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Workshops

In spring I was asked by Maarten Koeners, organiser of the Playful University Club, whether I would deliver my ‘Make Your Own Research Boardgame’ workshop online. And I have to admit that my initial, not really thinking about it response to this request was ‘No’ – I really enjoy being in the room, chatting with people about their process and ideas, suggesting adjustments, and to see people getting inspired by each other’s work. But then I was thinking about this some more, and decided to approach this from the regenring perspective – apart from all the things that the workshop (and myself) would potentially lose in an online format, were there things that it could gain? And there were two things that I always thought were unsatisfactory about the face-to-face workshop: that it has to follow a prescribed route, and that there is not enough time to really think about the different stages. I wondered whether I could come up with a format that could address these issues.

To explain, the workshop follows a ‘method’ that I have come up with for people (well, really this is targeted at academics) to take their research (either the content or the process – or possibly both) and to develop it in/as a board game format. Initially I had thought of this as focusing on an illustration that could be used as an academic poster using the board game as a visual analogy of the process. However, I have learned that a lot of people who have taken the workshop, have been really interested in exploring game mechanics to build a play experience that allows players to experience parts of their research in some way. In my ‘method’ I have identified four stages that participants should go through, but three of these don’t have to be done in a particular order. When I do the workshop in person, though (especially if it’s a short one, so up to a half day), it is easier to prescribe an order for these, so that everybody can do them at the same time. Otherwise it just gets too messy and confusing for people. But if I were offering stand-alone videos for each stage, then everybody could go through these stages in the order they prefer! So this would solve the problem of the prescribed route.

The issue of time is something that could also be addressed in an online format – if these are stand-alone videos, everybody can take as much time as they like. But what about having not stand-alone videos, but guided sessions instead? This could also allow more time, because instead of cramming all the time we have together into consecutive hours, say 5, I could carve these up into 5 separate sessions, with me delivering for half an hour, and then giving participants a day to find another half hour to individually work on their own projects. While they wouldn’t have to devote more time to it (although they could), this would allow people to have more time to ‘digest’ and reflect on each stage, rather than the “you now have 30 minutes to complete this before we move on” pressure that is going on in the workshop. So this would allow people to spend more time on it – or maybe just spend their time on it in a smarter way.

I decided to play with these two ideas a bit more, calling them the ‘basic’ version and the ‘intensive’ version.

The basic version would mean participants get access to videos, but not much else. They can go through the three stages in any order they like, and devote as little or much time to it as suits them. Because it would be stand-alone this would work best for people who are organised and self-motivating.

The intensive version would mean that participants sign up for a week long workshop, that is delivered as a little chunk each day. Each session ends with a task (completing a specific stage), and then the next session starts with a review of the work that has been done by everybody. This would mean that the group and scheduled sessions can work to motivate the participants, and because there is interaction between them, people will get varied feedback on their progress and might inspire each other.

Not bad as concepts for online versions of this workshop, I thought. I talked with Maarten about it, and he agreed that either of these might work, and he suggested the Playful University group to ask for volunteers to test the formats.

Sketchnote on possible Game Mechanics

And this is how I recently spent two weeks testing the intensive format with seven volunteers. Two weeks, you ask… yes, because when we got to Thursday (when I talked about the putting it together stage), it was clear that people wanted a bit more time to develop their prototypes, so we took the joint decision to move our last session back a week.

