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Workshops

After the workshop at #Undisciplining had gone rather well, I finally had some time to actually focus on the second session I needed to prepare for a conference in June. And initially I had been thinking of focusing this on an overview. If you are interested in how things fit together and/or on different levels contained within them, a tool like a prezi presentation that allows you to zoom in can be used to great effect.

However, as I reflected on what I wanted to do in the context of the conference I decided against the prezi and went with the traditional slides instead. The point of this particular talk was to present three different analogies I use within teaching and show some examples of how they work in practice. That could have been an overview, first framing the problem and then delving into the layers of how to solve it. The crucial thing, however, is that these analogies are not really linked to each other. They are all stand-alone, and the only thing they have in common is that they are all ‘everyday’ analogies, quite mundane things that my students will be familiar with (board games, clothes, sea creatures). As there is no real link between the analogies, I felt that the overview would not work, and on the contrary, that it might rather confuse. Slides are great when you want to walk people through something step-by-step. When moving on to the next slide, you can change the subject, mood and – most important – the focus of what you are saying, and of what your audience is thinking about (if they are listening, that is…).So in this case, I decided ‘to slide’.

I think this is also the reason I often use slides for my lectures. They allow me to boil down what I am saying into the most pertinent points to give a visual cue to remind me of what I wanted to talk about; for example they allow me to put up a quotation and then talk about just this, without distraction from anything else, before we move on. Ideally I then also have a whiteboard to further develop some of the point and sometimes I develop the overview on that – but this is development that happens in class, and is not pre-prepared – as it might come across when using a prezi.

I have heard people sneer at slide presentations and then present prezis that were basically just zooming from slide-like frame to slide-like frame. I think there is little point in doing that, if what you are saying is linear, you might as well use a slide format! A prezi makes most sense if you are exploring layers, not a standard sequence. The bad rep that slide presentations often get (Death by Powerpoint, etc.) isn’t due to the nature of them being a slide presentation, but rather down to bad design of the individual slides!

I guess my point is this: whether preparing a workshop, a conference presentation or a lecture, the tools we choose to use frame what it is possible to do. That’s what Fiona (2012) talks about when she talks about the ‘affordances’ of a genre. The traditional or conventional genre – in this case (PowerPoint) slides – might be exactly the right tool for the job. But it also might not be. It really depends on what you are trying to do. And that is well worth reflecting on before you choose what tools to use, rather than just go with the standard option.

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As mentioned in my last post, I am currently preparing for a workshop with my friend and colleague Katy Vigurs. Before this is happening (tomorrow to be exact), I wanted to share some of the prep work that has gone into this once the abstract had been accepted. As it will be a workshop where participants will be encouraged to think about (their ?)¬†research in a visual way (in form of a board game, to be exact), this blog post will be in a more visual form than the posts I usually put together for you…

An afternoon of try-outs, brainstorming and tea

The handout – from sketch to coloured in version

Scaling it up – an outline ready for the workshop

… as you can see we are well prepared. More details on how the workshop went in the next few days!

No, I’m not talking about whether we should slide down the banisters of life*, but rather this post (and the next) is a collection of thoughts on choosing the right tools when preparing for presentations…

In June I’ll be attending two conferences, and I am currently in the process of preparing my contributions for them. One of them is a workshop and the other a more traditional presentation, so out of the gate, we are dealing with different types of presentations (or genres?) here. The workshop is a collaboration (and I will post about the prep in more detail as well as about the actual workshop once it happened soon), and when I met up with my collaborator, Katy Vigurs, to have a chat about what we are going to do and how to organise this, she mentioned “our slides” in passing.

Here’s the thing: I wasn’t planning to do slides, at least not in the conventional sense. I try to avoid that for workshops. For a start I don’t like projecting something and then having people focus on something that is on the table in front of them. What should you concentrate on? The thing that is projected ona wall or the thing you are working on? What if you miss some vital instruction, so better focus on the projected thing, but that then breaks your concentration of working on the thing! If we had a lot of time, we could work with a stopping and starting model of working through stuff, but we only have 90 minutes and a lot to cover, so that wouldn’t work.

The other thing I don’t like about slides in this context (but that works wonderfully well in different contexts), is that slides have a list approach to information. I don’t mean that text on slides tends to be presented in a list format far too often (although it does), but rather the way they are organised. Each slide is one bit of information and once you move on, you move onto the next bit of information. In a way that sounds ideal for a workshop, but what if not everybody works at the same speed and with the same confidence? Yes, theoretically you can go back to previous slides, but you can’t really show two slides (or even more) at the same time. If you are giving people instructions as part of a workshop, chances are that not everybody is going to work at the same speed – and that is perfectly fine. But to make this as little anxiety inducing to participants as possible, we ideally have to find a way to keep instructions visible, even when we moved on to the next step. We can do this with a handout, but the problem with a handout is that if you give it to people during the workshop, you allow them to not just go back over content already covered, they can also skip ahead. I try to discourage people skipping ahead, because it can end up rushing the people who are going slower – and I have also found that sometimes people don’t do one step properly, skip to the next step (which might seem more fun) and then run into trouble later, because (guess what?) they didn’t do that one step properly. Or maybe I am just too much of a control freak… (definitely possible!).

