Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, Special Issue, 746-748
Published Online October 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Incorporating Egan’s Imaginative Education into the Curriculum
and the Culture at the Post-Secondary Level
Karynne L. M. Kleine1, Julia K. Metzker2
1Department of Early Childhood & Middle Grades Education, Georgia College, Milledgeville, USA
2Department of Chemistry & Physics, Georgia College, Milledgeville, USA
Received August 31st, 2012; revis e d S e p te mber 28th, 2012; accepted October 12th, 2012
Creativity is conspicuously absent in the outcomes of liberal arts higher education institutions generally
and Georgia College particularly. One strong candidate for rectifying this deficit is the incorporation of
curriculum based on Kieran Egan’s theory of Imaginative Education (IE, 1988). There is a dearth of in-
vestigation as to how IE might be used in colleges and universities by faculty and students to allow the
“the unusual and effective to flourish” (IERG, 2008). This paper presents a component of the work of one
grass roots faculty development group as it learned about and sought to implement aspects of IE into their
undergraduate curriculum and university culture.
Keywords: Imaginative Education; Undergraduate Curriculum; Faculty Development; Higher Education
One of the strongest contemporary advocates for educating
for creativity is Kieran Egan, an educational philosopher who
for nearly three decades has promoted a theory of Imaginative
Education (IE, 1988). As an educational theory that addresses
philosophical questions such as the aim of education as well
practical matters pertaining to curriculum and instruction, IE is
difficult to summarize succinctly. The main premise is that
cultural tools become individual cognitive tools when advanced
through a particular type of understanding that people tend to
undergo in a pattern of increasing sophistication. In applying
this theory of education Egan urges teachers to incorporate
pedagogical practices that align with the type of understanding
of the student to foster acquisition of more complex tools for
the learner’s use. Egan (2005) describes characteristics of stu-
dents who are exposed to the theory through certain pedagogi-
cal practices and argues that imaginative education enables
learners to have heightened capacity for all mental functions
such as flexibility, creativity, and foresightedness. Suffice it to
say that Egan and other proponents of the theory intend to ap-
ply the many facets of imagination to remake education into to
a “system that enables the unusual and effective to flourish
wherever possible” (IERG, 2008). There is a considerable body
of research indicating that both students and teachers benefit
greatly from imaginative teaching and learning. However, the
findings have largely come from schools with learners in Kin-
dergarten through high school. Thus there is a dearth of inves-
tigation as to how IE might be used in colleges and universities
to allow the “the unusual and effective to flourish” (IERG,
2008). This paper presents a component of the work of one
grass roots faculty development group as it learned about and
sought to implement aspects of IE into their university under-
graduate curriculum and culture. In order to grasp the impor-
tance of this undertaking it is important to understand the con-
text of the university, the grass roots fac ulty development group,
and the potential for curriculum change to incorporate Egan’s
theory of imaginative education.
Antecedents to Incorporation of Imaginative
The mission of the authors’ institution, Georgia College
(GCSU), shifted in 1996 as it was designated the state’s public
liberal arts university. The demographics of the student popula-
tion changed significantly as a more affluent and less diverse
cadre of metro Atlantans were seated in place of what had been
many first generation college students. No longer considered a
regional institution with a large contingent of commuter stu-
dents, almost immediately GCSU reflected a significant depar-
ture from the working class student body that it had long served.
Accompanying the new mission emphasis, issues such as small
class size, holistic development of students, and “learning be-
yond the classroom” drove the need for more professors. Over
the next 10 years there was a massive influx of faculty and staff
to address the goal of providing more personalized learning
experiences for students so that by 2006 over 60% of teaching
faculty was not tenured. This advent also created an inevitable
situation in which professional development for faculty and
instructional staff had to be addressed and in retrospect, pro-
vided an important pivot point for confronting the ubiquity of
traditional pedagogical practice.
In that same year, three colleagues, two untenured and one
tenured from the departments of Chemistry, Mathematics, and
Middle Level Education, developed a series of learning mod-
ules to use to “redeliver” c ontent on course design as a result of
a professional development institute that we had attended, Sci-
ence Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibili-
ties (SENCER). Central to SENCER pedagogy is the use of
contested, capacious social issues to teach science content in an
interdisciplinary manner with the purpose of sustaining democ-
ratic social ideals. As a public liberal arts institution, a major
component of Georgia College’s mission is to educate an en-
gaged citizenry, which will have the continued capacity and
desire to participate in the democracy. And as professional
higher educators we continually challenge ourselves to make
our collaboration purposeful, sustainable, and to embody the
integrity and agency we expect from others who join us in this
enterprise. Those two dynamics together served as a catalyst for
considering the construct of creativity through the work of
Kieran Egan’s Imaginative Education Research Group (2008),
the process of which we embarked upon at Georgia College and
which we elaborate in this paper.
