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Come and join us on November 8th 2016 at Middleport Pottery in Longport (near Stoke-on-Trent) to find out about using genre as pedagogcial resource. The first in a series of Writing-PAD events this academic year focusing on genre(s), this day introduces a theoretical framework for exploring genres and their affordances, including a recent example of how this can work as pedagogical practice. Via a tour of this very special venue, we will not only explore a valued English Heritage site, but also use this as a starting point for playing with the idea of genre and regenring in our own teaching practices. The day will also include the launch of the recently published book Writing Essays by Pictures by Alke Groppel-Wegener.

Cost £145 : Includes the whole day, with refreshments on arrival and in the afternoon, a delicious buffet lunch, a special tour of the venue and your own copy of Writing Essays by Pictures.

Book via Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/thinking-through-genre-exploring-genre-as-pedagogical-resource-tickets-28084047141?aff=eac2

(Draft) Programme:

10-10.30 Registration and Refreshments

  • Let’s start the day as we mean to continue by making our own name-tags – regenring a tiny part of conference/symposium tradition into something more expressive.

10.30-11 Welcome

11-12  Genre as Pedagogical Resource by Dr Fiona English

  • Fiona introduces a theory that could frame genre as pedagogical resource, updating thoughts from her book Student Writing and Genre.

12-12.30 Writing Essays by Pictures by Dr Alke Groppel-Wegener

  • Alke shares the story of the development of her recently published book Writing Essays by Pictures, an example of regenring the traditional study skills textbook into a picture/work-book.

12.30 – 1 Discussion

1-2      Lunch

2-3.30 The Pottery and beyond

  • Explore Middleport Pottery via a special tour and then use this experience to start thinking about ways of genring teaching practices.

3.30 – 4.15 Linking Theory and Practice

  • Fiona and Alke start us off using the Writing Essays by Picture books as an example to explore gains and losses of this particular regenring process to demonstrate an example of using the theoretical framework established at the beginning of the day. We will then move into the discussion of the outcomes of your genring activities.

4.15 – 4.45 Discussion of the day

4.45    End

The Speakers

Dr Fiona English is Honorary Senior Research Associate at UCL Institute of Education with a background in linguistics and language and literacies in education. Much of her research has been concerned with student writing and academic literacies, with her book Student Writing and Genre using a social semiotic perspective to explore the relationship between genre and the production of academic knowledge. More recently she has published Why do Linguistics?: Reflective Linguistics and the Study of Language with Tim Marr.

Dr Alke Groppel-Wegener is Associate Professor of Creative Academic Practice at Staffordshire University and a National Teaching Fellow. Having trained as a theatre designer but ending up teaching study skills, she became frustrated with the traditional ways of teaching academic practice, which has led her to develop her own approach being inspired by the creative processes of art and design and collated her strategies as Writing Essays by Pictures: A Workbook for students. She blogs at www.tactileacademia.com.

The Venue

Middleport Pottery is home to Burleigh Ware, which is still made on site using traditional craftsmanship. (And there is a shop where you can get your own Burleigh Ware, too). It was restored with the help of the Princes Regeneration Trust, has become a top visitor attraction and the home of The Great Pottery Throwdown.

It is a short walk from Longport Train Station, a 5 minute train ride from Stoke-on-Trent, and we would encourage participants to use public transport.

Please note that this is an old site and some of the areas are cobbled and might present a problem for people with mobility issues. It is advised that you wear sturdy shoes (no high heels) for the tour, and that you let the organiser know of mobility issues in advance, so that she can discuss your needs.

The Series

This exploratory workshop is the first in a series that will stretch through the academic year and culminate in a special issue of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice.

Through discussion within the Writing PAD community, we know that very often lecturers, and particularly practitioner/teachers, are doing a lot of interesting things in their teaching, but they seem to lack the confidence to share this work, specifically within the academic conventions of publication beyond a description of what they are doing.

To address this, we have decided to pick the focus of Genre, Genring and Regenring for this academic year, and are organising a series of events that will provide support for this issue and culminate in one (or possibly two) special issues of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, guest edited by Fiona English and Alke Groppel-Wegener.

The other events in planning are:

  • a first follow-up in February 2017 which explores the traditions and conventions of academic writing. There will be speakers in the morning, which are still to be confirmed, but we are talking to Julia Molinari, Lisa Clughen and Julia Lockheart, who will explore academic writing as a genre – and discuss the changes it is going through. The afternoon will be given over to a sharing session/exhibition where delegates have the opportunity to show off examples of their genre-ing and regenring practice, either as artefacts or in a poster format. The will allow the opportunity for people to share best practice, but also to get feedback and ideas for potential research designs in order to explore their practice more and on a more theoretical level. This event will probably be held at De Montford University in Leicester.
  • A second follow-up in the form of an academic conference, either at Easter time or early May 2017. Here people can share their practice in an academic format, and those presentations could use the feedback from the conference to inform papers for the Special Journal edition. This might be hosted at Nottingham Trent University or Staffordshire University.
  • If there is interest, there are plans for a writing retreat to facilitate the writing of the papers, possibly at Nottingham Trent University.

