Archive

Author Archives: alkegw

A guest post by Helen Tracey

How I applied my experience from The Sociological Review, ‘Undisciplining’ Conference Board Game workshop to my teaching practice

As soon as I saw the workshop, “Make Your Own Sociological Research Game” featured in the pre-conference materials, I immediately signed up. All of the conference workshops were innovative but this one in particular stood out to me. Aside from it being something different, it’s difficult for me to pinpoint why the workshop attracted me so much, as I didn’t really enjoy playing board games as a child. However, as an academic working in a Business School, the opportunity to do something so creative is rare. I also enjoy playing board games much more with my own children than I ever did myself at their age; Carcassonne, Labyrinth and Cluedo being my top favourites.
Before attending the workshop, some people I spoke to about it were actually quite skeptical about how useful it would be. However, attendance was well oversubscribed and therefore I felt lucky to get a place; they were even turning away people at the door! I certainly found it very useful to map out my research method as a process. At the time I had almost completed my data collection, but I could see that it would be good to undertake this activity at the start of a research project, particularly to determine any potential pitfalls. It was also interesting to see the other attendees’ board games and how they had designed them around their own research. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to finish (or play) my board game in the workshop, and despite my best intentions it is still not complete!
Not long after the conference I attended a workshop about Transforming Assessment and Learning at the university where I’m employed as a Lecturer (Northumbria). We were split into small groups (preferably aligned to module teams) and asked to consider module assessments against a range of criteria, including whether it was fair but stretching and whether it had real-world relevance. I am Module Tutor for a level 6 (final year undergraduate) module called ‘HR Resourcing and Development’. This module had just been reviewed and the Assessment word count had been increased from 2,000 to 3,000 words. So, something needed to change but I was conscious that I didn’t just want to lengthen the existing Assessment essay. During this workshop I was paired with another tutor from the module. As we are both visual researchers, we quickly decided that the Assessment should have a visual element, and that this would be a way to ask the students to reflect on all the topics covered by the module and thereby encourage engagement. I knew that I wanted to somehow use my learning from the Board Game workshop, but at this stage I wasn’t sure how.
It was only later that several factors led me to incorporate a two hour Board Game workshop into the Teaching and Learning Plan. I had a gap to fill, and I felt that my anticipation of the students’ need for support in producing the Assessment diagram aligned with Northumbria’s new Assessment foci. A key aim of this workshop was that it would provide students with a chance to develop or improve the skills they would need to develop their Assessment diagram. It would also be the opportunity for them to test out these skills as part of a group, and obtain feedback from tutors on what they produced, before they needed to work on their own individual diagram for the Assessment.

Glass Ceiling Prototype Game

The example game I prepared before the first workshop

I must admit I was a little nervous about trying something so new, especially after I mentioned the idea to my husband and his comment was that he thought it would be ‘too gimmicky’ for students. However, this proved to be unfounded as a few colleagues who I tested the idea on thought it be innovative. Also, importantly, the students really engaged in the activity. Despite some of them confessing that they felt themselves to be ‘not creative’, I think they really surprised themselves with their ideas. I have included some photographs (shared with permission of the students) of some of their work in progress, and also details of a finished game and how it is played.
I am hoping to run the workshop again when the module re-runs next September, particularly if it receives good feedback in the module survey. I will, however, need to make a few tweaks to the format. First of all, I will need to have more materials available; students asked for many things I hadn’t anticipated such as scissors and sticky tape. I would also prepare small cards to be incorporated into games (e.g. Monopoly style), as these were very popular with the students – I think because the task required them to incorporate a lot of module topics. I am probably stuck with a timescale of two hours. Really this was too short, and the onus was on students to finish their games outside the workshop to present back. However, next time I will certainly try and merge two sessions into one. Finally, the students were required to base their game on an organisation, and a central HR process (e.g. Recruitment at Ikea). Some students struggled with incorporating an organisation, although those who did accomplished this very well. For example, the group that based their game on Recruitment at Marks and Spencer (see photo) thoroughly researched the organisation in order to develop a series of question cards which they incorporated into the game. On the other hand, the majority of groups picked the same HR process, which was recruitment. In both these cases I feel like with more guidance and examples next time, a wider range of topics can be encouraged which are based on organisations.

 
In general the students appeared to enjoy and value the activity – it has certainly been a topic of conversation! And although we didn’t have time for it in the workshop, I have heard back that students enjoyed playing the completed games in their seminar classes.

