Is There a Creativity Crisis in International Education?

May 05, 2016

By Samantha Martin

Is international education experiencing a creativity crisis?

My team and I have been on a “listening tour” of sorts with international educators and students for the past 2 years as we build new human-centered software for education abroad. In that time, I’ve been quite struck by the overwhelming sentiment from international educators at all levels that there’s very little room for creativity in higher education today.

This is a problem. We need our highly educated, well-traveled, multilingual international education workforce to unleash their creative minds on very real and complex problems.

Where are we missing the mark?

For starters, I think many of us imagine that creativity is a special experience reserved for artists and designers. We forget that creativity is solving problems in a new way within the confines of meaningful limitations. The more complex the problem or set of problems, the greater the need for creativity. Viewed this way, international education is a field that requires a lot of creativity to solve problems for stakeholders operating within different linguistic and cultural constructs across multiple timezones.

Secondly, within the culture of higher and international education, there is a pervasive belief that every new thing must be measurably successful the first time and every time thereafter, or else. Yet inventors, entrepreneurs, web programmers, artists, activists, and other creative leaders know that this expectation is not only unreasonable, it is also dangerous. New possibilities and life-altering innovations cannot emerge in an environment of total perfection. Creativity requires vulnerability to try new and untested solutions, "play with possibility," and fail small to avoid failing big.

Last, we spend too much time sitting at our computers and not enough time fostering creative environments. If creativity flourishes with sensory experience, spontaneity, human encounters, gratitude, debate, personal reflection, and new ideas, how can we possibly expect to juice up our creativity by looking at e-mail and spreadsheets all day long? We must cultivate our creative energy intentionally and view creativity as a muscle to be exercised. Prioritize time every week to unplug; read from diverse sources; get outside; get into a room with a whiteboard and colleagues; ask good questions; listen with new intent. If you are a leader, prioritize this with your team.

It’s time to reclaim our creative practice as international educators. Our students, partners, and colleagues depend on us to face the limitations inherent to our field and emerge with new or re-imagined processes, tools, relationships, and analysis.

What is one thing you’ll do today to amp up your creative potential?


Interested in learning more? Join Samantha and her co-presenter Natalie Canfield on Thursday, June 2, from 11:00 a.m.-11:45 a.m., for their presentation, “Fear, Failure, and Creativity: Daring Greatly in the Workplace,” in the Career Center located in Four Seasons Ballroom 4.


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