Faculty Focus

Nathaniel Barr: Tapping into the creative mind

Sheridan takes seriously the need for innovation, recently re-branding itself as the Creative Campus and now offering courses and a certificate in creativity and creative problem solving. Nathaniel Barr, Professor of Creativity and Creative Thinking at Sheridan since September 2015, believes that Sheridan’s move to embed creativity into the curriculum across the board adapts education to address the demands of the 21st century, and prepares students in unique and important ways.

Nathaniel Barr

Nathaniel Barr, Professor of Creativity and Creative Thinking, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

“The collective creative output of our species in the past demands creative thinking at a quickening pace going forward. Many of our most impactful innovations have created new and pressing problems to solve that are complex and span many disciplines,” says Barr. As an example, he points to advances in technology that in turn create more waste which then must be managed.

“By offering students the opportunity to learn about the mechanisms underlying creativity and deliberate tools and strategies known to enhance creative thought, Sheridan is preparing students to play an integral role in addressing the most important problems facing our species through creative artistic, scientific, economic, and technological solutions,” says Barr.

Barr’s expertise lies in cognitive psychology, having earned his PhD from the University of Waterloo. His dissertation focused on the relation between analytic thought and creativity, and showed that engaging relatively more analytic thinking is beneficial for making creative connections and having original ideas.

Barr is excited about new insights that are emerging in the fields of psychology and neuroscience into how creative thinking becomes manifest in the mind and brain. He believes that, “Understanding the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying creative thought will inform educators in their pursuit to develop and refine curriculum that is rooted in theory but that facilitates creative thinking which is transferable to the real world.”

When teaching students about creativity, I continually remind them of the potential they all have for being creative and participating in solving issues of great importance to us all.

Nathaniel Barr

“Particularly interesting is the emergent evidence on the ways in which autonomous and controlled cognitive processes interact to produce novel and useful ideas,” says Barr. He believes that an important issue going forward in this area will be understanding the relation between technology use and the way we think. His paper published in the journal Computers and Behaviour in 2015 entitled, The brain in your pocket:  Evidence that Smartphones are used to supplant thinking speaks to this connection. The research which attracted much media buzz worldwide, showed that those with lower cognitive ability and less disposition to think analytically were more prone to using search engines in their daily lives, suggesting that people might be relying on such devices as a form of extended mind that limits the use of cognitive resources.

Although he thinks the future hold many challenges, Barr remains optimistic. “When teaching students about creativity, I continually remind them of the potential they all have for being creative and participating in solving issues of great importance to us all. Creative thinking is not some magical process impermeable to understanding but instead a fundamental part of what it is to be human. This ability can be enhanced through acquiring knowledge and engaging in thinking processes known to yield creative ideas.”

To learn more about Nathaniel Barr’s research, click here

To learn more about Sheridan’s Certificate in Creativity and Creative Problem Solving, click here