This was not the only useful thing that I learnt…

  • I realised if this is now online, this means it might be taken by people all around the world, so make clear what time zone you are scheduling your meetings in.
  • Finding a way to share prototypes meaningfully is crucial if you want this interaction. (We tried it out within Teams, the Collaboration Space in the Class Notebook works well for this stuff, and it means that I can have the videos in the same space as the interactions, but I’m not sure that will be something I continue in, simply because the Team is linked to my home institution, so everybody else needs to be a ‘guest’, which give them less permissions and is a bit clunky.)
  • Clarifying expectations is important. I thought I had been clear about a number of things (i.e. pre-workshop tasks and how and when I was going to post them, the importance of brainstorming) but not all of this was clear to everybody, so I need to become better at this.
  • Finding a way to present the instructions. I wasn’t sure how best to explain the stages. In a workshop in real life, I have things to show in order to explain what I am talking about. In this new format, I was wondering what way of presenting would make most sense and be most engaging… I’m still pondering this, but at the moment I am leaning towards talking through a sketchnote-type image, which could then also be shared as part of documentations that accompanies the workshop.
  • Using examples. I am always in two minds about examples. I know they can be helpful, but they also tend to shape expectations and lead people in certain directions. If you show workshop participants too many examples of finished games, will they become frustrated by their own prototypes that are scruffy, because they are meant to be? Luckily my test participants have allowed me to use their work as examples in the future, so I will be able to share some in-progress images for any future iteration.
  • Participant interactions. This is still something I also struggle in my regular teaching, now that it is online, the best way to facilitate an online discussion. With this test, I had tried to plan some time to interact with the group, but I hadn’t really planned for any way for them to interact with each other, apart from commenting on each other’s work. One session we brainstormed game mechanics together, and I found that very useful. One of the feedback points that came through was how much people liked those interactions and would have liked more of them, including introducing themselves to each other at the beginning. I had hoped that pre-workshop tasks would do some of that work, but then not integrated it into the workshop itself. Clearly if I want the ‘intensive’ version to be about working in a group, then this needs to be facilitated.

Overall this was a very successful experiment. Clearly there are things I want to change/tweak before taking the next step and offering either (or both) versions for sale, but I’m really happy with our week (and a bit), and we are planning another meet-up later in the year to see how prototypes have developed and maybe playtest with each other.

And some really amazing game prototypes were made, so this is definitely something that I want to pursue further, because it seems that an online version of this workshop does work!

Last Friday was finally the day – I got to try out the Academic Afternoon Tea format with some brave adventurers (or maybe just afternoon tea lovers). I’m still working through the feedback, but thought I would post some initial thoughts and feedback before too much time passes.

We met at LEAF Manchester, a cafe that I had selected for their excellent afternoon tea and cosy atmosphere. And they did not disappoint, the staff was super lovely and helpful and food and beverages were delicious. (If I am bringing the Academic Afternoon Tea back to this venue I will have more time for people to engage with their wonderful menu of teas, which we didn’t really have time for this time around.) What slightly put a dampener on spirits (quite literally) was that a lot of people got caught in a heavy rain shower on their way in. Luckily I didn’t so the materials I brought remained dry.

Over the next three hours we made our own nametags, reflected on the role and agency of students and how that matches up to the learning activities we put on (or doesn’t) by making a volvelle (or pinwheel), we wrote Calls to Adventure for our students to follow, drew maps of the Unknown world we invite them into, thought about the people and ‘devices’ they meet – and how those might help and hinder them – and turned these into storydice, and ended by writting ourselves and each other messages to seal into a little bottle to take home with us.

And in between we had declicious food and drink and the opportunity to chat to each other, exchange stories and get inspired by other points of view. We were lucky in that we could use a different space to eat than to make because the cafe was not busy – this worked out really well and I would definitely make this a feature next time. Because the one thing we really needed was a bit more table space for the making – another thing to keep in mind for the future.

Another opportunity that came with moving between different spaces was that it encouraged mingling and re-mingling, which gave people the opportunity to meet more people. In a way this made up for us not doing a round of introductions at the beginning (which I avoided because in my experience that can get really out of hand and eat into the scheduled time), however, the people with dietary requirements remained seated together because of where their food was, which is something to consider in future.

I collected feedback via questionnaires and feedback bunting, here some of my favourite comments:

  • make your own name tags – Great for pre-sessional teacher induction
  • In times of trouble… turn to TEA
  • The pin-wheel was an eye opener. I’ve always thought of activty first – putting students first, not activity is really obvious!! But we don’t think like that!
  • Map as a reflective journal – great for students
  • Turn a problem into a challenge
  • feedback bunting – So much better than post-its
  • These activities would be excellent in PGCert Teacher Training!
  • Excellent ideas to take back to work & change teaching practice
  • I really enjoyed the process of doing short bursts of activity interspersed with getting to know other people + eating 🙂
  • As challenging as I anticipated. So much to learn. So much learning taking place. Well done!
  • Relaxed + friendly space to develop and remember our creativity
  • Freedom to opt in + that there was no ‘right’ way
  • Fascinated at the possibilities for how the hero’s journey can map on to the student experience & how this might change dependent on level & moduel etc. Would like to now see how my students might interpret this…
  • Lots of great ideas that I look forward to adpating and using. Thanks
  • Thank you so much for this! I had a beautiful time and feel inspired!
  • I was active & interactive, not passive!!
  • I usually hate this kind of thing but I actually really enjoyed it. So thank you
  • This has been delicious and fun and interesting! I am leaving inspired amd with tangible plans and ideas. Thank you

