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Last week was a crazy week for me, but the highlight undoubtedly was the ReGenring Academic Writing and Assessment conference I co-organised at Nottingham Trent University.  (And as co-organiser I might be slightly biased as to how fabulous an event it was…) I promised to write this up quickly for some people who couldn’t join us, so here are my impressions of the day:

The Trent Institute for Learning and Teaching that was hosting us had booked us into a great lecture theatre in their conference centre in the Newton Building. This location worked really well, apart from the fact that they don’t allow you to put up your own signage. Official signage apparently has to be ordered weeks in advance, and we didn’t quite make that deadline, so in a way the day must have started for many people with the challenge to find the room…

But find it they did and then delegates were immediately set the task of making their own name tags, my favourite way to start a workshop. Turns out it also works for a conference. With more delegates than I had previously worked with coming, I had been a bit worried whether we would have enough ‘making’ space, but people seemed to make good use of the set up table and then drift over to continue started conversations on the other tables once their name tag was finished.

some of the things I cam home with

After a brief welcome by my co-organiser Lisa Clughen and myself, we started off with a talk by Julia Molinari about what makes our writing academic. This was a great start to the formal part of the day, as it set out a theoretical background for the question of where academic writing sits within the production, reflection and dissemination of knowledge – and whether it is the only way of doing these things. Julia argued for diversity within work with examples from long ago (Galileo argued his findings as a conversation) and from right now (and one of her examples, Nick Sousanis, we would hear from directly later on). What I took from her talk was questioning the contexts of ‘theory’ and ‘academia’ – and becoming more aware of the differences of these contexts (which might in turn help to break down the traditions of the latter).

After this theoretical grounding, we moved into the practice when David Hindley and Lisa Clughen talked about student perceptions and experiences of academic blogging. This was a reflection on the evaluation of one of Dave’s modules that asks students to write an academic blog post of 600 words as an assessment instead of an essay – plus making 3 informed comments on posts their peers put up. I was really interested in this, as it is a very different way of using blogging than I use (I use it to formatively prepare research for an essay at the end). Introducing the comments as a way of engaging the students beyond their own research seemed to work very well, and what also was interesting was that all students contribute to the same blog, hosted by Dave, so he is the person that posts the contribution, so he de facto becomes the editor, which allows to cut out concerns about students posting inappropriate material. While these practical aspects were interesting, the findings from the evaluation, which included questionnaires and focus groups, really were the star of this talk. They showed how students were not only feeling empowered by this way of contributing to debates in their field, but also how they found the joy in the research and writing. Clearly this works!

Nick talking about his first comic ‘Lockerman’

Our third keynote speaker, Nick Sousanis, gave a very eloquent and entertaining whistle-stop tour of his work, with specific focus on Unflattening. I have mentioned this book on this blog before, and if you haven’t looked at it yet, you should really get it! Nick’s subtitle for his talk was ‘reimagining scholarship through comics’ and he also talked about some work he does with students who are not confident when it comes to drawing, but that the format of comics – the combination of text and images, but particularly layout of pages within and around the boxes and the gutter – is a rich environment to explore when you are exploring what you are trying to “say”.

After all this food for thought, we needed some actual food and therefore relocated to a room a floor above to have lunch. I wasn’t really at lunch, as I was setting up the afternoon session, but when I popped up to grab a sandwich it was great to see how many people were sitting together and talking with each other.

While the morning had been carefully scheduled, we had planned the afternoon as a ‘Sharing Session’. Whenever I am going to events like this, it often seems like there is too little time to think and talk through the presented ideas. So instead of planning more formal presentations, we had put out a ‘Call for Practice’ so that people who are using alternative genre as assessments or in teaching could self-nominate and bring some materials to share with interested delegates. As we were particularly interested in the process of (re)genring, I had designed a simple template that I fed the information I had from people into, so that everybody who had responded to the Call for Practice could have a poster made that showed off ‘their’ genre within a very simple theoretical framework (looking at the gains and losses – I think I’ll blog about the details of this separately in the next few days). So when people drifted back into the room after lunch (or after going for a walk, or visiting the local comic book store), we had the posters set up and the people who had brought examples, etc. started to show off their practice. This worked really well, there was a lot of conversation around the room, clustered around posters as well as continuing conversations around the tables. We didn’t just have tea, coffee and cake, TILT had also sprung for some prosecco (particular thanks to Lisa for this brilliant idea!), so it really felt like a celebration.

Nick then led us in his Grids and Gestures drawing exercise. This was something he had mentioned in the morning, when we didn’t have the time for it. And it turned out to be the perfect thing for the afternoon, drawing together the sharing session with an activity (must remember that for the next conference!). If you want to know more about Grids and Gestures – and maybe do your own -, check out Nick’s blog here or his write-up of the activity in the SANE journal here.

We ended the day with Fiona English drawing the different strands together in a plenary. She reflected on the richness that using different genres allow to communicate (and produce) research, and that maybe investigating genring and regenring within a theoretical framework will allow us to convince the sceptics about the usefulness of this as a process.