 

Here the details of two games produced by the students and how they are played:

M&S Recruitment Board Game

Progress around the Ludo style board, collecting coins by answering questions correctly. Land on a ‘Q’ space and you pick up a question card. Land on a ‘C’ space and pick up a chance card. You need to get your counters safe with 7 coins to win. The question cards cover all of the module topics.

Marks and Spencer Game

Marks and Spencer Game

A Year’s Placement at River Island Board Game

River Island Game

River Island Game

Progression around this Monopoly style Board takes you through a placement year at the clothing company River Island. Pick up the cards when instructed to by the squares; these provide you with dilemmas to solve based on the module topics.

 

Advertisements

…audience…co-creators…collaborators…consumers…customers…guests…participants…

How you describe and refer to the people who take part in an experience is an important part within experience design – and it is in education -, because what you consider them, and (even more crucially) what you expect from them, changes both your design and their experience.

Walt Disney’s approach might be the most famous: he insisted to consider visitors to his theme parks as ‘guests’ rather than ‘customers’, and the staff as ‘cast members’ (no doubt based on his experience of the movie industry). Yes, the guests pay to be there, but when they are in the parks, they ideally forget about the price tag and just enjoy the experience. Linked to that is the principle to pay once for entry, but when you are inside, you don’t have to pay for the individual attractions.

Considering students as customers, although they technically are, is problematic because the term (and its roots in business) suggests that they are a relatively passive part of a straight forward interaction, where they exchange money for some sort of good or service. In a way this is what they are doing, but of course they are not buying knowledge, skills or expertise directly, they are buying the access to learning opportunities. The learning they will still need to do themselves.

And it is the design of these learning opportunities that really is at the heart of education, it is designing experiences that students can choose to engage with, but that go beyond the simple notion of the student as customer. Their roles and agency is much more layered than that, and this is what needs to be considered when designing our teaching formats.

While the ‘traditional’ (and some would consider outmoded) model might be the ‘sage-on-the-stage’ lecture, a lecture isn’t the only way to frame a teaching and learning experience. In a lecture format, students are usually seen as making up the ‘audience’. But what does this mean for their role in the proceedings? In the most basic form they are viewers and listeners. Are these considered ‘passive’ participants? Is this what we want as part of this learning experience, or do we want something more? Apart from looking and listening, do we want them to take notes? to ask questions? to talk to each other?

Of course the answer to all these is “it depends”, because the L&T of learning and teaching is not a formula like the G&T you might want to partake in at the end of the day. If you always take this much gin and this much tonic, add some ice and maybe (if you are feeling fancy) a slice of lime, you will always have very similar outcomes. But in education we need to have different ways of challenging different minds, and we are dealing with different kinds of knowledge and different kinds of content.

I would say that teaching a referencing system is, in the first instance, content that is appropriate for a lecture. Here, I want the students to listen and look at the slides. They need to understand the principles (some of them somewhat random), before they can learn them. And learning them isn’t memorizing the examples, it comes from trying to put the principles into practice. And that is not a lecture-style content. Here the students need to move from listeners and watchers to do-ers, become writers themselves – writers who reference. So between these two very related contents, the role and agency of the students changes – they go from almost passive recipients of a principle to being in charge of their own work. And this switch is the main reason why the L&T activity needs to change!

This means that when planning L&T activities need to consider

  • the content – what sort of knowledge is it? Theoretical? Practical? Somewhere in between?
  • the role we want students to take in this context – listeners, watchers/viewers, do-ers, note-takers, thinkers, researchers, investigators?
  • the agency we want students to have in this context – are they relatively passive in this context, or are they (should they be) active? Are they interacting with the lecturer or with other students? Are they following instructions or are they independently in charge?

Don’t just see students as customers, they can be audience and collaborators, investigators and listeners, readers and speakers!

This is a preamble to a forthcoming occasional series of posts on whether and what educators can learn from experience design, explaining how I got here…

I have been fascinated with Experience Design ever since I studied the related discipline of Theatre Design as an undergrad and I went on to do my Masters thesis on what museums can learn from Theme Park Design. My PhD ended up on the role of writing in design education (although that is not quite how it started out… as is so often the case with research), so it seems that I got a bit distracted for a while. However, when I was looking for a new direction for my research, this interest came back to me and I thought it would be worth exploring for a few months to see where it could take me and whether it would be worth pursuing.