We are currently investigating funding to keep costs down, but it might be the case that we need to break even on this. You will not have to attend all these events to be considered for the special issue, but as we are trying to build up a mutually supporting network, it would be nice if you could come and join us at as many as possible.

Artist’s books made by students as part of the Creative Landscapes project Lucy Brown has been working on over the past few years (see this blog post) has now made it into an exhibition! Located at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal it opens tonight (private view 5-7pm) and will be on until the first week in September. If you are in the area, make sure to pop by!

And for more information, check out the project’s website here.

Yesterday I went on a little daytrip up to Glasgow. This was a fairly short notice affair after I had spotted a seminar intriguingly titled ‘Troubling the Academic Thesis – An Artist Teacher Public Seminar’ via Twitter. It promised the perspectives of Dr Chris Dooks, whose doctoral work included sound presented on three vinyl records, including sleeve notes with an essay on one side and story-board like image sequences on the other – find out more at his Idioholism website -, and Dr Nick Sousanis, whose thesis was developed and presented as the comic book/graphic novel Unflattening (Nick skyped in from Calgary). It was a really interesting conversation organised by colleagues from the University of the West of Scotland, which provided a lot of food for thought.

Maybe my favourite bit was a quote that Chris shared with us from Knowledge in Policy, a book by Richard Freeman and Steve Sturdy. In the Introduction they write:

Drawing a simple analogy with the three phases of matter – solid, liquid and gas, we argue that knowledge too exists in three phases, which we charaterise as embodied, inscribed and enacted. Furthermore, just as matter may pass from one phase to another, so too can knowledge be transfromed, through various kinds of action, between phases. (Freemand and Sturdy, 2014: 1)

This is surely to become one of the quotes I use all the time when talking about my teaching practice and Tactile Academia. I don’t know whether I agree with the three phases of knowledge they point out (I’m planning to read the book soon to find out), but what I really like about it is that it emphasises the idea, no the necessity, of transformation within knowledge and knowledge making. This is something that came up over the course of the seminar again and again (or maybe it is just something that I picked up on particularly because for me another PhD was in the mix, I am currently reading Stephanie Black’s PhD thesis on Illustration as a form of practice-led research, which highlights similar issues).

So, there is the process of doing research (in this case doctoral study of some kind), and then there is the finished product that is presented. Within the creative practices there is an ongoing discussion as to whether the academically written thesis should be a required product. I think there is a lot of insecurity about writing in particularly and there seem to be some insecurities as to whether one is (or maybe even we all are) ‘good’ enough to claim our place in the academy (whatever that might be). Very often it seems to me that writing in this case is cast as the obstacle – and usually here writing seems to mean putting together an academically written exegesis, ignoring the potential of writing as a process.

This made me think back to my own PhD thesis, which was a straight academic thesis based on some action research done through teaching, so one could argue it was practice-based, but you couldn’t really call it based on creative practice. One of the things this explored was the importance of writing for designers (and design students). While I was writing this I was concerned by a movement that seemed to try to almost get rid of writing within art and design disciplines, putting forward the photo essay and dissertation. I was concerned by this because the process of writing is incredibly useful in order to develop your thinking – as is the process of sketching (as Nick showed by sharing some of the development work of his comic not just with us at the seminar, but also in the notes/appendix section in the published book) and making other work (as Chris talked about). At one point Chris stated that a lot of the words that he wrote didn’t make it into his thesis (he decided to write a thesis to go alongside the work). I was thinking: “well, of course not!” I bet not all of the things he produced as part of his practical exploration made it onto his LPs either. This is the process, the knowledge going through the different phases – only a fraction ends up in the product to be presented. I’m a big fan of the concept of regenring (as explored by Dr Fiona English and mentioned elsewhere on this blog), and I think that works so successfully because it changes the phases of knowledge – but also because it is a process that generates more work, work that will not necessarily end up in a final piece.

So maybe the problem here is this weird ambiguity that seems part and parcel of traditional (Western?) educational systems: there is the learning that is all about the process on the one hand and then there is the ‘thing’ that gets presented and evaluated. At times these seem so apart that they could almost be called a dichotomy. Which is tragic, really.

So maybe we should try to put the process of research first and the ‘product’ (i.e. the physical outcome) last. Because the latter should develop out of the former. Don’t worry about finding an innovative or alternative way of presenting your research, find the most appropriate way of presenting the outcomes of your research. That might be through academic writing, or it might be something else. But on the way there, explore the different phases of knowledge (and here writing can be your friend!) and then see in what phase it seems to want to stay. I would argue that is what both Chris and Nick did.

