Why Are BYU Animation Students So Creative?

I recently finished my undergraduate degree in media arts (film) from BYU, and one of the most fulfilling experiences I had as an undergrad was working as a research assistant on a project related to a teaching style called Problem Based Learning, the nature of group creativity, and the Center for Animation here at BYU.

When I came onto the project most of the data had already been collected, but there hadn’t been much analysis. Nearly 100 hours of class time and student interaction from students working on an animation project (think Dream Giver or any of the award winning shorts BYU Animation has produced) had been recorded on video, and it was my job to watch it all and look for themes and patterns related to creativity and Problem-based Learning (PBL). PBL is an instructional approach often used in medical school to prepare doctors to learn how to find and solve problems with patients, but we found that if used thoughtfully it can be a great way to teach creative groups.  Analyzing all the data wasn’t easy, but after watching and coding many hours of video footage, I began to see some remarkable things.



Of the many points I noted, the most significant to me was that the students shared a common vision: to make an amazing film that they would enjoy watching themselves. This collective goal helped them overcome many obstacles and personal barriers that might have stalled the project, and is ultimately what helps the majority of them reach their second goal of getting hired after graduation. Additionally, the faculty and visiting professionals who came to BYU also shared this same vision. All the stakeholders in the project wanted the same outcome on the film, and I think that is one reason there is so much creativity coming out of BYU’s program.

The animation students might not be much more creative than anyone else. These students simply found something they were very passionate about, worked together to reach their vision, and were open to feedback from professors, each other, and professionals from Hollywood.  Due to some very well organized classes and the innovative PBL design of the program, the creativity of each person was harnessed to make an incredible film.

I worked with two professors to write up my findings, and we shared how these students were working in the PBL context to make award winning films. PBL is different than the traditional instructional approach in that the students are given a problem that isn’t very clear and the teacher acts more like a guide than an instructor. Creating an excellent film is a challenge (or problem) that doesn’t have a clear answer like a 2+2=4, and the students were required to not only find the actual problems to be solved, but then had to learn how to fix them with minimal teacher intervention. In our paper we explored how the animation students evaluated their decisions, and how they determined whether they were successful or not within the PBL structure.



As an undergraduate student, it was amazing to not only see the paper published (with my name on it!) but to then go to San Francisco to present it at a conference. I learned a lot not only about the group creativity of the animation students, but how I could be creative in writing an academic paper in a field I didn’t have many years of experience in.

Click HERE to read Greg’s published paper in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning