Creative Education
2011. Vol.2, No.5, 435-445
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/ce.2011.25063
Creativity in Science: Tensions between Perception and Practice
Adele L. Schmidt1,2
1Science Education, School of Education and Professional Studies, Griffith University,
Mount Gravatt Campus, Brisbane, Australia;
2Holland Park State High School, Holland Park, Brisbane, Australia.
Received September 29th, 2011; revised October 30th, 2011; ac cepte d No vembe r 14th, 2011.
Many countries are reviewing science education programmes and implementing new pedagogical paradigms
aimed at reversing a trend of declining enrolments. A key factor in this decline is a public perception that sci-
ence is not a creative endeavour. Attempts to reframe public perception tend to focus on primary and secondary
schooling, but do little to address ongoing declines in quality and originality of intellectual output beyond the
high-school environment. To overcome systemic devaluation of science requires appreciation of the complex,
dynamic, and often stochastic, interplay of sociocultural, psychological and cognitive factors that drive human
creativity. Viewing creativity from this perspective reveals tensions between perception and practice that limit
opportunities for students, science educators and scientists. Resolving the tension requires integration of devel-
opmental, psychometric and sociocultural discourses of creativity in ways that generate opportunities for indi-
viduals at all levels of education and practice to: 1) acquire a high level of domain-specific knowledge; 2) prac-
tise application of that knowledge in developing solutions to problems across a gradient of difficulty and; 3) be
challenged to integrate their knowledge of science with their knowledge of other fields to pursue and solve
problems with p e rsonal relevance.
Keywords: Science Education, Teaching for Creativity, Contextual Science, Context-Based Learning,
Inquiry-Based Le arning, Creativity, S c i e nt i f i c C reativity
The importance of sociocultural influences in contextualising
and contemporising teaching and learning is a recurrent theme
in all areas of education, but has particular relevance for sci-
ence subjects (Barrow, 2006; Carter, 2008). Although science is
recognised as encompassing several distinct disciplines (e.g.
biology, chemistry, physics), any given domain of research
and/or practice occupies a nexus between sub-fields (e.g. bio-
chemistry, molecular biology, physical chemistry). The current
pace of scientific and technological progress also means that
new sub-disciplines are continually emerging (Culross, 2004;
Jackson, 2004; Medina, 2006) and even those who do not go on
to careers in these fields require increasing levels of scientific
and technological literacy simply to participate in contemporary
society (Craft, Chappell, & Twining, 2008; Jackson, 2004).
Despite current and projected increases in employment op-
portunities within science and technology sectors (Jackson,
2004; McWilliam, Poronnik, & Taylor, 2008; State of Queens-
land, 2002) however, enrolments in science subjects have de-
clined dramatically over the past two decades; particularly in
the enabling sciences of chemistry and physics, where student
numbers are up to 21% lower than they were in 1990 (Kessels,
Rau, & Hannover, 2006; Lyons, 2006; McWilliam, Poronnik,
& Taylor, 2008).
A key factor in this decline is a perception that science is not
a creative endeavour. Surveys of student and community atti-
tudes consistently identify rote learning and rigid, dogmatic
thinking as characteristics/traits seen as essential for success in
science (Barak & Shachar, 2008; Barton, Tan, & Rivet, 2008;
Kessels et al., 2006; Latu & Young, 2004; Lunn & Noble, 2008;
Timms, Courtney, & Anderson, 2006). Although many indi-
viduals recognise that science has delivered significant benefits
to society in the form of medical, technological and industrial
innovations (Barak & Shachar, 2008; Barton et al., 2008;
Endler & Bond, 2008; Jackson, 2004; Kessels et al., 2006; Latu
& Young, 2004; Lunn & Noble, 2008; Timms et al., 2006),
they appear unable to appreciate the rich tapestry of creative
thought required to synthesise knowledge across multiple do-
mains and design and enact experimental studies capable of
extending the limits of human knowledge (Barak & Shachar,
2008; Barrow, 2006; Barton et al., 2008; Endler & Bond, 2008;
Jackson, 2004; Kessels et al., 2006; Latu & Young, 2004; Lunn
& Noble, 2008; Timms et al., 2006).
Attempts to broaden perceptions of science and increase stu-
dent interest are increasingly incorporating new approaches to
teaching and learning (Barrow, 2006; Craft et al., 2008; Endler
& Bond, 2008; Park-Rogers & Abell, 2008). While contextual-
ised, inquiry-based learning undoubtedly cultivates important
skills such as spatial reasoning and systematic thought (Ben-
zvi-Assarf & Orion, 2005; Black, 2005), there is reason to be-
lieve that:
1) The wider potential of new teaching and learning strate-
gies is diminished by emphasis on superficial engagement and a
lack of attention to higher-order skills required for generation
of creative solutions to scientific and technological problems
(Craft et al., 2008; Endler & Bond, 2008; Erez, 2004) and;
2) This failure to facilitate and enable genuine creativity is
having a significant impact on quality and originality of intel-
lectual output beyond the high-school environment (Austra-
lian_Research_Council, 2008; Braben, 2004; Holligan, 2005;
Medina, 2006).