I have wanted to do a post on posters for a while. As somebody with an interest in graphic design who also did a tiny little bit of it as part of her undergraduate degree (specifically designing promotional material for theatre productions), I was always baffled by the academic research poster as a genre. The posters I have come across at conferences are often very dense affairs that are text heavy, and I have often wondered what the point of them was, as whenever I was confronted by a room full of them, my patience for reading dropped from low to non-existent. Let’s face it, a poster session at a conference isn’t really the ideal environment to read…

And then came the time when I had to do a research poster myself, as part of my teaching qualification. I had great plans to do it differently – not much text, very visual, surely that was the way to go. Alas, I stumbled across a problem: this was the only assessment for a module, and while I had about ten minutes to present it, basically the poster was where I had to prove all my knowledge of the subject.

The Importance of Sharing Practice - academic poster 2010

The Importance of Sharing Practice – academic poster 2010

So it got more and more filled up with text while my good intentions stood by feeling powerless; it felt a bit like squeezing all my findings onto an A1 sheet (or however big it was). Looking at it then, I thought this was a bad poster, but at least it showed off the research I had done. Looking at it now, I think it was a really bad poster. The feedback I got mainly was about the content, although it also stated “The graphs on the poster had a positive visual impact from a distance, however, larger fonts or at least headings would enhance the accessibility of the message.” and then “The quantity of information within the poster could be reviewed” (which I am guessing means PUT LESS TEXT ON IT).

Some time later I would come across ‘Spineless Classics’ – a company that designs whole books onto a one sheet poster by the way of pretty miniscule type. In a way research posters remind me of that, trying to squeeze your whole report onto A1 (or A0). But the brilliant thing about Spineless Classics is that they design their layouts in a way that you also end up with an image of (usually) white space that is significant to the book in some way. (You can see some examples here.) Research posters often don’t have that saving grace!

Trying to find out more about the academic research poster – and how to put together a good one – has been a bit challenging, I haven’t been able to find any good guidance beyond the basics that relates to the arts and humanities, maybe because it is more common in the (natural) sciences. But I think that this is an important aspect of practice for any research student – they might get the opportunity to submit a poster to a conference, after all, or just want to develop a visual way to show the development of their project(s).

After getting a bit of funding from my university, I was able to invite visual journalist Lulu Pinney to do a lecture and workshop about research posters for us, which was very well received, incredibly inspiring and I can only recommend. Lulu gave us a lot of practical tips on how to organise a poster, but I think the most important was her mantra to “ignite, don’t immerse”. A poster shouldn’t be a summary of your research, it should ignite people’s interest in your research. I think this is fabulous advice when it comes to designing a poster for a conference.

Unfortunately, however, this could turn out to be terrible advice when it comes to preparing a research poster for assessment. If a poster is the only thing that is assessed, you might have to design it very differently. So maybe the split personality of the research poster comes from us lecturers trying to adjust the ‘assessment mix’. At university we want to test students in different ways, and we want to give them skills that they can use ‘outside’ of the university (or, in case of the research poster, still in academia, but once they have progressed from the student to the researcher role). I would guess that only rarely can a research poster do both effectively.

I also have a theory why. I’m currently reading Daniel Keller’s Chasing Literacy – Reading and Writing in an Age of Acceleration. Keller refers to Lester Faigley’s 2006 chapter ‘Rhetorics Fast and Slow’ in Rhetorical Agendas: Political, Ethical, Spiritual, that argued that there are two different rhetorics: a “fast” one and a “slow” one. The slow one is the one we often try to instil in our students for their academic work. I want my students to read deeply, not just skim over the surface of a text, just as I want them to show deep thinking in their essays, which I expect to be re-drafted carefully a number of times. Fast rhetoric – the web-based digital images, blog posts, e-mails, text messages, instant messaging systems, websites – seems to have little room in traditional academia beyond the initial stages of research (although Keller argues that maybe it should). The tradition of the poster is part of the fast rhetoric – posters are promotional tools, they let us know about events or products, they are designed to get their meaning across in the careless glance the passer-by gives them. The research poster attempts to emulate this, but with the burden of trying to get across the slow rhetoric of the academic research project. And this is the problem. Thinking back to the time I designed that first research poster, I knew that if this was to work as a poster, it needed to be short and snappy. It needed to be utilising a fast rhetoric. I could see what would be lost in the translation. So the ideals of the fast rhetoric became replaced by the learning outcomes (this was, after all, an assignment), and a weird hybrid was created, much more like a ‘spineless’ report.

We need to be mindful of this. Not just when designing our own research posters for conferences, but also when setting posters as assessments. Should they be part of the assessment mix? Absolutely. But they cannot just be used to replace the report, unless we are happy with the level of detail that would be lost in them.

