Creativity - Isolated No Longer with Online Publishing

by Miguel Guhlin

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“Creativity is as fundamental as literacy and numeracy,” shared Sir Ken Robinson in a TEDtalk video and subsequent interview published in Edutopia. “All young children have immense creative confidence. What strikes me is how few adults do. If you ask adults, they mainly think they’re not very creative. All young children think they are up to a certain point.” This article highlights the work of 3 children from Texas and Tennessee working in creative collaboration using online Read/Write Web tools.

When I first read Sir Ken Robinson, I made a distinction between children being frivolously creative and adults focusing their creativity on useful projects and under appreciating themselves. In a presentation available online (, researchers distinguish between personal creativity and societal creativity.

Personal creativity is shared as the creation of something novel and valuable to the individual (personal judgment). As an individual, I make a personal judgement about the value of my own creativity. Societal creativity, however, is defined as creation which adds something new to the culture. It’s important to recognize that personal creativity and societal creativity can feed off each other. With new tools, it is easier to leverage that personal creativity and share it with others in ways that add value to our culture. One such tool is a web site known as

An online writing community has sprung up around, a site that has been enabling children to publish their writing since 1995. I discovered it many years ago, and introduced my own 13-year old daughter to KidPub as a safe place for her to publish her writing. In the last year, I have become even more aware that the site has evolved from a static site to a place where children are having conversations about their writing and the topics they are writing about. It offers a counter-culture perspective to the way technology has been used elsewhere. What is powerful about KidPub is that it allows children to publish online and puts them in contact with other writers interested in their work, fostering collegial conversations. There may be collaborative writing efforts underway.

It was through one of these conversations that three children connected. In one part of the country, a Texas teen shares an 18-chapter fictional story. The work has been under development for years, constantly revised and re-written, finally finding its way onto the Web and then published on to an eager audience of her peers. The story has never been edited or reviewed by teacher, the parents of the teen writer publishing via the Web have placed their trust that the work will meet their expectations for appropriateness. Trust is the operative term, a dependence on a relationship built over time. Alone in the Middle is a story that would have found itself unknown, unread at any other time without technology to facilitate connections between children involved.

As I consider this personal creativity, I take a moment to reflect on a 13-year old KidPub author who published her multiple chapter story online, Alone in the Middle. The story is slowly being made into a “motion picture,” or at least, a movie that will be shared via, another new tool available to children and adults alike.

Last night, I watched the Oscars, and I listened to the Coen brothers who won an Oscar for their director role for a movie that swept the Academy Awards in 2008. In their acceptance, Josh Coen shared that when they were kids, he and his brother would make their own home-made movies using the tools at hand. “What we’re doing today making movies,” he observed, “isn’t that different from what we were doing then.” What a powerful insight; what our children do now has meaning, driven by personal creativity matures into societal creativity. What are your students doing in your classroom that would earn them an Academy Award, if repeated and deepened over time?

In the past, only movie producers—grown-up, important people who were probably rich, or so goes the stereotype—who had money could put their product in front of millions of viewers. Now, consider that the two directors of the Alone in the Middle story are a brother and sister team being home-schooled in a Tennessee log cabin.

As a result of becoming aware of this project—written and converted to an online video with a potential audience of millions—I have had a qualitatively different experience and understanding of the power of technology to facilitate creativity and collaboration. As an educator, I have to ask myself, how could we have deepened the dialogue that is naturally occurring between these three creative individuals? How could we have created situations in schools today that made this possible? If this is the kind of work we want our children to be engaged in, then how do we need to rethink what we’re doing in schools?

My esteemed colleague, Wes Fryer, shared the power of the Read/Write Web to publish at will. Using free software (MovieMaker, Paint), two child directors were able to make a movie out of a story written using free online tools (free wiki for educators are available online). The original author—Rosalie—wrote an 18 chapter story, composed it online using a site, shared it with other children in an online community known as . The two children in Tennessee emailed her the following:

My sister and I need your permission to create a cartoon-based on your story. We will post it on Youtube and email you for advice. Please reply.

Nathan and Nicole

As educators, we know that is a site that is automatically banned for inappropriate content. Yet, for our children, it is the place where they come together to share their work. At anyone—you, your students, your own children—can publish videos at will. You may have become familiar with it through the Presidential Candidate debates being hosted there. Both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates faced questions directly from voters on Monday in the first CNN/YouTube debate” (Source: CNN ).

There is power in using YouTube, and online video hosts such as (think of it as YouTube for Education), to achieve goals like those described in this Wired article :

The debates will feature 20–30 questions culled from a pool of possibilities sent in by the American voter. (if you’re American, hopefully that means you.) Potential questions will be posted to YouTube’s YouChoose platform, a section tagged specifically for material relating to the 2008 campaign. Questions will not be selected based on the number of views on YouTube. Nor will the selection process be made public, in order to prevent candidates from prepping. During the debates, the questions will be aired on a giant video monitor. YouTubers will be able to leave comments on the questions beforehand. They will also be able to comment on the candidate’s responses, which will be posted to YouTube after the political showdowns have wrapped up.

It’s clear that YouTube—as well as other online resources—are becoming powerful ways to communicate and share ideas online. It’s not surprising that children are growing up using the digital tools available to adults and that they see modelled on television, if not schools (most schools universally ban YouTube access because it has a wide range of content, from appropriate to inappropriate).

YouTube serves a digital commons area where people can share their video creations, and everyone can remix that content, as well as add new content. Sometimes, that power to publish at will is used inappropriately, but, increasingly, students are following in the footsteps of responsible creators…achieving the top level of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, CREATE. In the next two years, every cell phone produced will have a video camera built into it. Imagine what our children will do with mobile video-phones. No, skip the negative scenarios that pop into your mind. Imagine the positive possibilities.

YouTube is used to share this introduction to, a web site designed specifically for students to publish their writing. This short video was created to introduce others—presumably a student audience—to

As a professional educator, I’m overawed at the fact that two home-schooled pre-teens living in a log cabin took a thirteen year old’s piece of writing, then made it into the first of several videos you can watch on YouTube. Here’s another exchange:

Ok, the first paragraph is complete. Are you allowed on YouTube if I give you the link?

The brother and sister team of directors—Nathan and Nicole—share their progress in converting Rosalie’s story to a movie. This is a documentary on how videos are made from the written script. What is fascinating to consider is, “How are children in our own schools developing videos?” A bigger question is, “How are children developing the skills they need to engage in peer production—creating products online the way businesses work—without teacher cues to keep them on task?”

Dr. Don Knezek, ISTE’s CEO, shared ( that classrooms can be isolated places no longer. He shared that “…opportunities to learn are available to us [adults] that we can’t give our students.” While we as adults have opportunities, Dr. Tim Tyson asks, how are educators collapsing “the distance between children and meaningful contribution?” How do we align a school’s educational purpose with that meaningfulness our children create? When I view Alone in the Middle, I can see that the potential of these students may very well have gone untapped. In fact, I know that the potential for enabling children to make meaningful contributions to the world has NOT been enabled. Why? The reason is that Rosalie is my daughter and I know how she does NOT use technology in school. In spite of that lack, our children are seizing these opportunities without our guidance as educators. And, that just will not work. Dr. Knezek shared in this presentation ( in San Antonio a few other key points that sound an alarm bell for all educators in the United States.

In the past, Don pointed out that the focus was on what teachers should know about and be able to do with techology. Now, the focus is on what teachers should know and be able to do to promote students’ abilities to learn effectively and live productively in an increasingly digital world. How do we align a school’s educational purpose with that meaningfulness our children create?

What is striking is that these three children—Rosalie in Texas, Nathan and Nicole in Tennessee—could not have met without access to technology and the means to publish their writing and videos online. And, that the nature of their meeting was wholly online with little or no teacher supervision. While many point to the inappropriate use of technology by our children, it is clear that positive, creative uses that are of value to society are possible and can happen given the right conditions. How do we as educators go about establishing those conditions in our classrooms and schools?

Videos are online at these addresses:

Or, you can go to and do a search on “Alone in the Middle.” By the time this article is printed, you may find part 3, or even, 4.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen new 21st Century skills that are different than anything required before. These skills are integral to our children’s success in life and work, but especially so if they are to pursue higher education.

Mark Gura writes that “…these 21st Century skills are not solely technology skills, but involve the ways that learning, knowing, communicating, and solving problems have changed through the application of technology. They must be learned through the continual and ongoing use of technology (Source: Mark Gura, The Powers that be have been informed,

As an adult, I push hard to explore my personal creativity and share that online. It’s been a learning process for me. I encourage you to start exploring this process on your own. Need suggestions? Start by going online to [[