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.

In mid September, Susan and I met up at the 4th International Visual Methods Conference in Brighton to fly the flag for thinking-through-making-and-doing. While we had originally proposed a panel, we ended up running two workshops titled “Thoughtbites: Transdisciplinary cuts, folds and collage in thought and practice”. As part of that we had been commissioned by the conference organisers to author and print a little booklet that most attendees got in their conference bag (not all of them as the conference ended up over subscribed so we hadn’t printed enough).

Titled Thoughtbites – Cuts and Folds in Thought and Practice, this booklet used the work of notable philosophers as starting points for reflection and very basic activities – so people were able (and meant) to customise their own copies, and in the two workshops we used the same starting points to make, reflect on the conference so far and just provide some space for thoughts.

The first workshop used the pop-up facilitated by cuts and folds  to transform the usually flat surface to a three dimensional structure, complete with little windows to glimpse through. We were inspired here by Rene Descartes’ notion of the material world and its non material counterpart, the subjective and objective, abstract and material, mind and body. We also explored layers, inspired by Edmund Husserl, thinking about layers of meaning and how they reveal and conceal, sparking new trains of thought.


The second workshop explored the idea of tracing – and Gilles Deleuze’s suggestion that we should focus on the differences of tracings, the intentional and unintentional losses and gains, in order to reveal meaning. We also looked at Jacques Derrida and the fold as well as the moebius strip – is it possible to determine one side from the other? Does it matter?

Looking back what was most interesting was the way discussion unfolded. While some people came to both sessions, mainly people attended just one. But what was really different was the set up. The first session was done in the ‘Waste House’, a workshop space constructed pretty much entirely from recycled materials. Here we had one huge table, which resulted in everybody sharing materials with each other and a very informal conversation that included everybody throughout the 90 minutes. The second session was in a more traditional seminar room, where we had set up a number of smaller group tables. And while people were talking at their tables, the atmosphere was markedly different (though not necessarily in a bad way).

Overall it was a nice few days, with maybe some people encouraged to make some more time and space to reflecting through enjoying the process of making.

(sorry for the delay in posting this, freshers flu and start-of-term workload made it hard to blog immediately)

from Lucy Brown

I’m currently embarking on a new journey – one that seeks to navigate a way through the woods of ‘academia’. Having been teaching now for 6 years, the word has sat quietly on my shoulder whispering of its prowess and stature, yet I’ve struggled to find a straight answer with regards to how to begin to find my way through its seemingly impenetrable mass of trees. In taking up a new post at Staffordshire University earlier this year, I was determined to conquer it and with some research under my arm and a tactile approach to pedagogy in tow I set off hoping to meet a guide along the way.

Several days into my journey, I met Alke, the author of this fine blog. She writes, “the different ‘hats’ I wear – teacher, researcher, writer, designer, artist – … all weave together to one identity.” “Finally,” I say to myself, “I’ve found my guide.”

Alke has kindly invited me to contribute to this online space, and I find myself at the first stop on my map. I’ve shared this small anecdote with you all in the hope of encouraging those new to the academic landscape – it’s simply a case of one step at a time!




In 2014 I completed a pedagogic research project on the MA Graphic Design course at London College of Communication. The research discusses a tactile, visual metaphor for an increasingly prevalent issue within art and design education, culminating in a series of practical workshops entitled ‘The Non-Linear Workshop Series’.

Research Title:
Beyond digital technology: introducing undergraduate graphic design students to the non-linear landscape of the creative process.

Many undergraduate graphic design students struggle to explore the landscape of the creative process in a ‘non-linear’ way, due to the dominance of digital technology on their life thus far, which increasingly encourages a ‘linear’ mode of thought.

For example, the undergraduate graphic design creative process has a tendency to map as follows (particularly at entry-level):
A) Brief to B) Solution (via Google).

Palfrey (2010 p.6) writes, “Digital Natives are coming to rely upon this connected space for virtually all of the information they need to live… Research means a Google search… they simply open a browser, punch in a search term, and dive away until they find what they want — or what they thought they wanted.”

In my research question, I have used the word ‘landscape’ as it means ‘all the visible features of an area’, or ‘the distinctive features of a particular situation or activity’. Many entry-level students are blind to the ‘visible or distinctive’ features of the non-linear creative process, and unaware of the options with regards to how and why they should traverse its landscape. They have grown up in an age of linear immediacy — of the digital Google map that tells them where to go. The Non-Linear Workshop Series uses a physical landscape as a metaphor for the exploration of this idea.