Starting at the beginning of the year I delved into an exploratory research project, taking the starting point of my previous work on genre and regenring and the importance of storytelling that comes with it. I presented a related paper in February and in rather fast succession found a collaborator in Dr Jenny Kidd, we worked on and submitted a book proposal, had it accepted and wrote a book over the summer. This book, Critical Encounters with Immersive Storytelling, has just gone to typesetting and will hopefully be available in all good bookshops soon, even the online ones. I have also just come back from a week at the College of Extraordinary Experiences, a five-day event that is hard to explain to people who weren’t there, let’s say it combined the principles of a conference, symposium and course in an immersive and playful way. So, it has been a whirlwind few months – and I have realised (and of course with hindsight this is obvious), that I have not just (re-)found a research subject that I want to pursue further, but also that here is a discipline that is really worth knowing a bit about if you are an educator.

Experience Design is a relatively new discipline and it overlaps and draws on a number of other disciplines. One of them, of course, is Event Design, which when we think about it, is something that we do as teachers. When people ask me why I am not a designer anymore, I usually reply that I still am, that I currently design learning opportunities. While somebody else usually organises in what time slot I teach and where, it is mainly me who decides what happens within these slots. I design these teaching events, the experiences I want my students to have. Some of my colleagues design educational escape rooms (and I have dabbled in that), but even if you do not prepare anything as elaborate, thinking of the student experience when we design can surely help us clarify our strategies.

Funnily enough what started me out on my road to becoming a National Teaching Fellow was a workshop by NTF Dr Colin Beard that was about Experiential Learning (and his and John P Wilson’s book Experiential Learning is definitely one I would recommend). Experiential Learning and Experience Design again are disciplines that overlap – and this overlap I think is fascinating and that I am hoping to consider in a bit more detail over the next few months. Should educators learn from Experience Design? I think most definitely and I will share my musings here on WHAT I think we can learn from this discipline and hope that you will find them useful.

A bit more than two years ago, Fiona English and myself were asked by Julia Lockheart, the editor of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, whether we would be interested in guest editing a Special Issue on Genre and Regenring for that publication. A themed workshop and conference, as well as months of editing work later, not one, but two issues are now published (Volume 11: Numbers 1 and 2), by us jokingly referred to as the Chicken and the Egg issue respectively.

This seemed like a good point for us two co-guest-editors to reflect on the process, so here a conversation that we had one September morning, in case you are interested in our thoughts on the process, the idea of using two different forms of editorial (one traditional, one as an abecedary) and whether we would change anything.

Find out more about Issue 1 (the Chicken) here.

Find out more about Issue 2 (the Egg) here.

(This was a typed chat, and I have tried to get rid of typos but have not changed grammar or structure of the unscripted exchange.)

Cover image for the two Special Issues on Genre and Regenring

Alke: So, the two issues are out and I thought it would just be a nice idea if we reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Do you think we achieved what we wanted to do?

Fiona: I’m actually really proud of these two issues. The range and quality of the articles is fantastic – so interesting to read and so well written. The production side too is great. They look and feel good in the hand.

Alke: I agree, as the physical things, the journals worked out really well. Now for me this was one of the surprising things – that I always thought of the journals as a physical entity, but that is not how the publisher saw them, they see them as separate articles… that took me a while to realise. If we had thought about them like this, would we have done anything differently, do you think?

Fiona: Yes I know what you mean. The on-line article as stand-alone access makes the experience quite different. I don’t think we would have done anything differently in this particular case nor do I think we should have. The flow of the physical versions works really well and hopefully people will actually get to see this. However, if we do another thing like this we might think about it differently and provide a different kind of threading to preface each article. Maybe that’s something we could do in any case? If the publisher let us.

Alke: I’m not sure we should volunteer any more work on this, to be honest 😉 And I really like them as a collection – I think this is where the value of this lies, to see the different ways of using genre side by side, in a way. I seem to remember that one of the things we wanted to do at the beginning was give people the confidence to try out more and to take more ownership (shouting about?) the practice they were already doing, almost giving them a theory to be able to justify their playing with genre as a ‘serious’ thing – and I think that this collection does show that off, and hopefully does that.

