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!


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:

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:


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

I have been trying to establish a regular get-together at Staffordshire University, where interested people have the space to share ideas they have come across and/or are using within Learning and Teaching. And as I am organising this, I got to pick our first starting point. Since I am also working on the series of Thinking-through-Genre events with Writing PAD, it is probably not surpsiring that I picked ‘Genre’ as a subject.

I had sent around two links as starting points for discussion: Mahmoud Shaltout’s ‘Peda-Comical: A personal account of comics in education’ (2016), where he reflects on the genre of comic books as a resource within his learning and teaching, as well as Fiona English’s ‘Genre as a Pedagogical Resource as University’ (2015), where she gives a short overview of some of the work in her 2011 book.

On the day I also brought Galman’s The Good, The Bad and The Data (2013) and Sousanis Unflattening (2015), as they are both examples within the comic book genre and I thought this would present a nice extension of the readings. They are particularly interesting when looking at the use of traditional narrative and visual narrative.

What I had overlooked, probably due to my established  familiarity with the subject, was that none of these actually defined the term genre in this context – and neither did I at our meeting until somebody actually specifically asked me to. Clearly I need a bit more practice facilitating these get-togethers so I can set aside my assumptions!

Let’s try to do it now: I think the easiest way to define genre as I am talking about it is that it describes different ways in which to communicate content. Each genre has different rules (or ‘affordances’), and deciding on one over another means that you possibly gain something, but might lose something else. I have previously tried to make this concept accessible in the Dress-up Doll of Formality activity.

My favourite quote that encapsulates this is by Douglas Adams, who wrote:

(…) the moment you have any idea, the second thought that enters your mind after the original idea is “What is this? Is it a book, is it a movie, is it a this, is it a that, is it a short story, is it a breakfast cereal?” Really, from that moment, your decision about what kind of thing it is then determines how it develops. So something will be very, very different if it’s developed as a CD-ROM than if it’s developed as a book. (Adams, 2003: 155f)

This always spoke to me because it makes a lot of sense to a designer. Because in a way (and this is also something we discussed briefly at our meeting), communicating content in a variety of guises is what being a designer (any type of designer, although it might be most obvious in the case of graphic designers) is all about.

And maybe this is also why I have always been absolutely fascinated by adaptations, especially cross-platform ones. Regenring (as in putting the content of one genre into another) is just another word for the same principle.

A visual representation of the 'minutes' of our meeting

A visual representation of the ‘minutes’ of our meeting

With the question of what ‘genre’ actually is (or can be) agreed on, we then proceeded to talk about the affordances it has, and how we can make use of them. The comic book, for example, is what one of us used as part of the dissemination mix of a research project to broaden its impact (find more details here). She made the point that producing a comic didn’t just get some of our Comic and Cartoon Arts students a live project to work on, but more importantly transformed some of the findings from the report into a format accessible to students, the people it might be most valuable to and who were unlikely to read neither the original report nor scholarly articles based on it because of their genre.

In a way the question of accessibility is what we probably most talked about – and particularly the problematic that comes with academic genres that are often not very accessible to students. Not just the question whether it makes more sense to ask students to communicate their research in a format that is more relevant to ‘real life’ than academic formats like the essay or research report, but also the academic genres we use within the university, such as module descriptors, module handbooks and similar, often filled with our own jargon that surely must seem like a foreign language to students. Sure, we give them a glossary, but is this the most accessible way to invite them to understand the processes and procedures of their academic life…?

…something to discuss further in our next meeting!

Today I attended a BSA Sociology of the Arts Study Group‘s event entitled ‘Using the Arts in Teaching and Research’. I should say that I am not a sociologist nor do I think of myself as belonging to the social sciences, so this reflection is based on my interest in using arts in teaching and research rather than on the content of the research that was presented. As so often within the arts context, for me today was all about process.

