As mentioned in my last post, I am currently preparing for a workshop with my friend and colleague Katy Vigurs. Before this is happening (tomorrow to be exact), I wanted to share some of the prep work that has gone into this once the abstract had been accepted. As it will be a workshop where participants will be encouraged to think about (their ?) research in a visual way (in form of a board game, to be exact), this blog post will be in a more visual form than the posts I usually put together for you…

An afternoon of try-outs, brainstorming and tea

The handout – from sketch to coloured in version

Scaling it up – an outline ready for the workshop

… as you can see we are well prepared. More details on how the workshop went in the next few days!


No, I’m not talking about whether we should slide down the banisters of life*, but rather this post (and the next) is a collection of thoughts on choosing the right tools when preparing for presentations…

In June I’ll be attending two conferences, and I am currently in the process of preparing my contributions for them. One of them is a workshop and the other a more traditional presentation, so out of the gate, we are dealing with different types of presentations (or genres?) here. The workshop is a collaboration (and I will post about the prep in more detail as well as about the actual workshop once it happened soon), and when I met up with my collaborator, Katy Vigurs, to have a chat about what we are going to do and how to organise this, she mentioned “our slides” in passing.

Here’s the thing: I wasn’t planning to do slides, at least not in the conventional sense. I try to avoid that for workshops. For a start I don’t like projecting something and then having people focus on something that is on the table in front of them. What should you concentrate on? The thing that is projected ona wall or the thing you are working on? What if you miss some vital instruction, so better focus on the projected thing, but that then breaks your concentration of working on the thing! If we had a lot of time, we could work with a stopping and starting model of working through stuff, but we only have 90 minutes and a lot to cover, so that wouldn’t work.

The other thing I don’t like about slides in this context (but that works wonderfully well in different contexts), is that slides have a list approach to information. I don’t mean that text on slides tends to be presented in a list format far too often (although it does), but rather the way they are organised. Each slide is one bit of information and once you move on, you move onto the next bit of information. In a way that sounds ideal for a workshop, but what if not everybody works at the same speed and with the same confidence? Yes, theoretically you can go back to previous slides, but you can’t really show two slides (or even more) at the same time. If you are giving people instructions as part of a workshop, chances are that not everybody is going to work at the same speed – and that is perfectly fine. But to make this as little anxiety inducing to participants as possible, we ideally have to find a way to keep instructions visible, even when we moved on to the next step. We can do this with a handout, but the problem with a handout is that if you give it to people during the workshop, you allow them to not just go back over content already covered, they can also skip ahead. I try to discourage people skipping ahead, because it can end up rushing the people who are going slower – and I have also found that sometimes people don’t do one step properly, skip to the next step (which might seem more fun) and then run into trouble later, because (guess what?) they didn’t do that one step properly. Or maybe I am just too much of a control freak… (definitely possible!).

So what we needed in the context of this workshop was a method that would let us deliver new bits of information in a controlled manner, while also allowing us to keep them visible once we are moving on to the next step. The solution: the humble flip chart. This means we can pre-prepare content, but can also develop it as we go. And while we can hide old content behind new content, we can also keep it visible by displaying it around the room. As it happens I have a roll of the ‘magic’ plastic flip chart stuff that will stick to pretty much any surface, so that will become our information delivery system. And I am also working on a handout to distribute at the end of the session.

Katy was fine with not doing slides, by the way. If we have a computer and projector in the room, we might use it to display this blog 😉

I am, however, still considering slides for my other conference presentation. More on that, prezi, props and slides in teaching in my next post.


*For the record, I think we should all try to slide down the banisters of life as often as possible, both literally and figuratively!

One of the reasons that this blog has been fairly quiet over the last few months, is that Fiona English and myself are in the process of co-guest editing two special issues of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice. We are really excited about the mix of content, which represents a number of genres as well as discuss using genres in teaching and learning. (Of course I will let you know when the issues are actually out, one of them is going to print soon, the other is about to enter the typesetting stage.)

a preview of the cover image for the forthcoming journal issues

So when we heard that EAP in the North were running a workshop on Exploring Genre(s) specifically in the context of the creative arts, we thought this was an excellent occassion to visit the University of Edinburgh and chat a little bit about our expertise in this and check out what other people are doing.

It was such a lovely event, and I was reminded of our own ReGenre conference last year (indeed, one of the attendees of that event was here giving us an opportunity to catch up), because it was run in a way to allow for lots of sharing and discussion along the way.

Alex Collins from the University of Edinburgh showed us how he engages art history students with core skills via workshops that are backed up with his online Art History Toolkit (check it out here, but be aware that he might ‘wipe’ content in preparation for the new term to then populate it again as the term progresses – though he is currently looking at other ways of running this, and I really do hope it’ll become a permanent resource for all of us to dip into – there is lots of good stuff here, not just for art history students!).