On the other hand, we also cannot judge them in the same way as traditional posters. They are designed by people with different expertise to graphic designers for a different purpose. And that is ok. In Lulu’s workshop we ‘rated’ a number of example posters (that had been done as assessments). As we were all from different disciplines (and because that wasn’t the point), we did not look at the content, but rather at their design, focusing on Impact, Structure and Legibility. When we were done, one of the participants looked at the poster with the highest score and said “but that’s not very creative”. And it wasn’t. It was pretty straight forward. But what it did do was communicating what it was about. It had impact, so that from afar you wanted to step closer and find out more. It was structured well, so you knew where to look and in what order. And it was legible, so that you could actually read the information quickly and easily. Academic research posters shouldn’t be judged by the same criteria than other posters (even if they are prepared by people with a design background), just like they shouldn’t be judged by the same criteria as research reports.

Fishscale - Poster for Cumulus Conference 2013

Fishscale – Poster for Cumulus Conference 2013

Since my first foray into designing research posters (and with the luxury of not having to them to be assessed anymore), my approach to research poster design has changed a bit. I basically design my posters on A4 and then blow them up, thinking that if it isn’t readable on A4, it won’t be readable from a short distance once it is full size at a conference. I also don’t try to put everything in there, this is not my research report or my full paper. If people are interested they can get in touch with me and get more details (if I don’t provide them with all that stuff as a handout anyway). So now I make sure I get my email address on there (which I in the beginning often forgot about) and/or a QR code leading to more information. After Lulu’s workshop I will also have more guidance to get this right and I’m looking forward to putting this into practice.

But maybe more importantly, I don’t use research posters as the single assessment of modules I teach. The one I set really is about the ‘Ignite’, and I state clearly to the students that its purpose is for me to see whether they are able to identify the most important aspect of their research – the main thing they want people to know about. And I can do that because the poster isn’t on its own, it comes with a full report of their projects.

I think this is the way forward to making research poster design better – including both slow and fast rhetorics into the assessment mix, instead of asking the academic research poster to do both. And I would bet that if we all did this, the posters at conferences would get better in a few years!

After the recent link to the beautiful graphical music notations, I have kept noticing more blogs on visualising content, though in this case more written structures. Frances Kelly thinks about Metaphors for Thesis Writing, while Emily Temple has collected Famous Authors’ Handwritten Outlines for Great Works of Literature. Both great examples of how visualising the content can help you develop a structure that makes sense for your reader.

So, after all the embroidery going on over the last week or so, I declared enough was enough and got out the sewing machine to finally quilt the patchwork.

Quilting the Patchwork

Quilting the Patchwork

As with all design processes I have ever undertaken, it was a good thing that a deadline was looming: the portfolio for HEA accreditation needed to be handed in at Staffordshire University yesterday. And while I had been going back and forth in my head about whether to actually hand in the quilt as part of it or not, I thought it would be nice to have the option. The actual quilting transformed this piece of work, making it look much more ‘finished’ (although it took way longer than I expected it to, I’m glad I did it on a non-work day, because I wouldn’t have been able to complete it in just one evening).

But what about the portfolio? While all the embroidery was going on, I was also busy writing my annotations and sorting out my references. And during a chat with a colleague of mine about the portfolio, he commented on how conversational my writing was and said that on reading the first bits he thought I was going down the interview route. Now, I am ashamed to admit, but this hadn’t really occured to me. It should have, as I do a lot of work with genre writing (lots of cream embroidery on my patchwork), but my initial plan had been to get all the information down (conversationally as I find that easy as a first draft) and thenn ‘academic it up’ with making it more formal. However, if the whole point of the portofolio was to represent my practice, then using a slightly alternative genre made sense.

The finished patchwork side of the quilt

The finished patchwork side of the quilt

So, inspired by the quilt itself,  I set about rewriting the whole thing, turning it into an interview with myself, trying to explain the quilt concept, why there was only going to be one side of it (for now), and trying to guess the questions that might come up while viewing this piece – and answering them. Of course that made me end up with a combination of the annotations and the reflective commentary (which might have gone slightly beyond the word count), but I think I ended up explaining the concept, how it relates to my portfolio of work, and how it is not only reflective practice in action, but also reflecting my practice.

When the time for the decision came, I decided to go with the quilt and interview, rather than just the ‘normal’ portfolio and annotation. And the HEA bag I had from the Storyville conference in May was just the perfect size…

It's in the bag

It’s in the bag

The work on the quilt as such is not finished. I am working on the other side – a map that locates my different practices in relation to each other – and am doing more embroidery on that. And I keep updating my Post-it Patchwork, as this has become a valuable working document that helps me plan future projects.

current state of embroidery on the 'map' side

current state of embroidery on the ‘map’ side

As to how the portfolio was received, I will let you know once I know more…