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.
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.)
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 🙂
- landscape orientation of pages (we can probably somewhat play with their standard layout, but only with good reason)
- pictures need to work in black and white as we cannot guarantee them being printed in colour (although in the online version they would be in colour). Please ensure that you have ownership, or have obtained copyright clearance for any image submitted.
Here the first follow-up post promised in my write up of the #ReGenring17 conference.
For the afternoon we had scheduled a ‘Sharing Session’ – essentially some time for people to just talk to each other. In order to give some broader starting points than just the keynotes, I had put out a Call for Practice as a first announcement of the conference, and quite a few people had responded to that.
The idea was that people would pick an example of their genring practice to show off, so that delegates could have a look at this. I had decided to give a structure to this by asking the sharers to fill in a very basic questionnaire about their projects to send to me the week previously, which I then fitted into a basic template. So everybody who shared their work had a poster that was following the same format.
One of the feedback comments stated
The posters are informative but all have the same format (template), Maybe delegates could present their work/research in chosen individual ways?
Let me explain that decision… I decided on using a template on purpose, for a number of reasons:
- This needed to work as a stand-alone piece of work, so even if the sharer didn’t bring any other artefacts or documents to show and wasn’t present (due to talking to somebody else at that time), this still needed to make sense. Current poster practice (see my recent blog post on this – told you it made sense to have it as an interlude before this post) shows that stand-alone posters often use what I call a ‘Spineless Report’ or ‘Box Set’ approach. I really didn’t want any of the former, because people get either bored by too much text or frustrated when not having the time to read it all. But a ‘Box Set’ like approach I thought was much better – ask the sharers about something specific.
- When everybody uses the same template what you end up with are posters that are much easier to compare.
- I wanted to steer the sharing session towards the process of genring and regenring, so the template was designed to prompt the sharers into that, rather than just show off the fabulous outcomes that they achieved.
- And I was also already thinking of the special edition of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice that we are putting together on the back of this. For that we had been talking about a section that shows off examples, like a catalogue in a way, so I actually designed a format with that in mind. I think I can pull the posters into spreads for the journal pretty easily to achieve this catalogue section, making little extra work for the sharers. So it is a multi-genre performing template.
In short, while choosing a template format for the sharing session loses the individuality of expression from the sharers, it gains the easier comparability. As sharers were encouraged to bring extra materials, the format of which they were free to choose themselves, I think they had the opportunity to still customise what they were showing sufficiently.
So why this template?
I have designed and worked with a template/format that looks at genre before: the Dress-Up Doll of Formality. In a nutshell this is an activity I designed for my students to become more aware of the ‘rules’ of a genre, by likening writing for a specific audience to dressing for a specific occassion. So what I ask them to do is to design an outfit for a Gingerbreadperson that is like a genre they explore (tweet, academic essay, billboard poster, etc.) and then also add why they chose this outfit. It gets the students to pay attention to the rules in a visual and fun way (and I have also run this as a workshop for staff and management, which can be much fun). This works fine in the context it was designed for, but seemed too simple in the context of this conference. And, of course, it puts the focus on the established rules of one genre, but not on the process of genring or regenring.
Of course there is a theoretical framework custom-made for this, Fiona English’s work, which looks at genre in the context of two orientations, the social and the material, breaking these down further into contextual and discursive as well as thematic and semiotic aspects respectively, to then break these down even further. This one seemed at the other end of the spectrum, a bit too complex. I didn’t want to scare the potential sharers away by sending them a template that basically meant they would first have to read a chapter or book in order to understand it.
So I needed to find a middle ground. Fairly simple to break down, but giving pertinent information. And it needed a simple visual as well, something that could be customised to show a flavour of the individual projects, but still somewhat uniform. And it needed to make sense as a visual metaphor for the process of genring and regenring.
I decided to ask people to focus on the gains and losses that the ‘new’ genre has opposed to the ‘old’ genres it is inspired by or based on. I thought that was probably the most crucial concept, information that people new to genring would need (or want to have) when considering their own projects for the future. And I stumbled across the Venn Diagram as a visual that shows the idea of two different ‘pools’ of genre that overlap – and this overlap is what we are interested in.
So we first identify the genres the ‘new’ genre is based on. In our context this is often a traditional academic genre (which I put on the left) and a non-academic genre (which I put on the right) – although of course in a different context these might not be linked to academic genres at all, or could all be academic genres. The ‘new’, or featured, genre is in the middle – an ideal place to put an image giving a sense of an example of that genre. And then it is simply a matter of identifying the gains and losses of that genre in the overlap. Of course you ‘lose’ and ‘gain’ things from both sides of the Venn Diagram. For this exercise it is important to try and list all the gains and losses; identifying losses in particular is hard, because usually these are things you are happy to lose, otherwise you wouldn’t decide to try this new genre. But listing it all is really helpful in allowing you to make an informed decision.
