This year’s HEA Arts and Humanities conference was held in Brighton this week.
D:DCIM100DICAMDSCI0060.JPGI had been thinking about architecture as a structure for my reflective book of it somehow – the idea of ‘housing’ the different stories told in the sessions somehow… and as I looked out to the pier over breakfast I really liked that structure – the somewhat fantastic structures you find on a pier of this sort, not unlike best practice in Higher Education, underpinned by a supporting structure. And then the conference started and I didn’t really have much time to think about anything much beyond what session to go to next (and at this event those were very difficult decisions). As I don’t have the time to get into the making of my reflective book just now, here a little write-up of the impressions of my very own conference experience…

We got started with a keynote by Dr Vicky Gunn, Director of Learning and Teaching Centre at the University of Glasgow, who talked about ‘Stories as re-membering: The tall tales we tell about teaching‘. It was a rich hour with lots to think about. What stuck with me most was the image of the emic mountain, and how you tend to think/reflect back on what you thought was going on, rather than on what was actually going on. What also got me thinking was the question whether we are using our teaching to produce gated communities  rather than public squares, through the exclusivity of the ‘conversations’ we are having and are encouraging our students to have.

I then dove into a wildcard session led by Alex Moseley of the University of Leicester on ‘Who needs time and money? How to design cheap and effective traditional games‘ Here I found myself part of the Tibetan team in the World Speed Games Design Championship, using ten steps defining the Context, developing the Grand Design and then Refining the Design of a game that would allow students to build their vocabulary in a foreign language. It became a set of challenges on their (virtual) way to the Cannes Film Festival and involved zombies and meerkats at one point (don’t ask). We didn’t win (partly due to my absolute inabiblity to get us extra points by remembering the favourite games of the other members of my team), but we did learn how to create a learning game in ten steps – and as we only had 90 minutes it became clear that a game like this can be created in prototype fairly quickly. (For more information on creating low-cost games for learning see Whitton, N. and Moseley, A. (2012) Using Games to Enhance Learning and Teaching: A Beginner’s Guide. Routledge).

I spent my afternoon in the three hour session led by Nick Monk of the University of Warrick on ‘Learning from Narrative‘. This combined two activities, which we did in two groups of four. We started by going on a ‘long short walk’. The idea behind this is to slow down and notice things. So, we were required to take a walk that would usually take about 5 minutes and complete it in 20, while really noticing things. It is funny how you immediately pick up on things that your brain usually would filter out, for example the noise of the busy King’s Road, the pole with the odd looking construction, which might have been a camera – but also how there are things you on your own still don’t notice. I for example, didn’t see the Punch and Judy theatre/booth until Sharon pointed it out. They were gone when we went back. This activity reminded me of two things that have made an appearance on this blog before: the documentary drawing, as this is also about noticing things in a different way (and indeed, I tried to do my noticing here through drawing rather than writing), as well as the reflective walk. However, a link I hadn’t made that Nick pointed out once we were back in the room to discuss the experience was that he uses this to illustrate to his students the difference between reading and ‘close reading’ – because when you read for academic research purposes you are not just trying to get from A to B (so that you can say that you have read a particular text), you are trying to notice the nuances, pick up on the meaning, in short pay closer attention. I will definitely be trying that with my students next term! We then went into the second activity of the afternoon, ‘theory building’. Here we got a collection of materials – quotations and images that were all somewhat Brighton related – and were asked to use them to create out own narrative, possibly inspired by our experience of Brighton on our long short walk. After figuring out what everything was and possibly meant, it was really helpful to talk through different options, but in the end this came together in my group once we started to take away things. Our story became stronger once we removed items and only kept the ones that supported the story, rather than keep everything in. Again a very useful activity to do with students, showing the usefulness (and necessity) of developing a focus and editing the story you want to tell. Fascinating was that the other group had a very different approach and put together a small performance!

After this already very full day I felt conference fatigue setting in and decided to skip the next session, being ready for the poster reception afterwards. Here I particularly enjoyed Anna Lise Gordon’s ‘The mirror in the suitcase‘ on the importance of resilience for early career teachers. She uses creative writing methods to explore reflective practice, and I was particularly taken by the Haikus some of her research subjects had written.