Although creativity is a somewhat contested notion (Boden,
2001; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; McWilliam et al., 2008), it oc-
cupies a unique place in the scientific arena as both a require-
ment for future innovation and progress (Barak & Shachar,
2008; Braben, 2004) and a personal characteristic/trait that can
be developed and extended through quality education (Barak &
Shachar, 2008; Braben, 2004; Endler & Bond, 2008; Holligan,
2005; Lunn & Noble, 2008; Yager & Akcay, 2008). To actual-
ise the full potential of inquiry-based teaching and deliver vi-
able, long-term solutions to problems arising from devaluation
of science however, requires recognition that educational out-
comes are the product of complex, dynamic, and often stochas-
tic, interplay of sociocultural, psychological and cognitive fac-
Discourses of Creativity
Individual and societal conceptualisations of creativity are
highly variable. In Western nations, creativity tends to be
framed in terms of innate intelligence/ability that manifests
externally as “...a product or effect that adds to the intensity and
complexity of future life” (Haigh, 2007: p. 124). In contrast,
Eastern conceptualisations tend to emphasize internal manifes-
tations of creativity, such as a strong sense of ultimate reality
that drives the individual to seek personal fulfilment (Seo, Lee,
& Kim, 2005). That these differences in perception are re-
flected in different approaches to education and training (Kim,
2005) is unsuprising, but few, if any, education professionals
would view tensions between alternative perceptions of what it
is, and what it means, to be creative as evidence that either, or
both, culture(s) is(are) unable to support quality education pro-
To understand the importance of maintaining and supporting
multiple forms of creativity requires an understanding that
teaching and learning theory draws on psychological studies of
personality/character development, which may be divided into
three categories: 1) psychoanalytical theories, which emphasise
internal cognitive/emotional processes; 2) psychometric theo-
ries, which focus on quantification of specific personality
traits/learning styles and; 3) social learning theories, which
emphasise situational influences and the tendency for individu-
als to alter their personality and behaviour in response to
changes in their social environment (Sigelman, 1999).
Translation of theories of development into teaching styles
gives rise to four basic approaches: 1) a pedagogical approach,
where teaching and learning are seen as processes of giving and
receiving information and the emphasis is on subject-centred
methods of instruction; 2) a behavioural approach, which is
based on the idea that learning is achieved by establishing asso-
ciations between stimuli and responses and teaching methods
focus on quantifiable outcomes of instruction; 3) a cognitive
approach, which emphasises internal processes such as insight
and perception and teaching methods centre on the provision of
experiences that will generate, or facilitate, insight and percep-
tion in the student and; 4) a developmental approach, which
addresses learning as a fundamental human need and teaching
strategies vary from student to student, with the emphasis on
personal growth (Stredl & Rothwell, 1987).
Merging these with contemporary creativity theory allows
identification of four distinct, but overlapping, discourses of
creativity (Figure 1).
The Developmental Discourse: Education as
A distinguishing feature of developmental discourses of cre-
ativity is the stipulation that all individuals are capable of at
least some form of creative output.
Figure 1.
Discourses of creativity.
This perception can be traced to Piaget’s definition of cogni-
tion as the process which allows human beings to “think and act
logically and deductively” (Sigelman, 1999: p. 171). Within
Piaget’s original framework, the processes of accommodation
(interpretation of new experiences in relation to existing mental
schema) and assimilation (modifying existing mental schema to
include new information) work together to guide individuals
through four developmental stages: Beginning with the sen-
sorimotor stage, which involves development of co-ordination
between sensory input and motor responses (0 - 2 years); and
culminating in the formal operations stage (11+ years), which is
characterised by the development of abstract thought processes
that allow individuals to extrapolate their understanding of
concepts and ideas to unfamiliar situations (Sigelman, 1999).
That difference in creative ability arises from differences in
cognitive development of individuals is supported by empirical
studies. Wu and Chiou (2008) assessed cognitive styles of 19 -
26 year old students and found a significant positive correlation
between post-formal (relative and dialectical) cognition and
performance on a standardised Divergent Thinking Test. Simi-
larly, Runco and Okuda (1988) found that students ascertained
as gifted and/or talented are able to change their mode of
thought (measured as number and nature of responses) when
challenged by unfamiliar, unscaffolded problems.
Although studies of this nature use only within-group com-
parisons, they provide support for the idea that creativity in-
volves review of existing knowledge to identify which aspects
apply in a particular instance. In adult education, the process of
reviewing and selectively applying knowledge is described as
transference; and is designated specific/near when the situation
in which the knowledge is applied is very similar to that in
which it was originally learnt or developed, and non-specific/
far when the situation in which the knowledge is applied is very
different to that in which it was originally learnt or developed
(Stevenson, 1994, Stevenson & McKavanagh, 1993).
Studies comparing transference in novice and expert learners
in a range of fields demonstrate that the distinction lies not in
domain/content knowledge per se, but the relative complexity
of cognitive schemata used to organise that knowledge, and the
procedures used to retrieve and apply it when confronted with
familiar and novel problems (Bruning, Schraw, Norby, & Ron-
ning, 2004; Meier, Reinhard, Carter, & Brooks, 2008). Studies
in development and moderation of artificial intelligence also
provide evidence that a limited number of processes for input,
output, storage and arrangement of information are sufficient to
generate a wide variety of outcomes (Simon, 2001).
At the core of any developmental discourse of creativity then,
is an assumption that individuals can be trained to generate
creative solutions to complex and challenging problems through
reconfiguration and extension of pre-existing systems of know-
ledge, memory, judgment, classification and categorisation
(Runco & Chand, 1995). This is consistent with Csikszentmi-
halyi’s (1990) suggestion that there are essentially two forms of
creativity: 1) big C creativity (BC), which describes the devel-
opment of performances or products that have transformative
power and; 2) little C creativity (LC), which is primarily con-
cerned with construction of novel solutions to problems of
more limited relevance. It is also compatible with Boden’s
(2001) extension of this classification to incorporate recogni-
tion that LC may be either combinatorial (establishing new
connections between old ideas) or exploratory (operating crea-
tively within a limited domain, or a limiting set of rules).