I wanted to end this post by telling you about feedback bunting, but I’m already over 1000 words, so will leave that, too, for another post on another day. But I do want to say thank you to all the people who came to this day and made it so successful, and particularly to Lisa, my co-organiser! One of the feedback comments ended with “more please!!!” – we will try our best!

 

We have now confirmed our other speakers for the morning of the reGenring conference.

Julia Molinari will ask ‘What Makes our writing academic?’

In this talk, I would like to explore in what sense a text that does not follow established conventions of English Academic Discourse (EAD) can be considered ‘academic’? I will argue that such a text can be academic not in virtue of its textual features or of its modes, but in virtue of the extent to which it fulfils an academic purpose and practice. I will draw on theories of multimodality (A. Archer & E. Breuer, 2016), of higher education (Barnett, 1990, 2012, 2013; Besley & Peters, 2013) but also of the philosophy of sociology (Winch, 1990) to argue that since creativity, imagination and argumentation are amongst the purposes and practices of a higher education, then we need to look beyond language – understood as just one of many modes – to more fully fulfil the range of our academic aims.

David Hindley and Lisa Clughen will present on ‘Student perceptions and experiences of academic blogging: some reflections on the use of blogs as a way of fostering greater student engagement, collaboration, and ownership of learning’

This paper takes the standpoint that academic blogging offers precisely the type of inclusive writing genre and inclusive environment for writing development that Elbow (2014) advocates. It is informed by a mixed-method research project which analyses the use of blogs as a formative part of the assessment within a final year undergraduate module, Contemporary Issues in Sports Practice.

Finalised programme to follow soon, in the meantime, don’t forget to check out our other speaker here and the Call for Practice here (which is still open). Book your place here before it is too late!

Cover of Unflattening

I am happy to announce that Dr Nick Sousanis, author of the wonderful Unflattening, is going to be one of our invited speakers in the morning of the ReGenring conference at Nottingham Trent (see here for the Call for Practice). The title of his talk will be ‘Unflattening: reimagining scholarship through comics’ . Instead of an abstract, have a look at this page of Unflattening

Page 64 of Unflattening by Nick Sousanis

Also joining us will be Dr Fiona English, author of Student Writing and Genre, who will facilitate the end of day discussion. There have been some really interesting responses to the Call for Practice, and we can expect examples of genred and regenred work in form of comic books, radio plays, posters, poems, blogs, exhibitions, magazines and videos – don’t forget to let me know if you want to share some practice in the afternoon session yourself!

More info on our other speakers coming soon, don’t forget to book your (free) place here.

After the successful workshop where we explored Genre as a Pedagogical Resource in November, I’m happy to be able to announce the follow-up event: a conference on reGenring Academic Writing and Assessment, hosted by the Trent Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) at Nottingham Trent University in conjunction with Writing-PAD.

workshop participants making their own nametags in November

workshop participants making their own nametags in November

We will start the day with invited speakers in the morning (not quite finalised who yet, but I’ll keep you posted!) and give over the afternoon to a sharing session – and for this we need YOUR examples of practice! The idea is to have this fairly informal and give everybody who registers their interest some space to show off some artefacts or practice, that could be via posters or by bringing examples. We are also planning to put together a special issue of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice (guest edited by myself and Dr Fiona English), so what you bring could be linked to an article you want to write for that (although it doesn’t have to be).

If you are playing with genre in your teaching or assessment practice (in any discipline) and you want to share some of this with us, please email Alke at tactileacademia@gmail.com with a brief description of what you are doing and what sort of artefacts you would like to bring to show. Please use ‘reGenring’ as the subject title of the email and indicate whether you would be interested in contributing to the special edition of the journal.

For more information on the conference and to book your place, please click here.

I have been trying to establish a regular get-together at Staffordshire University, where interested people have the space to share ideas they have come across and/or are using within Learning and Teaching. And as I am organising this, I got to pick our first starting point. Since I am also working on the series of Thinking-through-Genre events with Writing PAD, it is probably not surpsiring that I picked ‘Genre’ as a subject.

I had sent around two links as starting points for discussion: Mahmoud Shaltout’s ‘Peda-Comical: A personal account of comics in education’ (2016), where he reflects on the genre of comic books as a resource within his learning and teaching, as well as Fiona English’s ‘Genre as a Pedagogical Resource as University’ (2015), where she gives a short overview of some of the work in her 2011 book.

On the day I also brought Galman’s The Good, The Bad and The Data (2013) and Sousanis Unflattening (2015), as they are both examples within the comic book genre and I thought this would present a nice extension of the readings. They are particularly interesting when looking at the use of traditional narrative and visual narrative.

What I had overlooked, probably due to my established  familiarity with the subject, was that none of these actually defined the term genre in this context – and neither did I at our meeting until somebody actually specifically asked me to. Clearly I need a bit more practice facilitating these get-togethers so I can set aside my assumptions!