I think this template might actually become a simple way to familiarise people with the concept of genring and would also work as an activity sheet to think through potential gains and losses when switching from one genre to the next, so I also made them as a handout with simple instructions that you can download here (including the space we had on the poster for a description of the new genre): Genring Handout blank
I promised two follow-up posts to the ReGenring17 conference, but as one of them is also related to thinking recently disseminated at the internal Learning and Teaching conference at Staffordshire University, I thought I would put in this little interlude sharing with you what I talked about then.
The use (and possible mis-use) of academic posters is something I have been thinking about a lot recently, so while I have blogged about this previously here, here is a little update on my thinking. This has been informed by looking at a lot of posters in the academic realm from all sorts of disciplines.
Ever since visualisation literacy researcher and designer Lulu Pinney introduced me to the distinction of designing for immersing the audience in a subject or for igniting their interest in the subject, I have looked out for those distinctions. And I think current poster practice can be located along this spectrum – from immersing to igniting. Here are some (stereotypical) examples I have seen over and over again:
The Spineless Report
The idea behind this poster is to put as much of the data you collected onto the poster. It shouts “look at all the stuff that I have done! Surely I deserve extra credit for having collected this much data!” This might not be the best way to communicate your findings, but very often students end up with a poster like this, particularly if this is the only assignment they have to do. The text is invariably way too small to read, there is too much of it. Pictures, if there are any included, tend to be too small. This type of poster is truly trying to immerse you in its subject, and if you drown in all that information, then that is too bad.
The Box Set
This type of poster follows very clear rules and sections information into boxes. Very often this is based on a template given by the tutor. This is a much more sensible way to use posters in learning and teaching, but again it can often become an exercise in let’s see how much information I can cram into these boxes.
In practice this very often uses smart art from word processing programs, specifically the one that looks most impressive, but not necessarily the one that makes the most sense in the context of the research. However, the infographic format can be really helpful if used correctly – if the student can then avoid the temptation to fill the rest of their poster with text again. And the question remains where to put all the extra research, unless there is another outlet in the assignment mix.
The Visual Metaphor
This type of poster is dominated by a visual, and adds some text to explain the metaphor as well as extra details.
The Big Picture
Another type of poster that is dominated by a visual, this time not a visual metaphor, but rather a design or photograph of an actual thing of situation. Text explains the image and adds extra details.
The Poster Spectrum and Higher Education
All of these different examples – and there are probably a few more – have some traits in common. With the genre of the (printed) poster comes the idea of a limited amount of space, usually in a prescribed rectangular size, although the maker might get to choose orientation. With specifying an academic or research poster usually comes the aim of summarising a particular project for a specific audience (that might be experts in the field or lay people, for example). And when academics and researchers put together posters they know their objectives, whether it is to network, tell people about an on-going project or just needed to hand in something so they could attend a particular conference. Based on that knowledge, and of the knowledge of the specific home discipline, it is easy to choose where to locate one’s own poster on the immersing/igniting spectrum.
However, when using the poster format within Higher Education as assessments, this becomes more difficult. I have seen a lot of guidance on academic poster design that highlights the importance of using visuals and being careful not to use too much text. In a way it seems that the advice is to stay away from the immersing end of the spectrum. The assessment acts as another layer of requirement. If the poster is the only assessment required for a course, students have little choice but to go for the immersing end of the spectrum, because it becomes about demonstrating as much of the research they have done as possible. If, however, the poster is part of an assessment mix, then students can afford to not include everything on it, because there will be other opportunities to include those details and information, such as a handout or report, for example. So potentially this will make for less text-heavy posters.
As educators using the academic poster as a learning opportunity for our students, we need to be clear about our objectives in assigning them AND we need to make sure that our students are clear about the aims that the posters themselves have. We need to talk to them about the different types of posters they could produce and the pros and cons each type might bring with it. Because not every poster is alike.
Can you think of any other types not yet included? Please let me know in a comment!
Last week was a crazy week for me, but the highlight undoubtedly was the ReGenring Academic Writing and Assessment conference I co-organised at Nottingham Trent University. (And as co-organiser I might be slightly biased as to how fabulous an event it was…) I promised to write this up quickly for some people who couldn’t join us, so here are my impressions of the day:
The Trent Institute for Learning and Teaching that was hosting us had booked us into a great lecture theatre in their conference centre in the Newton Building. This location worked really well, apart from the fact that they don’t allow you to put up your own signage. Official signage apparently has to be ordered weeks in advance, and we didn’t quite make that deadline, so in a way the day must have started for many people with the challenge to find the room…
But find it they did and then delegates were immediately set the task of making their own name tags, my favourite way to start a workshop. Turns out it also works for a conference. With more delegates than I had previously worked with coming, I had been a bit worried whether we would have enough ‘making’ space, but people seemed to make good use of the set up table and then drift over to continue started conversations on the other tables once their name tag was finished.