But I think my absolutely favourite comment was the questionnaire answer to the question of what was their favourite bit that stated “adjusting my thinking about ‘experience’ and ‘student experience’ away from facilities & buildings!” In a way this is exactly what the afternoon was meant to be about, thinking about how to put the students at the heart of their own individual journeys, to reflect on how challenging and transformative that can be – and trying to find ways to facilitate that through experience design, rather than fitting it into an existing context that might not (or only partly) be fit for purpose.

So all in all a successful try-out of the format! I will get on planning some more for the future – is there a particular topic you would want to explore in an event like this? Let me know as a comment!

With less than 2 weeks to go until the inaugural Academic Afternoon Tea, I thought I would share the preparatory (but also completely optional) task I set the people who have signed up, maybe one of you out there who won’t be able to join us would like to join in with this?

(One of the principles of Experience Design as taught by the College of Extraordinary Experiences is Co-Creation, the idea that ‘the group’ contributes to a shared knowledge base and design. This is, of course, also something that has become more and more important in Learning and Teaching, the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement, for example, as well as inviting the Student Voice into the classroom by making students co-creators.)

As we are meeting for afternoon tea, I have asked participants to think about what aspects ‘lubricate’ our teaching and learning?

In the best regenring tradition, let us try and explain and share these concepts as ‘tasting notes’ of tea blends – the brief descriptions of what a tea tastes like, what its properties are and even how to prepare it.

This probably makes more sense when looking at some examples, so here are two that I came up with:

Whimsicalitea

An often unexpected taste, this is best served in small portions (especially at the beginning, after which it might develop into an acquired taste by the drinkers and could therefore be used more frequently and in larger doses). Very useful to introduce a sense of wonder and playfulness into sessions, it can open up the imagination and the exploring of opportunities.

Insanitea

A strong blend that is related in taste profile to Whimsicalitea, but much more intense. As this is almost hallucination inducing it is imperative to use this in only small doses. However, it is sometimes needed to get people’s thinking off the beaten track.

As you can see, the link to ‘tea’ works quite well if you get hold of a term that in conventional spelling ends in -ty, but you could equally make up a more fancy name for your tea blends, maybe inspired by blends that are out there. Really, I think the most important thing is to reflect on some aspects of teaching and learning that make it special – and have a bit of fun with this.

AAC tea menu photo

The ‘menu’ I made for the Academic Afternoon Tea – including some of the submitted tea tasting notes

Here are some that were suggested by participants:

Jovialitea

A fresh taste of cheerfulness that tempts the taste buds and lifts the spirits. (Kath Houston)

Acceptabilitea

An essential, everyday brew that shows willingness to work inclusively and to recognise worth in all students. Best served with an open mind, a kind eye, and a pinch of salt! (Christy Anna Evans)

Joie-de-vivre-tea

A lively brew, made with an attitude that combines passion for your subject, love of your work and a joyous approach to life! (Christy Anna Evans)

Creativitea

Our blending muses know that whilst mood and motivation change throughout the day, a bold wake up cuppa can put the first bounce into the creative leaps and bounds we make later in the day. Whatever blend of creativitea you choose, the taste can be adjusted to creative state with the addition of milk and/or sugar. In need of a creative hit first thing, then go easy on the milk but sprinkle that sugar liberally. Feel your creative juices flow as you drink a cup of liquid toast and honey. Feel sweet enough already? Then forgo the sugar and milk and enjoy an unadulterated cup of warming inspiration. Creativitea: the best start to your day. (Sandie Donnelly)

Pragmatisane

For those moments when it just isn’t happening for you, turn to pragmatisane. Step away from the computer, let the battle go, and fill your cup with zesty lemon, sharp enough to zap any lethargy, blended with warming spicy ginger to comfort and ease any emerging anxiety. Find a chair with a view, put your feet up and sip on pragmatisane. As the ginger relaxes you, the sharp lemon cuts a path through any blockages. You’ll be rested and refreshed in no time. Pragmatisane, because paralysing creative blocks aren’t worth it … (Sandie Donnelly) 

My aim is to collect a whole menu full of teaching inspired ‘teas’ and to share this at the Academic Afternoon Tea (and also here on the blog).