So what we needed in the context of this workshop was a method that would let us deliver new bits of information in a controlled manner, while also allowing us to keep them visible once we are moving on to the next step. The solution: the humble flip chart. This means we can pre-prepare content, but can also develop it as we go. And while we can hide old content behind new content, we can also keep it visible by displaying it around the room. As it happens I have a roll of the ‘magic’ plastic flip chart stuff that will stick to pretty much any surface, so that will become our information delivery system. And I am also working on a handout to distribute at the end of the session.

Katy was fine with not doing slides, by the way. If we have a computer and projector in the room, we might use it to display this blog ūüėČ

I am, however, still considering slides for my other conference presentation. More on that, prezi, props and slides in teaching in my next post.

 

*For the record, I think we should all try to slide down the banisters of life as often as possible, both literally and figuratively!

One of the reasons that this blog has been fairly quiet over the last few months, is that Fiona English and myself are in the process of co-guest editing two special issues of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice. We are really excited about the mix of content, which represents a number of genres as well as discuss using genres in teaching and learning. (Of course I will let you know when the issues are actually out, one of them is going to print soon, the other is about to enter the typesetting stage.)

a preview of the cover image for the forthcoming journal issues

So when we heard that EAP in the North were running a workshop on Exploring Genre(s) specifically in the context of the creative arts, we thought this was an excellent occassion to visit the University of Edinburgh and chat a little bit about our expertise in this and check out what other people are doing.

It was such a lovely event, and I was reminded of our own ReGenre conference last year (indeed, one of the attendees of that event was here giving us an opportunity to catch up), because it was run in a way to allow for lots of sharing and discussion along the way.

Alex Collins from the University of Edinburgh showed us how he engages art history students with core skills via workshops that are backed up with his online Art History Toolkit (check it out here, but be aware that he might ‘wipe’ content in preparation for the new term to then populate it again as the term progresses – though he is currently looking at other ways of running this, and I really do hope it’ll become a permanent resource for all of us to dip into – there is lots of good stuff here, not just for art history students!).

Clare Carr was talking about some of the different genres music students at Durham University are being asked to write in – and wondered whether assignment setters need to be more precise about how they brief and also describe the genres they are actually after. The term ‘essay’ means many things to many people!

This linked in perfectly for an exploration of what an ‘essay’ is or could be – and the Dress-up Doll of Formality exercise I introduced delegates to. After some fast and furious discussion and outfit drawing on the tables, the sharing with solutions of the group was rich (and we are hoping to get the produced images up on the EAP in the North website). This short taste of regenring was a great lead into a quick overview of Fiona’s work – and of course us talking a bit about the forthcoming special issues.

After a short refreshment break, Clare Maxwell was talking about writing genres specifically within Design in her work at the University of Leeds, genres that are very often located in the overlap of academic, vocational and creative work – but sometimes difficult to locate in publications of designers (that old theory/practice divide is still coming up it seems). One of the issues of discussion following on from Clare’s talk was the role of ‘I’ in writing – and the necessity of authors to be aware of what it does.

We then broke off into small groups, where some people had brought ideas to share and discuss. In the group I joined, Anna Rolinska laid out her plans for a Pre-Sessional English for Creative Disicplines course at Glasgow School of Art, which was fascinating, with all of the group then sharing ideas, which hopefully gave Anna some more inspiration. I hope she will write a little post on this later in the year.

Most of us ended up in the pub for a drink and more chat afterwards. On top of everything else, it was a gorgeous day – Thank You to Alison Thomas and her team for organising such a fabulous event!

The setting for the workshop was this lovely campus, need I say more?

My soon-to-be final year students have the option of starting their final year research projects this month, and I’m running a little ‘research boot camp’ to remind them of some of the procedures and share some extra tips and tricks in preparation for this. As the quality of secondary sources has been a weak point in the research my students typically produce, I don’t just remind them of the Fishscale of Academicness analogy and exercises we do in their first year, but I also wanted to give them a straightforward, but playful, reminder of some of the things to look out for when looking at (and for) sources.

How about a round of Bibliography Bingo? I produced a bingo card (download and try it for yourself here: TacAc Bibliography Bingo) with some things they might encounter in their sources, and some, such as index or reference list, that give hints that this might be an academic source. The idea is to use a card for each source encountered, and mark each of the spaces that apply. As I arranged the more academic clues in the middle 9 squares, scoring those squares gives a higher indication of an academic source having been found.

When I presented this to my students, one asked whether we were going to actually play a round of Bibliography Bingo. I have to admit that I had thought of this as a fun diagnostic tool, rather than turn it into an activity in class. This time round we didn’t have time, but next time a round of bingo is definitely on the cards!