The existence of multiple levels of creativity justifies skills-
based approaches to education and training, including use of
contextualised, problem-solving pedagogies (Barak & Shachar,
2008; Barker, 2008; McWilliam et al., 2008). For this reason,
developmental approaches to creativity can also be described as
discourses of individuation (Figure 1), where the goal of educa-
tion and training programmes is to support and facilitate devel-
opmental trajectories that lead to personalised learning out-
Limitations of the Developmental Discourse
The limitations of developmental approaches become appar-
ent when understanding of higher-order creativity as the ulti-
mate stage of human cognitive development is integrated with
expanding knowledge of, and interest in, neurobiology.
Evidence that the neurobiological structures and processes
which determine cognitive capacity (and therefore creativity)
are, to at least some extent, genetically determined (Sweller,
2009) conflicts with a growing body of data suggesting that
individuals who generate creative output display complex, and
highly variable, combinations of social, psychological and in-
tellectual traits/characteristics (Calderon, Subotnik, Knotek,
Rayhack, & Gorgia, 2007; Treffinger & Isaksen, 2005).
Difficulties arising from this varation are illustrated by a re-
cent study of links between mathematical ability and perform-
ance in standardised creativity tests in six year old children.
The results showed that females show greater ability and better
results than males (Baran, Erdogan, & Çakmak, 2009). Quanti-
tative analysis could determine whether this is because written
tests of numeracy retain a degree of dependence on reading
skills, but whether the fact that females develop literacy skills
at an earlier age than males (Beswick, Willms, & Sloat, 2005)
is a confounding factor is harder to resolve.
Strictly developmental approaches also underemphasise the
significance of affective factors. Advances in neurobiological
research indicate that achieving higher-order creativity requires
heightened awareness of the relationship between body, mind
and environment (Connolly, 2006). To accept the definition of
creativity as a sophisticated, yet practicable, state of hy-
per-competence attained through ongoing expansion and en-
richment of cognitive processes and schemata is, therefore, to
accept that developmental discourses lack the complexity re-
quired to explain subtle, but crucial, interplays of personal and
social factors which determine whether creativity is enabled or
impeded in individual cases.
The Psychometric Discourse: Education as
The definitive feature of psychometric approaches to creativ-
ity is reference to, or reliance upon, an individual’s likelihood
of generating significant creative output as a function of social,
psychological and intellectual traits/characteristics (Calderon et
al., 2007; Treffinger & Isaksen, 2005).
A second diagnostic, but non-essential, element of the psy-
chometric perspective is its tendency to emerge in settings
where actualisation hinges on interactions between individuals.
Klijn and Tomic (2010) suggest that, in such settings, cognition
is necessary, but not sufficient, to effect creative outcomes:
Although those who participate in creative industries are ad-
vantaged if they possess fluency, originality, flexibility, imagi-
nation, field independence, knowledge of heuristics and a ten-
dency to self-regulate, interactions that cultivate conflict, rather
than co-operation, preclude actualisation.
Attempts to identify social structures and practices that fa-
cilitate creative co-operation often foster interest in alternative
cultures and practices. It has been suggested, for example, that
liminality (defined as a manifestation of both institutional and
anti-institutional characteristics) (Lindsay, 2010) and strategic,
targetted interventions (Loi & Dillon, 2006) provide opportuni-
ties to capitalise on periodic, ephemeral triggers to generate
creative insights and breakthroughs.
Such receptivity to novel social practices conveys benefits,
but it can also result in loss of distinction between creative and
non-creative individuals, processes and products. In attempting
to counter loss of rigor and eliminate ambiguities, Cropley and
Cropley (2010) have proposed that what distinguishes true
creativity from pseudo-creativity (when novelty derives solely
from non-conformity, lack of discipline, blind rejection of what
already exists and a personal letting go) and quasi-creativity
(having elements of true creativity, but only a tenuous connec-
tion with reality) is a connection to reality that renders the
product useful, valuable, appropriate and correct.
Recognition that issues of utility and function must be objec-
tive, as well as subjective, initiates a reconciliation of the psy-
chometric view of creativity with Sternberg’s contention that
generation of creative output requires individuals to pass
through three stages: 1) Analysis of possibilities to determine
which ideas are worth pursuing and which are not; 2) Escape
from the bounds of conventional thinking to see problems in
new ways and; 3) A practical-contextual stage involving reali-
sation of new ideas and persuading others of their value
(Sternberg & Lubart, 1999).
Claxton (2006) completed the process of reconciliation when
he recognised that the experiences of individuals are rendered
social by filtration through four intrapersonal domains: 1) a
genetic domain composed of what one is biologically capable
of doing and the extent to which one is able to do it well, or
poorly; 2) a domain of momentary, sensory memory or experi-
ence; 3) a skillscape, in which the individual interprets and
reacts to the events they are experiencing and; 4) a wordscape
formed from the ability to articulate and share one’s under-
standing of events and experiences. This establishes the psy-
chometric discourse of creativity as one that is concerned with
controlled socialisation; aimed at cultivating creative products
of both individuals and groups (Figure 1).
Limitations of the Psychometric Discourse
As for developmental discourses, the psychometric perspec-
tive is valid only to the extent that it is consistent with neuro-
biological phenomena. Mrazik and Dombrowski (2010) inter-
pret neurobiological evidence within an openly psychometric
framework, and speculate that, like other quantitative, poly-
genic traits, an individual’s capacity for creative output is likely
to be determined by interactions between genetics and envi-
ronment. Noti ng that specific alte rations in brain structures and
features have been linked to different disorders or dispositions,
and that prenatal (specifically second and third trimester) ex-
posure to specific stimuli are known causes of psychological
abnormalities, the authors suggest that positive outcomes, such
as enhanced creativity, might also be linked to prenatal events.