If this sounds like fun, please add your own as a comment!

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

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

detail from the handout

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

The bag of board games I brought in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

So after this I think…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Academic-Afternoon-Tea-Blackboard-for-web

And so, the Academic Afternoon Tea was born.

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

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

Hope to see you there!

A guest post by Helen Tracey

How I applied my experience from The Sociological Review, ‘Undisciplining’ Conference Board Game workshop to my teaching practice

As soon as I saw the workshop, “Make Your Own Sociological Research Game” featured in the pre-conference materials, I immediately signed up. All of the conference workshops were innovative but this one in particular stood out to me. Aside from it being something different, it’s difficult for me to pinpoint why the workshop attracted me so much, as I didn’t really enjoy playing board games as a child. However, as an academic working in a Business School, the opportunity to do something so creative is rare. I also enjoy playing board games much more with my own children than I ever did myself at their age; Carcassonne, Labyrinth and Cluedo being my top favourites.
Before attending the workshop, some people I spoke to about it were actually quite skeptical about how useful it would be. However, attendance was well oversubscribed and therefore I felt lucky to get a place; they were even turning away people at the door! I certainly found it very useful to map out my research method as a process. At the time I had almost completed my data collection, but I could see that it would be good to undertake this activity at the start of a research project, particularly to determine any potential pitfalls. It was also interesting to see the other attendees’ board games and how they had designed them around their own research. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to finish (or play) my board game in the workshop, and despite my best intentions it is still not complete!
Not long after the conference I attended a workshop about Transforming Assessment and Learning at the university where I’m employed as a Lecturer (Northumbria). We were split into small groups (preferably aligned to module teams) and asked to consider module assessments against a range of criteria, including whether it was fair but stretching and whether it had real-world relevance. I am Module Tutor for a level 6 (final year undergraduate) module called ‘HR Resourcing and Development’. This module had just been reviewed and the Assessment word count had been increased from 2,000 to 3,000 words. So, something needed to change but I was conscious that I didn’t just want to lengthen the existing Assessment essay. During this workshop I was paired with another tutor from the module. As we are both visual researchers, we quickly decided that the Assessment should have a visual element, and that this would be a way to ask the students to reflect on all the topics covered by the module and thereby encourage engagement. I knew that I wanted to somehow use my learning from the Board Game workshop, but at this stage I wasn’t sure how.
It was only later that several factors led me to incorporate a two hour Board Game workshop into the Teaching and Learning Plan. I had a gap to fill, and I felt that my anticipation of the students’ need for support in producing the Assessment diagram aligned with Northumbria’s new Assessment foci. A key aim of this workshop was that it would provide students with a chance to develop or improve the skills they would need to develop their Assessment diagram. It would also be the opportunity for them to test out these skills as part of a group, and obtain feedback from tutors on what they produced, before they needed to work on their own individual diagram for the Assessment.

