Writing tools for imaginative minds

Writing in Word sucks for anyone using imagination towards creative expression. I have no doubt that those who love to write in linear forms, obsess over grammar and follow templates love using Word, but for millions of the rest of us, it doesn’t inspire and Banksy seems to get by without it. I often wonder if people become habitual Word users eventually, more interested in the oxford comma than a new idea.

Ideas were never meant to be put into Word, they are to be drawn, torn up, scribbed on, re-arranged and debated. Word almost certainly means ‘critique’ and ‘literal interpretation’. Hands up who wanted to work in a typing pool when they were young, and who wanted to be in Hanoi Rocks until Razzle died.

Many people, especially creative people are all about being difference engines. The easiest way I know to explain it is to cast your mind back to childhood (tempted to sing “up and around the bend). The kids who loved to ‘read’ comics didn’t finish them in moments, but pondered them for weeks. What was going on between the frames was just as important as visual text. They processed it, imagined what was going on and what wasn’t — and most of them wrote and drew their own comics. Comics were not academic when I was a kid. A sure sign of a vague, wandering mind — the smart kids read books and the diligent kids studied grammar. I liked books and writing too, but liked comic books and was obsessive over the fluidity of handwriting and the formation of letters into words. I grew up to study illustration and typography. I was probably in my mid-20s before I was forced to use Word.

There is an alternative. Scrivener2 is a great non-linear writing tool. I don’t have the inclination to explain it all here — suffice to say, if you like to work in pieces and figure out how the pieces come together, you’ll like it. Then there is the other tool Literature and Latte make – Scapple. It’s a mind map gizmo. It lets you think in organised pictures — move pieces around, and then drag that drawing into Scrivener as the basis of a document. You can also use MindNode too, but I’ve moved to Scapple because I just find it faster to use.

When you’re done — compile your masterpiece for Word, PDF, ePub, Kindle, iBooks and even share it via Amazon.



Video games are a stronger predictor of creativity than any other technology.

There are well over 100 scholarly definitions of creativity, spanning a variety of disciplines, so there’s no surprise that how it’s measured is equally diverse and confusing. For example, musicians are generally called “creatives”. Virtuosos learn their craft by copying, not creating. Schools barely make any attempt to measure it and if they do, it’s hardly multi-dimensional.

Here’s were it gets interesting, games have been seen as an ideal environment for testing creativity for thirty years. Torrance (1966) recommended the creation of a game-like, thinking, or problem-solving atmosphere, avoiding the threatening situation associated with test- ing. His intent was to set the tone so that the expectation that examinees would enjoy the activities was created. Examinees should be encouraged to “have fun” and should experience a psychological climate that is as comfortable and stimulating as possible. Why is this contentious for schools? – Well, just think about the HSC and where that is being tested right now. Hardly what Torrance had in mind.

Now here’s where it gets more interesting (Judy O’Connell might even like this). The Torrance test is widely accepted as valid from Kindergarden to post graduate. Torrence was interested in understanding the nurturing qualities that help people express their creativity – so this is something that parents are involved in. Why? Well some parents are really interested in having their kids measured for Gifted and Talented programs – and Torrance’s method has been used as an alternative to standardised tests – to identify G&T kids. This might alarm parents who are hammering kids about learning content and passing ‘the test’ – being able to remember and puke up the right answer doesn’t make you creative – or get you into a decent G&T program. A G&T program that is just using test-scores is therefore not what it appears to be.

So what is measured? divergent thinking, which emphasises fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration.

Of course some parents are freaking about about ‘violent games’, unaware that  Gee (2005) showed the relationship between child aggression and video games is half that of watching television. In fact there are no conclusive studies which show games make kids more aggressive in the long term at all.

In a recent study by Jackson (2011) who used the Torrence test for creativity with 12 year olds, video games were the sole predictor of creativity. Also in the study was the use of computers, internet and mobile phone use. Even more interesting, race, gender and family household income didn’t improve the prediction for creativity. This means that any kid who plays video games is more likely to show creative characteristics (see above list of divergent thinking and so on) than a kid who doesn’t, yet might have more access to technology in other forms. 

While this doesn’t suggest a cause and effect relationship between games and kids creativity, it does suggest there is no cause an effect between kids use of ANY other technology and creativity. However, it does show that video games (above anything else) have a correlation which is a STRONGER predictor of creativity (and G&T). Of course video games is a broad brush, some games will be better than others … but it highlights the failure of schools and educational research to include video games – or invest anything like the time, money and effort in developing creative programs around them.

