After the successful workshop where we explored Genre as a Pedagogical Resource in November, I’m happy to be able to announce the follow-up event: a conference on reGenring Academic Writing and Assessment, hosted by the Trent Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) at Nottingham Trent University in conjunction with Writing-PAD.

workshop participants making their own nametags in November

workshop participants making their own nametags in November

We will start the day with invited speakers in the morning (not quite finalised who yet, but I’ll keep you posted!) and give over the afternoon to a sharing session – and for this we need YOUR examples of practice! The idea is to have this fairly informal and give everybody who registers their interest some space to show off some artefacts or practice, that could be via posters or by bringing examples. We are also planning to put together a special issue of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice (guest edited by myself and Dr Fiona English), so what you bring could be linked to an article you want to write for that (although it doesn’t have to be).

If you are playing with genre in your teaching or assessment practice (in any discipline) and you want to share some of this with us, please email Alke at tactileacademia@gmail.com with a brief description of what you are doing and what sort of artefacts you would like to bring to show. Please use ‘reGenring’ as the subject title of the email and indicate whether you would be interested in contributing to the special edition of the journal.

For more information on the conference and to book your place, please click here.

After publishing the Writing Essays by Pictures book, I have been chatting to people about how to use this approach to teach. If you are one of those people interested in integrating some of the activities and strategies, check out this new workshop I will run the morning of 5th May in Manchester, which will introduce the Board Game Blueprint, an analogy I’ve been playing around with for the last few months – and to make it even better you have the option to sign up for the afternoon making educational games with fellow National Teaching Fellow Andrew Walsh, too!

Booking via EventBrite here.

Picture This! Using the ‘Writing Essays by Pictures’ approach to teaching academic practice
Writing Essays by Pictures is a workbook for students who need help with researching and writing their first evidence based research essay for university. It explains academic practice that often remains hidden to students through everyday analogies and offers activities that allow students to explore the research and writing process in the step-by-step way of painting by numbers.
While the book was originally conceived as a workbook for students, it can also act as a resource for teachers, which will be further explored in this workshop with Dr Alke Groppel-Wegener, the author. Using a new activity, the Board Game Blueprint, designed to help students visualise the syllabus of a module, we will explore how to use the ‘Writing Essays by Pictures’ approach in day-to-day teaching, whether as a dedicated module or stand-alone support sessions.

All attendees will receive a copy of Writing Essays by Pictures (list price £15).

Last Friday’s Look, Make and Learn event at the University of Huddersfield for me ended up as a reminder of ‘flow’ – and the joy of having time and space to just explore.

Sarah Williamson started us off with a session on “Bookmaking for visual thinking, recording and reflection”.  As readers of this blog will know reflective bookmaking is a wonderful tool of exploring thoughts and while working on mine (not quite finished yet, but see below for some pictures of its current state) I realised how long it has been since I actually took the time to make one.

Sarah showing how to make an Instant Book

Sarah showing how to make an Instant Book

Sarah started us off with nice and easy by showing us how to make an Instant Book (sometimes also called Beak Book) out of an A3 photocopy of a map. (If you want to make your own Instant Book, check out the first page of this guide.) She also explained why we were using a map and not blank sheets of paper (and a pale map at that): it takes away the fear of the blank page. A blank page seems to suggest to the maker that it needs to be filled up with perfect stuff, while really this is all about process. Using a texture or pattern as a background will then help with what comes after it. A pale map is perfect for this, as it provides a background that can be worked into.

We then moved on to the Concertina Book (also called the Accordion Book) out of a long strip of paper. (If you need instructions on how to make your own, check out this page – we didn’t put covers on ours in the session, but there is a simple way of doing that included here too.) And in order to get rid of the blank page again, Sarah had brought in two random pages for each of us, one from a music guide and one from a DIY manual, and challenged us to find some words or phrases that explained why we decided to join the day, cut them out and stick them into our books.

While this seems very random, it is amazing how everybody seemed to find something that spoke to them. Here are the phrases that jumped out at me and made it into my book (almost making a poem):

Found text in my reflective book

Found text in my reflective book

I wanted to do something weird

From such beginnings

I had fun

The whole process can be riddled with ‘creative’ errors. It can happen that some strategy, unfit to reproduce the original ‘vision’, ends up outputting something completely unexpected, yet intriguing.

the borders between knowledge and imagination become even fuzzier

it is resolutely something else

a celebration of real things.

20161213_164331The next session was led by Chrissi Nerantzi and called “Make It Yourself (MIY)”. This was a very fast-paced session that took its starting point in the question whether learning (and thinking) that is only ‘head-based’ can ever work – even at university, which seems to have a very head-based tradition of theory rather than practice. We all filled a paper heart with what we love about teaching and then exchanged these hearts and discussed the ones we (randomly) received in small groups. Then we were sent out in pairs to fulfil tasks ranging from talking to students to finding useful objects around campus. We ended up in a circle making a physical net by throwing a ball of wool to each other, sharing feedback on the session.

