CTL Guide to the Creativity & Innovation Hub Area

This guide reviews the importance of creativity and innovation in academia and today’s workforce, explains the learning outcomes for the CRI Hub area, and provides guidance for designing CRI courses and assignments.


BU students across fields of study will benefit from learning how to think in new ways, imagine new possibilities, take new approaches, and/or make new things. Creative activity is a source of deep human satisfaction and common good. In addition, the ability to generate and pursue new ideas is quickly becoming a prerequisite for entry into the skilled workforce, which places a premium on applicants’ creative skills and potential for contributing to creativity’s more applied offspring, innovation. BU graduates should understand how the creative process moves from need or desire to design to draft to redesign to execution; they will have personal experience of taking risks, failing and trying again; and, in this way, they will  have developed the patience and persistence that enables creativity to come ultimately to fruition.

Learning outcomes

Courses and cocurricular activities in this area must have all outcomes.

  1. Students will demonstrate understanding of creativity as a learnable, iterative process of imagining new possibilities. This can be observed in three interrelated ways:
  • Students practice creative and innovative thinking as an iterative process, for example by revising their ideas or their methodologies in response to feedback from peers or instructors.
  • Students will provide a metacognitive reflection, in which they evaluate their choices in relation to risk-taking or experimentation and identify individual and institutional factors that promote and/or inhibit creativity.
  • Students generate a product based on the above processes. (See learning outcome #2.)
    1. Students will be able to exercise their own potential for engaging in creative activity by conceiving and executing original work either alone or as part of a team.

    If you are proposing an CRI course or if you want to learn more about these outcomes, please see this Interpretive Document. Interpretive Documents, written by the General Education Committee, are designed to answer questions faculty have raised about Hub policies, practices, and learning outcomes as a part of the course approval process. To learn more about the proposal process, start here.

    Area-specific resources

    Assignment ideas

    The following are assignments that faculty have developed to encourage students to develop creativity/innovation:

    Creativity and idea-generating activities

    Spark students’ imagination, and prompt them to thinking creatively about ways to approach a problem. Examples of such activities include:

    • Problems with little or no data or information. These are small-scale problems that have no “right” answer, and encourage students to generate multiple possible solutions. For example, students may be given the numbers: 2, 3, 5, 10, 24 and asked to use all the five numbers and any mathematical operations that they choose to make up the number 120. The problem has many solutions, for example: (10-5)*24/(3-2)=120, or (10-5)(3-2)*24=120 (Raviv, 2004). Another example might ask students to estimate the number of dentists in the greater Boston area, and develop strategies for testing their answers.
    • What is it? Students are shown an invention, and asked to brainstorm what it is
    • What can you do with it? Students are given an everyday object, such as a coat hanger, and asked to generate as many possible uses of the object as they can in a brief period of time.

    Ill-structured problems

    Ask students to invent strategies for solving a problem with little structure/scaffolding to guide their thinking. Students work in collaborative groups or teams to understand the problem and propose solutions. Problems may not have an obvious solution, and so are open-ended and authentic to real world issues. Students identify and analyze the nature of the problem, determine what evidence and information they need to gather to define or understand the problem, and then utilize gathered data to come up with informed solutions.

    Design thinking

    Structure students’ learning experiences around these core principles of design thinking. As a process of creative innovation, design thinking involves asking questions and gathering information related to an individual’s or society’s needs, generating multiple ideas for solutions to meet those needs, prototyping artifacts and solutions, iterating designs based on user feedback, and producing a final product. Human-centered design thinking, a variation of the design thinking approach, emphasizes the role of human empathy throughout the solution design process, with an end goal of improving the quality of life for a given end-user or community. 

    The purpose of design thinking is to create a viable product, or develop and implement solutions to a real-world problem. Throughout the design process, students learn to hone their creative skills by identifying constraints and determining criteria for successful solutions. To meet these goals, students must take into account not only what problem(s) to address, but how to define the problem(s) in terms of the larger societal context, including limits to possible solutions. The goal of the design thinking challenge is to practice design thinking skills and how to structure the design process. Structuring the challenge into four stages (below) can help students focus their attention on the specific creative skills that need developing:

    1. Identify a real-world problem
    2. Brainstorm solutions to the problem
    3. Prototype, gather evidence, and iterate on your solution
    4. Go public with your solution

    Empower students to develop creative products and approaches by limiting the structure of learning experiences, and asking students to “fail productively” in their pursuit of problem solutions. Productive failure is a concept from learning theory that emphasizes the construction and retention of knowledge by asking learners to devise multiple approaches and solutions to ill-defined problems for which there is no single “right” answer. Productive failure, and other “invention” activities are well suited for exposing students to the skills and habits of mind for Creativity/Innovation, and engage students in the authentic ambiguity of real-world problem solving.

    Additional sample assignments and assessments can be found throughout the selected Resources section located above.

    Course design questions

    As you are integrating Creativity/Innovation into your course, here are a few questions that you might consider:

    • What framework/vocabulary/process do you use to teach the key principles of creativity and innovation in your course?
    • What assigned readings or other materials do you use to teach creativity and innovation specifically?
    • Do students have opportunities throughout the semester to apply and practice these skills and receive feedback?
    • What graded assignments evaluate how well students can both identify the key elements of creativity and innovation and demonstrate their creativity and innovation skills?


    Kapur, M. (2012). Designing for Productive Failure. The Journal of the Learning Sciences., 21(1), 45.

    Raviv, D. (2004). Hands-on activities for innovative problem solving. Age., 9, 1.