A growing list of behavioural and psychological traits found to
be under at least some degree of genetic control (Mrazik &
Dombrowski, 2010) provides strong support for genetic theo-
ries of creativity, but there are dangers associated with any
approach that focusses on individuals who represent only the
extremes of human variation.
The tendency for creativity studies to oscillate between ex-
tremes of breadth or detail has been criticised by Feldman and
Benjamin (2006): Focussing on the specific example of a
movement to decouple tests for creativity and tests for IQ, the
authors question the potential of any methodology that sepa-
rates the individual from the domain and field of operation.
This is a crucial point. If the purpose of psychometric methods
is to understand how and why individual factors affect creativ-
ity, the fact that creative output varies in unexpected, unpre-
dictable ways (even in highly controlled environments that have
been engineered for creative purposes) suggests that a purely
psychometric approach has limited utility.
The Sociocultural Discourse: Education as
The importance of social environment is a recurrent theme in
educational theory and sociocultural discourses of creativity
represent a continuation of the tradition. In this case, the focus
is not on processes that shape individual perceptions, but the
sociocultural forces that draw attention to creativity in the first
instance (Figure 1).
A link between education and work has been recognised by
industrialised nations for over 200 years and, in developed
countries, formal education has long been viewed as a means of
preparing individuals for participation in civic life (Dewey,
1916). Until the 1970’s, this was a relatively straightforward
process where individuals received a single round of educa-
tion/training that equipped them for a long, stable career in a
particular industry or profession (Kilpatrick & Allen, 2001).
Since this time however, rapid globalisation has produced a
situation where economic instability drives recurrent cycles of
growth and recession; rendering individuals vulnerable to re-
current periods of unemployment and in need of recurrent re-
training (Smith et al., 2001; Kilpatrick & Allen, 2001).
The nature of public debate is such that discourses based on
critical analysis of sociocultural trends tend to be dismissed as
irrational resistance to change, or misguided attempts at politi-
cal correctness (Groundwater-Smith et al., 2007). This is an
ill-informed, and overly simplistic, view that fails to recognise
the full transformative potential of quality education. To illus-
trate the point, it is useful to examine academic and administra-
tive responses to previous reforms centred on the issue of life-
Emerging in the wake of a global recession in the early
1990’s, the lifelong learning movement was initially justified
through reference to statistics showing that the level of basic
education required for participation in the workforce increases
each year (Belanger, 1999; Kilpatrick & Allen, 2001) and in-
creasing levels of education lead directly to increased socio-
economic status (Carnoy, 1999; K ilpatr ick & Allen, 2001).
Challenges to the rhetoric of lifelong learning arose not be-
cause there were issues of educational or economic merit: Edu-
cation professionals openly acknowledge that individuals often
perform better in learning programmes as adults (compared to
when they were adolescents and children) because they are
motivated by a sense that their course of study is relevant to
their own life and goals (Imel, 1998) and purely economic
analyses indicate that only by promoting equitable outcomes
can governments increase productivity and revenue, and de-
crease crime and reliance on government financial support
(Smith et al. 2001).
The problem, as identified by critics, stemmed from the ide-
ological implications of forcing individuals to assume personal
responsibility for maintaining and upgrading the skills and
knowledge brought to the workplace (Forrester et al., 1995;
Foley, 1999; Bagnall, 2001; Billett, 2001). Framing the prob-
lem relative to three primary discourses of lifelong learning that
featured prominently in public debate, Bagnall (2001) demon-
strated that while all three shared an apparent commitment to
individual liberation and personal development, each was in
fact a construct of government and/or industry that was being
manipulated to privilege some sectors of the community
through the exploitation of others (Bagnall, 2001).
Informed resistance to reforms focussed on increasing crea-
tivity in primary and secondary schooling (Alan, 2002; Craft,
2006a; Geist & Hohn, 2009; Lehane, 2008; Longo, 2010; Sha-
heen, 2010; Taylor, Jones, Broadwell, & Oppewal, 2008;
Woronov, 2009; Zhao, 2006) suggests that the value of differ-
ent forms of scholarly and vocational output continues to be
controlled by a relatively small number of privileged individu-
als. The sociocultural discourse of creativity should be recog-
nised for what it is: A domain of critical, reflective praxis that
challenges policies and practices with the potential to generate
or perpetuate social and economic inequity (Dewey, 1916).
Limitations of the Sociocultural Discourse
The most obvious limitation of sociocultural discourses is a
lack of linkage, and sometimes outright conflict with, proven
teaching and learning strategies. The constructivist notion of
the zone of proximal development, for example, requires learn-
ing environments structured to provide all students (regardless
of their current level of ability) with the opportunity to extend
their knowledge and conceptual understanding through interac-
tion with others (DuVall, 2001; Hamza & Wickman, 2008,
2009; Jakobsson, Akitalo, & Aljo, 2009; Newton & Newton,
2009; Sakai & Leggo, 1997). At face value, this would appear
consistent with the idea of education as preparation for full and
equal participation in civic life.
Transcripts of conversations between, and interviews with,
teachers and students who have developed and applied peer-
scaffolding approaches however, suggest that rather than en-
couraging individuals to develop their own understanding, the
net effect often reduces to a validation-by-consensus mentality
(Capraro, Kulm, & Capraro, 2005; Chin & Chia, 2004; Demirci,
2008; Gautier, Deutsch, & Rebich, 2006; Hamza & Wickman,
2008; Mills et al., 2008; Nehm & Reilly, 2007; Newton &
Newton, 2009; Psycharis & Babaroutsis, 2005; Salierno, Edel-
son, & Sherin, 2005; Settlage, 2007; Smith & Abell, 2008;
Stamp, 2007; Stamp & Armstrong, 2005; Wali Abdi, 2006).