20161018_153931After lunch I led a session entitled “Playing with Genre”. Here small groups had 30 minutes to design a board game based on writing an essay. We ended up with four games that we discussed and compared to some examples that students had put together in class for me. This is a great way of getting students to talk about what they perceive to be their strength (becoming short cuts) and weaknesses (becoming obstacles), as well as their expectations. I had planned to talk a bit more about how the board game genre also has the potential to become an alternative to the schedule of classes in the module documentation, but while there I realised that this might not have been that interesting for most of the people present as it is quite specific to people who actually plan whole modules. This might become a more detailed blog post in future… or maybe an event on its own (let me know if you would be interested in this!)?

Liz Dixon and Judith Kidder rounded off the day with a session on “Using LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) in teaching, learning and research”. I had heard a lot about this, but had not actually done this myself. We did three short tasks – building a sculpture showing our role at work, a recent teaching experience, and then remodelling the latter into how that could have been improved. I particularly liked the remodelling, as it made me think about not just what I had done, but reflect on how I might change it for next time – something I probably would not have come up with if I hadn’t seen the sculpture in front of me. Liz and Judith emphasised the three steps of kinaesthetic learning, reflective conversation and written reflection (which we didn’t have time for, but that ideally should follow these tasks as part of the learning process) – and how important it was to free your mind of the literal interpretations.

Judith said that this sort of metaphocial modelling is a different way of communicating and that it is a way of unfolding different possibilities. In a way this brought the day full circle for me – my reflective book had been filling up throughout the day and I had added my Instant Book to the Concertina Book, so there is now some unfolding going on when reading through it. It has a thread running through it (inspired by the net-building wool), which at some stage writes ‘flow’ – something Sarah talked about at the beginning of the day. Refolding the combination of Instant and Concertina book made this word appear on the ‘cover’ page – and it is also a good way to sum up a great day!

Join us for this collaborative University of Huddersfield and ALDinHE regional ‘Look, Make and Learn’ event, exploring visual teaching and learning tools and practices.

The event will be held on Friday 9 December at the University of Huddersfield and will feature four creative workshops:

  • Bookmaking for visual thinking, recording and reflection by Sarah Williamson (University of Huddersfield)
  • Playing with Genre by Dr Alke Groppel-Wegener (Staffordshire University) 
  • Make It Yourself (MIY) by Chrissi Nerantzi (Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • Models and Metaphors: Using LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) in teaching, learning and research (Liz Dixon & Judith Kidder, University of Huddersfield)

If you are seeking creative inspiration, practical activities or new ideas, then this event is for you!

For further information (including full details of the workshops) and to book a place at this FREE event, please follow this link: https://aldinheregionaleventatuoh.eventbrite.co.uk.  Please be aware that places are limited and will be offered on a first come first served basis.

Make Your Own Nametag

Make Your Own Nametag

Today was the Thinking Through Genre workshop where people interested in using genre as a pedagogical resource (in all sorts of different disciplines). Before this gets buried on my to-do-list, I’ll write it up now (though I’m a bit tired, so forgive me if not everything makes sense…)

We started the day with making our own name tags and reflecting on the purposes of a name tag – it is  a nice icebreaking activity that changes the energy of the ‘registration’ period at (academic) events, allowing informal networking, getting delegates to start playing (thus telling their brains that they might need to switch gear from normal day-to-day stuff) as well as producing something fun that might even show the personality of the wearer.

And then I continued to question and play with conference/workshop conventions by handing out delegate packs not contained by the standard cloth bag (possibly with some university branding), but instead specially designed furoshiki. Let me explain… furoshiki are usually square pieces of cloth that in Japanese tradition are used to wrap things. There are different ways to tie them in order to contain differently shaped objects (for example there is a really neat way to tie up a bottle). When I started thinking about organising an event based around the idea of genre and regenring, I thought that a furoshiki would be such a fabulous artefact to embody the idea of regenring: it can be a bag or sorts, but you can also use it as a scarf, a headband or even tea towel  (I guess that depends on what material it is made out of). You can also use it as a kind of poster (I’ve always really liked the idea of printing academic posters on fabric, as this makes them so much easier to transport to conferences). But, as soon as you use it in one function, it usually loses the special aspects of the others. So if you tie it to use as a bag, you are not able to see the full design of the poster, but if you see the full design, you can’t tie it up.