Blogs, wikis, podcasts (and anything else being paraded as ‘powerful’) do not come close to video games when it comes to predicting creativity in children (and adults).

Game Over.

Eat, Prey, Rez

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” according to Peter Druckler, who’s writings were marked by a focus on the relationships among human beings, as opposed to crunching numbers. Among the many great ideas, he saw de-centralisation as a key way to bring out the best in people, find a sense of community and dignity in modern society.

The problem with this appears to be dogged centralization of decision making, financial control and policy within top-down structures. Occasional pilot schemes and experiments are awarded only to a chosen few , yet give a public impression of a socially inclusive, progressive approach to education – yet are under lock and key. Almost no funding goes to social-enterprise, yet these are some of the most innovative and dynamic innovators, who see their work as more than a task, it’s a mission. Those with power, never give it up without a struggle, yet de-centralised approaches are rapidly draining the long-held internalised intellectual property once assumed proptery of the central system. It probably doesn’t even notice, but is arguably unsustainable in light of the depth of resources, support networks and research that is happening in lounge rooms every night.

“Personal infrastructure eats institutional infrastructure for lunch”

3G and portable devices have killed the imperative to connect to one organisation channel. Competition in the marketplace is a race to zero which makes BYOD (Bring your own device) only semi-useful unless it is also connected to BYON (Bring your own network). It’s not the Internet that we want, it’s the ability to connect to people who can help us realise whatever we are trying to do – anytime we like and to make choices based on advice from those we trust most – the network.

“Process networks eat organizational networks for dinner”

If we take Kolb’s learning conjectural cycles – Concrete experience, reflection & observation, abstract concepualisation and active experimentation, it is vividly characterised through networks of people (PLN) who come together to solve problems, regardless of their partisan alliances or social status. I grant you, there are some co-opting opportunists here, but in the years I’ve been hacking away at this, most move on or fade as process networks require effort. If the person above you or next to you isn’t doing this, then it’s a sure sign it will be a long winter, requiring fortitude and resilience to stay motivated.  If the person below you is doing it (and you’re not) – then they have no need of you and won’t bother to tell as much either. The Internet and the media carried though it simply doesn’t care about idealism or conservatism. Innovation hinges on invention, and invention is the name of the game online as it leads to reputation within these process networks. Someone who gets things done, is willing to help others and don’t assume they have all the answers.

The Internet was created to connect people, media, mentors and institutions in one dynamic space designed to inspire collaboration and creativity. That was what Berners Lee set out to do, so who is hasn’t kept up? When you think about it, institutions had at least a decade head start, and has spend the last one agonizing over what it all means – not that anyone knows really.

By working both in process networks and as individuals (life long learners and researchers) people have an opportunity to engage in online projects that promote critical thinking, creativity, and skill-building. So many projects in fact there is something for everyone. The role of process networks (YouTube, Xbox, Twitter, Facebook etc.,) is to connect physical and online spaces to support people in participating with digital media to get things done faster – and that is fueled by diversity, not conformity.

Professor Mizuko Ito (2008) produced a report called “Living and Learning with Digital Media. This ethnographic study of more than 700 youth found that young people participate with digital media in three ways: (1) they “hang out” with friends in social spaces such as Facebook; (2) they “mess around” or tinker with digital media, making simple videos, playing online games, or posting pictures in Flickr; and (3) they “geek out” in online groups that facilitate exploration of their core interests.

Why? Well, look at the world outside. There is a shortage of authentic, engaging physical and virtual spaces for teens in public space (unless you want to play sport). There is a lack of meaningful opportunities for teens to learn digital media skills while also gaining relevant new entry points into public space.

Public space has to be as dynamic as virtual space if it want’s to be relevant. That means buildings not laptops. it means immersive social worlds, not content-portals. For a generation online, virtual space now eats physical space for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is not optimal, but it is very adaptive. It is full of mentors, interest based research and partnerships – and is now so de-centralised, that continuing to arguing over which parts should or should not be allowed into buildings (by the high authorities) – largely says more about the failure to innovate in learning spaces as it does about curriculum reform.