I was treated to a really interesting day. The organisers had split up the presentations into four different sessions dealing with Using Art to Engage with Marginalised Groups, Using Art as a Reflexive Tool, Using Art in Engagement and Dissemination and Using Art in Training and Education respectively. Here are some observations I made (in no particular order, I think of these as possible starting points for more detailed posts in the future, but want to get them down while the event remains fresh in my mind):

When it comes to art and research there seems to be a spectrum at work. I haven’t quite worked out all the details yet, but this ranges from no art,  to using art to illustrate research (that could be findings or part of the process, and it could be already existing art or art specifically generated for the particular project), participatory art might be produced as an integral part of the research, this might then be interpreted by the researcher, or it might be interpreted by the participants themselves and then this will be interpreted by the researcher. And then there is art that has been produced by either researcher and participant or by both in collaboration that becomes a part of the outcome/dissemination.

Issues that these stages have to deal with include:

  • There is almost always a hierarchy between the researcher and the participants/subjects of the research, which at some stage is likely to kick in. For example at one stage the researcher might move from facilitator to the person who interprets results and writes them up – a position of power. It seemed to me that research is more true to the person creating the art if they themselves explain it/reflect on the meaning – and to use that in the analysis of the results rather than the researcher interpreting the work.
  • Depending on the set up of the research (or of the situation that is researched), participants/subjects might feel they need to present an established story (for example of a victim that gets redeemed, triumph over adversity), or might want to give a certain impression due to a (possibly hidden) agenda. Again a perceived hierarchy might complicate things.
  • It is really hard to plan and tie down a research protocol, because very often you don’t know in advance what data you will get. At the beginning participants might be concerned they are ‘doing it wrong’ and might want to get very specific instructions (and the ‘but I can’t draw’ response for drawing as part of research is a common occurrence in this context). However, certainly one of the great things about using arts-based research is that once participants feel empowered by it they often develop their own way of responding, which might be completely unexpected by the researcher. But this means that the forms in which the data comes might be surprising.
  • There were nods to thinking about working with artists – and being mindful of what that might mean for the artists, i.e. typically artists are freelance and payment through the university systems are notoriously slow, and the project, i.e. budget for the artists needs to be planned in from the very beginning, whether that is artist as illustrator, facilitator or co-researcher.

Of course we also discussed arts-based research in the context of today’s academic framework, so what exactly is practice-based research and is it becoming more accepted for submission as part of the (UK’s) Research Excellence Framework? Is it maybe easier to use this as part of an impact study? How can it be captured, and is it ok to collect and present research that is inherently subjective?

Needless to say, I came home with a lot of food for thought.


On 8th July I will be going to an event on The Body in Learning and Teaching in Nottingham (more information can be found here if you would like to join us – and if it’s too late look out for the paper attached to that site), and as preparation Lisa Clughen (who is organising it) asked participants to send her a sketch of how our body is important in our own academic practice. This is the task she sent:

The purpose of the event is to explore the centrality of the body to learning and teaching. To begin our explorations, can I ask you to email me an image that conveys a sense of how the body relates to different aspects of your learning or teaching? To stimulate your thinking, I will give you an example of a core aspect of my life as a lecturer: writing. Whenever I sit to write, I have to have at least one cup of tea ready before I sit down. It’s a ritualistic part of making my physical environment feel right for the task ahead. As I write, you’ll see me picking up the cup, enjoying its warmth, taking it to the window and drinking from it as my writing develops. Having my cup of tea is central to my efforts – my actions with the cup are fully embroiled with my writing as they provide a space for it to take shape. A cup of tea would definitely be one of my images, then – the place does not feel conducive to writing without it. What is yours?