Fiona: I agree – and I’m certain this has been achieved. I’m glad we pushed some people to write differently while leaving others to their own devices. It means that we have a range of genres which then means that readers can consider the affordances of each as they read. What do you think about setting up a kind of feedback forum? Getting readers’ responses to the different articles with regard to how the genres used impacted on their reading and on their attitude to the ‘knowledge’ being explored/developed.

Alke: I think that would be really interesting – maybe I could ask for that at the end of this blog post and also ask the contributors to add to.

Fiona: Yes great. It could also comprise an element of any seminar/party we might plan for the future.

Alke: I love it! A feedback party instead of a launch!

Fiona: It would be good to get feedback on people’s own attitudes to alternative genres for academic production and how they might be valid in the context of REF!!! And yes, a feedback party –

Alke: I think we might have found our angle for the follow-up event! Now, we also played with genre, not just in our own, separate contributions, but in the two editorials… which in a way are very different…

Fiona: Yes I’ve been thinking of the differences in experience doing them. The essential difference in terms of process is that one is a kind of narrative – it tells a story in a chronological order so to speak. The second works as a kind of glossary – explanation of terms of ref or rather concepts that are explored across the issues – and as such required a different kind of thinking – explanations and definitions rather than narrative. We had to say more about our frames of reference in the second one and more about the journal as a flow in the first. Is that right?

Alke: In a way, yes. I have to admit that I (maybe naively) had thought that the abecedary would be so much easier to do as a format than it actually was. In the end figuring out what to include and what not, and having the constraints of the alphabet was a really interesting challenge!

Fiona: the abecedary was a challenge for sure – but a very interesting one as it forced us to foreground concepts and key issues and to use the alphabetic constraints to think of fresh ways for describing/defining them. In other words, the affordances of each genre ensured that we approached the same information differently and in the process of so doing produced different ways of articulating it. This made us rethink – always a good thing.

Alke:: Exactly. And I am really glad that we decided on taking on that challenge rather than going for something like a conversation (which we had also considered), especially because it made us think about the content more in terms of definitions, rather than just rehashing the narrative in a two-person narrative way!

Fiona: Yes – that’s very true. And it was fun too! Playing around trying to find a way of using all the letters – only one cheat with the X.

Alke: Thinking about it, I think we could have made ‘xerography’ work… the idea of copying stuff, or not, would have worked int the context of gains and losses!

Fiona: xerography – yeah – but then we’d not have had ‘eXpectations’ – though we’d probably have squeezed that in elsewhere. Gains and Losses – yes – that’s true. What do you think these were between the two editorials?

Alke: Well, the first editorial gives much more background info as to how these issues came about, while the abecedary only really mentions the workshop and conference in passing. But they were both really important events. And, as you say, the second one is much more about definitions, being clear about what we are talking about and mean, which is easy to gloss over in a way when you are writing a narrative.

Fiona: Yes I agree. The first one tells the story of how things came about and why and how the journal is organised. It makes an easier read, probably, as a whole because it does what people expect despite the informal tone we use. It is also more effective in profiling the different articles because they are introduced within a narrative structure. This is the story of how we got together and this is the story of how we got the contributions for these special issues and this is the story of how the issues have been organised. The Issue One editorial had to go first – the chicken before the egg otherwise readers would have been totally confused.

Alke: LOL

Fiona: t’ll be interesting to get feedback from the readers/contributors of Issue Two about how they feel about the editorial. They won’t have seen the first one.

Alke: That’s a really good point! I hadn’t even considered that!

Fiona: No nor had I until we started this discussion. (the affordances of a dialogic genre 😉

Alke: 🙂   Would we change it if we had to do it again? Or better: is there anything we would change?

Fiona: That’s a good question. Did we point out in the Egg that we had done a different kind of editorial for the Chicken? I can’t remember. I think we saw them as two sides of the same coin and forgot that not everyone would read everything. Again, back to the thing about single article purchases too!

Alke: let me just check…We do mention it under ‘A is for abstract’ – sort of. Phew!

Fiona: That’s lucky – or rather not lucky – we took it into account. It’s amazing how quickly one (I, that is) forgets what one’s done almost as soon as you turn over onto the next page! I constantly have to keep checking back in things I’ve written to see what I said about something.

Alke: Well, I guess that comes with doing a lot of things. And once they are published, on file, so to speak, you don’t need to keep the details in your head, because you can just check back. but I think it is a really interesting point, that we didn’t just conceive this as a physical journal, but as a double issue, and didn’t really ever saw them as split up!

Fiona: That’s right!