If we can’t change physical space, why not use virtual space? If you don’t like virtual space – then innovate the physical. Standing still isn’t a strategy, it’s an excuse. Do one or the other.

How to keep attention flowing

Borrowing from Flow-theory, and easing a somewhat ranty-last-post about people believing tokens and level ups will engage students, I thought I’d add something about the variables involved, and the problem of creativity.

First some variables. Not all kids like video games, not all kids like computers. Most kids don’t like sofware that crashes or tasks that seem unconnected with the software being used. Teachers used to be kids, so it’s no shock they too feel the same way. But there are other factors at play (pun).

Phenomenological factors: including the relevance of instruction and perceived control; meaningful inquiry to solve real life problems that extend beyond the classroom and  positive emotions in the classroom.

Instructional and teacher factors: instructional format and school subject; student-controlled versus teacher-controlled learning activities and that external evaluations that emphasise social comparisons also appear to have negative consequences on students’ interest and engagement.

Demographic factors and learning history: engagement can be mediated by individual factors, for example more girls than boys, the degree to which ontask behavior has been rewarded or praised in the past – although these factors are smaller in comparison with instructional and classroom factors.

What we are dealing with is often described as long term disenagement with school, not an immediate or short-term dislike (often influenced by external factors) of the teacher or lesson, and of course not all kids are disengaged. (looks for the magic pill).

For some kids, the relationship with school has often not been as long term positive as their relationship with games in the same period. For many kids, games are an increabily positive experience – as play is a humanistic behavior that comes naturally. It’s a balance, too much or too little of anything will be a bad thing.

Game space has the ability to increase creativity and to develop better ways to evaluate the impact of new creative ideas. It’s a very powerful feedback loop. Compare this to excessively, narrow specialisations (single subject, single topic regimes) and we reduce the likelihood of making creative contributions and kill off creativity.

There are many ways to kill creativity.

Turning games into game based learning, while a novelty, may not sharpen the focus for problem solving as being Warcraft like (using quests) is not the same as being a character in Warcraft playing the game.

At the heart of killing creativity, engagement and enthusiam are people who are simply not willing to attempt to be remotely creative. Perhaps victims of their own experience. Each person has, potentially, all the psychic energy needed to lead a creative life. But there are many obstacles that prevent many from expressing this potential. If our attention is overly directed to monitoring the self, or threats to the ego or in pursuing selfish goals we become un-creative – and we do this all the time. It’s easier often to accept defeat.

There are ways to think about fostering game-like, creative work flows, regardless of the tools you care to use.

What works are predicatable goals – those we are naturally inclined to persue, and those what stop the exodus to our own virtual-reality which as the lady says, feels less broken.

•    There is immediate feedback to your actions
•    There is a balance between challenges and skills
•    Action and awareness are merged
•    Distractions are excluded
•    There is no worry of failure
•    Self-consciousness disappears
•    The activity becomes autotelic .

When games foster creativity, we enter a whole new zone. (Flow)

Creative people often blend pride in community with pride in work. Many of them are driven by a feeling of responsibility for the common good. They shoulder this as a privilege rather than work. If they don’t get it, then all that creative engery is wasted. This is on reason people play games – as a refuge to keep spikey ideas temporarily at bay. When the game lets you be creative however, as Minecraft does, it teaches us to use our creative energy. To do that we have to learn about so many things that ultimately give us direction.

Three NEW things we need to see in education

cc licensed flickr photo by Heini Samuelsen: http://flickr.com/photos/heini/2693887793/

Cognitive science tells us that learning with technology is a duel-band activity, which in some way explains our desire to live in a world with multiple tabs, multiple devices and multiple streams of information at our finger-tips.

This post is about actively dealing with three things: cognitive load and capacity, the modality in which we teach and learn, and the filter.

I’m going to argue we can’t have it all, but 2 out of 3 aint bad – if we at least get 2 things right – and we’re not yet getting it right.

Learning modalities are the sensory channels or pathways through which individuals give, receive, and store information.  Many students have pervasive access to technology and potentially engaged in extraneous (no relevance), essential (selecting) or generative (organising, integrating, making) activities. I think, that the common modalities we use – don’t really teach use much about our cognitive capacity, but overload us. Our motivational and emotion responses -(which make up a third of our belief-making brain activity) is not to persist.