Here the 2nd promised addendum to the write-up of #ReGenring17

Collecting delegate feedback after or during an event can always be a bit challenging. There are standard feedback forms around, of course, but they might not actually capture the information you are most interested in. I, for example, am usually more interested in delegates’ responses to the content of the event than in their thoughts on the organisation of the buffet (not that this is not important, but if something was fundamentally wrong with that, I probably already know). So I leave the formal feedback forms for collecting metrics for the venue or the funders.

Feedback Bunting in action

But I do want to know what people actually thought about and during the event and since my events are usually quite creative, I like to find ways of tying this in. Apart from the maybe ubiquitous post-its, I have in the past used postcards and luggage tags to get delegates to leave some impressions of the event with me – and their thoughts on how to improve it for next time round. And then somebody at one of the Writing-PAD East Midlands meetings mentioned ‘feedback bunting’. I was immediately attracted to the idea. Could we somehow give delegates little ‘flags’ in different colours for their comments and invite them to populate a string as the event progressed?

Using relatively small flags has the advantage that delegates can add comments in bite-sized pieces as they occur, so instead of having to do a summary of feedback of the day towards the end, it can grow organically.

Ready to try this out for the recent ReGenring conference, I first looked into pre-produced bunting but decided against that as it would have been difficult to add comments once this was hanging – and I didn’t want to end up with un-displayed but filled in bunting at the end of the event. Rather, I wanted to find a way to allow delegates to secure their flags on the string without needing clips or a stapler, so tried out a folded version with a slot cut into both sides from opposite ends, so they could be slotted together (see the second way on the drawing below). In theory this worked well, but in practice this turned out to be over-designed, most people ended up just folding their flags over the string which worked just as well if not better than a complicated slotting maneouvre. (Although if the event had been outdoors that might have been a different matter.)

a very basic drawn instruction on how to make feedback bunting work

Having explained the idea during my part of the Welcome, I left flags on the tables for people to start filling up (which started pretty much immediately). During the Sharing Session in the afternoon I could be found walking around pressing some more onto people while asking “Have you left some feedback yet?” Maybe I was slightly too pushy, but it was really lovely to see the bunting chain grow over the course of the day.

I will definitely be using this simple, but effective, way of collecting feedback again and would recommend it for events big and small.

I am also thinking that this might be a fun way to organise a to-do list. I always have a number of projects on the go, and having one per flag would remind me of those projects and give me some space to add notes (and if I run out of space on one flag, I can always add another one). Plus as urgencies and priorities change, the order of these flags could be easily switched around. Something to try out in the next few days, I think ūüôā

(Last) Call for Papers – final deadline 15th August 2017
For a special issue of the¬†Journal of Writing in Creative Practice¬†guest edited by Dr Fiona English and Dr Alke Groppel-Wegener,¬†we are currently looking for submissions that celebrate the practice of genring and regenring. Even though the journal title includes ‘creative practice’, these examples do not have to come from a creative practice background (as we would argue that genring and regenring could be seen as a creative practice by itself). You also do not have to have been present at the workshop and conference we have been running on this subject – if you are doing any sort of genring and/or regenring we would love to hear from you!
We would suggest the following formats:
Examples focusing on the process of (re)genring
We want to showcase a selection of genring and regenring practice, based on a template Рsee my recent post on this blog giving a bit more information on the template here (and email me (Alke) on tactileacademia[at]gmail.com for what information is needed if you want to contribut an example).
The examples should be focused on the process of (re)genring and should concentrate on one outcome genre only. They are not about the assessment, module or unit, but about the genre itself.
Case Studies
Between 2000 and 3000 words, these should be description and analysis of examples of your practice. These should be wider in scope than the examples.
Full Papers
Between 5000 and 7000 words, these should contain theoretical discussions that take the subject beyond the examples and case studies.
Reviews
Have been to an event linked to genre, genring or regenring recently? Want to review an outstanding example you have come across? These are usually between 500 and 2000 words.
As this issue is celebrating reGenring we are, of course, open to genres other than the academic paper. However, please keep in mind when planning your submission that we are constrained by the format of the journal, and the JoWiCP in particular.
This means:
  • landscape orientation of pages (we can probably somewhat play with their standard layout, but only with good reason)
  • pictures need to work in black and white as we cannot guarantee them being printed in colour (although in the online version they would be in colour). Please ensure that you have ownership, or have obtained copyright clearance for any image submitted.
We would suggest that submissions that don’t follow the traditional academic paper genre are bookended by an academic abstract (about 150 words) that explains the chosen genre and the reasons for choosing it and a conventional bibliography. We will be using Intellect publishers style guide, which you can download here.
We will also need an author biography of 50-100 words with all submissions.
All articles submitted should be original work and must not be under consideration by other publications.
Journal contributors will receive a free PDF copy of their final work upon publication. Print copies of the journal may also be purchased by contributors at half price.
Final deadline for submissions (via tactileacademia[at]gmail.com) is 15th August 2017.