Assessing creativity earns ASU alum outstanding research award

March 9, 2015

Creativity has a simple definition: having the ability to make new things or think of new ideas. But actually judging what is “creative” is not so simple.

For students in artistic subjects such as music, art and drama, of which creativity is an integral part, should their teacher be the one to fairly judge what is creative and what isn’t? ASU School of Music grad Patrick Cooper with ASU professor Margaret Schmidt Download Full Image

This was the question that Patrick Cooper, 2014 graduate of the ASU master’s in music education program, asked himself as he worked on the analysis that earned him the 2015 “Outstanding Emerging Researcher Award,” given by the Center for Music Education Research at the University of South Florida. The award is an international recognition given biennially to music educators in the early stages of their careers who are producing high-quality research.

Cooper was presented the award Feb. 7 at the 2015 Suncoast Music Education Research Symposium, where he also presented his paper.

His winning research is on measuring creativity using a consensual assessment technique with an assortment of judges – in this case, music teachers, non-music-teacher adults and peer students – to evaluate the compositions written by students in his sixth-grade string classes.

First championed in a 1982 essay by Harvard professor Teresa Amabile, the consensual assessment technique has often been called the “Gold Standard” of creativity assessment. The key to this method’s accuracy is that it measures creative works individually and in isolation by the group of judges, whose views are collected so that an overall rating can be established. The judges are experienced in the domain being assessed, and subjective viewpoints and preferences are taken into account, since everyone has a different view of what is creative.

Cooper said he had been interested in creativity for some time and wanted to know more about how to encourage creativity from his students.

"One of the first theories I studied suggested that perhaps creativity only exists from expert artists and that a typical student in a classroom lacks the ability to be creative. I vehemently opposed this theory, believing it cynical and counterproductive to an educational experience, so that is when I turned toward finding research on creativity assessment,” he said.

The results of Cooper’s research validate the consensual assessment technique and also demonstrate that music educators are likely reliable judges of students’ musical creativity, compared to other groups of evaluators.

The typical music education system is lacking opportunities “for students to create, explore and share in many music education classes,” Cooper said. “Current research is showing a decline in elective music participation, and I believe that to be a direct result [of] how we’ve been preparing musicians in our classes. … I truly believe that content knowledge and skill acquisition can be achieved through approaching music in more of a collaborative way between student and teacher in lieu of the image of a conductor standing on a podium barking orders at novice music makers.”

Being selected for this award came as a shock to Cooper.

“I knew I had a good piece of unpublished research,” he said, “but I never dreamed that when I submitted it that I would win. It validated my feelings that I belonged as a researcher in the music education field and that I had something to offer to the music education community.”

Cooper credits the music education faculty at ASU with playing a critical role in his accomplishments.

“They are a group of such dedicated, caring and supportive individuals,” he said. “They’ve fostered an atmosphere of community and family at ASU that I am proud to represent and be a part of. Nothing is achieved alone, and it wouldn’t be fair if I did not acknowledge them as a huge reason for my recent successes.”

Sandra Stauffer, ASU professor of music education and researcher with a focus on the musical creativity of children and youth, said that Cooper’s award is particularly prestigious because “previous winners of this award have been university music faculty members … and Cooper conducted the study in his school while enrolled in the ASU master’s degree in music education.

“His paper was a project for one of his classes, and is an excellent example of use-inspired research,” Stauffer said.

As for his future plans, Cooper said that “receiving this award has made me commit 100 percent to working on a PhD.” He intends to enroll in the ASU School of Music’s doctoral music education program in fall 2015.

Cooper currently teaches music at Athlos Traditional Academy in Chandler.

Read more about Cooper's research and award in The East Valley Tribune

Heather Beaman,
School of Music
(480) 727-6222

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


Poet who mixes mathematics, art to give public reading at ASU

March 9, 2015

Acclaimed poet Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon will give a public reading from her work at 7 p.m., March 17, in the University Club on Arizona State University's Tempe campus.

Van Clief-Stefanon, an associate professor of English at Cornell University, will read from her poetry collections “Open Interval,” which was a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award, and “Black Swan,” which won the 2001 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon Download Full Image

The event is part of the MFA Reading Series sponsored by ASU’s creative writing program in the Department of English, as well as the Distinguished Visiting Writer Series hosted by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

Cynthia Hogue, a professor of English who holds the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at ASU, praised the daring nature of Van Clief-Stefanon's work.

“Few poets evidence the brilliant range and bold experiment that is everywhere richly evident in Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon's two award-winning collections,” Hogue said. “’Black Swan’ is a moving work of witness, a testament to the resilience of the human spirit coming through – if not overcoming – trauma. ‘Open Interval’ is located at the juncture of poetry and science, a lyric investigation on the part of a black woman of dis/embodiment, thanks to the happy accident of her name coinciding with a category of stars (Lyrae). We are thrilled to welcome Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon to the ASU campus.”

The title of Van Clief-Stefanon’s book “Open Interval” references a mathematical term for a line with no end points. The concept of the infinite line – visually represented by open brackets – is a theme throughout the book.

Dorothy Chan, a former student of Van Clief-Stefanon’s at Cornell, now enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program at ASU, offered this analysis of the collection:

“[It] begins with a dedication that references Jimmy Hendrix’s ‘Castles Made of Sand’: '… and it really didn’t have to stop / it just kept on going …’ This infinite loop of desire is the basis of the book,” Chan said.

Chan continued, “Throughout the collection, the speaker(s) both allude to and passionately proclaim their desires – desires discovered through the body, through art, through geography and through history. In this sense, ‘Open Interval’ is set up as an ‘open interval’ of poetry, with the poet utilizing various innovative forms: Dear John letters, ekphrastic works (defined in this case as poems both inspired by and referencing visual art) and the author-stamped ‘RR Lyrae’ poems. This variation continues Van Clief-Stefanon’s infinite motion of poetics.”

In addition to invoking mathematical concepts, both “Black Swan” and “Open Interval” reference and modernize ancient myths. “Black Swan” is an entire contemporary metaphor for the Leda myth – wherein Zeus seduced Leda, the Spartan king’s wife, in the form of a swan. “Open Interval” makes references to Icarus, Penelope and Venus.

According to Chan, by relating to these myths, the speaker inhabits them and comes to terms with both her past and present.

“Importantly, this past and present is not an individual, but a communal identity," Chan said. "The speaker looks to heroes of the past to explain her present identity. The speaker looks to current struggles in order to relate to her audience.”

Van Clief-Stefanon has been commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art to contribute work toward its 2015 exhibition, “One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series and Other Works.” The installation explores the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North, which began one hundred years ago. It opens in New York on April 3.

In addition to the Department of English and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, other sponsors of Van Clief-Stefanon’s ASU reading are the Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For more information about the event, please contact Corey Campbell,

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

senior marking & communications specialist, Department of English