The next pieces of the quilt

With the starting point of my quilt sorted, I want to started organising the next pieces in a spiral going outwards. As the first piece referenced my PhD, I thought the first round would be a good idea to represent important ideas that came out of the PhD which I still use or which have really influenced my understanding of learning and teaching.

Here some images of how these pieces might be represented in the quilt.

Roughing, Shaping, Polishing. This piece refers to a text by Barry Wellman (‘How to Write – and Edit – a Paper‘), which talks about the different stages of writing, roughing, shaping and polishing. I think that this is particularly apt, as this could really also represent the stages of designing, and I have used this to get students to link the process of writing to the design process ever since. And when I designed my first module introducing students to academic writing, I put in three workshop/seminars based around these three main stages.
Ideas about Writing. This was the title to one of my first lectures to second year students. On a handout I had four different descriptions of objects, really it was to make students think about what you can do with words and how you can frame your reader’s expectation and even build suspense by the way you are describing something. One is one of the best descriptions of an objects that I have ever come across – the fishbowl in Douglas Adams’ So long and thanks for all the fish; one was a description/review of Aalto’s Savoy vase from The Times by Hugh Pearman; one was an introduction to the usefulness of towels from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the last one was a section from Jasper Fforde’s Lost in a good book, where an art work is described, which turns out to be … I don’t want to give it away, shall we say an object commonly found in the kitchen.
Wonders and Blunders. The first non-threatening writing task I set my students was asking them to write about something they loved and something they hated – and explain why – inspired by the ‘Wonders and Blunders’ column in The Guardian. This was the first genre writing I asked students to do, including writing their own byline and short biography, as well as including pictures to mimic the examples as much as possible. The students came up with some amazing examples, the stand-out probably nominating ‘Christmas’ as a wonder and ‘January’ as a blunder.
The Big Idea Postcard. This was a task that I used to replace an outline students had to write for their proposed work (and report) at the beginning of their third (final) year. It was meant as a prop for a presentation as part of a group tutorial, but also gave them the opportunity to think about the larger context of what they wanted to achieve, before scaling down their projects into something that was ‘doable’ with the time and resources available. Using the postcard model prompted students to use both words and images to represent what they wanted to explore; it was non-threatening, because it was fairly small, so a manageable task; and it also made them focus, because of the limited space available. Feedback for this activity was good from both the students and staff (who found that the quality of the explored ideas went up), and I am (still) using this as a starting point for essay writing in my current teaching.
The 2d Challenge. This was probably the ‘biggest’ piece of work that I tested for the PhD. It was a task for second year students to imagine their work as a newspaper or magazine and produce a sample copy of it. There were certain elements that needed to be included, such as an element that described their own practice and an advertisement or review of something they had made on the course (and their ‘Wonders and Blunders’ task, although they could rewrite that), but overall it was a ‘blue sky’ project, i.e. students were encouraged not to feel restricted by ‘the real world’. I feel that this was a really successful task, not only did it get students to write in a rather sneaky way, because obviously they had to fill up their publication, it also made them really think about their aspirations (and made them discuss/share them with the staff). My favourite example was of a student who came into a tutorial to say that he had no idea what he could use, he wasn’t reading any magazines, and overall he seemed a bit lost on the course. So I asked him what he did in his spare time (skateboarding) and whether there were any publications related to that he sometimes read (yes, regularly) and I encouraged him to maybe use them as a starting point. By being given permission to include his hobby, he made the link between that and the course he was on (3 Dimensional Design) and produced a sample copy of a skater magazine that featured an article on the aesthetics of concrete in a half-pipe. In his third year he went on to use concrete as a material!
Writing PAD case study. During this time, I also came across the Writing-PAD network (at the time this was still a HEFCE funded project), and one of my first publications was writing the 2D Challenge up as a case study for their website.
Action Research Spiral. One of the most important concepts for both my PhD (where it provided me with the starting point of a structure for my thesis, see previous post on The Spiral) and my understanding of how research, writing and design can be modelled was the action research spiral. My initial encounter was through Swann’s ‘Action Research and the Practice of Design’ in Design Issues 18:2 (2002), who quoted Zuber-Skerritt’s Action Research in Higher Education: “In brief it is a spiral of cycles of action and research consisting of four major moments: plan, act, observe, and reflect. The plan includes problem analysis and a strategic plan; action refers to the implementation of the strategic plan; observation includes an evaluation of the action by appropriate methods and techniques; and reflection means reflecting on the results of the evaluation and on the whole action and research process, which may lead to the  identification of a new problem or problems and hence a new cycle of planning, acting, observing and reflecting.” (1992) A linked model is Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, which will be referred to in future pieces of the quilt.
Futureground Conference. This was my first presentation at an international academic conference (and I was lucky enough to go to Australia for it). Held at Monash University, Melbourne, Futureground was one of the conferences of the Design Research Society. My paper was called ‘Is Writing a Design Discipline?’ and summarised the findings of my PhD.

  1. Dear TA, The quilt is fascinating ! and beautiful… I wonder if people would find the famous John Wood article a good starting point for all this discussion? I read it years before I stumbled on the concept of Tactile Academia & your blog/seminars & found it a useful argument to make to my tutors…(John Wood”The culture of academic rigour”1999). Sue

    • alkegw said:

      Hi Sue, I have put John’s article onto the Bibliography page – and also the ‘up-date’ he did recently. Funnily I was thinking about it the other day, it had been one of the things I read for my PhD and I met John at the Futureground conference which I just referred to in the quilt post… Alke

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