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Workshops

After publishing the Writing Essays by Pictures book, I have been chatting to people about how to use this approach to teach. If you are one of those people interested in integrating some of the activities and strategies, check out this new workshop I will run the morning of 5th May in Manchester, which will introduce the Board Game Blueprint, an analogy I’ve been playing around with for the last few months – and to make it even better you have the option to sign up for the afternoon making educational games with fellow National Teaching Fellow Andrew Walsh, too!

Booking via EventBrite here.

Picture This! Using the ‘Writing Essays by Pictures’ approach to teaching academic practice
Writing Essays by Pictures is a workbook for students who need help with researching and writing their first evidence based research essay for university. It explains academic practice that often remains hidden to students through everyday analogies and offers activities that allow students to explore the research and writing process in the step-by-step way of painting by numbers.
While the book was originally conceived as a workbook for students, it can also act as a resource for teachers, which will be further explored in this workshop with Dr Alke Groppel-Wegener, the author. Using a new activity, the Board Game Blueprint, designed to help students visualise the syllabus of a module, we will explore how to use the ‘Writing Essays by Pictures’ approach in day-to-day teaching, whether as a dedicated module or stand-alone support sessions.

All attendees will receive a copy of Writing Essays by Pictures (list price £15).

Last Friday’s Look, Make and Learn event at the University of Huddersfield for me ended up as a reminder of ‘flow’ – and the joy of having time and space to just explore.

Sarah Williamson started us off with a session on “Bookmaking for visual thinking, recording and reflection”.  As readers of this blog will know reflective bookmaking is a wonderful tool of exploring thoughts and while working on mine (not quite finished yet, but see below for some pictures of its current state) I realised how long it has been since I actually took the time to make one.

Sarah showing how to make an Instant Book

Sarah showing how to make an Instant Book

Sarah started us off with nice and easy by showing us how to make an Instant Book (sometimes also called Beak Book) out of an A3 photocopy of a map. (If you want to make your own Instant Book, check out the first page of this guide.) She also explained why we were using a map and not blank sheets of paper (and a pale map at that): it takes away the fear of the blank page. A blank page seems to suggest to the maker that it needs to be filled up with perfect stuff, while really this is all about process. Using a texture or pattern as a background will then help with what comes after it. A pale map is perfect for this, as it provides a background that can be worked into.

We then moved on to the Concertina Book (also called the Accordion Book) out of a long strip of paper. (If you need instructions on how to make your own, check out this page – we didn’t put covers on ours in the session, but there is a simple way of doing that included here too.) And in order to get rid of the blank page again, Sarah had brought in two random pages for each of us, one from a music guide and one from a DIY manual, and challenged us to find some words or phrases that explained why we decided to join the day, cut them out and stick them into our books.

While this seems very random, it is amazing how everybody seemed to find something that spoke to them. Here are the phrases that jumped out at me and made it into my book (almost making a poem):

Found text in my reflective book

Found text in my reflective book

I wanted to do something weird

From such beginnings

I had fun

The whole process can be riddled with ‘creative’ errors. It can happen that some strategy, unfit to reproduce the original ‘vision’, ends up outputting something completely unexpected, yet intriguing.

the borders between knowledge and imagination become even fuzzier

it is resolutely something else

a celebration of real things.

20161213_164331The next session was led by Chrissi Nerantzi and called “Make It Yourself (MIY)”. This was a very fast-paced session that took its starting point in the question whether learning (and thinking) that is only ‘head-based’ can ever work – even at university, which seems to have a very head-based tradition of theory rather than practice. We all filled a paper heart with what we love about teaching and then exchanged these hearts and discussed the ones we (randomly) received in small groups. Then we were sent out in pairs to fulfil tasks ranging from talking to students to finding useful objects around campus. We ended up in a circle making a physical net by throwing a ball of wool to each other, sharing feedback on the session.

20161018_153931After lunch I led a session entitled “Playing with Genre”. Here small groups had 30 minutes to design a board game based on writing an essay. We ended up with four games that we discussed and compared to some examples that students had put together in class for me. This is a great way of getting students to talk about what they perceive to be their strength (becoming short cuts) and weaknesses (becoming obstacles), as well as their expectations. I had planned to talk a bit more about how the board game genre also has the potential to become an alternative to the schedule of classes in the module documentation, but while there I realised that this might not have been that interesting for most of the people present as it is quite specific to people who actually plan whole modules. This might become a more detailed blog post in future… or maybe an event on its own (let me know if you would be interested in this!)?

