Brainstorming is a pedagogical approach used to increase creative productivity, often in an effort to come up with potential solutions to a problem. The idea is that working in a group, students come up with the most outlandish ideas possible that could be considered as a solution to the given problem.
As the brainstorming discussion continues, students are encouraged to modify and improve on each other’s ideas, moving from the seemingly crazy to actually possible solutions. Brainstorming can also be used as an independent learning activity, which has been shown to generate even more innovative ideas than brainstorming in a group.
How to Use Brainstorming
The following are some of the ways this teaching approach is used to engage students:
- Helping to define an issue
- Diagnosing a problem
- Generating possible solutions
- Coming up with a storyline
- Creating contingency plans for processes that might need alternate routes
- Determining potential flaws in a design or process
- Planning a presentation
- Creating a final project
Impact on Learning
Using brainstorming as an instructional activity can impact learning through:
- Helping students think outside of the box to come up with innovative solutions and ideas.
- Maximizing the potential to build off of students’ diverse experiences, backgrounds, and strengths.
- Building buy-in from others once a solution has been identified.
- Increasing motivation and creating stronger bonds among those in the learning community.
One recommended method for assessing how well students participated in a brainstorming activity is to use the following rating scale published at http://www.literacynet.org/icans/chapter04/brainstorming3.html.
Indicate how well the class did while brainstorming.
Use a (+) if students really worked at it.
Use a (=) if you felt students were soso about it.
Use a () if students didn’t really try at all.
_____ Did not judge
_____ Welcomed all ideas
_____ Did not interrupt
_____ Did not discuss ideas
_____ Did not criticize ideas
_____ Everyone contributed
_____ Wrote down repeated ideas
_____ Kept focused on brainstorming
_____ Allowed enough time
_____ Stopped when everyone was finished
Other methods for collecting feedback or assessing the impact of a brainstorming activity would be to assign a discussion about how the process went or assign a written journal entry asking students to share their observations on the process.
Brainstorming with Canvas
Discussions: Canvas provides an integrated system for asynchronous online class discussions. Instructors and students can start and contribute to brainstorms through using discussions. You can learn more about using Discussions in Canvas from the Canvas Community at https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-3188 or from the Penn State Canvas Learning Center at https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1741795/pages/4c-create-and-manage-discussions?module_item_id=20342417.
Wiki pages: In Canvas, students can easily participate and contribute to a brainstorming activity by creating a page as a wiki and allowing it to be edited by anyone. Instructions for creating a page are available from Canvas at https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-1842.
There are many technologies that can be used to facilitate brainstorm activities.
Google Jamboard and Microsoft Whiteboard are provided for use by Penn State faculty, staff, and students.
The following are an example of free technologies that can be used for online brainstorming:
bubbl.us: A popular site for easily being able to create brainstorms or mind maps.
iBrainstorm: A free brainstorming application for the iPad and the iPhone.
Stormboard: Real-time interactive remote collaborative tool for brainstorming and organizing ideas and much more.
Things to Consider
For successful implementation of brainstorming, you should consider the following strategies:
- Set ground rules, making sure everyone who participates understands that the goal is to start with outlandish ideas.
- Avoid any criticism until after the free-flowing ideas have all been recorded, to avoid stifling the creativity of any one participant and setting a limiting tone.
- Avoid any reward until after the free-flowing ideas have all been recorded, to avoid group think.
- Provide a relaxing, informal atmosphere that allows for easy conversation, removing potential barriers to contributing ideas that are out of the ordinary.
- Provide a setting that is as unstructured as possible.
- Have one person act as the note-taker and list each idea offered.
- Evaluate ideas at the end of the session by exploring solutions further, using more conventional approaches.
- Minimize distractions.
- Consider using concept mapping to arrange and develop ideas.
“Brainstorming.” University of New South Wales, Learning and Teaching Unit. Last modified September 10, 2015. https://teaching.unsw.edu.au/brainstorming.
“Brainstorming Assessment.” ICANS Chapter 4, Integrated Curriculum for Achieving Necessary Skills. http://www.literacynet.org/icans/chapter04/brainstorming3.html.
Cook, Liz, Elizabeth Eyre, Keith Jackson, James Manktelow, Sarah Pavey and Rachel Thompson. “Brainstorming: Generating Many Radical, Creative Ideas.” MindTools.com. https://www.mindtools.com/brainstm.html.
Weimer, Maryellen. “Problem-Solving Exercises that Promote Intellectual Development.” Faculty Focus. Last modified on July 21, 2009. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/learning-styles/problem-solving-exercises-that-promote-intellectual-development/.