Clare Carr was talking about some of the different genres music students at Durham University are being asked to write in – and wondered whether assignment setters need to be more precise about how they brief and also describe the genres they are actually after. The term ‘essay’ means many things to many people!

This linked in perfectly for an exploration of what an ‘essay’ is or could be – and the Dress-up Doll of Formality exercise I introduced delegates to. After some fast and furious discussion and outfit drawing on the tables, the sharing with solutions of the group was rich (and we are hoping to get the produced images up on the EAP in the North website). This short taste of regenring was a great lead into a quick overview of Fiona’s work – and of course us talking a bit about the forthcoming special issues.

After a short refreshment break, Clare Maxwell was talking about writing genres specifically within Design in her work at the University of Leeds, genres that are very often located in the overlap of academic, vocational and creative work – but sometimes difficult to locate in publications of designers (that old theory/practice divide is still coming up it seems). One of the issues of discussion following on from Clare’s talk was the role of ‘I’ in writing – and the necessity of authors to be aware of what it does.

We then broke off into small groups, where some people had brought ideas to share and discuss. In the group I joined, Anna Rolinska laid out her plans for a Pre-Sessional English for Creative Disicplines course at Glasgow School of Art, which was fascinating, with all of the group then sharing ideas, which hopefully gave Anna some more inspiration. I hope she will write a little post on this later in the year.

Most of us ended up in the pub for a drink and more chat afterwards. On top of everything else, it was a gorgeous day – Thank You to Alison Thomas and her team for organising such a fabulous event!

The setting for the workshop was this lovely campus, need I say more?

My soon-to-be final year students have the option of starting their final year research projects this month, and I’m running a little ‘research boot camp’ to remind them of some of the procedures and share some extra tips and tricks in preparation for this. As the quality of secondary sources has been a weak point in the research my students typically produce, I don’t just remind them of the Fishscale of Academicness analogy and exercises we do in their first year, but I also wanted to give them a straightforward, but playful, reminder of some of the things to look out for when looking at (and for) sources.

How about a round of Bibliography Bingo? I produced a bingo card (download and try it for yourself here: TacAc Bibliography Bingo) with some things they might encounter in their sources, and some, such as index or reference list, that give hints that this might be an academic source. The idea is to use a card for each source encountered, and mark each of the spaces that apply. As I arranged the more academic clues in the middle 9 squares, scoring those squares gives a higher indication of an academic source having been found.

When I presented this to my students, one asked whether we were going to actually play a round of Bibliography Bingo. I have to admit that I had thought of this as a fun diagnostic tool, rather than turn it into an activity in class. This time round we didn’t have time, but next time a round of bingo is definitely on the cards!

Sarah Williamson, long-time friend of Tactile Academia, recently talked about a gallery intervention project here, which is well worth checking out.

I love the simple way of using post-its to ‘hack’ into the established institutional representation system that is the art gallery – a wonderful (and simple) way of getting an audience to link their seeing to their thinking!

I am at the beginning of a new research project, and have been thinking about note taking. Not the note taking that you do once you are in the process of collecting data, whether primary or secondary, but rather the notes that you make before.

There is a very early phase of your research, sort of initial research, when you are finding your focus and honing your ideas into one clear question – a very exciting stage because at the moment there are lots of things this research could turn into.

For me this was always the stage where notes can be found all over the place. Filling up old envelopes is a favourite of mine, maybe because there seem to be some coming through my letterbox a few times a week and once they are emptied of their initial message they almost cry out for a new one. Of course the problem with old envelopes is that they also like to get lost. Be it in piles of documents or as impromptu bookmarks, they seem good at hiding – until they turn up again months or maybe years later and a by then forgotten thought says hello again. Not great when you potentially want to use this idea next week!

Then there are post-its, great to catch an idea in a few words or a sketch, but easily found at the bottom of a bag during the next spring cleaning.

The other way of taking these types of notes for me is in notebooks, of which I usually have a few on the go. With little rhyme of reason behind which one I choose to have with me, could be because one lives in a particular bag or maybe it is just the first one I grab. Here these notes are interspersed with notes relating to other projects, past and future, from world-changing idea to grocery shopping list. This way of taking notes is good to grab onto the ideas in the first place, using a little bit of time when inspiration strikes (for me that is often when I’m on a train), but ultimately this is not a very effective way of managing these ideas.