This does not mean that deployment of peer-scaffolded
learning cannot deliver substantial learning gains for individu-
als. It simply highlights the fact that quality teaching requires
practitioners with the skills, knowledge and experience to de-
sign and implement learning programmes that draw on many
different teaching strategies. Sociocultural discourses are useful
when seeking to refine and improve educational policies and
practices. To move beyond problematisation and develop ap-
propriate, effective and contextualised solutions however, re-
quires integration with other discourses.
The Entrepreneurial Discourse: Education as
Where developmental, psychometric and sociocultural dis-
courses are concerned primarily with the person and process
aspects of creativity, the entrepreneurial discourse focusses on
products (Figure 1).
In fields of endeavour where those products have market
value, cost-benefit approaches may be applied to develop
frameworks for identification, support and reward of those that
generate the most, or most valuable, output (Penaluna, Coates,
& Penaluna, 2010). An outcomes-based approach of this nature
is compatible with knowledge-creation cultures (Katehi & Ross,
2007) and can be implemented in ways that emphasise con-
structive, rather than competitive, social interactions (Ogilvie &
Simms, 2009), but it also encourages the imposition of arbitrary
limitations on what is recognised and validated.
Limitations of the Entrepreneurial Discourse
In corporate communities, overt discrimination against any
particular sector of society is inviable because it constrains
market size, and therefore limits profit, but this is not the case
in education. Exposure to market forces has in fact, led to a rise
in discriminatory practices in the tertiary sector and analysis of
responsive trends provides powerful insights into how entre-
preneurial frameworks function.
Repeal of government funding to tertiary institutions over the
past twenty years has meant that many are repositioning them-
selves as providers of educational products (Clegg, 2008; Har-
greaves & Shirley, 2009; Milbrandt & Milbrandt, 2011). As
corporate and industrial interest in creativity is also increasing,
universities are pressured to design and implement education
and training programmes that develop creative skills and/or
confer a creative edge (Milbrandt & Milbrandt, 2011).
While pressure to design and implement more rigorous edu-
cational programmes has no doubt enhanced quality of instruc-
tion and assessment in several fields (Kleiman, 2008; Kowal-
towski, Bianchi, & Paiva, 2009), it also introduces new chal-
lenges which are being met by responses that expose inconsis-
tencies within and among institutions. Moves toward special-
ised (branded) undergraduate programmes and research insti-
tutes for example, have been challenged on grounds that this is
incompatible with maintenance of academic standards and op-
poses the fluid, dynamic interactions that make creativity pos-
sible (Beghetto & Kaufman, 2009). At the same time however,
institutions with strong academic reputations have proposed
that they should be granted exclusive rights to offer doctoral
programmes (Nerad & Heggelund, 2008). Both positions as-
sume that creativity is synonymous with academic success, but
this is both untrue and the root cause of many unethical and
dysfunctional practices.
Drawing on evidence that creative individuals tend to be re-
ceptive to the ideas and practices of others, Da Silva and Davis
(2011) have argued that academics who regularly attend con-
ferences, cross-faculty and/or cross-disciplinary meetings etc.
are more likely to generate creative output than those who pre-
fer less social modes of operation. Although the authors dem-
onstrate a positive correlation between “absorptive capacity”
(interaction with others) and publication rate (academic suc-
cess), their results do not prove that absorptive capacity is cor-
related with creativity.
The quantitative link between academic rank and publication
rates is well-documented (DaSilva & Davis, 2011), but rarely
subjected to critical analysis. There is no evidence that aca-
demics who do not publish are incapable of creativity and sev-
eral lines of evidence suggest that these individuals are simply
disadvantaged by prevailing social practices (Jeffrey, 2006). It
is, in fact, possible that higher publication rates are more reflec-
tive of managerial skills than academic or creative ability
(Clegg, 2008).
Recognition that production does not necessarily equate to
creation is more common in the artistic sector. Walling (2009)
for example, notes that the rise of digital technologies (particu-
larly those with pre-loaded content) make it possible to gener-
ate copious quantities of imitative work, but tempers this with
recognition that imitative stages are important for skill devel-
opment. Tillander (2011) goes further still; suggesting that as
digital technologies become more advanced, the situations and
contexts in which they are employed will inevitably generate
unanticipated forms of creation.
Overall, the evidence suggests that while an entrepreneurial
approach is functional in technical and corporate settings, aca-
demic and educational organisations are dependent on moral
and ethical frameworks that break down when forced to operate
under the impetus of competitive attainment (Clegg, 2008;
Craft, 2006b).
The impact of such breakdown may not become apparent for
some time. As academics from diverse disciplines are pressured
to establish credibility within education, a tendency to approach
teaching positions as opportunities to avoid the perils of fund-
ing-dependent salaries, or obtain academic merit points (Reis-
ing, 2008) is resulting in nominal reclassification of academic
personnel as teaching and learning experts (Kean, Mitchell, &
Wilson, 2008). A resultant failure to attract and retain educators
with working knowledge of the various philosophies of educa-
tion, and the ways that these are situated relative to individuals,
communities and nations, may well eradicate the reflexive,
locally developed solutions to local issues and problems that
are a hallmark of quality education (Hargreaves & Shirley,
Perceptions of Scientific Creativity
Determining which conceptualisation of creativity has great-
est relevance in science is not straightforward. Culross (2004)
has argued that increasing global emphasis on collaborative,
multidisciplinary research means the historical stereotype of the
BC individual working alone on a research project of their own
devising is no longer functionally viable. Braben (2004) how-
ever, contends that large scale corporatization/commercialisa-
tion of research funding and facilities itself is the single greatest
threat to future creativity and innovation.
