Tuesday, Sept. 19, in the Susquehanna Room of Myer Residence Hall, members of the community attended the first President’s Enrichment Series Lecture of the year, which will be followed by two more this semester. This lecture, entitled “Cultivating Creative and Critical Thinking,” was given by Dr. Jean Pretz, professor of psychology and chair of the psychology department.
The lecture was intended to discuss the question of whether or not college cultivates creativity and critical thinking and much of the evidence in the presentation was drawn from research done by Pretz and the students at Elizabethtown College.
One of the conclusions of the research was that college does cultivate critical thinking, but not creative thinking in students. One study from 2013 tested students with several standardized testing methods to determine how critical and creative thinking change in Etown students from their first year to their fourth year.
The study showed that while critical thinking greatly improved, the ability for students to think creatively decreased over the course of the students’ college careers.
Another facet of Pretz’s research was to determine the relationship between students’ college GPAs and their abilities in critical and creative thought. Scores taken from the SATs and from the critical thinking assessments performed by the College were used to predict students’ college GPAs.
At the end of the study, Pretz found that the critical thinking scores did provide a reliable prediction of GPA at the end of first year; students with higher critical thinking scores had higher GPAs. The study also found that in reference to the projected GPAs for the time of graduation, the prediction made based on the critical thinking assessments were more accurate than the predictions based on the SATs.
Throughout the research, creativity was harder to connect to most academic processes. High school rank was found to have a negative relationship with creative self-efficacy. The students who were some of the best in their high school class were the ones who saw themselves as the least creative.
One study on the concept of creative self-efficacy attempted to connect students’ creative self-efficacies to their college GPAs. For the majority of majors, no connection was found between students’ self-efficacy and their GPAs, but in the cases of arts, humanities, and social science majors, there was a possible connection. This was especially represented in students who historically had academic success.
A separate study attempted to connect creative self-efficacy with persistence of engineering majors in completing the major. It seemed to stand to reason that students with the intention to build careers around the ideas of innovation and creation would be creative.
However, the results of the study showed that the students who considered themselves more creative were less likely to complete the major, with about a 50 percent chance of seeing it through. On the other hand, students who rated themselves the least creative had a 95 percent choice of completing the engineering major.
Even with these results and shortage of connections to creativity, Pretz views creativity as an important characteristic in a student.
A central theme of the lecture was the importance resting on a college student being a critical thinker as well as being creative. Other prominent ideas included the priority of broadening students’ definition of creativity, the significance of teachers implementing creative projects into their classes and allowing creativity in all aspects of life.
One of the attendees of the lecture, Peggy Stauffer, an executive assistant in the Office of Academic Affairs, shared her thoughts on the lecture. Stauffer believes that Pretz exemplifies what it is to be an Etown professor because through research with students of the College, she can benefit both the College and the wider community.
Stauffer found the results of Pretz’s studies interesting, and considered society’s view on success.
“It made me think about how we judge success. Could it be that we view the ‘right’ answer within such a narrow box that when a creative thinker gives an answer outside the scope of that box, their thought is discounted?” Stauffer asked rhetorically.
Additionally, Stauffer left thinking about how Etown can help to utilize the findings of Pretz’s research to help students, especially since many of the skills professionals need to use in the workplace are skills developed in college. Beyond that, Stauffer said at the end of the lecture, she was considering how creative thinking plays a role in her own work at the College.
The general consensus among the attendees of the lecture was that it was thought-provoking and highlights some potential issues in the way curriculum is designed in college and in lower institutions of education.