University of Nebraska–Lincoln School of Art, Art History & Design Associate Professor of Art Elizabeth Ingraham is teaching an online course this fall titled Computational Creativity that aims to help students develop both creative and computational thinking skills to help with problem solving in any discipline.
“We know there are a number of schools who are offering a course in computational thinking that sometimes is accompanied by some coding, but many times is not,” Ingraham said. “But as far as I know, there’s no school combining that with creative thinking, so we are really excited about the possibilities for this course.”
In the course, students will develop both creative thinking (flexible, imaginative, divergent thinking) and computational thinking (logical, methodical thinking) to make problem solving richer and more powerful, as well as develop collaborative and process skills such as communication, persistence and play to work more successfully.
“What drives everything is our fervent belief that these are two fundamental thinking skills anyone should be eager to learn and use,” Ingraham said. “They can be practiced and developed, and they will improve your learning in any discipline, not just computer science.”
Ingraham is part of a interdisciplinary faculty team, led by Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Leen-Kiat Soh, who is the principal investigator on a nearly $900,000 National Sciences Foundation grant that is looking at ways to deploy these exercises in a more comprehensive study of integrating computational thinking and creative thinking.
The team also includes Glenn Korff School of Music Professor of Music Education Brian Moore, the Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor of English Stephen Ramsay; and Research Professor Duane Shell from the Educational Psychology Department.
It’s the third grant Soh has received that is related to computer science education research. His previous NSF grants focused on helping make computer science more accessible to majors and non-majors, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas; and a grant focused on integrating computational thinking and creative thinking to improve how students learn in computer science, which is when Ingraham joined the team.
“With this third grant we are looking at different ways of deploying these creative exercises and more comprehensive studies,” Soh said. “We are looking at far more students in the classes, including undergraduates, graduates and non-majors. And with Liz’s class we now have a self-contained, stand-alone online course that wraps around the idea of this computational creativity so we have another way of deploying these exercises and seeing how effective this new approach can be in terms of improving student learning performance.”
Ingraham has been teaching creative thinking at Nebraska since 2007. A year and a half ago, she taught a prototype, stand-alone, face-to-face course to integrate creative thinking and computational thinking as an honors seminar.
“It went pretty well, and students thought it was interesting,” she said. “It gave me the motivation to design a permanent course.”
The team decided to offer this course online.
“The idea behind the course is that we can have these creative thinking exercises, and they’re not just something that is an add-on to the curriculum. The curriculum is really built around them, and let’s see if students benefit,” Ingraham said.
Ingraham is convinced that they will benefit from the course.
“I am totally convinced that is going to help any student become a better thinker,” she said. “Because computational thinking will help your problem solving be more effective and efficient, and creative thinking will help your problem solving be richer and more powerful.”
Ingraham believes that will benefit students of all majors and disciplines.
“It’s going to give students some really basic thinking and problem-solving skills and that, I think, is a huge advantage because the world we live in needs flexible, imaginative thinkers,” she said.
In the real world, students will work frequently in teams that are interdisciplinary.
“We are expected to do more with less, as it seems like resources keep shrinking,” she said. “And yet expectations are expanding, and it’s just assumed you’ll innovate, so that’s what our students need to be equipped for. They need to be equipped for what we don’t know is coming.”