Free lessons in creativity, courtesy of a University of Minnesota MOOC

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2014 - 11:47 PM

Would you like to take a University of Minnesota class for free and learn how to be more creative? Now’s your chance.

More than 35,000 people have signed up for Prof. Brad Hokanson’s online course, “Creative Problem Solving.” It’s one of four U-sponsored MOOCS (massive open online courses) being offered this month on the website Coursera.

If you take his class, prepare to eat something … unusual.

Hokanson, a professor of design, offered this MOOC once before, in the spring, and it quickly became the U’s most popular course, with 52,111 enrollees in 182 countries.

The gist, he says, is to teach people how to unleash their inner creativity by breaking out of old habits. “We all need to be more creative and inventive at what we do,” he said. The challenge, he noted, is to “get people out of their comfort zones.”

The class, which started Wednesday and runs for seven weeks, includes a series of videotaped lectures, suggested readings and do-it-yourself assignments, such as: Eat something different. His favorite example, from his last class, was a student in Cambodia who made a tarantula sandwich. As it turns out, tarantulas were a common part of the student’s diet — but she’d never had one on a sandwich before.

Those kinds of exercises — driving a new way home, or wearing something different — can help people see life in a fresh way, he said. “Taking on new challenges is something that leads to new creativity.”

His previous class, like most MOOCS, had a massive dropout rate. “I think 900 finished last time,” he said. But he says the effort could pay off in multiple ways, for the university and students alike. “This is an emerging technology,” he said, and eventually, he believes it will help transform the way traditional college classes are taught. This fall, for example, he plans to offer an expanded version of the creativity MOOC for credit at the U, in what he calls a SMOOCH (“semi-massive open online course here.”)

“I’m having a great time,” he said. “This is so fun to see what happens.”

 

maura.lerner@startribune.com

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