Inspiring Creativity in Learning

Creative expert, Juno Award-wining musician and Keynote speaker David Usher performing at Sheridan’s Creators Conference on Oct. 28.

Creative expert, Juno Award-wining musician and Keynote speaker David Usher performing at Sheridan’s Creators Conference on Oct. 28.


Creativity is a learned skill; it’s something we are all capable of achieving.

That was the message that David Usher shared through an inspiring and musical dialogue at Sheridan’s Creators Conference on Oct. 28.

Although Usher’s talk was motivational, the college’s announcement of $100,000 in funding for SRCA (Scholarships, Research and Creative Activities) also had the audience excited.

The conference, a two-day event, focused on a number of concurrent sessions by Sheridan faculty, with one topic in mind, creativity.

“We want to build on the passion that is inside each of us for a scholarship. That passion that’s inside you is what these grants are all about,” said Brian Jervis, Interim associate vice president of SRCA.

To begin the day, Mary Preece, provost and vice president, academics, shared her eagerness about celebrating the work of exciting scholarship research and activities that many faculty and students are currently taking part in.

The day started off with excitement, enthusiasm and of course, coffee.

Before dispersing into the marketplace and attending concurrent sessions, faculty heard Brett Richards, founder and president of Connective Intelligence, Inc. share his 2013 research study Sheridan participated in.

The study shows how the colleges’ ability to innovate, grow, transform and adapt has improved over two years.

In 2013, Sheridan’s total score on those four measures was 49 per cent; after the two-year study, Sheridan shifted in 2015 to 54 per cent, indicating a shift in Sheridan’s culture toward innovation.

“It shows where the organization is putting its focus,” said Richards.

“Even the logo, ‘Get Creative,’ is embedded into the branding. Looking at the values and strategic goal, you can see the creativity woven into the fabric of your institution.”

The conference certainly showed Sheridan’s ability to be creative as well with 40 concurrent sessions taking place simultaneously in one afternoon.

The sessions consisted of workshops on how to be more creative, overviews of past creative projects, creative ways to teach to a variety of students and the importance of structure for creativity.

Dan Zen, professor in computer sciences, shared the Creativity Framework, a model that reveals the mechanics of creativity that underlie many creative exercises.

“This type of creativity involves creative problem solving but more so, how to come up with ideas,” said Zen.

“It’s a great thing when you have to talk about creativity, especially at Sheridan, because you don’t have to start from ground zero,” said Michael McNamara, professor of creativity and creative thinking at Sheridan College.

McNamara, along with Sara Cumming and Alex Hollenberg, discussed the importance of structure and how critical thinking can be brought into the creative theory.

In another session, Sam Cheng and Karen Lints, who work in the library and learning services department, presented ways in which teachers can actively engage their students in creative ways using images and diagrams.

“When you put images into a Power Point slide or presentation, you can create depth of meaning and contribute to what the students are learning,” said Lints.

With applications like wordfoto, pablo and haiku deck, faculty can enhance student learning.

Cheng also mentioned the framework of universal design for learning, explaining that it’s, “the design of instructional materials and activities that promotes accessible learning for individuals with different learning styles and needs.”

The idea is to enhance the learning experience with different forms of media on top of text for a better understanding of the topic.

Peter Fleming and Gordon Thompson from the faculty of animation, arts and design, know this type of learning all too well.

In the fall semester of 2014 they created the Food for Thought project, a five-day collaborative assignment.

The project helped break down the walls between Sheridan’s craft and design programs, which consist of furniture, ceramics, glass, textiles and industrial design.

Bringing together the five studios during the first week of school had the students blending all of their skills to come up with creative ways to display food.

The project showed how food is perceived, its effects on the body, the social aspects, food scarcity and inequity.

The Food for Thought project had students working together with different skill sets, preparing them for future collaborations, a new industry demand.

Nearing the end of the day, David Usher’s blending of inspirational dialogue and musical talent had the audience intrigued as he talked about where his creativity comes from.

“For my entire life my job has been to look at an empty stage or a blank page and just out of my head make something up and that really is how I made my living,” said Usher.

“Creativity is a learned skill and any person or company can learn to be more creative, there are no non creative people.”

Usher’s advice is to take an idea, mix it with another idea and create something new.

“Focus on structure first because once you have that you can test out all your crazy ideas,” said Usher.

“The creative process is really a journey, and what’s good is that it forces you outside of your comfort zone and boundaries.”