In addition, I have used the phrase ‘beyond digital technology’ with the intention of suggesting ‘more than, exceeding, in excess of, above, over and above, above and beyond, upwards of’ as opposed to ‘on the other side of, further away than, behind, past, after or over’. I recognise the value of the Internet as a research tool, yet the Non-Linear Workshops Series aims to teach students to know how to ‘go beyond’ it.

Choice is now linked to risk (Salecl, 2013) and therefore causes anxiety. Notions of non-linear creative ‘travel’, visual exploration, wandering and at times becoming lost seem irrelevant and frightening to many, meaning that the development of a non-linear creative process is culturally challenging. A colleague of mine recently overheard a student say: “If it’s not on Google, it doesn’t exist. Everyone knows that.” The Non-Linear Workshop Series aims to readdress and refresh the methods through which the non-linear landscape of the creative process is introduced to entry-level students in an effective and relevant manner, considering the linear nature of their digitally dominated lives. Palfrey writes:

“The innovative use of technology leads to a ‘copy and paste culture — a practice that is in tension with traditional educational ethics… In order for [educational institutions] to adapt to the habits of Digital Natives and how they are processing information, educators need to accept that the mode of learning is changing.”(Palfrey: 2010, p.239)

The Non-Linear Workshop Series

The Non-Linear Workshop Series presents ‘A) Brief, to B) Solution’ as a visual, tactile, focal point, and encourages undergraduate graphic design students to question and explore how exactly they traverse from A to B, along with what their journey might look like in relation to ‘linear’ or ‘non—linear’ form.




Workshop 1 of 7: Context
The first aspect of the workshop series introduces the students to the context of the research in an appropriate, simplified manner through the group discussion of a short text and series of questions. The students are able to grasp and engage in the research proposition easily through this method, enabling them to ‘want’ to learn more through realising a ‘need’ to engage in the subject matter.

Workshop 2 of 7: Non-Linear – Define
The second aspect of the workshop series enables students to begin to unpick and understand the meaning of ‘non-linear’. The workshop begins with a brief whereby students write down their initial understanding of the meaning of ‘non-linear’, before investigating further. This enables the discussion of the nature of Google-led research through the drawing of a line within a given template. Formal definitions of linear and non-linear are then provided to conclude the session.

Workshop 3 of 7: Non-Linear – Make
The third aspect of the workshop series asks students to generate varying forms of line during a 1 day workshop. Students use varying tools and mark making methods to do this. The lines generated provide further visual impetus through which to discuss the development of their understanding of the differences between ‘linear’ and ‘non-linear’.

Workshop 4 of 7: Non-Linear – Map
The fourth aspect of the workshop series asks students to map 5 different routes on an OS map, through which they begin to explore an unfamiliar, local landscape. The aim of this brief is to generate non-linear visual form in a way that directly corresponds to a physical landscape. These forms are then extracted from the maps and digitised so as to provide further, clear visual impetus to reinforce the context and increasing understanding of the research context. This activity also provides students with a route to follow during the next workshop.

Workshop 5 of 7: Landscape
The fifth aspect of the workshop series involves a field trip to an unfamiliar local landscape. The route that the students follow will be chosen from the previous session where varying non-linear routes are mapped.

A design brief is provided at the start of the field trip which asks the students to represent the landscape in 5 different visual ways. They are asked to document the landscape as they walk their elected route in consideration of their 5 senses — sight, touch, smell, taste and sound.

“There is something about walking which stimulates and enlivens my thoughts. When I stay in one place I can hardly think at all; my body has to be on the move to set my mind going… to lend a greater boldness to my thinking.”
Rousseau (in Solnit, 2006 p.19)

Workshop 6 of 7: Creative Process
The sixth aspect of the workshop series asks students to develop a visual response to the material that they sourced and documented during the Landscape trip. The length of this workshop will vary dependent on institutional structure, unit/module requirements and the needs of the student group. The output work produced acts as impetus for discussion surrounding the ‘non-linear’ landscape of the creative process – as experienced in a physical, tangible manner.

