Creativity on the Run: Apps That Support the Creative Process

Flashes of creative thought can be difficult for students to capture, so we rounded up a few apps that can help.

July 24, 2013 Updated October 9, 2017

There’s a great quote that’s attributed—incorrectly—to Albert Einstein: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

We do not need to teach creativity, but rather inspire its daily practice. Somewhere along the way, we forgot to honor this innate gift and how to access its power. Our role as educators is to encourage learning experiences that increase students’ ability to recognize and listen to their inner voice.

Let’s begin by shifting emphasis from finding the right answer to creating cultures that encourage risk-taking and embrace ambiguity. Psychologist Carl Rogers believed that we repress and even hide creative talent if our working environment is not psychologically safe or grounded on unconditional acceptance and empathy.

Building a culture of trust is the first essential ingredient for a community of creative thinkers to emerge. Students need to feel safe enough to get out of their comfort zone, embrace uncertainty, take chances, and effectively collaborate with others. Teachers can build ways to enhance rather than undermine creative thinking.

Once that culture is created, a variety of apps can help capture students’ creative thinking.

The Idea Catcher

Have you ever noticed how ideas suddenly occur while you’re going on a walk, taking a shower, driving, or daydreaming? When our mind wanders between subconscious and conscious thought, we find ourselves working on ideas indirectly.

Digital journaling can help students to tap into the flow of these internal conversations and then archive these moments.

Useful apps encourage the recording of our thought flow and merge text with features such as voice recording, video, sketches, and photography. For example, students can use photography to document thoughts that appear on a whiteboard or the back of a napkin. The ability to assign search tags to digital notes empowers students to discover links between ideas.

Recommended apps:


Brainstorming is often used to help generate ideas, and a cornerstone of this technique is an understanding that creativity thrives when criticism is absent. It’s essential that during brainstorming students postpone all judgment of ideas, whether negative or positive.

We must hold on loosely to ideas to keep the process moving forward—revision can come later. Brainstorming sets us out in search of a parade of ideas while simultaneously harnessing our natural inclination to focus and identify solutions. Whenever attention shifts to focusing on one idea, inspiration threatens to vanish.

Electronic brainstorming can assist with the capture of fleeting ideas and build a capacity for fluent and flexible thinking, and it provides a space for collaboration. This process allows individuals more time to process suggestions, and contribute ideas through a safe backchannel.

It’s helpful to give students time to brainstorm alone before gathering them together as a group. Apps that allow them to generate ideas alone can provide the relaxed moment that some need to fully consider options. Since individual ideas are not initially under the influence of group dynamics, this process may prompt the delivery of a more diverse set of options.

Once they come together as a group, students can add their ideas to one communal pot and begin the decision-making process of sorting, categorizing, and synthesizing.

Recommended apps:

Let’s Get Visual

Doodling is a powerful format for generating ideas. Again, the process needs to remain fast, fluent, and flexible. The challenge here is to select a drawing app that reduces the desire to spend time creating art. The minute a thought becomes precious, the flow of ideas is repressed. The goal is to keep sketches open and unfinished.

Combining different concepts is another popular strategy to generate ideas. Photo-collage and drawing apps, which allow users to very quickly crop, combine, resize, layer, and reassemble images in a variety of configurations, are a powerful medium for exploring idea combinations. With each modification, a quick screen shot or image save will document the idea, allowing students to move on to the next arrangement.

Recommended apps:

Inquiry Questions

Paul Torrance defined creativity as “the process of sensing problems or gaps in information, forming ideas or hypotheses, testing, modifying these hypotheses, and communicating the results. This process may lead to any one of many kinds of products—verbal and nonverbal, concrete and abstract.”

In order to be creative, students must have the capacity to redefine problems and frame questions. The formation of essential questions or need statements will direct and shape discovery-based learning. These questions are constantly referred back to, revised, and used to establish criteria and regain focus during the learning process.

When generating problem statements/questions, students need to adopt a flexible process that will promote the articulation of several versions. Mind-mapping apps can encourage a playful generation of multiple options. By saving each image as students drag and rearrange possible sections of text bubbles, they can work together to unlock the underlying problem. Later they can examine each archive of question configurations directly in the photo album. Sections of their questions, or text bubbles with some apps, can also incorporate images.

Recommended apps:

Be Brave

We need to demystify the creative thinking process for students and model how to tune in to its power. Before questioning why thoughts, images, or sounds that resonate within them are important, allow time and space for unusual ideas to exist. Since this learning path can take unpredictable and seemingly random detours, it will require bravery on the part of both student and teacher. Don’t be afraid to relinquish control. Use creative energy to spark the desire to learn, realize self-fulfillment, and fall in love with dreams.

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