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I had so much fun creating the game that I couldn’t put down the marker eventually politely took it off me 🙂 The facilitation of the workshop was excellent. Thank you & and all others for this inspiring day! ()

After our workshop on making a Sociological Research Board Game had been so well received at last year’s Undisciplining conference, The Sociological Review asked Katy and myself to do another one – but this time we had the luxury of a full day!

detail from the handout

The venue was another art gallery, this time The Lowry at Salford Quays, and based on feedback from the conference at The Baltic, we had also set some time aside to go on a short tour of the permanent exhibition about Lowry himself during the lunch break.

The bag of board games I brought in

As we had so much more time (the first workshop was 90 minutes long, now we had almost seven hours to play with), we decided to start the day by getting our participants to play some board games. The Games and Visual Effects department at Staffordshire University that I work in has a board game library, so I had easy access to a whole (quite overwhelming) array of different games, of which I selected four more or less at random. Plus I brought in one of my own, the Boardgame Blueprint, as I wanted to then use that as an example when talking about the game design later on.

After playing for about 45 minutes, we had a chat about all the games in turn, with the people who had played the individual games (or were familiar with them) describing the game play a little. We were particularly interested in the way the path was organised, the game mechanics used, and the way the visuals of the game represented (or not) the content of the game. (Pirate’s Cove turned out to be a really interesting example as it was so complicated that everybody basically gave up attempting to play it within the first 10 minutes. Although it is visually stunning, there are so many different aspects that players need to prepare and take into consideration that trying to learn it just for a practice play was not worth the time. A great example of how it is possible to overcomplicate a game – a pitfall we didn’t want to fall into with our prototypes!)

The selection of board games we actually did play worked really well, because we ended up with ones ranging from a very strict path (Boardgame Blueprintsee some of the game action here), one with some options (The Game of Life), one where you are quite flexible (The Master Detective Game) and one where the object of the game is to ‘construct’ the path while playing (Tsuro). A number of basic game mechanics were in play, particularly different ways of triggering chance events (dice, spinner, game cards). There was also an interesting range of how the content was visually represented: The Game of Life, for example, uses visuals of an affluent Western Society and three-dimensional elements that seem a bit gimmicky. The Master Detective Game seems located in Victorian London, but presents a bright watercolour version of this and doesn’t include any grime or shady areas that one could associate with Sherlock Holmes. Tsuro is quite abstract but with an Eastern twist. And the Boardgame Blueprint’s large visual is of an iceberg, which seems not really connected with the subject of researching and writing an essay, although the little images on the individual steps feature related pictures.

We then had about an hour before lunch, and I had thought we would be able to go through the different steps at a fairly fast pace. But this is not how it happened… and I’m not sure why, maybe because we had more time people didn’t want to be rushed? Thinking on our feet, we decided to turn the initial idea of going through the steps – to turn the diagram into a flowchart, consider game mechanics and finally design a visual – together, into me walking participants through this and then letting them work at their own pace. As they had a hand-out that detailed all the steps this wasn’t a problem, and allowed people to be more flexible. And it allowed Katy and myself to spend more time chatting to people and helping in case anybody felt they got stuck.

Participants also were flexible in how long they wanted to take for lunch, so that the lunch break organically flowed over to the afternoon when we had scheduled independent development work on the games. The last half an hour or so a number of people shared what they had been working on – and just like after our first workshop. we were really impressed by how many fascinating game prototypes were created!

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Unfortunately we (again) didn’t really have time to do any playtesting. Maybe this is always unrealistic on the same day – so let’s keep this in our backpocket for a week long workshop 😉

Thank you and for facilitating and and for organising such a brilliant day. Will definitely be using what I learnt in the future. ()

 

So after this I think…

…starting with playing games is a great idea, because it not only gets people in a playful mood, but also because we then can talk about the different aspects of them (i.e. how is the path organised, what game mechanics are used, what is the visual impact – and is this connected to the content of the game). If there is not time enough to play, maybe it would be useful to talk about some at the beginning, or while going through the three steps? Playing (or thinking about) games could also be set as preparatory ‘homework’.

…as Jon suggested it would be great to have elastic bands to hand so that participants can take home their prototypes more easily after the session. (Actually I already bought an assortment of elastic bands based on this feedback and now just must remember to pack them for the next workshop!)

…the empty playing cards were a great addition to the resource table, particularly for the people who came with the idea of a card game in mind.

…I wonder whether the paper we are currently using is too big. Even when compared to board games that are commercially available the prototype we are producing is on the large side – however, this allows for us to capture small details (easy to do on a small scale if you have a computer for the writing, not so easy if you are working with markers – and I like encouraging people to use markers, because you have to commit to what you are drawing) – and it makes them easier to share in the session.

…it may be too ambitious to try to include play testing in a workshop, especially if people are working on their own individual games – I mean how would you choose which ones get tested and which don’t? (maybe we need to organise a workshop reunion to play test?) However, if working on collaborative games playtesting would be a useful addition.

If you have been to one of these workshops, let me know what you think via a comment!

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Looking back at conferences I have attended, I seem to remember little about the large themes, but so much about the people I actually got chatting to – sometimes in the scheduled tea/coffee breaks, sometimes over lunch, sometimes at the conference dinner and sometimes while deciding to miss part of the scheduled programme (and yes I admit to feeling slightly naughty for ‘skiving off’). These conversations (some of them struck up because of me seeing the other person give an inspirational paper, some through the simple coincidence of sitting next to each other) have led to me making changes to my practice, but also long-term collaborations.

Having the time to talk to each other is so valuable, but in today’s Education context this seems to become a more and more precious resource. Whenever I get to plan a conference or workshop, I have always tried to build in some extra time to just chat – whether that is a long lunch or (as in the case of the 2017 ReGenring conference) even an afternoon sharing session without formal programming. Sometimes this leaves attendees a bit surprised – there’s nothing planned? they say. Actually, there is something planned, the plan is to give YOU the opportunity to start to react to the all the content we’ve already thrown at you, to start digesting, and this works best if we can allocate some time for that.

I was absolutely delighted to be at a residential conference/course last September, where a whole day was declared a ‘Day of Conversation’ with the brief for us to go out and finish the conversations we had started with other attendees and start the conversations we hadn’t had yet, but really wanted to have. Partly this became an Unconference – people forming little groups around subjects, and partly this was tiny groups of two or possibly three people sitting together talking to each other – and if any of the others were like the conversations I had, they were scheming and laughing – making lifelong friends with people you had only met three days before and laying the ground work for future collaborations.

So it might not be a surprise that my upcoming workshop is experimenting with a different format – I wanted a framing that would let people chat and give them time to exchange ideas and practice. But I also wanted a little bit of structure. And delicious food. In fact, I wanted an environment that was different to the corporate teaching rooms at a university, changing expectations…

Academic-Afternoon-Tea-Blackboard-for-web

And so, the Academic Afternoon Tea was born.

Loosely structured by the three traditional courses of savouries, scones and sweets, this will give us the opportunity to explore subjects, share practice and network. The first one is open for booking now – join us at LEAF in Manchester, UK on 10th May 2019 to explore ways that principles of experience design can help thinking differently about students and our own roles! There will be tea, food, some guided creative activities (we might even start with the ever popular making of our own name tags) and – most importantly – lots of time to chat.

To get your ticket, check out the EventBrite page here.

Hope to see you there!

writing-pad-logo

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!