So a few weeks back I set out to design a furoshiki to give to our delegates. And in order to put something meaningful on them, I raided the writings of Fiona English, our main speaker of the day, trying to see whether I could visualise her theoretical framework of regenring in a square, scarf-like way. Luckily she has a convenient table summarising the framework, where she talks about two different orientations – the material and the social – each with two different main aspects (thematic/semiotic and contextual/discursive). This was the basis for my design, and on this I also included some of the particular things to look out for as part of the analysis. I framed this with my take on genre – capital Gs in different fonts represent the idea of genre – the same content presented in different forms. The centre of the design has a ‘huddle’ of these Gs, representing the potential of the choice of form. The outside of the design has a band of these different Gs going around it, but this time one by one. In the corners, two different Gs intersect and on two corners the overlap is highlighted with the use of a colour, showing the content that would be covered in both these genres; the other two corners highlight their differences – what part of the content would be gained when deciding on one genre, and lost when deciding on the other. Gains and Losses are important when it comes to discussing genre, so I wanted to include that. (And this might all make more sense when you are familiar with Fiona’s work on regenring.)

poster

poster

I have to admit that I was a bit nervous if people would understand what I was trying to say with this, but people really liked them, so this was a great start to the day and a good way to introduce Fiona’s session on Practice, Knowledge-Making and Writing. She started out by defining genre in slightly more detail than I had done at the very start. My favourite bit of her definition was that “Genre is a naming concept which identifies the shape or framing of a text”. I think the term ‘naming concept’ is really helpful, and will definitely use this in future when I get blank stares when trying to explain what I mean by ‘genre’. She also said that “we choose genres according to the kinds of meanings and knowledge that we want to produce”, which again I think is a really clear way of getting to the heart of the matter. And when it comes to analysing genre (and possibly also genre choices we make), the most important questions we need to ask are “who is writing and WHY?” and “Who is reading and WHY?” Fiona discussed four different examples, covering appropriateness of genre, genre and the everyday, genre and knowledge (and how regenring – transforming one genre into another – can be used to produce more and different knowledge), as well as genre and choice. There was a lively discussion happening (we weren’t a big group, so we could be really interactive), and my personal favourite was the discussion of how (academic) conventions can be used to disguise nonsense, something that often happens in work of students who are not familiar enough with a particular academic genre and are trying to mimic it.

fabulous pottery model of Middleport Pottery

fabulous pottery model of Middleport Pottery

For lunch and our after lunch activity our venue became important: we were meeting at Middleport Pottery in Longport, so I had ordered Staffordshire Oatcakes for lunch – which were a big hit with the delegates – and then I had arranged for a short factory tour. (No point in coming to such a fabulous venue and then ignoring what is special about it, i.e. that it is still a working factory.) Phil, the fabulous volunteer, gave us an overview of the organisation of the buildings, and then showed us the highlights, including particularly the underglaze decoration process which makes Burleighware so special, ending up in the last bottlekiln of the site. And really the tour was part of the programme, because it then gave us the chance to think about different genre removed from texts – ways of communicating content through experiences and different ways of teaching.

board game

board game

We looked at a board game of Middleport Pottery and compared it with the tour – and also speculated on how both of these are different from the experience of working there, discussing gains and losses of genre again.

After this I shared the process of putting together Writing Essays by Pictures (you can find more details here) and reflected on how the starting point for this had been the collision of my work and my hobby of making books that pushed this forward. This was really an example of thinking through genre, as it was the formats of booklets, children’s books and then workbooks that helped me develop the final outcome.

We ended the day with delegates reflecting on how they would take this forward. Looking at the feedback there will be a lot of thinking, but also some application of new knowledge as soon as tomorrow. And as a workshop organiser, what more could you possibly want?

 

A Special Thank You to Richard Mellor, who took my furoshiki sketch and turned it into a print-ready design!

I have been trying to establish a regular get-together at Staffordshire University, where interested people have the space to share ideas they have come across and/or are using within Learning and Teaching. And as I am organising this, I got to pick our first starting point. Since I am also working on the series of Thinking-through-Genre events with Writing PAD, it is probably not surpsiring that I picked ‘Genre’ as a subject.

I had sent around two links as starting points for discussion: Mahmoud Shaltout’s ‘Peda-Comical: A personal account of comics in education’ (2016), where he reflects on the genre of comic books as a resource within his learning and teaching, as well as Fiona English’s ‘Genre as a Pedagogical Resource as University’ (2015), where she gives a short overview of some of the work in her 2011 book.

On the day I also brought Galman’s The Good, The Bad and The Data (2013) and Sousanis Unflattening (2015), as they are both examples within the comic book genre and I thought this would present a nice extension of the readings. They are particularly interesting when looking at the use of traditional narrative and visual narrative.

What I had overlooked, probably due to my established  familiarity with the subject, was that none of these actually defined the term genre in this context – and neither did I at our meeting until somebody actually specifically asked me to. Clearly I need a bit more practice facilitating these get-togethers so I can set aside my assumptions!