Alke: maybe that means we misjudged our audience?

Fiona: Hum – yes perhaps. Not our audience exactly, but how our audience might read. This is food for thought. What we did with these two Issues could never be done via the on-line single purchase approach. We thought of these issues as if they were a book – a complete thing. That’s indeed what they are. The market forces behind the publishers, though, see/treat everything as stand-alone. It’s the same with modular university degrees. The idea that there is no need for an overall view/story but that things can just exist – contextless and floating out alone. In fact, the publisher’s approach militates against special issues!

Alke: I think you are right. In the book I just wrote they asked for each chapter to have its own separate bibliography so that the chapters could be sold separately (we decided to ignore that request for now…), but that changes the whole argument you can make and splits it into bite-sized chunks.Some things you want to say are bigger than that!

Fiona: Absolutely – this is a problem indeed and one which, in my view, leads to people picking up fag ends as the saying goes. In other words, piecemeal knowledge – knowledge with no context – in other words, not knowledge!

Alke: In fact, I think if at the beginning of this process somebody had told me to edit a collection of separate but related journal articles, I don’t think I would have been up for that! It is that context that makes it interesting and useful!

Fiona: Me neither. The whole pleasure of it was to put together a unified piece of work not lots of separate pieces of work.

Alke: So hopefully people will read both issues and not just pick out the odd article!

Fiona: I do hope so.

Alke: Anyway, anything else we would change?

Fiona: I don’t think so. For me the contributors have done a fantastic job in honing their articles not just in terms of academic content but in style and voice more so than in most other journal articles. I think they also saw themselves as working as part of a whole too. I mean they understood what they were writing to be a contribution to an overall story too. I think we got the range and balance right too across each issue.

Alke: Yes, I agree. I wouldn’t change the content. However – and this totally shows my roots as a designer – if I had realised how easy it was to change the cover image, I would have asked for two different ones: one of the furoshiki laid out, so you could see it whole, and one of it wrapped up, rather than combining those two ‘states’ into one image. but then maybe that would have put too much focus on that one artefact? Anyway, just a tiny thing with hindsight 😉

Fiona: Yes – that would have been good. And I don’t think it would have put too much onto the one piece. I think it would have perfectly represented regenring. But tant pis! They are still beautiful objects these two issues.

 

Find out more about Issue 1 (the Chicken) here.

Find out more about Issue 2 (the Egg) here.

 

If you have read both, one or just parts of these special issues, please comment on this post with some feedback about the above topics or others!

After the workshop at #Undisciplining had gone rather well, I finally had some time to actually focus on the second session I needed to prepare for a conference in June. And initially I had been thinking of focusing this on an overview. If you are interested in how things fit together and/or on different levels contained within them, a tool like a prezi presentation that allows you to zoom in can be used to great effect.

However, as I reflected on what I wanted to do in the context of the conference I decided against the prezi and went with the traditional slides instead. The point of this particular talk was to present three different analogies I use within teaching and show some examples of how they work in practice. That could have been an overview, first framing the problem and then delving into the layers of how to solve it. The crucial thing, however, is that these analogies are not really linked to each other. They are all stand-alone, and the only thing they have in common is that they are all ‘everyday’ analogies, quite mundane things that my students will be familiar with (board games, clothes, sea creatures). As there is no real link between the analogies, I felt that the overview would not work, and on the contrary, that it might rather confuse. Slides are great when you want to walk people through something step-by-step. When moving on to the next slide, you can change the subject, mood and – most important – the focus of what you are saying, and of what your audience is thinking about (if they are listening, that is…).So in this case, I decided ‘to slide’.

I think this is also the reason I often use slides for my lectures. They allow me to boil down what I am saying into the most pertinent points to give a visual cue to remind me of what I wanted to talk about; for example they allow me to put up a quotation and then talk about just this, without distraction from anything else, before we move on. Ideally I then also have a whiteboard to further develop some of the point and sometimes I develop the overview on that – but this is development that happens in class, and is not pre-prepared – as it might come across when using a prezi.

I have heard people sneer at slide presentations and then present prezis that were basically just zooming from slide-like frame to slide-like frame. I think there is little point in doing that, if what you are saying is linear, you might as well use a slide format! A prezi makes most sense if you are exploring layers, not a standard sequence. The bad rep that slide presentations often get (Death by Powerpoint, etc.) isn’t due to the nature of them being a slide presentation, but rather down to bad design of the individual slides!

