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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 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

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.

The Infographic

The Infographic

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

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

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.

some of the things I cam home with

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!

Nick talking about his first comic ‘Lockerman’

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!

 

Here an invitation by Lisa Clughen that you might be interested in:

NEXT #creativeHE CONVERSATION APRIL 18-22th: The Role of the Body in Creative Processes & Practices

April 21st has just been designated a UN World Creativity & Innovation Day and we are inviting you to join us to explore the theme of ‘the role of the body in creativity’ at:
https://plus.google.com/communities/110898703741307769041

We tend to think of creativity as an imaginative cognitive process that is often depicted as a light bulb sparking off in our heads. In this conversation, though, we want to explore the ways in which our whole bodies are involved in creative processes and practices.

The conversation is open to anyone who has an interest in the theme of the body and creativity, and all perspectives and shared experiences are welcome. We are particularly interested in the views of people who work in higher education as the role of the body in teaching and learning processes is not often addressed. We also welcome the involvement of creative practitioners and tradespeople, who will have particular insights into this phenomenon.

 

Discussion Outline:

DAY 1 April 18: Introductory activity

DAY 2 April 19: The role of the body in helping others to learn

DAY 3 April 20: Your body and the way you inhabit particular spaces that encourage your creativity

DAY 4 April 21: The role of the body in disciplinary or work contexts in which you are creative

DAY 5 April 22: The challenge of enabling learners to become more aware of the ways in which their bodies are involved in their own creativity

 

Further information will be provided daily at: #creativeHE  You can participate at:
https://plus.google.com/communities/110898703741307769041

 

The conversation takes place during World Creativity and Innovation Week and it is Creative Academic’s and #creativeHE’s contribution to this event.

The conversation is being led by Lisa Clughen (Nottingham Trent University) and supported by Norman Jackson and Maria Kefalogianni

We have now confirmed our other speakers for the morning of the reGenring conference.

Julia Molinari will ask ‘What Makes our writing academic?’

In this talk, I would like to explore in what sense a text that does not follow established conventions of English Academic Discourse (EAD) can be considered ‘academic’? I will argue that such a text can be academic not in virtue of its textual features or of its modes, but in virtue of the extent to which it fulfils an academic purpose and practice. I will draw on theories of multimodality (A. Archer & E. Breuer, 2016), of higher education (Barnett, 1990, 2012, 2013; Besley & Peters, 2013) but also of the philosophy of sociology (Winch, 1990) to argue that since creativity, imagination and argumentation are amongst the purposes and practices of a higher education, then we need to look beyond language – understood as just one of many modes – to more fully fulfil the range of our academic aims.

David Hindley and Lisa Clughen will present on ‘Student perceptions and experiences of academic blogging: some reflections on the use of blogs as a way of fostering greater student engagement, collaboration, and ownership of learning’

This paper takes the standpoint that academic blogging offers precisely the type of inclusive writing genre and inclusive environment for writing development that Elbow (2014) advocates. It is informed by a mixed-method research project which analyses the use of blogs as a formative part of the assessment within a final year undergraduate module, Contemporary Issues in Sports Practice.

Finalised programme to follow soon, in the meantime, don’t forget to check out our other speaker here and the Call for Practice here (which is still open). Book your place here before it is too late!

Cover of Unflattening

I am happy to announce that Dr Nick Sousanis, author of the wonderful Unflattening, is going to be one of our invited speakers in the morning of the ReGenring conference at Nottingham Trent (see here for the Call for Practice). The title of his talk will be ‘Unflattening: reimagining scholarship through comics’ . Instead of an abstract, have a look at this page of Unflattening

Page 64 of Unflattening by Nick Sousanis

Also joining us will be Dr Fiona English, author of Student Writing and Genre, who will facilitate the end of day discussion. There have been some really interesting responses to the Call for Practice, and we can expect examples of genred and regenred work in form of comic books, radio plays, posters, poems, blogs, exhibitions, magazines and videos – don’t forget to let me know if you want to share some practice in the afternoon session yourself!

More info on our other speakers coming soon, don’t forget to book your (free) place here.

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.