Hunting Seamonsters, Push-ups and the Training Montage

At this week’s HEA Arts and Humanities conference, I was able to present an update of the fishscale research. The title of the 90 minute session was ‘Hunting Seamonsters – how to bust the ghosts of academic practice’, a nod to both the conference theme (Heroes and Monsters) and the strand (Ghosts) the abstract had been submitted to.

It was conceived as a ‘training montage from an 80s movie’ (a format suggested by the conference organisers), and this post is about this format rather than the content of the session. (The content was about the Fishscale of Academicness, if you want to know more about that, check the dedicated page on this blog.)

I love the idea of thinking about a presentation or a workshop in terms of a movie. I’ve been doing something similar with my students when talking about framing and structuring their writing, but I hadn’t quite realised this is also what I do when I plan my presenting. When doing my Post-graduate Certificate in Higher and Professional Education, we were told to vary the activities in a session every so often to keep the attention of students. And we were encouraged to plan our sessions in certain blocks, breaking down the different delivery methods and student activities. This was recorded (and planned) on a form, so basically a list. But there is no reason why it shouldn’t be a storyboard.

When putting together the abstract for this conference, the format of the training montage was incredibly helpful. I co-wrote this with a colleague from our School of Education and we wanted to bring in different perspectives of the Fishscale – the initial inspirations, the problem, the context, what other people are doing about this, the fishscale concept itself, the different activities for the students to consolidate the learning, the feedback from students, the feedback from other staff, an analysis of how the fishscale is working, and an idea of the research we are in the process of doing in order to evaluate whether it is actually working. This is a lot of stuff, even if you have 90 minutes to do it. Having the training montage in our heads, it became much clearer that we need to think not about all the content we have (or could have), but about editing it together. This was not going to be a documentary on one specific process, it was about selecting one important image/issue that could represent an area (and I have done a number of presentations that look at just one aspect of the fishscale). We are not shown every push-up that Rocky makes to get in shape, after all.

So in a way, we started planning with the cuts. We wanted a clear change every time we altered the perspective, and we ended up with six sections, alternately delivered, each time also swopping the delivery method – ranging from powerpoint presentation, to prezi, from group activities to discussion with the whole group.

Thinking about this planning as a training montage meant that my thoughts shifted from all the stuff I could have put in to just the most important things: what would give a flavour of this data? what do people need to know about in order to understand the fishscale? – How many push-ups do we need to get a sense that push-ups are being made regularly? How much can you reduce information to convey push-up-ness?

This is not a big shift from planning a session as a list, but I have found that story-boarding mentally can really help to condense and refine your content to make the most impact it can. So I will in future be conceptualising my session planning more as two parallel storyboards – one narrative of what I do as a presenter, and one with what I task my audience to do.

 

P.S.: while the Hunting Seamonster session went well, it had to be replanned last minute because Katy was ill and couldn’t do ‘her’ scenes. But while not all of the ‘cuts’ were as pronounced as they could have been, with me delivering most of them myself (I had another colleague standing in for some bits, but there wasn’t sufficient time for a full brief of everything), the integrity of the montage stayed intact, and this was a very different session than if I had planned it for myself without thinking about the visual of the training montage.

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