Take a typical professional development vignette


cc licensed flickr photo by RDECOM: http://flickr.com/photos/rdecom/5125599045/

The presenter has a pre-made Powerpoint, with a dozen or so slides. The room is set up with computers and the presenter has a handout. The intention is to teach the teacher why and how to use some web-tool in their practice to improve learning.

This is arrangement, classically presented to teachers as good practice, is also how most teachers encounter professional development.

Think about the first two things:  modality and cognitive load. Powerpoint to audience decode, translate to the desktop, more input, more trial and error, more questions than answers. All the time the day’s agenda moves forward. Each participant has differing prior-experience, different capacity. The method of instruction presents a high cognitive load. How many times have you been here – fumbling to work the machine, grasp the purpose or the imperative as the presenter says “let’s move on”. It is only our familiarity with this environment that makes it feel normal and unsatisfying. – We can’t be surprised to find decreasing motivation in staff and students when this strategy is presented time and time again.

A second vignette: The keynote speaker delivers a presentation, full of motivation and emotional arguments. The audience lacks the modality to en-mass separate erroneous, essential and generative. The presenter fails to address socially independent knowledge and meaning (the other two thirds of brain-making belief). We are entertained, perhaps inspired, but how many have the capacity to action it. There are many reasons for this, the most toxic is that the presenter – is in-accessible after the presentation, a common problem when we import speakers because of their past profile or because the point of epoch they speak from – is a concensus point for the assumed audiences cognitive capacity – and sadly the popular ‘sweet spot’ messages often imitated as a result – with no evaluation.

Both these common experiences are producing marginal gains in teachers being able to rethink the modality and method they use with technology in learning and teaching. Now I’d like to look at perception, disruption and distortion in relation to filtering.



cc licensed flickr photo by simonov: http://flickr.com/photos/simonov/366430817/

Also think about how we present ‘the internet’ as a media and not a method by which learning occurs. We cannot be shocked when students lose interest and motivation, when we present it in an almost opposite modality. They are not distracted, just intensely more interested in socially independent uses of technology at their finger-tips – as they have greater capacity to engage with it this way, that to learn in the manner I described earlier.


The filter  is a very blunt tool to deal with erroneous information and is a subjective as Alan Jones on gin. [excellent social studies clip there]

The filter distorts how we access and manage essential and generative opportunities – and counter-acts the modality of learning that students experience in just about every other area of their technological-lives. It wasn’t designed to do this – it was created to remove risk to the organization, preventing accidental or deliberate access to pornography, hate, drugs, violence etc., but has evolved into a social-filter without any real evidence or discussion with teachers or students. The filter is also applied vary differently between systems, and often between schools.

“there was no evidence that online predators were stalking or abducting unsuspecting victims based on information they posted at social networking sites.” – Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC) at the University of New Hampshire, March 2008.

THE SEMANTIC DISRUPTION – The end is coming.

cc licensed flickr photo by See-ming Lee 李思明 SML: http://flickr.com/photos/seeminglee/4041872282/

Today much of filter-policy ignorantly assumes the internet’s role in education is predominantly as media delivery mechanism and not a medium to support a method. To some degree, few parents and teachers are lobbying for anything else – making it a social issue, not so much a school one.

Filtering (as we know it) assumes information remains static in the way it is organised and identified. Emerging semantic technology – draws heavily on information produced socially – ending the time where ‘the internet’ was experienced as separate experiences or compartments. Only silly minds will think the browser and laptop will be pervasive in the next decade.

Current policy often fails to recognize youth agency: young people as participants, stakeholders, and leaders in an increasingly participatory environment online and offline.

For the most part, the filter is a crude stop/go mechanism. Given the lack of training to helps teachers learn to manage, create and use technology in sympathy with real world modality. Social filtering distorts learning because it’s not safety from bad outcomes but safety for positive ones. We want to students to be be safe, but do we want our children to play in places that are only safe? This brings me back to modality – and the neo-classical depiction of a classroom. Projector, Laptops, Filter – is this how we want children to learn and teachers to teach?


In the old days, circa 2000 – technology that power’s social media used to be called ‘application service provision‘. Clearly tools like Twitter carry ‘media’ information socially – but the term itself is misleading, popularised by culture and group bias – and even inside the believers, there is argument over what it actually means and affords society. It’s a word, along with Web2.0 that is meaningless to the majority.