Braben’s (2004) concerns are not unfounded. Enforced col-
laboration can lead to unfocussed, ineffective experimentation
and research (Bore, 2006; Goran & Braude, 2007) and there is
evidence of declining quality and originality of intellectual
output at postgraduate and post-doctoral levels (Holligan, 2005;
Jackson, 2004; Medina, 2006). Superficial economically-mo-
tivated reform of educational policies and practices is therefore
unlikely to solve the underlying problems, which originate from
a failure to confront inconsistencies in perceptions and practice.
Heilbron (1992) has examined lexicographic evolution of
creativity studies and notes that elements of key terminology
have undergone radical transformations in recent decades. The
word “genius” for example, originally served as collective noun
relating to a communal state of transcendental insight; but has
become reified as the result of processes concerned with estab-
lishing and defending a system of intellectual stratification
based on quantitation of comparative ability or attainment.
Although the process of reification may have been conceived
and enacted with the innocuous (even noble) intention of over-
coming post-Darwinian reservations regarding the moral and
social value(s) of science and scientists (Heilbron, 1992), it has
insidious implications.
Insistence that creativity is an ephemeral, nebulous trait per-
sonified in a relatively small subset of élite individuals is dys-
functional at a societal level because there is not, and cannot be,
delineation of a single creative archetype. Creativity in any
domain of human endeavour can be correlated with a range of
personal traits and characteristics, including self-motivation,
risk-taking, suspension of belief, curiosity, attention to detail,
self-reliance, individualism, patience and an ability to cope with
loneliness (Anderson, 1996; Boden, 2001; Chandler, 1999;
Christine & Glenn, 2007; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Davis, 2005;
Erez, 2004; Gilbert, 2007; Goodenough, 1993; Herbert, 2001;
Kleiman, 2008; Medina, 2006; Miller, 2000; Sarath, 2006;
Simon, 2001; Simonton, 2003); but its actualisation is the
product of complex, dynamic interplay between personal and
societosocial characteristics (Chandler, 1999).
The mythology of creativity that has emerged in the 20th and
21st centuries is also inconsistent with the neurobiological
processes that underpin human cognition. As long as a funda-
mental level of verbal and spatial/mathematical (i.e. language,
literacy and numeracy) proficiency is attained, the capacity for
both “scientific” and “artistic” creativity exists within all indi-
viduals (Simon, 2001). The crucial ingredient for realisation is
not possession of innately superior neurochemical or neurobio-
logical structures or schemata, but access to opportunities to
refine and improve speed and processing capacity (Simon,
2001). The positioning and practice of science as distinct from
other areas of liberal intellectualism however, means that very
few, if any, individuals are granted full and equal access to
those opportunities (Simon, 2001).
In practice, science and scientists operate within a mosaic of
ever-narrowing subfields, where antithetic achievements such
as mastery of domain-specific knowledge are exulted and re-
warded (fiscally and socioculturally) far more generously than
genuine creativity (Bore, 2006; Braben, 2004; Goran & Braude,
2007; Holligan, 2005; Jackson, 2004; Medina, 2006). The rea-
sons for this are deeply entrenched in, and reinforced by, the
culture of contemporary practice.
The Reality of Scientific Practice
The notion of scientific knowledge as valid only when can-
onised through publication is enforced very early in education
and training. Russ et al. (2009) found that, at the high-school
level, students and teachers invariably evaluate the validity of
ideas and explanations through consultation of textbooks, or
other expert repositories, in the first instance. While consulta-
tion of published text has heuristic merit, excessive dependence
on external verification of ideas can be counterproductive,
leading to conceptualisation of scientific ability as focussed on
recall of facts and technical/practical skill (Newton & Newton,
2009) rather than the ability to extend and reconfigure under-
standing when confronted with novel problems.
A recent review of perspectives and challenges in science
education indicates that a belief that there is, and can only ever
be, one valid, scientific “way of knowing” is widespread; and
that the root cause is a lack of alignment between science edu-
cation/educators and scientific practice (Kind & Kind, 2007). It
is however, naive to assume that practitioners of research are
any less dogmatic than students and teachers.
Individuals draw their understanding of what it is, and what
it means, to be a scientist from a diverse array of sources: From
interactions with educators and colleagues in school/university
and the workplace, to general media reports, editorial articles in
prominent journals, weblogs from practicing scientists and
popular-science books (e.g. Peter Doherty’s 2003 A Beginner’s
Guide to Winning a Nobel Prize). Perhaps one of the most
iconic, mimetic articulations of the operational reality is Pro-
fessor Peter Medawar’s (1967) The Art of the Soluble. In this,
and a follow-up publication titled Advice to a Young Scientist
(1979), Medawar advocates a pseudomathematical approach
which focusses on a zone of optimal difficulty (The Medawar
Zone). Medawar proposed that those wishing to succeed in
science could best achieve this goal by honing in on problems
within this zone because solving problems that were too simple
would yield insufficient rewards, and solving problems that
were exceedingly difficult was pointless because others would
not recognise and reward their achievements.
