Thursday, May 7, 2009

Faculty Spotlight: Bruce Elliott-Litchfield

by Ann Abbott

It is truly a pleasure to work with wonderful colleagues. They can give you support, ideas and collaboration.

Prof. Bruce Elliott-Litchfield is a Faculty Fellow with the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership, and despite the fact that he is in Engineering and I am in Spanish, I see ways in which our work and our thinking coincide. His work with the University of Illinois' chapter of Engineers without Borders is very impressive.

But one thing that Bruce has obviously done a lot more thinking about than I have is creativity. In fact, he teaches a course called "Creativity, Innovation and Vision." I heard him speak about his course at the recent Retreat the Academy hosted, and I also enjoyed reading about it in the Academy's latest newsletter.

There are a few quotes that I wanted to pull out here.

Bruce Elliott-Litchfield on the lessons he passes on about creativity: "Each of us has creative abilities, and each of us can enhance our creativity. Some of the core lessons of the course include understanding cognitive scaffolds, using provocations to deal with obstacles to creativity, viewing from multiple perspectives – seeing what others do not see, understanding deeply and making connections, stockpiling and combining ideas, being persistent and using periods of incubation, being comfortable with ambiguity, delaying decisions and remaining open to options, assessing and taking risks, and having courage to be creative and to face opposition."

Most of the things that Bruce lists above are things that I and other entrepreneurial people I know tend to do intuitively. But I think it is fascinating to see them presented in this way and for students to have the opportunity to think about these techniques, maybe even habits, in an explicit way. I also like that the way Bruce describes the creative process cuts across all fields. He teaches in engineering, but I think that my Spanish students could easily identify with all the concepts he outlines above.

Bruce Elliott-Litchfield on what he views as the most significant benefit for students who take his course: "I hope that students leave the course thinking in a new way. I hope that they are more curious, more open, slower to close the door to ideas, and more able to deal with obstacles to generate ideas. I hope that students develop skills and attitudes that will serve them well, and that they experience the joy that comes from the creative process."

I wish that all professors had these kinds of learning objectives in mind for their students! Just the other day I attended a presentation by a professor who proudly displayed the stacks of papers that represented all the terms and concepts that his students were expected to learn in his course. My jaw dropped. (One other person's eyes widened. We exchanged complicit glances.) I have no doubt that our extremely intelligent students can memorize all that information. But is that what we really want them to do?

Learning objectives like Bruce's prepare students to take what they learn in their disciplines, deepen their knowledge in it through a combination of learning and experience, but then play with those concepts in new and creative ways. That's what our students need when they go out into the world.

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