Prompted by this I’ve been thinking a lot about the activities and things that at first glance appear to be on the periphery of (my) academic practice, but that really might be much more central to it. Maybe most important of these are the writing implements I use. Or maybe that should better be the ‘mark making’ implements, because I don’t ‘just’ write, even when in the process of putting together an academic paper. I have been on at least two (work) trips where my progress stalled due to the lack of a fountain pen. It’s not like I didn’t have ballpoint pens or pencils, markers or felt tip pens with me (and probably a selection of all of the above), but on neither of these trips I had taken my ‘good’ fountain pen. The one my parents got me when I finished my Masters that has accompanied me ever since. And it turns out that I couldn’t write anything useful until I bought a cheap fountain pen on both occasions. (I’m happy to report that I got smarter and now usually take a fountain pen on trips, even if it is just one of the two cheap ones I now also have.) There is just something about the flow of ink that makes my thoughts flow that doesn’t quite happen with the roll of the ballpoint pen.

Thinking about my academic practice and how the body plays a part in it has been quite useful, and revealing. Scribbling, ripping, cutting and pasting, spreading things out on the floor, reordering, drafting and typing are all activities that come to mind. But to me nothing seems to be more important than walking. I have realised that I have different types of walks that accompany the drafting of pretty much any important piece of writing I do, be that a crucial email, a new module handbook, a conference presentation or lecture, or even an academic paper. There is the ambling through the park to think through initial ideas; the walk of a first draft – in long strides pretty much around a block in my neighbourhood; pacing up and down my living room.

But maybe the most interesting is what I seem to regularly do when preparing a formal talk (could be for a conference, could be a more ordinary lecture): every so often I will interrupt writing my notes or slides to get up and talk to myself (sometimes in my head, sometimes out loud), pondering the right turn of phrase. This is not a time in which I walk specifically, or at least not great distances. It’s more like a fairly slow dance without music. When I’m at home it sometimes takes me from my desk to the hall or even the kitchen (I agree with Lisa there, the kettle is a very important writing ‘implement’, too), but mostly it is a few steps in one direction, then back, moving my weight from one foot to the other or from the tips to the heels. Sometimes my swivel chair becomes a temporary partner as I lean over the back to make an adjustment in the text already on screen or to pick up my trusty fountain pen to add to the notes or fill a post-it with an idea for future use. But mostly this is a dance solo, a ritual which allows me to imagine myself in front of an audience that doesn’t mind me searching for the perfect turn of phrase or starting a sentence over and over again until it is finally right and I get to the end of the argument.

Talk Prep Tango

One variation of the Talk Prep Tango


There will be a reprise of this Talk Prep Tango, usually the night before going public with the talk. This might take place at home or in a hotel room somewhere. Alas, the public performance will be much less like a dance, less searching and more like a person just talking.

[This post was drafted during a number of walks and then with a fountain pen before it was typed up. A Talk Prep Tango was not involved in its making.]

Because I teach writing to art and design students, I’m not really attached to a particular subject team, which means that before this academic year I was never asked to go on study trips with the students. Turns out I have been missing out, as I realised this year when I was asked to go on not just one, but two of them.

The first one was in October, when Lucy Brown from our Graphic Design department turned some of the research she had been doing for her MA (as reported on here) into an assignment folded into a two nights stay in the Lake District. Not only did we visit the James Cropper Paper Mill, we also did a walk the students had previously planned and would subsequently make creative documentations of. It was fascinating to accompany a quarter of the students on their walk and to see them take notes in all sorts of ways – not least photographs (which they knew they were not allowed to directly use in the artists books they had to prepare as an assignment later in the term).

The second one was with a group of animation students to California in February, where we visited a number of studios and the Walt Disney Family Museum (and yes, the weather for this was much nicer than the one we had in the Lakes in October). We also popped by the Character Animation course at CalArts and were invited to take part in a Live Drawing Class with them as well as stick around for a demonstration lecture/chat with the animator James Baxter in the evening.