Glass Ceiling Prototype Game

The example game I prepared before the first workshop

I must admit I was a little nervous about trying something so new, especially after I mentioned the idea to my husband and his comment was that he thought it would be ‘too gimmicky’ for students. However, this proved to be unfounded as a few colleagues who I tested the idea on thought it be innovative. Also, importantly, the students really engaged in the activity. Despite some of them confessing that they felt themselves to be ‘not creative’, I think they really surprised themselves with their ideas. I have included some photographs (shared with permission of the students) of some of their work in progress, and also details of a finished game and how it is played.
I am hoping to run the workshop again when the module re-runs next September, particularly if it receives good feedback in the module survey. I will, however, need to make a few tweaks to the format. First of all, I will need to have more materials available; students asked for many things I hadn’t anticipated such as scissors and sticky tape. I would also prepare small cards to be incorporated into games (e.g. Monopoly style), as these were very popular with the students – I think because the task required them to incorporate a lot of module topics. I am probably stuck with a timescale of two hours. Really this was too short, and the onus was on students to finish their games outside the workshop to present back. However, next time I will certainly try and merge two sessions into one. Finally, the students were required to base their game on an organisation, and a central HR process (e.g. Recruitment at Ikea). Some students struggled with incorporating an organisation, although those who did accomplished this very well. For example, the group that based their game on Recruitment at Marks and Spencer (see photo) thoroughly researched the organisation in order to develop a series of question cards which they incorporated into the game. On the other hand, the majority of groups picked the same HR process, which was recruitment. In both these cases I feel like with more guidance and examples next time, a wider range of topics can be encouraged which are based on organisations.

 
In general the students appeared to enjoy and value the activity – it has certainly been a topic of conversation! And although we didn’t have time for it in the workshop, I have heard back that students enjoyed playing the completed games in their seminar classes.

 

Here the details of two games produced by the students and how they are played:

M&S Recruitment Board Game

Progress around the Ludo style board, collecting coins by answering questions correctly. Land on a ‘Q’ space and you pick up a question card. Land on a ‘C’ space and pick up a chance card. You need to get your counters safe with 7 coins to win. The question cards cover all of the module topics.

Marks and Spencer Game

Marks and Spencer Game

A Year’s Placement at River Island Board Game

River Island Game

River Island Game

Progression around this Monopoly style Board takes you through a placement year at the clothing company River Island. Pick up the cards when instructed to by the squares; these provide you with dilemmas to solve based on the module topics.

 

This is a preamble to a forthcoming occasional series of posts on whether and what educators can learn from experience design, explaining how I got here…

I have been fascinated with Experience Design ever since I studied the related discipline of Theatre Design as an undergrad and I went on to do my Masters thesis on what museums can learn from Theme Park Design. My PhD ended up on the role of writing in design education (although that is not quite how it started out… as is so often the case with research), so it seems that I got a bit distracted for a while. However, when I was looking for a new direction for my research, this interest came back to me and I thought it would be worth exploring for a few months to see where it could take me and whether it would be worth pursuing.

Starting at the beginning of the year I delved into an exploratory research project, taking the starting point of my previous work on genre and regenring and the importance of storytelling that comes with it. I presented a related paper in February and in rather fast succession found a collaborator in Dr Jenny Kidd, we worked on and submitted a book proposal, had it accepted and wrote a book over the summer. This book, Critical Encounters with Immersive Storytelling, has just gone to typesetting and will hopefully be available in all good bookshops soon, even the online ones. I have also just come back from a week at the College of Extraordinary Experiences, a five-day event that is hard to explain to people who weren’t there, let’s say it combined the principles of a conference, symposium and course in an immersive and playful way. So, it has been a whirlwind few months – and I have realised (and of course with hindsight this is obvious), that I have not just (re-)found a research subject that I want to pursue further, but also that here is a discipline that is really worth knowing a bit about if you are an educator.

Experience Design is a relatively new discipline and it overlaps and draws on a number of other disciplines. One of them, of course, is Event Design, which when we think about it, is something that we do as teachers. When people ask me why I am not a designer anymore, I usually reply that I still am, that I currently design learning opportunities. While somebody else usually organises in what time slot I teach and where, it is mainly me who decides what happens within these slots. I design these teaching events, the experiences I want my students to have. Some of my colleagues design educational escape rooms (and I have dabbled in that), but even if you do not prepare anything as elaborate, thinking of the student experience when we design can surely help us clarify our strategies.

Funnily enough what started me out on my road to becoming a National Teaching Fellow was a workshop by NTF Dr Colin Beard that was about Experiential Learning (and his and John P Wilson’s book Experiential Learning is definitely one I would recommend). Experiential Learning and Experience Design again are disciplines that overlap – and this overlap I think is fascinating and that I am hoping to consider in a bit more detail over the next few months. Should educators learn from Experience Design? I think most definitely and I will share my musings here on WHAT I think we can learn from this discipline and hope that you will find them useful.

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.

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 😉

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!