Let’s try to do it now: I think the easiest way to define genre as I am talking about it is that it describes different ways in which to communicate content. Each genre has different rules (or ‘affordances’), and deciding on one over another means that you possibly gain something, but might lose something else. I have previously tried to make this concept accessible in the Dress-up Doll of Formality activity.

My favourite quote that encapsulates this is by Douglas Adams, who wrote:

(…) the moment you have any idea, the second thought that enters your mind after the original idea is “What is this? Is it a book, is it a movie, is it a this, is it a that, is it a short story, is it a breakfast cereal?” Really, from that moment, your decision about what kind of thing it is then determines how it develops. So something will be very, very different if it’s developed as a CD-ROM than if it’s developed as a book. (Adams, 2003: 155f)

This always spoke to me because it makes a lot of sense to a designer. Because in a way (and this is also something we discussed briefly at our meeting), communicating content in a variety of guises is what being a designer (any type of designer, although it might be most obvious in the case of graphic designers) is all about.

And maybe this is also why I have always been absolutely fascinated by adaptations, especially cross-platform ones. Regenring (as in putting the content of one genre into another) is just another word for the same principle.

A visual representation of the 'minutes' of our meeting

A visual representation of the ‘minutes’ of our meeting

With the question of what ‘genre’ actually is (or can be) agreed on, we then proceeded to talk about the affordances it has, and how we can make use of them. The comic book, for example, is what one of us used as part of the dissemination mix of a research project to broaden its impact (find more details here). She made the point that producing a comic didn’t just get some of our Comic and Cartoon Arts students a live project to work on, but more importantly transformed some of the findings from the report into a format accessible to students, the people it might be most valuable to and who were unlikely to read neither the original report nor scholarly articles based on it because of their genre.

In a way the question of accessibility is what we probably most talked about – and particularly the problematic that comes with academic genres that are often not very accessible to students. Not just the question whether it makes more sense to ask students to communicate their research in a format that is more relevant to ‘real life’ than academic formats like the essay or research report, but also the academic genres we use within the university, such as module descriptors, module handbooks and similar, often filled with our own jargon that surely must seem like a foreign language to students. Sure, we give them a glossary, but is this the most accessible way to invite them to understand the processes and procedures of their academic life…?

…something to discuss further in our next meeting!

I’m currently writing an article. Literally while I am typing these words I should be writing on my article, but I am getting distracted by something I haven’t tried before when it comes to structuring the work, and I can’t wait to share it with the readers of this blog. (Tangential Procrastination in full swing!)

The article is sort of last minute, but it is based on research that I have done a few months ago, and some of it is based on research I have done a few years ago. (Parts of it probably go back to my PhD thesis, so make that a bit more than a decade… scary.)

I am clearly in the writing up stage of this, I have a draft to work on, but I haven’t quite figured out the structure and order of the points I want to make. I have written my key words on post-it notes and gotten an overview that way. I have highlighted the key words in my text, which is very helpful when moving paragraphs around. Nothing new so far, surely storyboarding academic work in this way is common practice by now.

But now I have done something that I have never done before… I not only added section titles, but also little descriptions. Erich Kästner used to do this in his books, many of whom I grew up with. Chapters would start with a tiny little summary of what would happen in this chapter. I don’t think there were any spoilers, but it would set up the scene and add a bit of intrigue as what was to come. It was also very handy when re-reading the book and looking for your favourite bits. I didn’t quite go as far as paragraphs, but short, descriptive subtitles. And you know what? It seems to make the writing process much easier. By just reading these subtitles (which I put in bold and italics to make them easier to find) I can check whether I am still using the order planned out with my overview, or whether I need a reshuffle to make this flow as a story (I did). A small addition to my writing process, but incredibly useful – and it might just be a way to support my students with writing the dreaded argument/main body of the text section in their essays and reports!

Kästner kept his as part of his novels, I’m going to delete mine from the article, but just so that they won’t be lost forever, here they are:

  • Section One, in which the problematic of the textbook genre is introduced
  • Section Two, which contains musings on different types of knowledge and different types of teaching that go with them, introducing a focus on study skills
  • Section Three, in which we compare academic and creative practice – and come across hidden practices that need to be made visible
  • Section Four, in which I explain why the pedagogical model needed should use the workbook as delivery method.
  • Section Five, in which I explain analogies as a way of making hidden academic practice visible, and why this called for a picture book, but not a narrative.
  • Section Six, in which I discuss some design choices of Writing Essays by Pictures.
  • Section Seven, in which I sum up and highlight the need for learning resources to be designed according to pedagogical principles, not traditional templates.

If the full article makes it to publication, I will add a link here 🙂