We ended the day with the conference dinner, where I had some very interesting conversations about employability – and how that is such a difficult concept to define. Surely people realise that the employability skills you need depend on the job you want? There was also much talk about Skandinavian drama…

The second day started with Professor Hamish Fyfe, the director of the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling. Another thought provoking keynote. What I particularly took away from it was that Stories are not true, but by being untrue they make you understand the truth (after Salman Rushdie). And I started to think about whether written stories are taken more seriously than told stories, and whether that is because stories are inherently personal and therefore seen as subjective (and qualitative), which in an academic community that is very much based on a scientific model might still be seen as inferior to the objectivity of numbers?

Afterwards there was Pat Francis’ and my workshop called Take a Little Button, where the 13 people brave enought to show up got to play around with buttons and consider different ways of using humble/ordinary objects such as buttons in their teaching to explore and explain academic practice. Pat particularly highlighted her work with fashion students on teasing out a context with a button as starting point and I talked about my way of likening buttons to quotations and handed out the newest in my series of tactile academia books, The Button Connection (will blog about this in more detail soon, I hope).

The feedback we got was very positive. People particularly liked how this way of ‘analogue’ working can support and complement the digital methods so much more common these days. There was also a particular sense that these strategies could help particularly when working with objects from an archive. And of course there was much admiration for the packs of random writing materials Pat had put together in preparation, a particular favourite in this workshop was the coffee filter – a great surface for writing on as unexpected things happen…

Here some of the feedback we collected (we want to make some sort of artefact out of it one of these days, so far these are the ‘raw materials’ we have to work with:

In the afternoon it was back to parallel sessions. I sat in on Olaojo Aiyegbayo’s talk ‘Metaphors we teach by: National Teaching Fellows’ metaphorical images of teaching in UK Universities‘, which identified how seasoned practitioners describe their teaching. One of the things that I am taking away from this was an image of a fish jumping out of the water, as Olaojo stated a fish isn’t aware of the water until her is out of it, just like metaphors are part of everyday life so that we need to work at them to become aware of the. It struck me that this might be a good way of visualising the ‘hidden’ academic practice I go on about – students can’t see a lot of it unless we take the jump and make it visible to them!

This session was followed by Amanda Couch talink about ‘A reflection on digestion: embodiment and the professional‘, which was interesting not just for the metaphor of digestion itself, but also for the links between the academic and personal, the bodily and the intellectual.

After a little break I found myself in the last parallel session of the day. Here I learned about ‘Academic staff perceptions of IT in the Humanities‘ by Pritpal Sembi of the University of Wolverhampton, reflecting on a work in progress that shows that it is not just the students who need to be considered individually when it comes to IT, but also the staff, who have their own hopes and fears when it comes to the introduction of new tools and systems. This was followed by an interdisciplinary (and interinstitutional) session on ‘Pioneers on the frontiers of learning?‘ by Rosemary Scott, Sarah Cousins and Dounia Bissar, that again talked about the personal approaches lecturers have to emerging and established digital technologies. This session finished with Zoe Johnson and Andrew Walsh from the University of Huddersfield talking about ‘Finding paths through the information forest‘. Important points made here was the difference between the information searches that you need to make when planning a holiday and the ones for academic research, and that there seem to be two main approaches subscribed to by lecturers: the ‘traditional’ approach of reading lists and letting students find familiar, ‘classic’ sources, and the more ‘practice as research’ approach of a more serendipidous exploration of sources that might come in useful and might challenge (established?) thinking.

By now I was absolutely exhausted and I almost didn’t make it to the closing keynote, but I am so glad I did (being fortified by two cups of tea). Nik Powell, director of the National Film and Television School, managed to pull off a very entertaining presentation, which reminded me that at the end of the day it is the story that is at the centre and that should determine the medium – something that needs to be kept in mind whether you are trying to make films or teach anybody anything!

