Posted by: lindapemik | January 26, 2014

Bloggers get writer’s block too

I recently started another online course about how to teach online. This act usually is followed by more blog posts, as I try to make sense of my learning, but so far this hasn’t happened.   The first week stimulated the usual flurry of enthusiasm and creative thought.  Then I crashed—my creativity dried up and I have found it hard to pay attention to the discussions and assignments and to write about my learning journey.  Something happened that made the topic of online learning more than just a theoretical exercise.

I took a risk and failed when I wanted so desperately to shine.

As I reflected on my sudden dampened enthusiasm for learning I thought back to another online experience that sparked my enthusiasm for learning and tried to identify how the two experiences differed.  During  #etmooc last year I experienced a period of intense learning and creativity and became very interested in researching the concept of creativity.  I discovered the theories of Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, including his thought s about creative flow. That knowledge led me to reframe my understanding of creativity as a genetic “gift”  to one of “creative intelligence”, to recognize that all humans are born with creative capacity.

This year, I dug deeper into Csikzentmihalyi”s theory and was caught by his statement that, “creativity results from the interaction of a system composed of three elements:  a culture that contains symbolic rules, a person who brings novelty into the symbolic domain and a field of experts who recognize and validate the innovation”.   He compares creativity to a fire:  you need a spark, tinder and air.

campfireLearning for me is about creative thought, sparking new ideas and new ways of understanding information and the world we live in. The spark needs tinder which is provided by the rich and seemingly endless knowledge and information afforded by the internet and connecting with knowledge holders to co-create new knowledge; and finally air, the recognition and validation of “the field of experts”, in my case my community of practice.   If anyone of these three elements is missing the spark dies.

What does my experience tell me about how to teach online?  Some ideas for instructional design that enables learning (a far from conclusive list):

  • Recognize and validate learner contributions.
  • Encourage and facilitate sharing of knowledge.
  • Appreciate the risks involved in online learning, even with mature sophisticated learners.
  • Don’t assume that learners are doing OK.  Check back with them often;
  • Provide a mechanism for class feedback, such as an easily accessible general discussion board where students can share their feedback on the process of the course, not just the content or a tool such as Padlet
  • Insure that learners know how to use the learning platform and provide tutorials, videos, screen casts, etc.
  • Use both small group and large group activities
  • Encourage creative techniques: drawing, collage,graphics, digital stories, etc.  for those who think differently.  These help learners find their voices in different ways and in different media.

I’d love to hear from you.  Please tell me when do you feel most creative and excited about learning? and what fuels that spark for you?



  1. Dear Linda,

    My favourite music is the blues. The blues addresses the fullness of human existence and what it means to be fully alive. The blues pulls no punches and embraces life head-on, it acknowledges the struggles that we all face and celebrates our emergence from these challenges as stronger and better people.

    Having creative blocks and mental challenges is something we all experience, but by sharing the struggle with others, by talking or blogging, we learn an important, but undeniable fact, that we are NOT alone and that we can face the struggle together.

    Please know that you’re NOT alone Linda and by sharing your challenges openly through your blog, you let others know that we are not alone either and this knowledge is not only reassuring, it is empowering.

    I feel most creative, excited and alive, as a person and as a learner, when I am challenged and out of my comfort zone. Recognizing that we are vulnerable is scary, but it also offers endless possibilities, if we can just learn to recognize this and step through that open door.

    Your post let’s us see such creative challenges for what they truly are, part of learning.

    “The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.”
    -B. B. King



  2. […] Follow this link: Bloggers get writer’s block too […]

  3. Hi Linda,

    I read this post a while back and wanted to comment, but other things got in the way. I think about creativity and learning from two perspectives, as I am both a learner and a teacher. In the past 12-18 months I have begun to experiment with creative writing, as a way to get away from the somewhat staid conventions of academic writing. I’ve taken an online creative writing course and now engage with other writers via blogs and websites, etc. Writing fiction (something I had never tried before) has freed me up to explore ideas about my research interests, as well as explore aspects of my personal life (love, bereavement, place, identity) through fictional characters. The creative process and practice is intensely emotional, at times frustrating, always hard work, but ultimately rewarding. I’m never going to be Margaret Atwood, but then I’m not trying to be. I’ve forced myself out of my comfort zone and in doing so have found new ways to engage my intellect and new ways to process and critically analyse the things that interest me as an academic and human being.

    I’m also a university educator, who is endlessly frustrated by my students’ unwillingness to engage their creativity. My human Geography colleagues were already committed to reflective pedagogies when I came here three years ago, with reflective learning and writing practices written into the curriculum. But try as we might – through a range of techniques – our students are not interested. No amount of encouragement and reassurance can stop them from thinking that ‘there must be a right answer’. What we are looking for in our students is independent thought, enthusiasm about the world around them, creative thinking about geographical issues. We want students who can reflect on their own experiences in light of what they learn in formal education, and vice versa. What I have finally realised, from multiple endless conversations with students is that they are fearful – fearful of getting it wrong and fearful of sounding silly. They are also so hung up on their grades that any experimentation or creativity is suppressed.

    Maybe my next project will be a fictional piece about university life!


%d bloggers like this: