Impact Youth

In a Groundbreaking Research Project, Two Professors Measure Creativity to Nurture Young Learners

How to measure creativity has long been a challenge for researchers. Two Morgridge College of Education (MCE) professors, Drs. Denis Dumas and Peter Organisciak, both from the Department of Research Methods and Information Science, have been working to address this historical challenge in education and apply their research outside of academia. 

The pair have been named co-principal investigators on a three-year, $964,081 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. This project, in partnership with Dr. Selcuk Acar at the University of North Texas, is developing a new test for Original Thinking, or creativity, in elementary school students.

The research team is highly interdisciplinary, consisting of specialists in gifted education, measurement and assessment and information science. Building from this rich collaboration, the team will develop a new test instrument for creativity to administer to children, as well as algorithmic tools to automatically score that test.

They call their new system the Measure of Original Thinking in Elementary Students (MOTES), and it will adopt text mining methods, mining language from millions of child-oriented books, TV shows and movies in order to identify which elementary students are capable of generating the most original ideas. 

While measuring Original Thinking in children has a long history, the manual scoring of existing tests limits their accessibility because many schools cannot afford the costs and logistics of such tests. Additionally, manual scoring introduces measurement error into the scores. Therefore, fewer children are measured for Original Thinking, contributing to the underrepresentation of students from historically marginalized populations in gifted and talented programs. This is amplified in rural and other under-resourced communities and there is a need for screening tools that allow the measurement of Original Thinking in a large number of students quickly and at lower cost.

“To be able to provide a cutting-edge measure like this — totally free to educators and school leaders — will lead to a turning point in how schools think about highly creative kids, and how to identify and nurture them,” said Dumas.

Organisciak says of the approach, “The past few years have seen a great deal of innovation in natural language processing, which can benefit education measurement through better understanding of responses that can only be collected in open-ended ways. I’m excited to translate those methods to practice, and hopefully make an impact on how schools serve children.” 

At project completion, the MOTES will continue to make an impact with its availability to education practitioners and researchers who can obtain instant scores, for free. The team will also present findings from the research in conference presentations and in peer-reviewed publications, as well as in class with their students at MCE.

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