While going through the latest Design Research Society newsletter, I came across these two conference that might be interesting to check out…

Cumulus Dublin 2013 – more for less – design in an age of austerity

November 7-9 2014, Dublin, Ireland

(but call for papers ends on 21st June… yes, slightly extended- phew)


11th International Conference of the Learning Sciences 2014 – Learning and Becoming in Practice

June 23-27 2014, Boulder, Colorado

Call for paper ends 8th November  (…phew some more time for that one)


Last Friday I went to Staffordshire University’s Inaugural School of Education Conference. This was particularly interesting in two ways… I had the opportunity to learn a bit more about education research, policy and practice from the education perspective, and, as I was also speaking, I could test out the Tactile Academia ideas on this audience, which is broadening it out a bit as so far I have mostly talked to/worked with people who although lecturers/teachers primarily have an art and design background (like myself).

There was too much going on for me to summarise it here, however, I want to just give one tidbit, which might be interesting for you as I think it links to the Tactile Academia ethos… Jim Pugh did a session on The HE Learning Experience, where he not only recommended Venn that Tune, a book you might also find interesting, but also made us create our own hand-out on Rally Variations. Based on Laurie and Spencer Kagan’s Structures, this not only told us about different types of ‘rallies’ (as in tennis rally, i.e. a sequence of shots) in the classroom, we experienced them in small groups and then were led into how to (visually) record this on a simple hand-out. So he made us not only reflect on the Higher Education Learning Experience for students through what we were talking about, but also about different ways of engaging students in group work, as well as note taking. Definitely food for thought.

me, talking a lot with my hands

me, talking a lot with my hands

After lunch I did my presentation. This was the event I had designed the mini quilt for to put on the poster. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get it onto fabric yet (students keeping technicians busy with work for final assessments no doubt), but as I liked the visual I decided to actually use it as the basis for my presentation as well. It felt like a very hurried half an hour of me zooming around, briefly describing the different activities. (Some of which I have already blogged about, for example The Land- and Seascape of Creative Practice, which isn’t actually on the quilt, as this is more connected to the framing of the whole thing but it was mentioned in the presentation, or The Fishscale of Academicness, others will follow!)

And I am happy to report that I had a very positive response to these ideas, with a number of people remarking that there were one or two things that they could put into practice almost immediately. I hope that they do and then let us all know how they are getting on.

my poster

my poster

I have since been thinking about how much explanations you need on a poster (or indeed handout). Because I know that if you just have that poster (so all the people who decided to go to the other parallel session) you get very little information about the actual activities. You get slightly odd titles, and some quotations and an overall statement of what Tactile Academia is about, but is that enough? Or is this about right, considering that this is all about getting people curious to find out more – and as long as the blog address is on there, they can do that? I don’t know.

Anyway, the last session I was in was about the importance of networks for Post-Graduate Researchers. While we slightly ran out of time, I started to think about the role that social media can play in that. It made me think a lot about that, in a way also apt, as this blog is one of the ways I stay in touch with you. So I also decided that I would (finally) join twitter. So in future you might hopefully be able to get shorter updates on my research from @alkegw and searching for #tactileacademia.

As you know I have been thinking about visual ways of representing experiences in patchwork/quilt form for some time. And this had developed quite nicely to what I call the ‘Post-it stage’ (other sticky notes are available) until the idea of the fabric printer moved it into another dimension of possibility. but it still felt a bit vague, and I was thinking that I would like to test this out in a smaller, contained way.

And lo and behold, an opportunity presented itself! I was asked to present a session at an internal conference hosted by our school of education – and ideally something that would give an overview of what I am trying to do with my students. And if I could put together a poster, too…

So having to do a poster anyway, I thought, why not come up with a patchwork design to put on the poster – and then if there is time I could run that through the fabric printer and see how it comes out.