Liz Dixon and Judith Kidder rounded off the day with a session on “Using LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) in teaching, learning and research”. I had heard a lot about this, but had not actually done this myself. We did three short tasks – building a sculpture showing our role at work, a recent teaching experience, and then remodelling the latter into how that could have been improved. I particularly liked the remodelling, as it made me think about not just what I had done, but reflect on how I might change it for next time – something I probably would not have come up with if I hadn’t seen the sculpture in front of me. Liz and Judith emphasised the three steps of kinaesthetic learning, reflective conversation and written reflection (which we didn’t have time for, but that ideally should follow these tasks as part of the learning process) – and how important it was to free your mind of the literal interpretations.

Judith said that this sort of metaphocial modelling is a different way of communicating and that it is a way of unfolding different possibilities. In a way this brought the day full circle for me – my reflective book had been filling up throughout the day and I had added my Instant Book to the Concertina Book, so there is now some unfolding going on when reading through it. It has a thread running through it (inspired by the net-building wool), which at some stage writes ‘flow’ – something Sarah talked about at the beginning of the day. Refolding the combination of Instant and Concertina book made this word appear on the ‘cover’ page – and it is also a good way to sum up a great day!

Join us for this collaborative University of Huddersfield and ALDinHE regional ‘Look, Make and Learn’ event, exploring visual teaching and learning tools and practices.

The event will be held on Friday 9 December at the University of Huddersfield and will feature four creative workshops:

  • Bookmaking for visual thinking, recording and reflection by Sarah Williamson (University of Huddersfield)
  • Playing with Genre by Dr Alke Groppel-Wegener (Staffordshire University) 
  • Make It Yourself (MIY) by Chrissi Nerantzi (Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • Models and Metaphors: Using LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) in teaching, learning and research (Liz Dixon & Judith Kidder, University of Huddersfield)

If you are seeking creative inspiration, practical activities or new ideas, then this event is for you!

For further information (including full details of the workshops) and to book a place at this FREE event, please follow this link: https://aldinheregionaleventatuoh.eventbrite.co.uk.  Please be aware that places are limited and will be offered on a first come first served basis.

Make Your Own Nametag

Make Your Own Nametag

Today was the Thinking Through Genre workshop where people interested in using genre as a pedagogical resource (in all sorts of different disciplines). Before this gets buried on my to-do-list, I’ll write it up now (though I’m a bit tired, so forgive me if not everything makes sense…)

We started the day with making our own name tags and reflecting on the purposes of a name tag – it is  a nice icebreaking activity that changes the energy of the ‘registration’ period at (academic) events, allowing informal networking, getting delegates to start playing (thus telling their brains that they might need to switch gear from normal day-to-day stuff) as well as producing something fun that might even show the personality of the wearer.

And then I continued to question and play with conference/workshop conventions by handing out delegate packs not contained by the standard cloth bag (possibly with some university branding), but instead specially designed furoshiki. Let me explain… furoshiki are usually square pieces of cloth that in Japanese tradition are used to wrap things. There are different ways to tie them in order to contain differently shaped objects (for example there is a really neat way to tie up a bottle). When I started thinking about organising an event based around the idea of genre and regenring, I thought that a furoshiki would be such a fabulous artefact to embody the idea of regenring: it can be a bag or sorts, but you can also use it as a scarf, a headband or even tea towel  (I guess that depends on what material it is made out of). You can also use it as a kind of poster (I’ve always really liked the idea of printing academic posters on fabric, as this makes them so much easier to transport to conferences). But, as soon as you use it in one function, it usually loses the special aspects of the others. So if you tie it to use as a bag, you are not able to see the full design of the poster, but if you see the full design, you can’t tie it up.