Medawar’s contribution is historically and culturally signifi-
cant because it is a clear and unambiguous validation of the
perception that scientific success should be quantified in
peer-mediated terms such as publication and citation rates,
funding levels et cetera. For practicing scientists, this means
that real currency is not the quality and originality of one’s
work per se, but the value attributed to it by one’s peers.
Peer-review of manuscripts and grant/funding applications is
firmly entrenched as best-practice in relation to assessing merit
(Australian_Research_Council, 2008; De Groote, 2008; Moore,
2009a, 2009b; Pool, Macy, McManus, & Noh, 2008; Simon,
2001; Simonton, 2003; Wilkinson, 2009) and, although there is
growing awareness of fundamental flaws in peer-review sys-
tems, reliance on publication/citation as the primary index of
quality is persistent and pervasive (Hoffmann, 2008; Jerome,
2008). Peer review has become incorporated into both secon-
dary and tertiary science education programmes (Bower &
Richards, 2006; Bulte, Westbroek, De Jong, & Pi lot, 2006; Rey -
nolds & Moskovitz, 2008; Santucci et al., 2008), postgraduate
students are indoctrinated with a “publish or perish” mantra
(Caon, 2008a, 2008b) and the formation of ostensibly collabo-
rative, covalidating professional networks or conglomerates is
both implicitly and explicitly espoused as more meaningful than
small-scale, independent research (Australian_Research_Council,
2008; Carpenter et al., 2009; Feller & Cozzens, 2008; Santucci
et al., 2008; Wilkinson, 2009). In this sense, the operational
reality of science is not necessarily dissimilar to other fields of
endeavour, but as long as there is apposition of perceived and
proximal realities, there is little hope of lasting commitment to
policies and practices capable of facilitating genuine creativity
(Schmidt, 2010).
In an academic context, the peer-validation culture is prob-
lematic because it leads practitioners to assume that meaningful
learning/progress is confined to discovery of new content (Ja-
cob, 2001). To suggest that this is all that is permissible in sci-
ence is however, ideologically offensive; in the same sense that
attempts to “quantify” the creative output of different races
(Lynn, 2007) are offensive because they arbitrarily elevate a
single way-of-being above others.
The idea that the value of scientific output can be assessed
only by those who have proven proficiency in the field is en-
tirely consistent with Popper’s statement that progress occurs
through systematic identification and extension of the limits of
existing theory (Popper, 1959). When decoupled from an un-
derstanding that anomalies and contradictions are indications
that existing schemata require reevaluation/reconfiguration, or
abandonment (Kuhn, 1962) however, the system ceases to
function. Some degree of isolation or liberation from the con-
straints of contemporary culture is therefore essential for crea-
tivity and is for this reason that many of the most transforma-
tive advances come from individuals that operate, at least ini-
tially or temporarily, on the margins of their field.
The necessity of ruptures with prevailing theories and prac-
tices has been analysed in the context of geographical studies;
where Barnes (Barnes, 2004) employs Fouccalt’s idea of het-
erotopian loci as initially independent intellectual positions
beyond the realm of accepted practice which are colonised by
an increasing number of individuals as the meme takes hold. It
is interesting to note that Barnes’ analysis implies that expo-
nential advances in technology could serve to accelerate the
process of incorporation of heterotopian perspectives, but there
is also the potential to reinforce the boundaries of the self-au-
thenticating status quo.
This idea is explored in detail by Ramachandran (Ramachan-
dran, 2006), who proposes that those who extend their domain
of practice beyond accepted boundaries are often ostracised;
and that this ostracism is justified by a belief that skepticism is
essential to good scientific practice. Ramachandran (Rama-
chandran, 2006) challenges this as destructive to progress, and
to the idea that science can and should be an enjoyable pursuit,
but how well, or how poorly, an individual copes with ostra-
cism is a critical element in enabling or disabling creative out-
Simonton (Simonton, 2003) places great emphasis on the
role of aberrant, dysfunctional logic and acknowledges that
tension between individual and collective perceptions is often
the genesis of transformative breakthroughs. In this sense,
Simonton delivers the only truly viable conceptualisation of
creativity: As an inherently stochastic trait where the likelihood
of creative output is increased when individuals have an exten-
sive repertoire of responses to a given intellectual or technical
Resolving Tensions between Perceptions and
Traditional models of teaching and learning have done much
to cultivate perceptions of science as a non-creative endeavour.
Overt emphasis on rote-learning and rigid, dogmatic adherence
to rules of the discipline are not only deterrents for students
(Barak & Shachar, 2008; Barton et al., 2008; Kessels et al.,
2006; Latu & Young, 2004; Lunn & Noble, 2008; Timms et al.,
2006); they are fundamentally incompatible with the true nature
of science (Lee, Pierce, Talburt, Wang, & Zhu, 2007; Mc-
Laughlin, 2006; Niaz, 2008; Reeves, Chessin, & Chambless,
As conceptualisations of creativity mature, the boundaries
between developmental, psychometric, sociocultural and entre-
preneurial discourses dissolve and distinctions between non-
creative and creative individuals become meaningless because
domain knowledge and higher-order procedural/strategic know-
ledge develop in tandem (Haigh, 2007; Shen & Confrey, 2007;
Skrok, 2007), as does the capacity for metaphoric thought and
metacognitive reflection (Dahlman, 2007; Marshall, 2005; Otto,
One of the most dangerous and destructive practices in edu-
cation generally is a tendency to oscillate between excessive
and insufficient emphasis on fundamental skills. It is true that
some degree of basic knowledge and conceptual understanding
is a prerequisite for success in any field, but it is also important
to realise that the value attributed to any specific manifestation
of skill or knowledge is dependent on the social environment
(Freebody, 1990; Gee, 1996; Harreveld, Baker, & Isdale, 2008;
Luke, 1992).