My first idea was inspired by an artistic quilt – so something much more about one large image rather than regularly shaped bits that are joined together. I also liked the idea of using a frame in some way. Sarah has done a poster with a large ornate gold frame in it, which I really like, and I was thinking of nicking that idea and using it to show Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, which in a way is framing almost everything that I do – it sort of provides a really good model of how I approach both teaching and learning. So I was thinking of having a gold frame and on each of the four sides have a little label with one of the four stages Kolb refers to. As the actual image I thought I would use the idea of the Land- and Seascape of Creative Practice, but extend it so that it includes the Underwater Iceberg and the Fishscale of Academicness. A bit complicated, but in my head that still makes sense.

mini quilt concept drawing

mini quilt concept drawing

And while I still like the idea, I was wondering whether it might be a bit inappropriate because it is very much linked to art and design and takes studio-practice as a starting point. Really what I wanted to do was to come up with a poster/quilt that would prompt me to talk about the actual activities I do with my students (some of them still in development), rather than a lot of theoretical background that might not apply anyway. So maybe square pieces added together to make a larger square image after all?

Sitting down again with another large sheet of paper and another stack of post-its I was thinking of how much overlap there would be between the quilt I am planning about the development of my work and teaching philosophy and this one. In a way I wanted this one to be more ‘hands-on’, really focus on analogies and activities I actually use in my teaching, rather than give evidence of inspirations and conference presentations. But I also wanted to include some quotations that might be important.

I took key illustrations from the little tactile academia book(let)s and things I draw on my whiteboard in class as starting points and after some playing around I realised that it might be nice to have a checkerboard effect – with images as one colour and words as the other. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing I came up with a size and order I liked.

mini quilt at post-it stage

mini quilt at post-it stage

Now it was just a matter of filling it up. I say ‘just’, but of course this took actually quite some time. It is interesting, but it is at this stage, that I might abandon a project. In a way by now it is worked out – and I have a very clear idea in my head of what it would look like if it was actually finished. Of course in that case it would never really be shareable, so it is a good thing to have somebody waiting for a file they can print as a poster and a deadline to boot.

A period of designing began. I started with the images I already had – from the booklets and teaching prep, etc. – but invariably they were all somehow wrong in size or format, so I ended up redrawing most of them. I had some photographs I wanted to include, too. Putting them together just didn’t look as nice as the pink and green post-its, so I decided to treat them so they would all be black and white (well mostly), and so that they were more likely white on black than the other way around, because I wanted to emphasise the checkerboard effect.

Now all I had to do was populate the in-between spaces. I knew I wanted this to be text based, some squares giving my names for the activities (or books), some of them quotations that underline the importance and relevance of experiential learning (and in extension teaching) and some more informal ideas and activities I use in my teaching. For these three I used different typefaces, but tried to keep the font size equivalent. I also decided on a background colour, going for the colour of this website to make it tie in (and because I didn’t want it just white and couldn’t think of anything better).

And my mini quilt was done! Yippee!

For the poster I did frame it in Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, but in a plain frame. And I added a little bit about the idea of Tactile Academia to the bottom, plus the address to this blog if people want to check out the bibliography especially. (I could have included that on the poster, but would have had to make the type really tiny. Plus, isn’t it a good thing to give all those lovely people a reason to check out this blog?)

With it being the Easter break I don’t have access to the fabric printer just yet, but will keep you posted on how this turns out!

Sue posted a comment to the Take a little button post that recommended a TED presentation, which is fabulous. It made me think about not only that the genre of communication needs to be thought through rather than just going with a standard (whether that be PowerPoint or the academic essay to name but a few), but also about ways of learning in a kinesthetic way.

A few years back I was at a workshop led by Dr Colin Beard on Experiential Learning, where he suggested some strategies of making students more aware of issues by making them move (something I have done in class that was inspired by this was giving students example sources and with discussion forming a ‘line-up’ representing how academic those sources were).

Just recently at the ISSOTL 2012 conference I attended a presentation by Joy Guarino of Buffalo State College, State University of New York, titled ‘Kinesthetic Learning in the College Classroom’, where she pointed out that kinesthetic and tactile learners are often punished in a classroom, where students are traditionally expected to sit still.

She suggested the International Learning Styles Network as a source of more information and also the ‘Students Don’t Learn from Lectures’ Piece for Time by Salman Khan. And no, we didn’t sit for all of the presentation, but actively explored ways of experiencing different concepts.

