Brainstorming is a process of generating fresh ideas – often to solve a problem – in a group context. Participants free associate with ideas, focussing upon quantity over quality. No ideas raised are dismissed out of hand; rather, there is a positive focus upon new suggestions, or ones that build on ideas already suggested. Brainstorming often throws up leftfield ideas, encouraging learners to reach beyond the obvious when tackling a problem. Topics are interrogated rapidly, producing multiple ideas, which can then be narrowed down into the most useful ones by which to approach the problem set. Brainstorming may be conducted using digital tools, such as mind-mapping applications.
In an online context, a range of digital tools can be utilised for brainstorming, from straightforward sync and share applications to collect ideas in the form of a list (e.g. google docs), to more sophisticated tools designed for collaborative work (e.g. ‘conversations’ in Slack) or even tools specifically designed for brainstorming/mind-mapping (e.g. bubbl.us, described on their site as a ‘visual thinking tool’).
Brainstorming in a F2F context does not necessarily require any tools beyond standard classroom provision for recording and presenting information: pens, post it notes, whiteboard. However, the same digital tools which are used in an online context can be advantageously utilised in a F2F classroom too: ideas collected digitally are easy to share and work on collaboratively, both during and beyond a F2F (or synchronous online) teaching session.
Brainstorming works well in a range of class sizes. Larger classes may generate a substantial quantity of ideas very rapidly. A facilitator introduces the topic or problem, usually writing it up on a board or screen, and invites ideas, encouraging everyone to shout out (or add digitally) ideas as they occur. It is important that all ideas are accepted: the purpose is to free associate without constraints, to encourage innovative, fresh thinking about the topic. This is a fun way to generate ideas involving the active participation of learners.
The brainstorming activity itself continues until no new ideas are offered: the length of time this will take depends upon not only the nature of the problem in question, but also upon the group size – as a larger group may not take long to finish generating fresh ideas compared with a smaller one.
At the end of the activity, time is given to reflecting upon and reorganising the ideas: at this stage some ideas will be discarded (a voting system may be used to help with this) and others taken forward for further investigation. During the brainstorming activity group members may become competitive and smaller groups may be arranged to brainstorm different aspects of a problem, which can encourage this sort of positive competitiveness, boosting creativity. Participants may also offer amusing takes on the issue in question – which as well as contributing towards a positive and energetic social learning environment, often leads to innovative approaches to resolving the problem.
Brainstorming tends to be the first step in thinking about a topic and is not a process which would be assessed.
Avis, S. (2015-2019) 14 free tools to facilitate innovation. https://tallyfy.com/brainstorming-tools/ Accessed 17.06.19
Goswami B, Jain A, Koner BC (2017) Evaluation of Brainstorming Session as a Teaching-learning Tool among Postgraduate Medical Biochemistry Students. International Journal of Applied Basic Medical Research. 7 (Suppl 1):S15–S18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5769163/ Accessed 17.06.19
Paulus, PB and Kenworthy, JB (2019) Effective Brainstorming in Paulus PB and Nijstad, BA (eds) The Oxford handbook of group creativity and innovation. 287-306. New York, Oxford University Press
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