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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!

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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!

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!