This week Pat and I met up in Falmouth for the Annual Learning and Teaching Conference hosted by the Centre for Pedagogic Arts-based Research (PedARe). PedARe actually was launched on Wednesday night at a lovely celebration at the Maritime Museum, where a lot of networking was going on amidst the sails of various vessels with mulled wine and mince pies (and some cheese, too).

The coference itself kicked off on Thursday morning with a thoughtprovoking keynote by Professor Anna Craft from the University of Exeter. Titled ‘Possibility Thinking and Creativity’, she talked about the quiet revolution that might/will be coming to education through the combination of possibility thinking and creativity, particularly in digital youth.

I was very interested in the concept of ‘meddling in the middle’ – giving students support through enabling a place for uncertainty at some point during the process of learning.  Anna also made the point that wise possibility thinking had the potential to be both gear and game changing, because it challenges what is through asking ‘what if?’ or imagining things ‘as if’. This is particularly the case when combined with the 4 P’s of digital possibility thinking: Pluralities, Possibilities, Playfulness and Participation, which potentially results in creative empowerment and wise, humanising creativity.

As Pat and I went to prepare the first of our joint sessions, it struck me how much these 4 P’s also applied very much to what we are doing, although we are not employing digital means. Pat’s session was conceived as a ‘warm-up’ for writing, giving a very brief overview of some of the methods she uses to get studnets unblocked when it comes to writing. Most of the first couple of activities she suggested were fast and furious, the latter ones could be developed over a much longer amount of time. Unfortunately we didn’t really have the time to enjoy and explore as much as this needs, but some stimulating conversations were started that hopefully will lead to participants giving this a go once they are back at work.

The session I led over lunch focused on using visual analogies to illustrate the hidden academic practice that so often gets overlooked by students. This talk featured The Butterfly Challenge, The Land- and Seascape of Creative Practice, The Underwater Iceberg, The Fishscale of Academicness and the analogy I am currently working on, The Dress-up Doll of Formality. (I promise that one of these days I will get around to posting details of all these here!)

Both of our sessions got a really good response, but at the end of it both Pat and myself were so exhausted that we couldn’t make a useful contribution to the World Cafe session that was the closing session of the event. At the very end Carolyn Bew from the HEA sgared with us her impressions of the event as drawn on her iPad. Overall it was a very enjoyable day.

In the evening some of us went for a drink, where we discussed some ideas for the future. Particularly useful for Pat and myself weas an idea we then turned into an abstract for the upcoming HEA conference in Brighton. We will propose a workshop showing the different starting points a simple button can provide, an idea that came directly out of doing our two sessions. We don’t see each other that often (actually this was only the third time we had met) so it is really nice to see how fruitful these meetings can be if there is a bit more time involved than just the workshop itself! And true to form, over breakfast this morning we were discussing an idea for a workshop in Kent, triggered by the process of editing our abstract. And on the way to the train we were talking about the special issue of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice that I will be hopefully editing soon, and that gave me a good idea to the direction that could take….

It was a fantastic event all round, the recordings of the sessions that will hopefully be up on the PedARe website soon will be well worth checking out, especially as there was too much on to see everything!

As some of you may know, after doing a variety of workshops in the UK, we (Sarah Williamson, Lisa Gold and myself) took the Tactile Academia idea to the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning conference this October. We were accepted to do both a pre-conference workshop (Pop-up Tactile Academia – Developing Reflective Thinking through Visual Book-making) and a panel (Tactile Academia – Integrating Creative Practice into Teaching and Learning).

The idea was to allow the workshop participants to try out the idea of using collage, drawing and the concertina-book structure to keep their own notes of the conference, and thus experience the potential reflective book making has for themselves. We were also hoping that at least some of them would join us at the panel session to talk about their take on the ideas and processes explored.

I’m happy to report that both workshop and panel were well-received and that some lovely books were created during those few days. I will hopefully do a more detailed post in the next couple of days about all the other things I attended (and about how my own book progressed). Plus there will be more pictures from the workshop!

