Curiosity and creativity exist naturally. However, they can be enabled, nourished or squashed by exposure. Let me explain what I mean through an example of my own experience. It’s a bit long, so bear with me.
I was a standard 5 (grade 7) student at the Namibia English Primary school when a group of students from town came to play music at our school. They brought all kind of musical equipment that before then I had never seen or never heard being played in person.
I don’t know if the music was beautiful, nor do I even remember what was played. All I is that after their performance, I was hooked!! I knew I wanted to play an instrument! I wanted to make music just like them. This was not a fleeting thought of youth, like wanting to be a superhero or to be the most popular student in school. It was a desire unlike any other, and I knew I had to satisfy it. So, I decided that I was going to find out where this school was and enrol. That day I walked from my school to town, which according to google maps is a bit over 7 kilometres, so it was a distance. I walked the distance because I was going after school without permission from my family (so yeah, I snuck away). I did not really speak English at a time, so I must have asked a teacher or a friend for the name of the instrument that most fascinated me or I looked up the picture and found the English word. Either way, I remember walking from school to town practising the word “organ” and repeating it over and over to the point that if someone had asked me what my name was, I would’ve probably said organ. Come to think of it, I don’t even remember seeing anyone or anything while on my quest. I was in my determined world. I was on a mission!!
I finally reached the school. A bright yellow classic looking building that could be mistaken for a castle with white window trims, a black metal fence with a big black gate to match (to be fair, I was a kid and everything was big). I rang the bell excitedly a few times. I had arrived, and my musical career was merely a step behind the big black gate! The building door opened, and a woman came out.
“Yes!?!”…she bellowed out in a voice that reeked of annoyance at the audacity that I dare have the nerve to push the bell. “What is it??!”
I was a small boy, and suddenly the excitement turned to fear, but I gathered myself because Damn it, my musical dream! I mustered the courage and finally responded in a proud, loud voice (although it probably came out sounding like a squeaking mouse). In my broken English, I told the lady emphatically, “I want to learn how to play organ.” Ok, maybe with my broken English it could have very well been – I Learn Organ!…either way, I communicated my desire.
Without skipping a beat, she yelled: “you’re too short to play an organ!” She walked away and slammed the door.
I walked away, with my shame to keep me company on my walk back home – all the 7+km of it – angry at myself that my height has prevented me from achieving my musical greatness.
Years later, when I was fluent in English, I would discover that the instrument I saw at school was a piano and not an organ!!! I wanted to learn how to play the piano!
Beside it traumatizing me as a child, that was a formative experience. It all happened after I was exposed to a piano on that one day when a musical ensemble, visited my school. It was my first experience at the power of exposing people to new things and how that can either nourish curiosity and creativity or adversely impact it. I am not sure what comes first in terms of curiosity and creativity and exposure. I can make a case for any of the three being a starting point so I would probably conceptualists it as a cyclical process where no matter where you start the other follow or feed each other.
Connection to the Lab
How does this relate to the Emerging Technologies and Creativity Research Lab at Oklahoma State University? For me, this is why this space exists. It is the place where someone can come to because they are curious about something and explore it. It is a place where students and teachers alike can be exposed to things that they did not know existed, or they had a sense off but did not know what they were called. It is where people can come to be exposed to virtual reality, 3D printing, telepresence robots to many other exciting tools so that hopefully it will spark curiosity and take them on their journey of creativity.
There is though one major difference. The ETC Research lab is a supportive environment where a person does not need to know what the appropriate name for a tool is; where the person does not even need to understand how something work, all that is required is to be open to exploring their curiosity. In the end, isn’t that what education is all about? Shouldn’t learning spaces be environments where we can be exposed to ideas, where we can explore our curiosity and, in the process, find creative solutions? In our lab, we are learning how to do all of this, in a time when playing together is not encouraged, and virtual space is becoming the norm. But regardless, our mission in the ETC Research Lab remains the same, to expose visitors to new tools, for people to come to be curious and explore their curiosity so that we can Transforming Education through Creative Habits.