The naive and arrogant assumption that the skills and abili-
ties essential for success in science are beyond the reach of all
but an élite subset of the population for example, has a signifi-
cant negative impact on students; many of whom enter the sci-
ence classroom convinced that they possess no natural aptitude
or ability (Pugh, Linnenbrink-Garcia, Koskey, Stewart, &
Manzey, 2009). In science, as in other fields, overturning dys-
functional, counterproductive practices must commence with
cultivation of a progressive, inclusive culture that does not
value any one form of knowledge, or knowledge expression,
over others.
Students are deterred from enrolling in science subjects be-
cause the current operational reality insists that scientific
knowledge is an innate, bivariate (present or not) trait that is
invariably expressed in a single (validated/canonised) dialect.
This is a tragicomic misconception generated through over-
reliance on subjective measures of sociocultural status that
obliterate the individual’s sense of control over their own intel-
lectual activities and experiences.
This is particularly challenging for those working in high-
school environments because, in addition to primary subject
material, adolescents can also be distracted by complex inter-
personal issues associated with access to material resources;
relationships; identity; power and control; cultural adherence;
social justice; and personal cohesion (Dohnt & Tiggemann,
2006; Harreveld et al., 2008; Hawk, Vanwesenbeeck, Graaf, &
Bakker, 2006; Hollander, 2006; Ricciardelli, McCabe, Lillis, &
Thomas, 2006; Ungar et al., 2007). There can be no single,
universal pathway to resolution of these tensions, but there is a
substantial body of evidence that those who emerge with skills
and abilities that allow them to function in the adult world are
those who find a way to live comfortably with deficiencies and
contradictions in themselves and their environment/s (Fon-
dacaro et al., 2006; Garbrecht, 2006; Jung, 1964). It is for this
reason that reforms centred on primary and secondary educa-
tion must also be accompanied by genuine reform of tertiary
science education.
Moves to establish teaching-only positions within universi-
ties have tremendous pedagogical potential. To fulfill their
(purported) role as a bridge between science education and
scientific practice (Kean et al., 2008; Libarkin, Elkins, & St.
John, 2009) however, these positions should be occupied by
those capable of effective, sustainable praxis. At present, they
tend to be preferentially offered to scientists/research personnel
who are nominally reclassified as teaching staff. Although
some appointees may possess some modicum of educational
qualifications/experience, the prevailing trend is for these posi-
tions to be approached a means of obtaining academic merit
points (e.g. Pollacia & McCallister, 2009; Reising, 2008), ra-
ther than a genuine attempt to integrate the philosophies and
practices of science and education.
As long as the majority of scientists, and a significant pro-
portion of appointees to emergent teaching-only positions, con-
tinue to operate within an essentially selfish, nepotistic ideo-
logue, the decline in creative capacity will remain unchecked
because this reinforces a conceptualisation of scientists as being
in possession of an exceedingly improbable, and entirely innate,
combination of knowledge and technical skill (Loehle, 1990).
The absurdity of such exclusionary, hegemonic perceptions is
that they perpetuate outdated, dysfunctional perceptions of
science as incomprehensible and inaccessible to any but a se-
lect(ed) few of the most gifted individuals.
Surveys of student and public perceptions consistently indi-
cate a lack of awareness/appreciation of science as a creative
endeavour. This is a significant deterrent to students and is
inconsistent with the nature of science as a dynamic, multidis-
ciplinary undertaking where ideas and concepts are non-static
entities that can, and should, change when contradicted by ex-
perimental evidence. To reverse the trend of declining enrol-
ments in science subjects requires recognition that education
takes place within distinct, but overlapping, discourses of crea-
tivity. Policies and practices that draw on any single discourse
are counterproductive because they constrain creative output at
all levels. If science education is to support creative output the
dicourses of creativity must be integrated in ways that allow,
and require, students to:
1) Acquire a high level of domain specific knowledge;
2) Practise the application of that knowledge in developing
solutions to problems across a gradient of difficulty and;
3) Be challenged to link their knowledge of science to their
knowledge of other fields as required to pursue and solve prob-
lems of relevance/interest to them.
Early theories of creativity aimed to elucidate relationships
between individuals (person), process and product. Contempo-
rary creativity studies however, can be categorised as reflective
of four central themes, or discourses: The notion of creativity as
the culmination of a uniquely personal journey (Developmen-
tal/Individuation), attempts to quantify personal and psycho-
logical traits that correlate with creative output (Psychomet-
ric/Socialisation), investment in creativity as a means of secur-
ing social and economic stability (Sociocultural/Administration)
and the generation of products with technological or commer-
cial value (Entrepreneurial/Commercialisation). Each discourse
has advantages and disadvantages, depending on what it is the
practitioner wishes to achieve. To translate theories of creativ-
ity into teaching and learning practice, a combination of devel-
opmental, psychometric and sociocultural perspectives (com-
bining praxis, pedagogy and policy) has greater utility than
application of the entrepreneurial approach (focus on profit).
Dr. Christine McDonald (Science Education, Griffith Uni-
versity) provided helpful suggestions in relation to an earlier
draft. Collaboration and cooperative teaching with colleagues
from the science teaching faculty of Holland Park State High
School (Ms Beverly Haggett, Ms Cathy Menzler, Mr Peter
Reddy, Ms Lisa James, Ms Kay Anderson, Ms Deanna Van
Velsun and Mr Julian Bates) and The School of Veterinary
Science at The University of Queensland (Dr Jennifer Seddon,
Ms Joanne Gordon) informed and enriched many of the per-
spectives represented.
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