Workshop 7 of 7: Evaluation/Review
The seventh aspect of the workshop series involves a final group crit of work produced in the previous session(s) so as to enable the students to both see and reflect on each other’s work critically. The work produced will also act as impetus when the students repeat one of the earlier briefs whereby they draw a line that they feel represents the creative journey they have taken in representing a physical landscape creatively. The drawing of this line, in comparison to their earlier ‘30-minute Google’ line will instigate discussion concerned with its change in form from straight to more complex, enabling the students to evaluate and reflect on the workshop series in relation to the development of their personal working methods. Each student will also receive a visual template for future projects through which they are able to apply what they have learnt through drawing the ‘linear’ or ‘non-linear’ nature of their creative process on any given brief.

Throughout the academic year 15/16 I will be seeking to continue to test and develop the Non-Linear Workshop Series with the aim of disseminating it to HE art & design lecturers for potential use.

If you would be interested to read a full copy of the research project, please see my blog and/or contact me on lucy[at]

For references please check the Bibliography page.

I have wanted to do a post on posters for a while. As somebody with an interest in graphic design who also did a tiny little bit of it as part of her undergraduate degree (specifically designing promotional material for theatre productions), I was always baffled by the academic research poster as a genre. The posters I have come across at conferences are often very dense affairs that are text heavy, and I have often wondered what the point of them was, as whenever I was confronted by a room full of them, my patience for reading dropped from low to non-existent. Let’s face it, a poster session at a conference isn’t really the ideal environment to read…

And then came the time when I had to do a research poster myself, as part of my teaching qualification. I had great plans to do it differently – not much text, very visual, surely that was the way to go. Alas, I stumbled across a problem: this was the only assessment for a module, and while I had about ten minutes to present it, basically the poster was where I had to prove all my knowledge of the subject.

The Importance of Sharing Practice - academic poster 2010

The Importance of Sharing Practice – academic poster 2010

So it got more and more filled up with text while my good intentions stood by feeling powerless; it felt a bit like squeezing all my findings onto an A1 sheet (or however big it was). Looking at it then, I thought this was a bad poster, but at least it showed off the research I had done. Looking at it now, I think it was a really bad poster. The feedback I got mainly was about the content, although it also stated “The graphs on the poster had a positive visual impact from a distance, however, larger fonts or at least headings would enhance the accessibility of the message.” and then “The quantity of information within the poster could be reviewed” (which I am guessing means PUT LESS TEXT ON IT).

Some time later I would come across ‘Spineless Classics’ – a company that designs whole books onto a one sheet poster by the way of pretty miniscule type. In a way research posters remind me of that, trying to squeeze your whole report onto A1 (or A0). But the brilliant thing about Spineless Classics is that they design their layouts in a way that you also end up with an image of (usually) white space that is significant to the book in some way. (You can see some examples here.) Research posters often don’t have that saving grace!

Trying to find out more about the academic research poster – and how to put together a good one – has been a bit challenging, I haven’t been able to find any good guidance beyond the basics that relates to the arts and humanities, maybe because it is more common in the (natural) sciences. But I think that this is an important aspect of practice for any research student – they might get the opportunity to submit a poster to a conference, after all, or just want to develop a visual way to show the development of their project(s).

After getting a bit of funding from my university, I was able to invite visual journalist Lulu Pinney to do a lecture and workshop about research posters for us, which was very well received, incredibly inspiring and I can only recommend. Lulu gave us a lot of practical tips on how to organise a poster, but I think the most important was her mantra to “ignite, don’t immerse”. A poster shouldn’t be a summary of your research, it should ignite people’s interest in your research. I think this is fabulous advice when it comes to designing a poster for a conference.

Unfortunately, however, this could turn out to be terrible advice when it comes to preparing a research poster for assessment. If a poster is the only thing that is assessed, you might have to design it very differently. So maybe the split personality of the research poster comes from us lecturers trying to adjust the ‘assessment mix’. At university we want to test students in different ways, and we want to give them skills that they can use ‘outside’ of the university (or, in case of the research poster, still in academia, but once they have progressed from the student to the researcher role). I would guess that only rarely can a research poster do both effectively.