From this initial foray into course design and effective
teaching our inclusive collective, known as the Innovative
Course-building Group, IC-bG, has grown to over 25 partici-
pants and expanded to foster faculty development for multiple
issues related to teaching and learning. For instance we have
facilitated workshops on our own and other campuses, spon-
sored a faculty discourse series, participated in ongoing colle-
gial conversations to understand our context and our growth,
have been invited speakers to a conference regarding ingenuity
and change, and have recently successfully executed our first
professional development institute that focused on innovation
in teaching. Concurrent with the expansion of IC-bG, Georgia
College has completed revision of the general education cur-
riculum outcomes and introduced new general education re-
quirements for freshmen that focus on developing critical
thinking and cultural perspectives.
As founding members of IC-bG and newly returned from the
SENCER 2012 summer institute we have had opportunity to
investigate theories, frameworks, and models that will help
realize our vision of liberal arts education that fosters democ-
ratic ideals and a well-prepared faculty to enact the vision. One
such potent model is Imaginative Education, theorized, refined
and advanced by Kieran Egan for more than 25 years. Over
time he has thoroughly detailed the various reasons for, effec-
tive means by which, and uncovered nuanced meanings of
imagination (Egan, 1988, 1997, 2005, 2008, 2011). In short he
is one of the few who has developed a fundamental theory of
teaching and learning that entails the intent of and processes for
education grounded in understanding of humanity. In arguing
for the significance of imagination for learning Egan has writ-
ten, “Stimulating the imagination is not an alternative educa-
tional activity to be argued for in competition with other claims;
it is a prerequisite to making any activity educational (2005: p.
212, emphasis added). Regrettably Egan’s theory, as well con-
sidered and potentially transformative as it is, is not well known
or utilized in the United States and as far as we can determine,
rarely considered for incorporation into post-secondary curric-
ula. Indeed creativity of any sort is rarely an objective of
educational endeavors in higher education. For instance, a re-
view of the learning outcomes for 151 introductory courses in
the Georgia College curriculum reveal that only two have
learning outcomes even distantly related to dimensions of crea-
tivity and these are outcomes for arts courses in the field of
theater. The outcomes for courses in theater include 1) to ac-
quire basic components of imagination in Theater 1100, and 2)
to exercise imagination in Theater 1310. If the graduates of
Georgia College are to fulfill its liberal arts mission and be-
come involved citizens in the democracy while the GCSU fac-
ulty become continuously better developed to teach in ways
that will attain this educational aim then a transformative model
such as Imaginative Education must become imbued in the
curriculum and the culture. We outline our efforts to do so be-
Need for Changes to the Curriculum
In order to engage students with the liberal arts and increase
their ability to think critically and creatively to address impor-
tant societal problems, faculty members of IC-bG have de-
signed and developed a cadre of courses using important civic
and social issues within a framework of realizing SENCER
ideals as the impetus for co ur se development
(http://www. For example,
issues of food security, biomedical concerns of young adoles-
cents, public discourse, mathematicians on the fringe, and cur-
rent environmental dilemmas are a few of the problems that
have served as themes for courses. The unfamiliar nature of the
pedagogies used in these courses often results in initial resis-
tance from students however where these courses are taught to
freshmen who are being introduced to a more rigorous college
curriculum the “push back” can be particularly robust. Because
imaginative principles such as tolerance for and capacity to
view from multiple perspectives, awareness of one’s learning
process and product, and ability to critique conventional wis-
dom have been neither attended to nor attained in students’
early education, freshmen resist the ambiguity that comes with
imagining novel solutions to real problems as opposed to the
certainty of identifying “correct” answers quickly, a practice to
which most have long before habituated (Egan, 2005). To deal
with this discomfort they assign responsibility for their uncer-
tain performance to pedagogical practices to which many are
unaccustomed, and give themselves “permission” to disengage.
We conjecture that the very resistance students experience comes
from their limited development in flexible and imaginative
An illustrative example of this lack of endurance to dwell
within ambiguous realms occurred recently in an introductory
course for freshman entitled, Critical Thinking: Chemistry &
Climate wherein students are expected to learn of and use con-
cepts from chemistry to critically analyze data related to cli-
mate issues. In the first class session students were asked to
form groups and, from memory, construct a visual representa-
tion of an atomic model. From there they were instructed to use
information in their textbook to identify evidence that would
support or contradict elements of the model. After a gallery
walk, where professors and fellow classmates provided com-
ments and questions about the models, the students were en-
couraged to revise their models and develop a table of crucial
experiments that helped develop modern atomic structure. This
activity was met with behaviors suggesting apprehension, anxiety,
and even defiance as one student encouraged others to with-
draw from the course. Remarkably, over 40% of the students
dropped the course after the first week, which we are inclined to
think speaks to the low levels of intellectual discomfort students
are prepared to undergo stemming from a lack of imagination.
Need for Changes to the Culture
Currently, through the collaborative efforts of the members,
IC-bG is on the cusp of transformative change that moves be-
yond work that has been done at the individual course level.