After a brief welcome by my co-organiser Lisa Clughen and myself, we started off with a talk by Julia Molinari about what makes our writing academic. This was a great start to the formal part of the day, as it set out a theoretical background for the question of where academic writing sits within the production, reflection and dissemination of knowledge – and whether it is the only way of doing these things. Julia argued for diversity within work with examples from long ago (Galileo argued his findings as a conversation) and from right now (and one of her examples, Nick Sousanis, we would hear from directly later on). What I took from her talk was questioning the contexts of ‘theory’ and ‘academia’ – and becoming more aware of the differences of these contexts (which might in turn help to break down the traditions of the latter).
After this theoretical grounding, we moved into the practice when David Hindley and Lisa Clughen talked about student perceptions and experiences of academic blogging. This was a reflection on the evaluation of one of Dave’s modules that asks students to write an academic blog post of 600 words as an assessment instead of an essay – plus making 3 informed comments on posts their peers put up. I was really interested in this, as it is a very different way of using blogging than I use (I use it to formatively prepare research for an essay at the end). Introducing the comments as a way of engaging the students beyond their own research seemed to work very well, and what also was interesting was that all students contribute to the same blog, hosted by Dave, so he is the person that posts the contribution, so he de facto becomes the editor, which allows to cut out concerns about students posting inappropriate material. While these practical aspects were interesting, the findings from the evaluation, which included questionnaires and focus groups, really were the star of this talk. They showed how students were not only feeling empowered by this way of contributing to debates in their field, but also how they found the joy in the research and writing. Clearly this works!
Our third keynote speaker, Nick Sousanis, gave a very eloquent and entertaining whistle-stop tour of his work, with specific focus on Unflattening. I have mentioned this book on this blog before, and if you haven’t looked at it yet, you should really get it! Nick’s subtitle for his talk was ‘reimagining scholarship through comics’ and he also talked about some work he does with students who are not confident when it comes to drawing, but that the format of comics – the combination of text and images, but particularly layout of pages within and around the boxes and the gutter – is a rich environment to explore when you are exploring what you are trying to “say”.
After all this food for thought, we needed some actual food and therefore relocated to a room a floor above to have lunch. I wasn’t really at lunch, as I was setting up the afternoon session, but when I popped up to grab a sandwich it was great to see how many people were sitting together and talking with each other.
While the morning had been carefully scheduled, we had planned the afternoon as a ‘Sharing Session’. Whenever I am going to events like this, it often seems like there is too little time to think and talk through the presented ideas. So instead of planning more formal presentations, we had put out a ‘Call for Practice’ so that people who are using alternative genre as assessments or in teaching could self-nominate and bring some materials to share with interested delegates. As we were particularly interested in the process of (re)genring, I had designed a simple template that I fed the information I had from people into, so that everybody who had responded to the Call for Practice could have a poster made that showed off ‘their’ genre within a very simple theoretical framework (looking at the gains and losses – I think I’ll blog about the details of this separately in the next few days). So when people drifted back into the room after lunch (or after going for a walk, or visiting the local comic book store), we had the posters set up and the people who had brought examples, etc. started to show off their practice. This worked really well, there was a lot of conversation around the room, clustered around posters as well as continuing conversations around the tables. We didn’t just have tea, coffee and cake, TILT had also sprung for some prosecco (particular thanks to Lisa for this brilliant idea!), so it really felt like a celebration.
Nick then led us in his Grids and Gestures drawing exercise. This was something he had mentioned in the morning, when we didn’t have the time for it. And it turned out to be the perfect thing for the afternoon, drawing together the sharing session with an activity (must remember that for the next conference!). If you want to know more about Grids and Gestures – and maybe do your own -, check out Nick’s blog here or his write-up of the activity in the SANE journal here.
We ended the day with Fiona English drawing the different strands together in a plenary. She reflected on the richness that using different genres allow to communicate (and produce) research, and that maybe investigating genring and regenring within a theoretical framework will allow us to convince the sceptics about the usefulness of this as a process.
I wanted to end this post by telling you about feedback bunting, but I’m already over 1000 words, so will leave that, too, for another post on another day. But I do want to say thank you to all the people who came to this day and made it so successful, and particularly to Lisa, my co-organiser! One of the feedback comments ended with “more please!!!” – we will try our best!