Clearly GoolgeDocs, WordPress, Wikispaces etc provide a modality of learning which are clearly different to pornography – yet suffer from filtration (something I’ll come to next). Recent research finds kids are more at risk of peer-use of networks in abusive ways – than from people they don’t know.


  • We have, like it or not, chosen to put technology into learning and teaching though government and organizational investment.
  • We cannot afford to accept we don’t need to train (and mentor) teachers to see technology as a method and find better modality in how we do it.
  • We need to accept how much more powerful technology is when used through personalisation and allowing people to become socially independent learners.
  • We need to accept, that in terms of cognitive load, capacity and modality – technology does not give rise to Frankensteinian epoch moments we can push out as being ‘the future’ or something to ‘work towards’ – but that as events that need corresponding change in education immediately.
  • What we did before and what we do after any epoch moment – causes greater distortion in the classroom.

TWO OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD – Something I can live with

In approaching teacher development and support – we have to recognise that teachers are capable of asking for help, and that request comes from a professional capacity. What they do out of work is entirely their business. This is a blurred message much of the time – perhaps most problematic in the current popular dialogue of the personal learning network.

  • We need to find ways that we reduce the cognitive load needed to learn something essential – but delete the erroneous – in the classroom.
  • We should stay clear of generative desires when helping and mentoring them – as generating content is now seen as a chore, rather than creative joy.
  • Teachers should not believe that making more content is better – or required in pursuit of using technology in the classroom. (busy-thoughts).
  • Most of all we need to accept that the envelope in which we often work is not realistic – but a simulation of the real world. There is no shame in being clear about this with students – so that they recognise where the classroom-end point is, and where they need to start taking responsibility for their future. Even if this is to find a grade-school game that they could use at home to learn maths, that is banned in school.

Two out of three aint bad, as Meatloaf said.

Accept that we can’t have it all – we never did, and we never will – we live in amazing times, with mind-blowing complexity – but there are ways to do a lot of good with what we have … and each time we do … we push negativity one step further backwards as we make more sense of the positive.

Need before greed.

Do you grab passing links on Twitter? Do you favourite them, build lists, re-tweet them with a tag seconds later for your folksonomy tool to collect?  Do you have lots of everything? – slide-decks, online storage tins, blogs, wikis etc. Do you need them all?

Of course you do. Your brain enjoys it.

You have needs, and your brain is greedy. You are probably more creative now than at any time since the age of 4.

The relationship between needs; and satisfying them re-wires our brains. Our attention is drawn to what we think we need. Satisfaction is experienced through the feedback we receive, and our perceptive experience is the filter that adjusts our worldview. Creative people often select ‘modes’ of thinking about their needs – at times the dreamer, at others the realist or the critic. I think this is why Twitter attracts so many creative minds.

In ‘dreamer’ mode, creative minds take on the aspect of the explorer, where you search for tidbits of information and interesting facts, and at other times the artist, where you rearrange all the different pieces of information to make new and interesting patterns – out of people, ideas and artifacts. Best of all, you do this from 10,000 feet – and tune it into your personality and learning preferences. Being a ‘dreamer’ is often cited as a negative characteristic of learning “Jimmy is a day-dreamer, can’t pay attention, in his own world”. Jimmy isn’t stupid. Jimmy is an explorer and you’re not giving him much to need.

Think of the average student online forum – one that has been prescribed as part of learning.

What are the questions about? – Needs. “How many words is it, how do I upload, that link is broken, who else hasn’t got the text book.” with everyone selecting ‘need’ all the time; very little community or connected knowledge comes out of it – because the other option is greed – and greedy mindedness is something that creative people often hide by grade 5 – because un-creative minds have taught you too.

Now think about how creative presenters. Notice the role they are playing? Dreamer, Realist, Critic? – Do they switch back and forth? Do they intuitively know how to lead, when to swap? – That’s the downside with creative types often. They are crap at passing the ball, and so organizations that don’t overtly ‘need’ creativity, tend to stifle all notions of it. Much to their detriment.

The point of being  creative is to try to break the mold. Once you’re able to step out of habits and old ways of thinking. In educational settings, we are very rarely cast in the role of Dreamer, explorer or artist – which I think leads to our creative needs not being satisfied but stifled. We pay less attention to these needs, and learn to become un-creative as people tell us that test scores matter more than throwing paint on canvas or writing a story.

Guess this is a dreamer post then.