These faculty members and teaching staff have already faced
the difficult task of critically analyzing the quality of the learn-
ing experience in their own classrooms and have made changes
that have led to incorporation of activities that promote acquisi-
tion of higher-order thinking skills. This analysis has naturally
fed their desire to see these experiences reinforced in courses
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 747
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
across the university and in every discipline, which likely
would require an unprecedented dispositional change in the
faculty as well as a vigorous scrutiny of the curriculum as a
whole. While we have witnessed the effects of close examina-
tion within several departments across the university (mathe-
matics, sociology, chemistry), wherein faculty have reviewed
program curricular goals and evaluated the capacity for their
courses to bring students to meeting those goals, we recognize
that scaling up the process will require delivering considerably
more compelling reason for many faculty members to under-
take such work. Providing a well-grounded theory such as
Egan’s Imaginative Education could serve as intellectual grist
for many university faculty members to consider the benefits of
designing curricula to develop flexible, imaginative thinkers
and cultivate the effective and the unusual in meeting GCSU’s
mission. Therefore as we move forward we intend to transform
student learning through the curriculum and the means for de-
signing and implementing said curricula by creating new cul-
tural norms for the faculty. The first steps for this transforma-
tion will be development of a two-course sequence for fresh-
men focused on imaginative, self-directed learning to be of-
fered by members of IC-bG, who will collaborate to learn about
Egan’s theory of Imaginative Education. Although we are
moving on two fronts, the goals for each approach are essen-
tially the same.
The Audience
The outcomes for our proposed course series have two dis-
tinct audiences: 1) the students, and 2) the instructors. In many
ways the nature of the outcomes for both groups are identical;
to take ownership and responsibility for their own learning. As
IC-bG has evolved we have seen faculty and instructors grow
substantially as they recognize that they are supported and en-
couraged to make changes in their own teaching that will lead
to more pervasive improvement across the institution. By pur-
posefully offering a meld of the personal and the professional to
teaching faculty we have created a third space for community
building (Oldenburg, 1991) that provides a safe yet potent area
within which to make change. Through participation in this
satisfying community experience, faculty members have be-
come self-directed learners, which is precisely the outcome we
seek for ourselves as well as the students.
Our Plan
In order for university faculty and students new to the college
experience to acquire dispositions that are likely to result in
self-directed, flexible, and creative learning for life we are pro-
posing a series of two courses for undergraduates that apply
Egan’s principles to foster imaginatively engaged learning.
Throughout the design and implementation of the courses, fac-
ulty and students alike will be provided experiences in contexts
that emphasize the importance of flexibility and imagination for
enduring learning. These courses will blend theory and
real-world practice to illustrate the substantial and on-going
benefits imaginative thinking offers in terms of advancing cog-
nitive tools for individuals and society. Learners in the first of
the two-course series will analyze their approach to learning
within the context of the theories, principles, and practices of
imaginative education by selecting a learning experience where
they view themselves unsuccessful. Through scaffolding with
ase study analysis and engagement with the theory of imagina-
tive learning, students will apply these principles to their own
learning scenario. For example, a student analyzing an essay
written in an English Composition course will identify the de-
gree to which she used invention and novelty or relied on literal
descriptions in the writing. Another student might analyze a
series of images from his art history course to identify the
hopes, fears, and intentions of the artists in order to understand
that imaginative learners incorporate affect and emotion as a
part of the learning process. A third student who may be strug-
gling with research methods might be instructed to analyze the
source of invention and novelty in a number of studies pre-
sented in his course looking for patterns and insight into the
origin of “generativeness”. The first course will be designed to
focus on individuals and their use of imaginatively-engaged
education to become more self-regulated learners as freshman
new to the college experience.
The second course of the series seeks to move learners to
place their own learning in relational context to imagination in
global cultures and history scaffolding them to consider how
cognitive tools are acquired in other societies where language
may be of a different degree of importance than in the Western
world. In this experience the point will be for individuals to
move outside of themselves to view and value the variable in
any context rather than to seek standardization. We hypothesize
that these two types of directed self-analysis and reflection at
the micro and the macro levels will lead students to develop the
flexibility, intentionality, and agency characteristic of an imag-
inatively engaged learner—an explicit learning outcome for
each of the courses.
The courses will be collaboratively taught by several faculty
members from a variety of disciplines, which will allow each
individual to bring her/his unique perspective on imagination
informed by a disciplinary framework as well as to use inter-
disciplinary factors for creating unusual and effecti ve approaches
to address social concerns. While becoming informed of Egan’s
theoretical foundation, and learning about and through the prac-
tices of imaginatively engaged education, we intend for stu-
dents and faculty to acquire and enact those enduring disposi-
tions that will contribute to their own success, the success of
Georgia College, and our society as a whole. We intend for this
to be an initial examination and implementation at the post-
secondary level to help us determine whether one university
can transform the curriculum and the culture through imagina-
tive education and further the growth of “the unusual and effec-
tive” by addressing the development of the faculty as well as
the students (IERG, 2008).
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