Teaching Philosophy

“Creativity is as important as literacy”

One of the worlds leading thinkers on creativity and innovation, Ken Robinson, wrote in his book “The Element” that “people feel most themselves, are most inspired, and achieve at their highest levels when their natural talent meets their personal passion.” He also gave one of the best talks I ever heard about the role creativity should play in education. In brief, he argues that we are educating children to deal with a future that we as teachers have no idea about how it will look like, but it is our creativity that allows us to deal with it. Therefor creativity is as important as literacy – and I couldn’t agree more. He however argues that current education is geared towards university professors, but I would like to point out that science would be nothing without creativity. Inventing a new experiment is a creative act, and no lesson in calculus will help you do it. The only difference between art and science is that an artist pleases his audience while scientists have to please reality in order to be successful.

But how do we teach creativity?

I don’t think that creativity can be taught in a conventional way, there is no recipe that you could learn from me that makes you creative. Instead, creativity is something to be trained. I try to create an environment that is challenging but also allows for a playful engagement with the problem. The important part is to allow for many different solutions and in the end discuss and analyze them. And finally comparing solutions with each other identifies shortcomings or advantages of the individual approaches. This works for game design as well for scientific projects.
However, what I prefer over all other methods is the following idea:

Instead of me teaching you,

we should make something together!

This form of interaction is first of all much closer to the real world where people solve problems together, and secondly this approach allows for a much more engaging learning experience.

Knowledge has to enable you

I was very often bored in school, in particular in situations where I had to learn facts, and for the longest time I couldn’t explain to myself why, since I have the mental capacity to assimilate knowledge. I found that I can learn the craziest things as long as they provided some kind of use for me. A new computer language, a new motor skill, or in particular crafting skills were almost too easy to assimilate. It all has to do with applicability for me. The moment I see that a skill enables me to do something my brain jumps on it, while pieces of knowledge that are not connected to any type of usability simply fall through. Therefor I always try to think in skills and how what I teach enables you to do something you couldn’t do before.

Don’t ask what you learned today,

ask what you can do now!

A lesson on code?
If there is one lesson life taught me, than it is one about having a high “turnover rate”. Doing science as well as game design has one simple measure of progress, and that is your ability to reject hypotheses or reject bad game ideas. During my thesis I had to do a lot of molecular genetics. You stand at the lab bench for weeks and try to piece together DNA fragments just to make one single experiment. Until you can make your experiment your project is essentially stuck, because only the experiment will allow you to either reject a hypothesis or let’s you find an answer. Switching to computational science opened up a new door. My experiments were only limited by the speed I could write code in – high performance computation does the rest over night. Instead of working without end, and making one experiment every 6 month, I was able to make progress on a daily base. The same is true for game design. The faster I could get from idea to prototype the faster I was able to reject stupid ideas, and focus on the few ones that are fun and make sense. I talked to many people who had great game or app ideas, or wild scientific theories but they remained forever in the “untested” stage. Instead of testing the main game idea, or making the one crucial experiment, time was lost elaborating on context and story-lines or arguing why the theory should be right.

The faster you can test your ideas,

the faster you make progress!