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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Creativity by Degree

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Michael Hanson

Michael Hanson


Looking at the concept that drives humankind forward has led scholars and students alike to study creativity.

By David McKay Wilson

For Michael Hanchett Hanson, creativity is a distinctly modern concept that helps us engage and manage change. Understanding creativity, he says, can help educators and their students participate in a world being transformed at a dizzying pace.

“We are living in a time of extraordinary rates of change,” says Hanson. “And we need to appreciate it—both the upside and the downside. Creativity, for example, will help us solve the issues we face with climate change, but we have to be aware that many of those issues arose from previous innovation. So you need a framework through which you can think about it.”

Hanson, an adjunct assistant professor at TC for seven years, directs the master’s concentration in creativity and cognition, within the programs of Cognitive Studies and Developmental Psychology in the Department of Human Development. These courses attract psychology students, teachers and curriculum developers as well as arts administrators, music educators and those studying the philosophy of education.

The courses have become popular during a time of increased focus internationally on creativity, with scholars and practitioners in the fields of psychology, education and business looking at the concept that drives humankind forward.

Hanson notes that the western concept of creativity developed in the 19th century as the role of the individual in society blossomed. The word “creativity” didn’t appear in most English dictionaries until after World War II.
Over the past century, theories of creativity have been developed to explain this distinctly human characteristic. Some theorists say creativity is a trait that lies within individuals. Others see it as a decision-making process while others see creativity as a commitment people make in their lives.

“Our courses give students a familiarity with the broad terrain of creativity theories so they can make decisions about their work in the classroom, developing curriculum or leading schools,” says Hanson.

He says when teaching about creativity, it’s important to develop a culture within the classroom that recognizes the dynamics of change. Hanson and his own students explore how people who took unpopular positions ultimately became accepted in the broader society. He encourages his students to take a new look at the way they think and consider how they define creativity in their work in ways appropriate to the setting.


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