Thinking back to both of these trips now, I am thinking about what we ‘bring back’ from a study trip – and how best to consolidate this. There is something to be said about having the first hand experience of how something works –  explaining how paper is made is very different to walking around a paper mill in full swing with your safety glasses and ear protectors (yes, on an industrial scale that can be quite loud), just as much as having a vague idea of animation being produced in a studio system is nothing like walking around a range of different size studios and being able to talk to people who actually work there. James Baxter’s demonstration, while it was located within an educational institution, was the closest thing you will get to being in an animator’s head for 3 hours – because that is what happened – he was sitting at an animator’s desk, animated a scene and talked us through what he was thinking/doing at the time – and at the end of it he had a few seconds of film (for the sort of thing he was doing that evening, check out his blog here).

At their simplest, study trips are probably about collecting information, whether the point is to find out how certain things work or to be inspired for your own work doesn’t really matter, I guess for creatives it is always a combination of the two. But this is also the problem, because you have a few days that are really intense, and you come home having to tease out what actually happened in order to be able to make sense of all the layers of things that were going on (not unlike going to a conference for academics, I guess). It is crucial to make time to work through this, because otherwise these trips will remain as a folder of pictures snapped or maybe a few mementos picked up on the way.

That is why study trips NEED a follow-up activity for students. Both of these trips had them – the Graphic Design students all made artists books, which are now on the way to being exhibited back in the Lake District, the animation students had an exhibition at the university with some work created as a response to the trip.

And while I know that this is so important, it is sad to think about how often I don’t take the time myself to create a response that allows me to think in more detail about what I have found out after coming back from a fact-finding mission – whether it be a meeting at a different institution or a more formal conference. Who knows how much I could improve my practice if I was able to do this more than just sporadically… but then at least I blog occasionally.

Alke's California Adventure - my response to the study trip Just don't ask me what it means...

Alke’s California Adventure – my response to the study trip
Just don’t ask me what it means…

P.S.: With the study trip to California I wasn’t able to go to the HEA Arts and Humanities conference this year, but it sounds like some pretty good session were there, particularly when it comes to object learning as you can check out in this write up by Dr Paul Kleiman.

It is February, 2nd and everybody seems to be talking about Groundhog Day (the film).  In fact, I pretty much started my day What’s App-ing my sisters (who live in Germany and Italy) that one of the Sky channels is showing it today back-to-back for 24 hours, which I think is hilarious. But while reading the connected article in The Independent online, I was thinking that while this is funny, there was an opportunity missed, because although the sections here occasionally change a tiny bit, they don’t quite change enough. The great thing about the film is that at the end (spoiler alert), Phil gets his day just right!

Really if seen in an academic context, Groundhog Day is an analogy of editing: Just like Phil is trapped in this day, when writing a paper/chapter/book/whatever, a writer can easily get into a routine where you change small things – or big things – see how they pan out, and if they don’t quite work, you go back to the beginning. You reflect on what worked out in your last draft and what didn’t quite work, and you change it. Sometimes you refine details, sometimes you change the big stuff. Sometimes you change it back, sometimes you decide that a totally new direction is needed. And only once everything is in place you can finally move on to the next piece, just like Phil finally moved on to February, 3rd. Unfortunately, though, is that even if it feels like you are stuck in a timeloop while editing your own writing, time goes on around you and you might get to your deadline before you are ready to move on. I can only assume this happens because we don’t actually live in movies…

Last week I met up with some colleagues in Leicester to catch up and make some plans for the future. Check out the blog post that Julia posted about our get-together here – I was mainly excited about showing off my academic quilt 😉

I came back re-energised and with two main areas to develop for 2016: the academic poster as a genre and supporting post-graduate researchers in their writing. I’ll keep you posted!

