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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.

 

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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!

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!