I also have a theory why. I’m currently reading Daniel Keller’s Chasing Literacy – Reading and Writing in an Age of Acceleration. Keller refers to Lester Faigley’s 2006 chapter ‘Rhetorics Fast and Slow’ in Rhetorical Agendas: Political, Ethical, Spiritual, that argued that there are two different rhetorics: a “fast” one and a “slow” one. The slow one is the one we often try to instil in our students for their academic work. I want my students to read deeply, not just skim over the surface of a text, just as I want them to show deep thinking in their essays, which I expect to be re-drafted carefully a number of times. Fast rhetoric – the web-based digital images, blog posts, e-mails, text messages, instant messaging systems, websites – seems to have little room in traditional academia beyond the initial stages of research (although Keller argues that maybe it should). The tradition of the poster is part of the fast rhetoric – posters are promotional tools, they let us know about events or products, they are designed to get their meaning across in the careless glance the passer-by gives them. The research poster attempts to emulate this, but with the burden of trying to get across the slow rhetoric of the academic research project. And this is the problem. Thinking back to the time I designed that first research poster, I knew that if this was to work as a poster, it needed to be short and snappy. It needed to be utilising a fast rhetoric. I could see what would be lost in the translation. So the ideals of the fast rhetoric became replaced by the learning outcomes (this was, after all, an assignment), and a weird hybrid was created, much more like a ‘spineless’ report.

We need to be mindful of this. Not just when designing our own research posters for conferences, but also when setting posters as assessments. Should they be part of the assessment mix? Absolutely. But they cannot just be used to replace the report, unless we are happy with the level of detail that would be lost in them.

On the other hand, we also cannot judge them in the same way as traditional posters. They are designed by people with different expertise to graphic designers for a different purpose. And that is ok. In Lulu’s workshop we ‘rated’ a number of example posters (that had been done as assessments). As we were all from different disciplines (and because that wasn’t the point), we did not look at the content, but rather at their design, focusing on Impact, Structure and Legibility. When we were done, one of the participants looked at the poster with the highest score and said “but that’s not very creative”. And it wasn’t. It was pretty straight forward. But what it did do was communicating what it was about. It had impact, so that from afar you wanted to step closer and find out more. It was structured well, so you knew where to look and in what order. And it was legible, so that you could actually read the information quickly and easily. Academic research posters shouldn’t be judged by the same criteria than other posters (even if they are prepared by people with a design background), just like they shouldn’t be judged by the same criteria as research reports.

Fishscale - Poster for Cumulus Conference 2013

Fishscale – Poster for Cumulus Conference 2013

Since my first foray into designing research posters (and with the luxury of not having to them to be assessed anymore), my approach to research poster design has changed a bit. I basically design my posters on A4 and then blow them up, thinking that if it isn’t readable on A4, it won’t be readable from a short distance once it is full size at a conference. I also don’t try to put everything in there, this is not my research report or my full paper. If people are interested they can get in touch with me and get more details (if I don’t provide them with all that stuff as a handout anyway). So now I make sure I get my email address on there (which I in the beginning often forgot about) and/or a QR code leading to more information. After Lulu’s workshop I will also have more guidance to get this right and I’m looking forward to putting this into practice.

But maybe more importantly, I don’t use research posters as the single assessment of modules I teach. The one I set really is about the ‘Ignite’, and I state clearly to the students that its purpose is for me to see whether they are able to identify the most important aspect of their research – the main thing they want people to know about. And I can do that because the poster isn’t on its own, it comes with a full report of their projects.

I think this is the way forward to making research poster design better – including both slow and fast rhetorics into the assessment mix, instead of asking the academic research poster to do both. And I would bet that if we all did this, the posters at conferences would get better in a few years!

Here another event you might be interested in:

Screen Writes
A one-day symposium sponsored by LCC, HEA-ADM and the Writing PAD network.

Date: Friday, June 27, 2014
Start Time: 10.00 am
Location: London College of Communication Room T304 (Tower Block)

The ‘Screen Writes’ Symposium to be held on 27 June at LCC will explore the purposes and practices of writing as practice for BA students engaged in visual communication, including graphic design, advertising and animation. The idea of a symposium has sprung from the new ‘writing and blogging’ course for Level 1 students at the London College of Communication (Mark Ingham, with Andrea Mason, Linda Stupart, Andrew Slatter and Harriet Edwards): this will be critically analysed. The emphasis more generally is on writing practices emergent from studio concerns in line with the ethos of the Writing PAD project and its subsequent network. There will be time to discuss and exchange across roles and institutions in this symposium.