Here a guest post from Justine Thomas on how she teaches English as a second language:

Teaching English as a second language to people from different countries via Skype is a lot of fun and seeing that your students understand and work at lessons is a real pleasure. Your students will like you and everything you say will catch their attention, simply because you are so alien (hence, interesting) to them. Speaking about teaching on Skype, I would like to mention its advantages over teaching in-class: since you’re not a school teacher to discipline students, you will never be hated, which is a great help for building a good rapport. Also, as a Skype tutor, you’ll plan all the lessons and activities yourself and you will be free to change the strategy or a program due to the student’s needs. However, there are certain pitfalls that might trap both beginner and experienced teachers – there is no guarantee for the smooth connection, excellent understanding (especially if you do not know student’s native language) and other thing like this. And if with the technical aspects you can deal simply by setting your computers properly, I would like to talk more about the issues, which cannot be “fixed” in a couple of minutes.

1. Understanding.
The most important thing, let’s say, a corner stone in the building a communication with your students will be your advertency and openness to intercultural dialogue. You should keep in mind that different cultures approach to teacher-student relations in a different ways, for example, if in the Western countries a teacher and a student are partners of the educational process, in Eastern Asian countries they would never be equalized. Teaching language to foreigners is inseparably connected with culture and social aspects, so you should pay utmost attention to the student’s background. When I taught English to girls from Spain, I realized it is totally okay for them to treat a teacher as their senior friend; I was rather a mentor than an actual teacher, we played together and chatted about all the stuff the girls could chat about. The point is that to a Western non-native speaker of English a second language can become a convenient extension with a very little cultural interference because of many similarities. To Asian students, English as a second language will bring not only new speaking patterns, but also a huge cultural layer, including body language and gestures. For example, showing a “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” in front of Japanese class may cause a tear burst, because a “thumb down” is considered as an extremely rude and accusing gesture. Thus at the ESL classes, a teacher should give more thought to how these subtle signs are used so that the learner enhances the skills without being overwhelmed or offended.
And this gradually flows into….

2. Behavior
In a class, foreign students usually show special obedience and politeness, they always try to do their homework and rarely disturb other classmates or ask questions. However, during the Skype lessons (both individual and group) it could become a real trouble, because you are limited in the means of communication and time and need a direct response. In some cultures (for example, Japanese), an outgoing participation in the class activities is a form of “boasting” and might be really embarrassing for them. They believe their job is to memorize the things the teacher says and they simply repeat that when needed, but repeating English and speaking English are totally different things. Of course, paying special attention and encouraging students to participate more freely is a good idea, but yet might not be efficient enough due to the lack of time. At my Skype lessons with Japanese students I found that drawing and co-working through Google Documents is a better option. You see the progress of all of your students and do not have to point the most shy kids out. Besides, creating common mind-maps has been proven as a great method for visualizing. Aside of social behavior, you as a Skype teacher, should pay attention to the linguistic peculiarities of your students.

3. Speaking and Spelling
The first step in teaching foreign students correct pronunciation is to help them realize that English has different sounds than their native language, even if some sound similar. Most students simply substitute “hard” English sounds with close of their language. You should help them understand that there is a difference and incorrect producing of the sound could change the meaning of words. A good way for you would be to learn at least basic patterns of your student’s language to get the image of the language and be able to point on the differences. Aside the recorded audios and pronunciation exercises, an effective tool to teach spelling to students has always been flashcards. However, you will have to adapt this to your Skype lessons. I suggested my students to work on the flashcards together – we cut out the shapes and then painted them, naming colors and patterns. Hence, we not only prepared our tools, but also learned new vocabulary. Another convenient activity may be a “stripped essays”. You send a mixed text to your student and ask to cut that in lines, which, in future, should build up a logical story. This is a simple and quite popular exercise, and performed in the “offline” way it will add more “reality” to your virtual lessons. Teaching students on-site includes personal contact, such as shaking hands or winking or smiling and other small gestures. In online communication this part falls out, so it should be substituted with at least named “kinesthetic” activities.

Justine Thomas is an ESL tutor, passionate about creative teaching and psychology. Her hobby is everything connected with language and writing. Justine is a contributing blogger to