I guess my point is this: whether preparing a workshop, a conference presentation or a lecture, the tools we choose to use frame what it is possible to do. That’s what Fiona (2012) talks about when she talks about the ‘affordances’ of a genre. The traditional or conventional genre – in this case (PowerPoint) slides – might be exactly the right tool for the job. But it also might not be. It really depends on what you are trying to do. And that is well worth reflecting on before you choose what tools to use, rather than just go with the standard option.

After thinking about this workshop, how to present it and preparing for the workshop in more detail, on the 19th June 2018 it was finally here: The Make Your Own Sociological Research Board Game workshop run by myself and Katy Vigurs at the Undisciplining conference organised by The Sociological Review. (A special thank you to Jenny Thatcher, who ran the #Undisciplining conference and went shopping for all the materials!)

Part of the Undisciplining conference is an experiment in live blogging – a dedicated group of people who write mostly short pieces that are either live, written as things are happening, or maybe not quite in the moment, but soon-ish after, which can both describe and reflect on the conference experience, a meta-conference as Mark Carrigan put it in one of these posts. We had Pat Thomson, one of those live bloggers, in the workshop, and you can read her account here. But we thought we should also write our own account and share some pictures – and also to respond in a bit more detail to two of the reflections Pat offers at the end of her post.

But let’s begin with a brief overview of what we actually did…

handout 17 colours adding bits and pieces

Make your own Sociological Research Board Game handout, coloured in

The main idea behind the workshop was that you can use the well-known concept of a board game as an analogy to illustrate and explain pretty much any process; so why not use it to explain a research methodology? Or, why not use it to explain the running of the workshop itself? Hence the above handout, which uses the aesthetics and linearity of a board game to break down the things we wanted to cover and do in the workshop.

As you can see by the colours, we had four basic areas: the general stuff (in green, with the ‘homework’, the prep we had participants asked to do before they came, in a darker green); as well as the three main areas of our Alke’s approach to board game design: to diagram your process (in pink), to think about possible game mechanics to build in (in light blue/aqua), and to consider the visual impact (in orange). And really those were the things we did. Most of the spaces on the path were really to remind Alke to cover certain things, but she had also added things like the stopwatch visual to remind her of how much time we had allocated for each step. We only had 90 minutes and really wanted people to have a prototype by the end, so there was some careful (and forceful?) timekeeping involved…

…and in the end we had some amazing prototypes in the room! We didn’t have time to share all of them, but here are just some of the ideas our wonderful workshop participants came up with (this is written up a few days after the actual workshop, so apologies if we are getting some of the details wrong):

workshop 13 clever frogs

The Clever Frogs prototype

There were two different approaches the participants took, and one of them was to design a game to teach research skills.

In Clever Frogs students have a frog token/avatar and move from lily-pad to lily-pad to acquire skills (in forms of cards): Critical Thinking (get a pink circle card), Learning a Skill (get a blue square card),  Acquire Knowledge (get a green triangle card). If you have a set of three (a set needing one of each type of card, because you need to combine all these skills/tools in your research), you have an ‘output’ when you get to the finish. There were also some chance-type benefit cards included, that potentially help to put together more outputs. And the purpose of the game is to get as many outputs as possible.

workshop 17 coding

Coding Research prototype

The Coding Research approach was a great example of how to put the wide concept of a board game into a more specific context of a discipline. Here the purpose was to teach research skills to coding students, by using the conventions of coding. So rather than having a traditional game path, the ‘board’ contained coding language of the “If…. then…” type with exchangeable elements. So for example in the context of interviews, this could become “If the number of interviews you have conducted is equal to or more than your target number, move on to transcription; if the number of interviews you have conducted is less than your target number, return to arranging interview stage.”

workshop 15 focus group snakes and ladders

Focus Group Snakes and Ladders

The Focus Group Snakes and Ladders mapped the process of arranging, conducting and analysing focus groups onto a traditional Snakes and Ladders grid. This is a great example of how using simple and established game mechanics (in this case Snakes and Ladders, which most students will be familiar with), can free up students’ minds to concentrate on what you actually want to teach them, in this case about focus groups.

