most successful companies in the world. Companies like Google, Atlassian, LinkedIn and Box promote initiatives within their companies for employees to develop their own ideas, with a clear bent towards betterment of the company’s offerings. Some of these companies do this in the form of “20% time” (an initiative where employees can devote 20% of their working hours toward personally-backed side projects), while others hold hackathon-like events where employees can work on their own or in teams to produce a project they come up with. Many of these companies take the best projects from these efforts and allocate more resources to ensure their success after the hackathon ends. These initiatives promote creativity amongst employees, allow them to take time off from their typical work, and often result in innovative ideas for the company to pursue.

What if colleges did a similar thing? The job of a student is ultimately to learn, and learning isn’t all about memorizing formulas and following processes. If students were encouraged to integrate more creativity and/or art into their curriculums, it could make them exponentially more valuable as prospects for employers. Any time I go to the library, I observe a vast sea of students overburdened with massive amounts of work that inhibit their ability to think outside the box, rather forcing them to fight just to keep their heads above the figurative water. Having been through that experience myself, I can attest to the fact that the initiatives I took part in outside of the standard curriculum (e.g. a course devoted entirely to visual thinking, and most notably my minor in Arts Entrepreneurship) have been an invaluable complement to my “regular” education, though time management seemed nearly impossible at times. If students were encouraged/enabled to set time aside for right-brained thinking, like art or independent research, they would theoretically come out on the other side with a broader wealth of knowledge and a greater retention of their general sanity.

And over here, we observe the arts student in its natural habitat, painting… something. We’re not sure what it is. It must be avant-garde.

Here, we observe the engineering student in its natural habitat. Be careful: it startles easily, and sustains itself primarily on coffee and counting down to graduation.

Sure, the college experience would likely take longer this way, but the payoff on the other side could be worth it. Companies like to look for creative individuals, and creative people often tend to end up in leadership roles faster due to producing innovative solutions for problems the company encounters. The job market is also shifting more towards smaller companies and shorter stints per job (in technology, at least), meaning that people generally have a shorter time to make an impact, or have to jump a higher bar to make the cut for a smaller company where resources may be scarce. With this changing corporate landscape, a creative education may become a requirement rather than a convenience before we know it.

 

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