So a few weeks back I set out to design a furoshiki to give to our delegates. And in order to put something meaningful on them, I raided the writings of Fiona English, our main speaker of the day, trying to see whether I could visualise her theoretical framework of regenring in a square, scarf-like way. Luckily she has a convenient table summarising the framework, where she talks about two different orientations – the material and the social – each with two different main aspects (thematic/semiotic and contextual/discursive). This was the basis for my design, and on this I also included some of the particular things to look out for as part of the analysis. I framed this with my take on genre – capital Gs in different fonts represent the idea of genre – the same content presented in different forms. The centre of the design has a ‘huddle’ of these Gs, representing the potential of the choice of form. The outside of the design has a band of these different Gs going around it, but this time one by one. In the corners, two different Gs intersect and on two corners the overlap is highlighted with the use of a colour, showing the content that would be covered in both these genres; the other two corners highlight their differences – what part of the content would be gained when deciding on one genre, and lost when deciding on the other. Gains and Losses are important when it comes to discussing genre, so I wanted to include that. (And this might all make more sense when you are familiar with Fiona’s work on regenring.)

poster

poster

I have to admit that I was a bit nervous if people would understand what I was trying to say with this, but people really liked them, so this was a great start to the day and a good way to introduce Fiona’s session on Practice, Knowledge-Making and Writing. She started out by defining genre in slightly more detail than I had done at the very start. My favourite bit of her definition was that “Genre is a naming concept which identifies the shape or framing of a text”. I think the term ‘naming concept’ is really helpful, and will definitely use this in future when I get blank stares when trying to explain what I mean by ‘genre’. She also said that “we choose genres according to the kinds of meanings and knowledge that we want to produce”, which again I think is a really clear way of getting to the heart of the matter. And when it comes to analysing genre (and possibly also genre choices we make), the most important questions we need to ask are “who is writing and WHY?” and “Who is reading and WHY?” Fiona discussed four different examples, covering appropriateness of genre, genre and the everyday, genre and knowledge (and how regenring – transforming one genre into another – can be used to produce more and different knowledge), as well as genre and choice. There was a lively discussion happening (we weren’t a big group, so we could be really interactive), and my personal favourite was the discussion of how (academic) conventions can be used to disguise nonsense, something that often happens in work of students who are not familiar enough with a particular academic genre and are trying to mimic it.

fabulous pottery model of Middleport Pottery

fabulous pottery model of Middleport Pottery

For lunch and our after lunch activity our venue became important: we were meeting at Middleport Pottery in Longport, so I had ordered Staffordshire Oatcakes for lunch – which were a big hit with the delegates – and then I had arranged for a short factory tour. (No point in coming to such a fabulous venue and then ignoring what is special about it, i.e. that it is still a working factory.) Phil, the fabulous volunteer, gave us an overview of the organisation of the buildings, and then showed us the highlights, including particularly the underglaze decoration process which makes Burleighware so special, ending up in the last bottlekiln of the site. And really the tour was part of the programme, because it then gave us the chance to think about different genre removed from texts – ways of communicating content through experiences and different ways of teaching.

board game

board game

We looked at a board game of Middleport Pottery and compared it with the tour – and also speculated on how both of these are different from the experience of working there, discussing gains and losses of genre again.

After this I shared the process of putting together Writing Essays by Pictures (you can find more details here) and reflected on how the starting point for this had been the collision of my work and my hobby of making books that pushed this forward. This was really an example of thinking through genre, as it was the formats of booklets, children’s books and then workbooks that helped me develop the final outcome.

We ended the day with delegates reflecting on how they would take this forward. Looking at the feedback there will be a lot of thinking, but also some application of new knowledge as soon as tomorrow. And as a workshop organiser, what more could you possibly want?

 

A Special Thank You to Richard Mellor, who took my furoshiki sketch and turned it into a print-ready design!

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.

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.

Marion, one of the lovely participants in our first Thoughtbites workshop sends this account:
I took part in the ‘thoughtbites‘ workshop looking at ‘folds and layers’ as a method for visual-tactile note taking.

I myself have always found it very difficult to keep any notebook in a state that I appreciated it after its use or that I wanted to return to it and remind myself of what I had written.

Working with my hands and materials whilst listening I found myself beginning to relax and filter information based on what seemed important at the time. Although I felt I had hardly listened consciously, certain information became very dominant and stuck with me afterwards.

Engaging with the materials I noticed that I had used them in various ways that began to make sense to me and that I could see certain methods that I could use in the future and which also could be shared with others as a form of template.

Examples were the use of dials and circles (e.g. priorising information, looking at the ‘central’ question), icons that could serve to highlight specific information and covering/uncovering information through material layers as a way of discerning information.

Collage Workshop VMC 2015 from Marion

In my own research I have come across the functions of the right and left hemisphere of the brain which opens up an interesting perspective on memory retention through visual-tactile means and the workshop has inspired me to include these methods in the future.