Synectics is a teaching model that was designed by William J.J. Gordon which aims to develop the creative thinking through the use of metaphor and analogy. Originally intended for use in industry it has become a valid and strong teaching model that can be applied in classrooms across disciplines. (Joyce, Weil & Calhoun 2015.) Teachers present students with an image, an issue, questions, or situation and ask them to make metaphors with the aim of combining normally unlike concepts thereby providing students with a way to observe the situation in a new way. It allows students to access the creative problem-solving skills including restructuring ideas about what is known, providing access to the unknown, and empathy with a situation; all important to contemporary learning (Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun 2015; Milbrandt & Milbrandt 2011.)
There are three categories of metaphors the model describes, with subcategories and an addition. Personal analogies are when the student identifies with what is being studied, direct analogies, which is comparing two objects or ideas, and compressed conflicts, which is working with seemingly unlike or contradictory concepts and descriptions (Joyce, Weil & Calhoun 2015.) These three are employed in two strategies aimed at a specific goal: Creating something new and making the strange familiar. (Joyce, Weil & Calhoun 2015.) This model can be used in different classes and one study referenced in this paper is that of pairing gradate, visual arts education students with undergraduate engineering students. The action research aimed at helping the engineer students re-evaluate challenges provided by their professors. It has also been used in the digital art classroom, specifically to help students understand the difference between the creative process and a tool (Branyt 2010; Costantino, Kellum, Cramong & Crowder 2010.)
Strengths and Weaknesses of Synectics
As referenced above, the Synectics model encourages creative thinking. Repeated many places over, there is a misunderstanding that creative thinking cannot be taught, although both works referenced in this paper, and the author disagree. Creative thinking is aided by employing strategies, like what Synectics proposes, and can be taught and practiced (Bryant 2010;, Castatino, Kellum, Cramong & Crowder 2010; Joyce, Weil & Calhoun 2015.) The strength of this model therein. If students can practice this model, become comfortable with using a level of irrationality and emotion in the classroom, then this model provides a strong thinking skills that is called for in the world beyond school (Cstatino, Kellum, Cramong & Crowder 2010; Joyce, Weil & Calhoun 2015; Milbrandt & Milbrandt 2011.) One potential issue of this model is the emotion requirement on the part of students. Creativity is understood as a strong emotional process (Joyce, Weil & Calhoun 2015.) Some students may relish in this, others may be intimidated and still some may like to idea of using emotions in their classroom activities but feel uncomfortable with sharing these in front of their peers. Like any model of teaching, Synetics has limits in its scope. Excellent for arriving at new ideas and empathizing with situations, but oblique when it comes to content acquisition
Personally, I am very excited to find this model. While I have used something similar in the past, this approach is much more structured than what I have done. In my notes for this paper I have challenged myself with the following questions: How can I use this model to help students design a section of publication? What applications are there using Synectics when comparing the visual arts to mathematics? How can I use this model when asking students to employ symbols and symbolism in their painting? And as my Tok students are mostly interested in science and mathematics, how can we compare areas of knowledge using this model? In fact, while researching this paper I did put some analogies to design students who were contemplating a voice for a new section of a book. I am fortunate in that I teach subjects that naturally align to this model, and I will be certain to share it with my team, although I suspect they are employing something similar.
Bryant, Courtney. (2010). A 21st-Century art room: The remix of creativity and technology. Art Education 63(2). Pp 43 – 48.
Costantino, Tracie. Kellum, Nadia. Cramong, Bonnie. & Crowder, Isabell. (2010). An interdisciplinary design studio: How art and engineering collaborate to increase students’ creativity. Art Education 63(2). Pp 49 – 53.
Joyce, Bruce., Weil, Marcha., & Calhoun, Emily. (2015) Models of Teaching. Hong Kong: Pearson.
Milbrandt, Melody. & Milbrandt, Lanny. (2011). What are we talking about? Art Education 64(1). Pp 8 – 13.