Using Creative Thinking to Innovate Faculty Development

What is the relationship between innovation and faculty development? In the past we have discussed it in the abstract, but this time we’d like to demonstrate how being able to employ creative thinking effectively provides centers of teaching and learning (CTLs) with a huge advantage over non-users.

The General Problem

For the past few years we have been offering various programs—noted speakers, workshops, and professional learning communities—to help the faculty with non-disciplinary professional development in primarily pedagogy, technology, and scholarship. Over the years, through experience and research, we have learned some valuable lessons. One, one-shots (e.g., a PowerPoint presentation on how a faculty member flipped her classroom) don’t have long-lasting value. Two, faculty feel so time-constrained by all their responsibilities that they find it difficult to attend CTL sessions they admit would be helpful.

Related Reading: The Best Center of Teaching and Learning Service for Professional Development

The Process Begins

The problem, then, demands a solution that ensures continuity and delivery. For that solution, we started with something we had written about in our Introduction to Applied Creative Thinking (New Forums, 2012), creative thinking strategies—Collaborations involving Brainstorming sessions with the three of us (Charlie, Hal, and Rusty), our Faculty Innovators, and a representative campus group. An early revelation was that professional development, like detergents in your washing machine, is best delivered through concentration, but the major insight was the need for an online professional development system (OPDS).

Through Pattern Recognition, the campus group eventually figured out that video-gaming provided an excellent model for professional development. Faculty could proceed up a hierarchy of four levels, progressing from Learner to Practitioner to Advocate to Scholar. Each level offered not only complexity, but roughly paralleled Bloom’s Taxonomy. Now, since all faculty need differing areas of development, we began the system by developing four-level modules in Flipping the Classroom, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Critical and Creative Thinking, and the Foundations of Pedagogy. Later, when the workgroup decided it needed a test module, it selected a basic, hot-button issue on campus, metacognition, which meant we had to create a fifth module.

Related Reading: Faculty Innovators: The Key to the Future of Faculty Development

The Stumbling Block

Creating the four-level metacognition module appeared relatively easy at first. After all, one of our group members, Matt (also our Faculty Innovators Coordinator), had developed a template for the first module, Flipping the Classroom, which meant essentially we just followed the template. As we built the module and prepared to hand it off to an instructional designer who would translate it to our campus course management system, Blackboard, however, we stumbled. Reading over what we had written and essentially kept on replicating didn’t make sense. We started asking unanswerable questions such as:

  • What is the rationale for this OPDS?
  • What kind of directions should a user follower?
  • How would the faculty user submit abstracts, analyses, and applications of the fundamental and powerful concepts found in the modules’ basic readings and videos?

The Solution—A Creative Thinking Strategy

The solution was as close as a copy of our Introduction to Applied Creative Thinking. One of our so-called Nifty Nine creative thinking strategies was Perception Shift, which we claimed “involves looking at a person, idea, or situation from a new perspective” (p. 28). Essentially, our problem revolved around our thinking of professional development from the point of view of a professional developer, so what we had to do was shift our perspective to that of a faculty user.

Related Reading: One Activity To Develop 9 Creative Thinking Strategies

Faculty needed to be provided with a rationale for taking up their busy time. They also had to be given explicit directions on how to use the OPDS, and the system had to be simple enough for them to use while complex enough to be useful. Again, we harkened back to the key definition that a creative idea had to be both novel and useful.

Just as authors occasionally switch the point of view so that key situations are apprehended from a different perspective, we found that as soon as we worked on the module from the point of view of the user, the module seemed to write itself. Thinking as a user, we asked ourselves what information faculty members would most like to possess at key junctures in the module. What questions would they ask? We even decided that providing a video guide on the side for the faculty member offered many advantages.


The irony is that we began as creative writers, and even as faculty developers we wrote quite a few books in New Forums’ “ACT Creativity Series,” yet when the going got tough, we almost forgot what we had written.



author Hal BlythePh.D Hal Blythe writes literary criticism to mystery stories. In addition to the eleven books he’s published with New Forums, Hal has collaborated on four books on a variety of subjects, over 1000 pieces of fiction/nonfiction, and a host of television scripts and interactive mysteries performed by their repertory company. He is currently co-director of the Teaching and Learning Center for Eastern Kentucky University. Meet Hal Blythe.