The ‘Screen Writes’ symposium is intent on exploring a number of interconnected areas related to graduate attributes.  Firstly, the role of creative writings in relation to voice and identity through the daily and weekly practice of making the student’s writing public using online presences, in this case a practice/theory blog. This allows the students to see writing as going from being a fairly passive, summatively driven activity, to one that is in constant formation.

Secondly, it will explore the inherent mix that writing has with image and graphics in visual communication practices. This includes the surveying of tools and techniques employed when using online presences and how these can be used in such things as peer-to-peer learning. The idea that design and media students are writing with images will be analysed and challenged at this symposium. It will explore the possibilities of writing from images, writing with images, writing to images and writing against images. The beaten paths of these long and often debated relationships in academic writing will be taken off track to see if the cliches that surround these interactions in academia can be torn apart and reworked into more productive dynamic exchanges.

Thirdly, the potential of such practices to create a presence in social medias with a view to professional purposes, or how blogging, and indeed tweeting, can link the students to communities and prospective avenues beyond the university, will be scrutinised.  Students have been encouraged to think about their online presences in a number of ways. As a digital note book/sketchbook where ideas can be drafted, edited, reworked and published. It also made the students think about who they were writing for in a professional context.

Fourthly, the articulation of the place, and merit of such practices within the wider design curriculum will be discussed. This will be in relation to employers wanting to see, not only a finished portfolio website that is demanded by the profession and academia, but a blog type site that also show the thinking, mistakes and the processes through to the making of final works.


10.00  Coffee
10.30  Introduction to the day, Mark Ingham
11am   Writing as a creative activity for BA design (workshop,) Andrea Mason and Andrew Slatter
12.00  The pedagogy of creative writing in the context of design  (talk), Andrea Mason
12.30   Graphic design and writing, Andrew Slatter
1pm  Lunch
1.45  “eRTFs” (Enriched Text Formats) Online, continuous and present writing in Art and Design Contextual & Theoretical lessons, Mark Ingham
2.30 The Myth of Creativity: How ‘creative writing’ in arts and design courses fails as effective/affective to, Linda Stupart
3pm Tea break
3.30 Screens and writes: what kinds of intelligences? Harriet Edwards
4-5 Discussion and exchange in small group; final feedback

We have some space for participants outside LCC itself to write-up their own practice OR responses to the day, with images or as a visual essay for Writing PAD’s Journal of Writing in Creative Practice (Intellect).

Free but please book

Attendance is free of charge with preference being given to staff in HE institutions and FE colleges across the UK. Places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. Lunch and refreshments will be provided, but travel expenses will not be covered. However, the HEA is currently running a funding scheme to support travel crossing national borders to attend events, which could be applied for independently. For more information visit the HEA UK Travel Fund.

We have 32 places available on this day.

To book a place, please email:

Dr Harriet Edwards
(Journal Editor)

OR: Dr Mark Ingham

At this week’s HEA Arts and Humanities conference, I was able to present an update of the fishscale research. The title of the 90 minute session was ‘Hunting Seamonsters – how to bust the ghosts of academic practice’, a nod to both the conference theme (Heroes and Monsters) and the strand (Ghosts) the abstract had been submitted to.

It was conceived as a ‘training montage from an 80s movie’ (a format suggested by the conference organisers), and this post is about this format rather than the content of the session. (The content was about the Fishscale of Academicness, if you want to know more about that, check the dedicated page on this blog.)

I love the idea of thinking about a presentation or a workshop in terms of a movie. I’ve been doing something similar with my students when talking about framing and structuring their writing, but I hadn’t quite realised this is also what I do when I plan my presenting. When doing my Post-graduate Certificate in Higher and Professional Education, we were told to vary the activities in a session every so often to keep the attention of students. And we were encouraged to plan our sessions in certain blocks, breaking down the different delivery methods and student activities. This was recorded (and planned) on a form, so basically a list. But there is no reason why it shouldn’t be a storyboard.

