Teaching Creativity: Applied Exercise in Social Media

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April 24, 2013 by SheBeJack

Recently, I’ve been pretty down about the state of Higher Education. It’s easy to feel powerless when it comes to such an enormous and complicated issue. Among the many criticisms of higher education, and education in general, is that we do not teach creativity and/or that we have beaten the living day lights out of anyone who wishes to be creative. We walk around our classroom, physically or virtually, swinging the Rubric Club, the Do It Exactly Like This Bat, and the You Are So Used To Being Told Exactly What To Do That If I Allow You Creative Freedom You Will Mark Me As ‘Unclear’ On Evaluations Baton.

So instead of moping around about the nature of a broken system (I do that sometimes, too), I started working on a few things.

Read Something

Ken Robinson book Out of Our MindsFirst, I read a book. I know, that’s what many of us thinker types do, for better or worse. We can’t move unless we’ve read something and simmered upon new ideas. So, I took up Sir Ken Robinson’s book Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative.

I used Robinson’s excellent read to help me better understand what’s lacking, and then I felt annoyed because Robinson didn’t tell me exactly what I was supposed to do about it. Then, I gave myself a good reality check and said, “duh, that’s your job, Little Ms. Educator.” 

Do Something

Robinson defines creativity as, “the process of developing original ideas that have value.” So, I began considering how I could challenge my students to create original ideas of value.

The exercise was described to the students as follows:

Project: Develop something new in the socialsphere that could add value to a specified audience. Examples might include a social network, a mobile phone or tablet app, a cloud computing service, a wiki or a social search tool.

Approach: We will follow the DO IT creative process, as outlined in the steps below.


D – Define the Problem

What are two problems you have in your everyday life that you think could be helped by a social media, service or tool?

O – Open mind and apply creative techniques

For the “O” step, we will use a technique called mind mapping. In a mind map, you visually outline ideas instead of just writing them down. You will develop two mind maps, which will help you think through the two problems/ideas that you have identified in the “D” step.mindmap example

To create your mind maps you can use a tool of your choice, but suggestions include or Cacoo. Both of these are free services. 

Mind maps

The mind maps should include the following information.

a. What problem(s) does it solve?

b. Research (at least five references with links) For example, what are some similar services and/or is there news/information related to this problem or topic?

c. Unique Selling Proposition (USP): How is this service unlike anything else available?

d. Audience: Who is this service/social media tool for?

e. Services/Functionality: What will it do for the user? (Brainstorm at least ten different options/services)

f. Name: What will you call it? (Brainstorm at least five different names)

g. Social: How will you make it social? How will it connect with other social media tools? How will you encourage others to come to the site and/or connect with your social media tool and with one another? Examples: Add an original “like” feature, ways to share content, social media buttons, etc.

I – Identify best solution

Now that you’ve had the opportunity to thoroughly consider and brainstorm your ideas, choose the one that you feel can offer the most value to your audience.

T – Transform the solution into something that is actionable

For this final phase, we will begin planning out your idea using wireframes. Wireframes, like an architect’s blueprints, give a basic visual framework to a mobile, tablet or website page.

Wireframeswireframe example

After you’ve selected your best idea, begin building your wireframes. One free service that you can use for this is Cacoo.

Requirements include:

a. For website or tablet based: A wireframe for your homepage and a wireframe for one of your primary level pages.

b. For mobile based: Four wireframes showing how user moves through app on mobile.


You will present your creative idea to your colleagues using your wireframes and mind maps. You have five minutes to pitch your idea. After your pitch, your colleagues will identify strengths and weaknesses of your idea.


Here are just some of the ideas my students developed:

  • A social network for golf-enthusiastic
  • A social network for people who like to play board games
  • A campus-specific wiki for students, which would allow them to share notes/handouts, discuss professors and classes, make friends before a class starts, etc.
  • A professional network for Clinical IT departments, managers and app developers
  • A professional network for programmers, including students and teachers
  • A social network for TEFL certified (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teachers to share lesson plans and in-class activities.
  • A hyper-local news network; content created exclusively by users
  • A social search tool devoted exclusively to helping people find things to do in rural areas


Certainly, one can poke holes in my pedagogy or in the students’ ideas. I’m not attempting to outline perfection here, but I am suggesting that creativity is a skill that can be fostered in the classroom. We say we need more creativity all the time, but are we actually doing something about it? It’s a challenge to myself, as much as it is to anyone else who is an educator, a parent, an employer, a mentor, a family member.

This particular exercise was presented in my Social Media Technologies class within the Computer Information Systems and Technology (CIST) major at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. A small group of all men, they are not high social media users, nor do we typically think of tech folks as creative types, which is entirely unfair. I point this out to emphasize, as Robinson does, that we all have the capacity to create. Every field is in need of creative thinkers.

I’d love to learn from others. What have you done to encourage or support creativity in the classroom, the workplace or your home? Feel free to comment. 

A special thanks to all of my CIST students, but especially to Dan Connor (wireframe example) and Adam Schrot (mind map example), who gave me permission to showcase their work above.

If you wish to learn more about Sir Ken Robinson, the best place to start, aside from his website, is this video, School Kills Creativity, which is the most viewed video on TED Talks to this day.

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Shelley Jack

Shelley Jack
Marketing mama interested in higher education, digital marketing, social media, emerging technologies, fitness and gender equality.

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