Constraints drive creativity?

Reading through the wealth of ideas that Jon Dron has presented us with this week, the idea that constraints drive creativity caught my attention. See this post of Jon’s with reference to the quote by Stravinsky – “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. ….”

This raises the question of constraints in MOOCs where there is extensive learner autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness and an abundance of information. These are the principles of connectivism and MOOCs are based on 4 types of activities

1. Aggregation (collecting information and making connections)
2. Remixing (organizing information and connections to suit yourself)
3. Repurposing ( creation – ‘we want you to create something of your own’)
4. Feeding forward (sharing)

So a key purpose of MOOCs is the creation of artifacts that can be shared with others. But as Rita Kop and Hélène Fournier reported as a result of their research in the PLENK MOOC, the minimal creation of artefacts in that MOOC was a real disappointment for the course convenors.

From the above we could deduce that MOOCs simply don’t integrate enough constraints. It is all too free, open and distributed. John Mak, Roy Williams and I discussed this in our paper – The Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC.

However, by all accounts ds106,  another MOOC convened by Jim Groom on the topic of Digital Storytelling, was enormously successful in the number of artifacts that were produced by participants and the levels of creativity demonstrated. So were there greater constraints in that MOOC and if so, what were they? Was it the extensive use of technologies in ds106 that  imposed the constraints? I haven’t been a participant in that MOOC, so I can’t judge.

Ultimately it comes down yet again to context (I know that there is a general weariness with that observation ☺) Too much freedom and we could get chaos and too many constraints and we get creativity stultified.

So what do I personally think? I think the ChangeMOOC type of MOOC – if it wants the creation of artifacts – needs to look to MOOCs like ds106 and see what can be learned from them and I don’t think that the ‘constraints drives creativity argument stands up’. So where are the ChangeMOOC artifacts and what are the reasons for participants’ reluctance to produce them? Including me ☺

Now I shall try to get back to what Jon is hoping we will talk about. But there are no constraints in this MOOC and therefore no possibility of predicting what participants will do ☺

6 thoughts on “Constraints drive creativity?

  1. TonySearl (@TonySearl) November 25, 2011 / 3:47 am

    Is a blog post a learning artifact? I’d say a definite yes.

    Maybe not a particularly creative one, but text and I get on well. I like blogs and comments. I don’t like missing stuff, but resigned myself that I must. One small conscience aim has been to leave more comments, on new blogs, than I blog. Hasn’t been hard because I don’t blog much. I am however creating other input for other purposes. Be good if I could blend the two. More like the Mother of All Mooc Prezi’s where I blend #change11 weekly trivia and learning with work, life and current events.

    The participant nominated #ds106 activities, (“assignments”), resulted in some unusual and unpredictable choices. Throwing the course artifacts open like that may shift ownership and therefore participation, engagement, motivation and distribution. Even Jim was curiously suprised by what went on to be the more popular assignments. These must have a clearly attractive alternate lens for a significant number of participants. A great outcome for Facilitator Jim who had not previously considered that type of activity would be popular. Assumption Punked.

    Maybe #change11 could incorporate a weekly/monthly page of participant suggested artefacts or compile undiscovered interesting smart voices to facilitate weeks 37 plus…..

    It may spark creativity, would provide a shared neutral space to share and aggregate one part of our learning without us just blogging with purpose at homebase, as important as that is

    I’m absolutely not at all sure, so please chip in if you think that could assist with the motivation, engagement debate.

  2. jennymackness November 25, 2011 / 2:47 pm

    Hi Tony – I agree that blog posts are an artifact. I certainly put a lot of time and effort into mine (although it probably doesn’t show :-))

    But the types of artifacts produced in ds106 must take much more time. I remember the amazing artifacts that were produced for the final assignment of CCK08. I can’t imagine how much time and effort were put into those. I think it is these kinds of artifacts that are looked for as outcomes of MOOCs, but from my own perspective I think the artifacts that I produce are either the blog posts or research papers, which take months of work and are only published long after the event.

    Should ChangeMooc do anything to promote the creation of artifacts? I actually don’t think it could do more than it is doing. Every week the presenter suggests a number of activities, some of which would result in artifacts. I think most of the artifacts in CCK08 were only produced for accredition and maybe that is also the reason for Jim Groom’s course resulting in so many artifacts – so accreditation drives the production of artifacts? Interesting discussion to be had there.

    As far as ChangeMooc goes – CCK08, PLENK etc. and other MOOCs convened by Stephen Downes and George Siemens, I would be disappointed if they moved away from the ‘softness’ of their design and allowed their pedagogical philosophy to be bent towards harder requirements – but their approach really does raise the question of how many constraints should be designed into MOOCs and to what end. I think that if participants themselves want to organise the production of more artifacts then that would be in line with the general principles. Does any of this make sense?

    If you come back – I would really like to know more about the artefacts produced in Jim Groom’s course. Could you point me to a link?

    Thanks for your visit 🙂

  3. brainysmurf1234 November 29, 2011 / 4:16 pm

    Hi, Jenny. I wasn’t in #ds106 but here is the site: and I’m guessing the artifacts or links to them are there.

    I wonder if digital storytelling, by it’s title or whatever ‘structure’ or design they had, drew in a more ‘creative’ audience than #change11? And, in that question, I am not saying that #change11 participants lack creativity, I am merely echoing Tony’s comment about his relationship with text.

    I am not a traditionally ‘creative’ person in the artistic sense. I dabble with photography, writing and editing so my artifacts are now blog posts, relevant photos (I hope!) and comments with the occasional FB post or tweet thrown in. I’m not comfortable with drawing and video and they would take more time and technology than I am willing to put into them at the moment. Maybe I will work on that. In the meantime, I too hope that the softer approach to mooc design doesn’t get hardened too fast in the future.

  4. jennymackness November 30, 2011 / 4:34 pm

    Hi brainysmurf – Thanks so much for the link and comment – which could raise a whole new – and I suspect ongoing – question about what it means to be creative 🙂 Years ago I used to do a lot of painting – exhibited and so on – and sometimes now when I meet people from that era they ask me if I am still painting and when I say ‘no’, they ask if I miss the creativity. But I have found my teaching career and associated activities to be equally creative – just different – but I do find video a bit scary and as you say – time consuming.

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