Clearly what I needed was a practical (but also inspirational) way of ‘decanting’ this information. A purposeful place where I can hold onto them, but also maybe order them – not in the order they come to me, but by issue or aspect or perspective (depending on what is appropriate to the project itself). This is quite obvious and I have tried to do this before – start a dedicated notebook for a project – but so far these have never been successful. What got in the way, I think, was the fear of not getting it right – what if the order was wrong? And really what would be the best way to order this? How much space should I leave for each theme I have come across?

For my new project I have decided on a for me new way of working. My new dedicated notebook was purchased and the first thing I did was put random colour washes on each spread. And when I say random, I mean random. Using acrylic inks (because I had them but hadn’t used them for a while) and lots of water I was experimenting with different lines and shapes, and really whatever felt right in the moment (see some of the result on the images on this page).

Once this had all dried (and this took a while as I could only do one spread at a time), I flicked through this book with my ideas of the themes I am collecting information and ideas about, and whenever one seemed to ‘fit’ with a spread, this became the one I used for that idea. These ‘visual clues’ probably only make sense to me, but to me they are meaningful – and fun. I have found the right spread for all the themes I have for now and started collating and collecting my notes in this way, making little pictures with the words – no point in writing in rigid lines, when there are shapes in the background to be followed! This means that I am not filling up the spreads in the order that they appear in the notebook – and I’m not sure if that is at all significant. And so far I still have lots of space, but I figure once a spread is all filled-up, I will find another one for the follow-up information. Because the backgrounds were all done pretty randomly, in the spirit of experimentation some of them are a bit rubbish – which is great, because I am not afraid to keep working on the pages. In a way I think the information will make the pages better – which really is what you want from a notebook, isn’t it? And also this is all pre-information, this is pre-structure – I am after all still figuring out what exact questions there could be and which ones of these I will choose to work on. But all the information is now in one place – a notebook that I am not afraid to add things to, but look forward to filling up.

This notebook doesn’t come on adventures with me, it is not for catching ideas on the go. It is for ordering these caught ideas into, to hold onto them in one place, organised but not structured for research yet – and the process of adding new ideas from other notebooks, post-its and envelopes into it has already sparked more ideas.

I will definitely continue to experiment with this – and yes, I will probably share some of the filled-up pages once they are ready to put out there!

Here the 2nd promised addendum to the write-up of #ReGenring17

Collecting delegate feedback after or during an event can always be a bit challenging. There are standard feedback forms around, of course, but they might not actually capture the information you are most interested in. I, for example, am usually more interested in delegates’ responses to the content of the event than in their thoughts on the organisation of the buffet (not that this is not important, but if something was fundamentally wrong with that, I probably already know). So I leave the formal feedback forms for collecting metrics for the venue or the funders.

Feedback Bunting in action

But I do want to know what people actually thought about and during the event and since my events are usually quite creative, I like to find ways of tying this in. Apart from the maybe ubiquitous post-its, I have in the past used postcards and luggage tags to get delegates to leave some impressions of the event with me – and their thoughts on how to improve it for next time round. And then somebody at one of the Writing-PAD East Midlands meetings mentioned ‘feedback bunting’. I was immediately attracted to the idea. Could we somehow give delegates little ‘flags’ in different colours for their comments and invite them to populate a string as the event progressed?

Using relatively small flags has the advantage that delegates can add comments in bite-sized pieces as they occur, so instead of having to do a summary of feedback of the day towards the end, it can grow organically.

Ready to try this out for the recent ReGenring conference, I first looked into pre-produced bunting but decided against that as it would have been difficult to add comments once this was hanging – and I didn’t want to end up with un-displayed but filled in bunting at the end of the event. Rather, I wanted to find a way to allow delegates to secure their flags on the string without needing clips or a stapler, so tried out a folded version with a slot cut into both sides from opposite ends, so they could be slotted together (see the second way on the drawing below). In theory this worked well, but in practice this turned out to be over-designed, most people ended up just folding their flags over the string which worked just as well if not better than a complicated slotting maneouvre. (Although if the event had been outdoors that might have been a different matter.)

a very basic drawn instruction on how to make feedback bunting work

Having explained the idea during my part of the Welcome, I left flags on the tables for people to start filling up (which started pretty much immediately). During the Sharing Session in the afternoon I could be found walking around pressing some more onto people while asking “Have you left some feedback yet?” Maybe I was slightly too pushy, but it was really lovely to see the bunting chain grow over the course of the day.

I will definitely be using this simple, but effective, way of collecting feedback again and would recommend it for events big and small.

I am also thinking that this might be a fun way to organise a to-do list. I always have a number of projects on the go, and having one per flag would remind me of those projects and give me some space to add notes (and if I run out of space on one flag, I can always add another one). Plus as urgencies and priorities change, the order of these flags could be easily switched around. Something to try out in the next few days, I think 🙂