workshop 14 sex workers

Maze of Streets prototype

Snakes and Ladders was also one of the inspirations behind another example, this one falling into the other category of games being produced: not to teach research skills, but to illustrate and visualise the process of a particular sociological study.  Rather than being laid out on the strict squared grid of the traditional snakes and ladders, however, this one was laid out on a board representing a map. This Maze of Streets represented the terrain of the studied sex workers, and showed the difference between safe, well-lit and wide streets in the middle of the board, as opposed to a hinterland of alleys and dead ends. Each step a player takes on the well-lit street brings with them a chance decision (via roll of the dice) on whether you will get a ‘ladder’ (something positive happening that keeps you safe) or a ‘snake’ (something negative happening that makes you move towards the dangerous parts of town). While starting out with the idea of trying to represent the study and its key findings, the creator of this game wondered about using it as a participatory research method for generating individual narratives about the dynamic experience of sex work.

workshop 16 heart of the PhD

The Heart of the PhD prototype

The Heart of the PhD aims to include the emotional dimension to doctoral research within the board game. It included two sets of ‘chance’ cards, one to ‘Take Action Now’ to tell the player what to do under certain circumstances (e.g. seek advice from the supervisor), and the other one to ‘Have a cheeky Drink’ in order to celebrate doctoral achievements. Extra marks for not just creating a board game, but also including a potential drinking game!

Less than 24 hours later the prototype had moved on already!

So there is no doubt that people found this useful (and fun), and we invited them to let us know about their games’ further progress, so hopefully there’ll be some up-dates one here soon.

 

At the end of her live post, Pat wondered whether it might be more interesting to make a board game than to play it and whether these two were equally instructive. That is a really good point. We didn’t get to to experiment with test playing the games during the workshop, and for this session really can only comment on the making. Most participants saw their research from a different perspective, and started reflecting (or maybe just noticing) on layers of research processes that often get left out of a written up methodology, but that are part of the ‘messy’ process of actually doing the research. As such there is no doubt that the making is incredibly useful.

Whether these games are actually meant to be played properly is an interesting question. We believe that this depends on your objective for making them. If your purpose is to illustrate a specific process, in the form of a poster, for example, they are less about play. However, if you are using them as a teaching tool, initially playing the game might give students a sense of what conducting this type of research could be like (albeit on a very condensed and safe scale). It shows potential wrong choices and is a form of role playing (a bit like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book), which might help students’ research imagination.

Pat also thought “about the pleasures of making and how very rarely in academic conferences there are opportunities for people to use their imaginations and just ‘make stuff'”. We would say, absolutely there should be more making. In the workshops that Alke organises (many of them documented on this blog), she usually starts with getting delegates to make their own name-tags, a great ‘icebreaker’ activity, and that can be a great first dipping your toes into the water for creative making at a conference.

As for this activity, at this conference, while we were doing it @kierancutting tweeted “I’M HAVING SO MUCH FUN “, and here are some tweets from participants after the 90 minutes we had together:

“This sparked so many ideas I hadn’t anticipated! What a valuable method of social research design and visualisation! Thanks for this lovely learning experience. Also doodling was incredibly cathartic 😊” @DrMirnaGuha

“Thank you both for an excellent session! 💫” @NelliStav

“Great workshop making our own sociological board game – fun and very helpful to articulate the research process.” @HRpotential

“Am considering using it as a method to elicit the sharing of personal experiences of youth homelessness – will keep you in the loop!” @kierancutting

“Fantastic workshop making sociological board games with & – taking so many ideas back for teaching research methods ” @sal_brown

 

Consequently, we think this little experiment was very successful and certainly a proof of concept for a longer version. We imagine something that has the time and space to start with playing some board games to get (re-)acquainted with some game mechanics, and then not only making, but also having the time to test play our prototypes. The games produced have shown that using the everyday concept of a board game format has the potential to

  • show an overview of the process to explain it to others
  • make people (students? funders? participants?) aware of common pitfalls (as part of the obstacles and random events)
  • become a visual way to track progress
  • function as an alternative way of disseminating your methodology
  • become a starting point for discussion and development of the game itself can become part of the methods

So really no excuse not to try it yourself!

 

Personal note from Alke: Another thing this workshop has shown me is how wonderful it is to have glamorous assistant/PR person/promoter/agent/documenter. It was great to just be able to concentrate on preparing and running the workshop, and have somebody else support all the other stuff. And take all the pictures for this blog posts, apart from the handout (that was by me) and the filled in Heart game (that was from Jessica herself). A gold star to Dr Vigurs – you can be my glamorous assistant anytime!

 

 

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!