Here are the slides of the workshop: Pop Up Tactile Academia Canada Workshop Oct 2012

I attended and delivered a paper at the 3rd Annual Conference of the International Journal of Art and Design Education in Liverpool 19-20 October 2012. Due to my lecturing schedule I was only able to attend the Saturday session where I presented my paper “The Artist Book: Making as Visual Method” to the “Creative Thinking” strand.


ekm_The Artist Book_paperFINAL

Here I attach my paper and my presentation which focus on the embodied knowledge developed through the development of my first artist book. The paper and book were well received, delegates appreciated looking at and discussing artefacts as so much of the conference focused on the teaching and learning of art and design subjects (and rightly and importantly so!). One delegate asked me, “What will you do now?” which is such a supportive and encouraging question. “More making, reading and writing” was what was on the tip of my tounge but I knew she wanted something more specific. I told her I was going to work more into the photographs I had taken and make more books and collages. Interesting that my reply was based on my practice rather than the theory/methodology…something has shifted in my practice and how I view the way to push my investigation further. I simply can’t wait to get back to my visual practice after the hard graft of writing the paper.

I still have my Lit Search to do though…..rather large detail to not ignore…..

The process of making, researching and writing the book and the paper have been richly rewarding and have pushed my thinking and practice much further along. I now feel my doctoral study is practice-led rather than practice-based.

A long overdue post…

icebreaking through making name tags

At the end of June I went to the Teaching in Practice event, which was three days of Art and Design teaching staff getting together at different venues to network and talk about teaching in practice. Myself and Pat Francis had been invited to do two sessions, one on the first day as an ice-breaker and one on the second day to particularly get people thinking about the reflection-THROUGH-action that making provides.

the glue sticks came out again

One of the key formats we wanted to concentrate on was the use of postcards to focus thought, take notes and provide feedback, so everybody got a pack of postcards to utilise throughout the event, and we encouraged people to write/draw/collage their feedback down as well on self-adressed postcards, which I took home with the promise to mail them out in early September to remind people of the experience they had. (And yes, I did do that a couple of days ago.)

The first day was hosted at the New Designers 2012 exhibition, so we had the chance to see the show as well, and included a welcome by Linda Drew celebrating the launch of the Teaching in Practice event, which will hopefully become a regular feature on the HEA calendar.

Day two was taking place at the Garden Museum, a fabulous space (with some very nice food), particularly as we were lucky with the weather so the first workshop in the morning, Garden of specialist language: Ars cesura vs. art Critique led by Sarah Rowles and Giles Bunch of Q-Art, actually let us take over the garden as we explored ways of presenting work and the ‘crit’ that is often so important in teaching studio-based disciplines.

The keynote after lunch was given by Professor Juan Cruz, the director of the Liverpool School of Art and Design at Liverpool John Morres University. It was titled ‘Hunting in Packs’ and can be seen here (plus a video montage of the whole event).

The last workshop of the day was facilitated by Ellen Sims and Kirsten Hardy, and was exploring the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning. There were some insightful discussions of the new HEA framework re the new different stages of fellowship – and why we should try to get accredited!

Day three was held at the Sackler Centre at the Victoria & Albert Museum. We were treated to two keynotes, one by Mark Craweley, the director of Widening Participation and Student Progression at the University of the Arts, London with painter, educator and curator Kimathi Donkor, the other by Leanne Manfredi, the programme manager responsible for Higher Education and Creative Industries at the V&A.

After a refreshment break James Corazzo, Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design at the University of Derby, led a workshop intriguingly titles ‘Teach less, Learn More?’ in which he explored ways of actively engaging students by making them get out there are try stuff rather than read or hear about it and stick to the drawing board.

The evening ended with the opportunity to networ as well as visiting the British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age exhibition at the V&A, as well as enjoying the Friday Late at the V&A event Un-built, which explored the interplay between architacture and the visual arts.

By the end of it I was exhausted, but I hope that it’ll be repeated next year so I can do it again! I also came home with a stack of postcards to myself (plus the feedback mentioned above), but that might be a later post.