When putting together the abstract for this conference, the format of the training montage was incredibly helpful. I co-wrote this with a colleague from our School of Education and we wanted to bring in different perspectives of the Fishscale – the initial inspirations, the problem, the context, what other people are doing about this, the fishscale concept itself, the different activities for the students to consolidate the learning, the feedback from students, the feedback from other staff, an analysis of how the fishscale is working, and an idea of the research we are in the process of doing in order to evaluate whether it is actually working. This is a lot of stuff, even if you have 90 minutes to do it. Having the training montage in our heads, it became much clearer that we need to think not about all the content we have (or could have), but about editing it together. This was not going to be a documentary on one specific process, it was about selecting one important image/issue that could represent an area (and I have done a number of presentations that look at just one aspect of the fishscale). We are not shown every push-up that Rocky makes to get in shape, after all.

So in a way, we started planning with the cuts. We wanted a clear change every time we altered the perspective, and we ended up with six sections, alternately delivered, each time also swopping the delivery method – ranging from powerpoint presentation, to prezi, from group activities to discussion with the whole group.

Thinking about this planning as a training montage meant that my thoughts shifted from all the stuff I could have put in to just the most important things: what would give a flavour of this data? what do people need to know about in order to understand the fishscale? – How many push-ups do we need to get a sense that push-ups are being made regularly? How much can you reduce information to convey push-up-ness?

This is not a big shift from planning a session as a list, but I have found that story-boarding mentally can really help to condense and refine your content to make the most impact it can. So I will in future be conceptualising my session planning more as two parallel storyboards – one narrative of what I do as a presenter, and one with what I task my audience to do.


P.S.: while the Hunting Seamonster session went well, it had to be replanned last minute because Katy was ill and couldn’t do ‘her’ scenes. But while not all of the ‘cuts’ were as pronounced as they could have been, with me delivering most of them myself (I had another colleague standing in for some bits, but there wasn’t sufficient time for a full brief of everything), the integrity of the montage stayed intact, and this was a very different session than if I had planned it for myself without thinking about the visual of the training montage.

On Thursday, 26th June 2014, the East Midlands Writing-PAD centre will be launched with a one day workshop titled ‘Journeys in Visual Learning’. This event will take place at Kimberlin Library, De Montford University in Leicester between 10.30 and 16.00.
For more information please email Christine Boulter (cmb[at]


East Midlands Writing PAD Centre launch: Journeys in visual learning
Thursday 26th June 2014
Kimberlin Library, De Montfort University, Leicester
Julia Reeve and Kaye Towlson

‘Journeys in visual learning’ offers Academics, Librarians and Learning Developers an opportunity to share experiences and practice in visual & kinaesthetic learning techniques. With the launch of our new East Midlands Writing PAD Centre we also seek to establish local & regional links with other HE institutions. The day will showcase creative and radical approaches to learning and teaching at DMU and elsewhere. Delegates will be encouraged through discussion and activities to reflect upon their own ‘visual learning journeys’ to the day and beyond.

The event offers the chance to:
• Experience visual and kinaesthetic learning techniques
• Hear about the student response and experience of such techniques
• Consider the theoretical underpinning to this type of learning
• Explore visual journeys in a number of contexts
• Take part in group work to encourage putting these methods into practice
• Network across disciplines, professions and institutions.

10:30 – 10:50: Registration and creative activity: Start the day with coffee and a look at displays of techniques plus resources

10:50 – 11:20: Creative activity: mapping your journey using a range of media

11:20-12:00: Our journey: Teacher Fellow research projects, Writing PAD and more: Kaye Towlson, Academic Librarian, DMU (Information Literacy) and Julia Reeve, Senior Lecturer, Contextual Studies for Fashion & East Midlands Writing PAD contact, DMU

12:00-12:40: Navigating the Essay: Making Writing Multi-sensory: Jackie Hatfield, Tina Horsman & Jacqueline Szumko, Specialist Tutors for Students with Specific Learning Differences, Loughborough University

12: 40-1:30: Lunch: in Learning Development Zone, Kimberlin

13:30 -14:10: Contextualised performance with collage: Simon Perril, Subject Leader for Creative Writing, DMU

14:30 – 15:00: Group work: your future visual learning journey – mapping practice, ideas, and experiences

15:00 – 15:20: Group visual learning journey tour and tea

15:20 – 15:45: Group feedback

15:45 – 16:00: Close

Interested? Please book your free place by e-mailing Christine Boulter giving your name, job title and institution

If you require a parking space on the day, please book one through Christine Boulter ( Please note parking is limited. DMU is a 10 minute walk from Leicester train station and approximately 15 minutes from Leicester bus station.