Let’s try to do it now: I think the easiest way to define genre as I am talking about it is that it describes different ways in which to communicate content. Each genre has different rules (or ‘affordances’), and deciding on one over another means that you possibly gain something, but might lose something else. I have previously tried to make this concept accessible in the Dress-up Doll of Formality activity.

My favourite quote that encapsulates this is by Douglas Adams, who wrote:

(…) the moment you have any idea, the second thought that enters your mind after the original idea is “What is this? Is it a book, is it a movie, is it a this, is it a that, is it a short story, is it a breakfast cereal?” Really, from that moment, your decision about what kind of thing it is then determines how it develops. So something will be very, very different if it’s developed as a CD-ROM than if it’s developed as a book. (Adams, 2003: 155f)

This always spoke to me because it makes a lot of sense to a designer. Because in a way (and this is also something we discussed briefly at our meeting), communicating content in a variety of guises is what being a designer (any type of designer, although it might be most obvious in the case of graphic designers) is all about.

And maybe this is also why I have always been absolutely fascinated by adaptations, especially cross-platform ones. Regenring (as in putting the content of one genre into another) is just another word for the same principle.

A visual representation of the 'minutes' of our meeting

A visual representation of the ‘minutes’ of our meeting

With the question of what ‘genre’ actually is (or can be) agreed on, we then proceeded to talk about the affordances it has, and how we can make use of them. The comic book, for example, is what one of us used as part of the dissemination mix of a research project to broaden its impact (find more details here). She made the point that producing a comic didn’t just get some of our Comic and Cartoon Arts students a live project to work on, but more importantly transformed some of the findings from the report into a format accessible to students, the people it might be most valuable to and who were unlikely to read neither the original report nor scholarly articles based on it because of their genre.

In a way the question of accessibility is what we probably most talked about – and particularly the problematic that comes with academic genres that are often not very accessible to students. Not just the question whether it makes more sense to ask students to communicate their research in a format that is more relevant to ‘real life’ than academic formats like the essay or research report, but also the academic genres we use within the university, such as module descriptors, module handbooks and similar, often filled with our own jargon that surely must seem like a foreign language to students. Sure, we give them a glossary, but is this the most accessible way to invite them to understand the processes and procedures of their academic life…?

…something to discuss further in our next meeting!

I’m currently writing an article. Literally while I am typing these words I should be writing on my article, but I am getting distracted by something I haven’t tried before when it comes to structuring the work, and I can’t wait to share it with the readers of this blog. (Tangential Procrastination in full swing!)

The article is sort of last minute, but it is based on research that I have done a few months ago, and some of it is based on research I have done a few years ago. (Parts of it probably go back to my PhD thesis, so make that a bit more than a decade… scary.)

I am clearly in the writing up stage of this, I have a draft to work on, but I haven’t quite figured out the structure and order of the points I want to make. I have written my key words on post-it notes and gotten an overview that way. I have highlighted the key words in my text, which is very helpful when moving paragraphs around. Nothing new so far, surely storyboarding academic work in this way is common practice by now.

But now I have done something that I have never done before… I not only added section titles, but also little descriptions. Erich Kästner used to do this in his books, many of whom I grew up with. Chapters would start with a tiny little summary of what would happen in this chapter. I don’t think there were any spoilers, but it would set up the scene and add a bit of intrigue as what was to come. It was also very handy when re-reading the book and looking for your favourite bits. I didn’t quite go as far as paragraphs, but short, descriptive subtitles. And you know what? It seems to make the writing process much easier. By just reading these subtitles (which I put in bold and italics to make them easier to find) I can check whether I am still using the order planned out with my overview, or whether I need a reshuffle to make this flow as a story (I did). A small addition to my writing process, but incredibly useful – and it might just be a way to support my students with writing the dreaded argument/main body of the text section in their essays and reports!

Kästner kept his as part of his novels, I’m going to delete mine from the article, but just so that they won’t be lost forever, here they are:

  • Section One, in which the problematic of the textbook genre is introduced
  • Section Two, which contains musings on different types of knowledge and different types of teaching that go with them, introducing a focus on study skills
  • Section Three, in which we compare academic and creative practice – and come across hidden practices that need to be made visible
  • Section Four, in which I explain why the pedagogical model needed should use the workbook as delivery method.
  • Section Five, in which I explain analogies as a way of making hidden academic practice visible, and why this called for a picture book, but not a narrative.
  • Section Six, in which I discuss some design choices of Writing Essays by Pictures.
  • Section Seven, in which I sum up and highlight the need for learning resources to be designed according to pedagogical principles, not traditional templates.

If the full article makes it to publication, I will add a link here 🙂

Dear all,

I’m glad to announce that I have finished the workbook for students I have been talking about for years and that after the ‘test’ copies produced as part of last year’s Kickstarter campaign, an extended version of  “Writing Essays by Pictures: A Workbook” (ISBN 9780957665224) is now in print… just in time for all those lovely new first years arriving at Uni!

This is very much a development of the work I have been doing for the last few years, much of it chronicled on this blog, and it uses visual analogies to lead students through the process of writing essays at University. Find out more about its origins on the dedicated page here. Mainly designed for students to work through on their own, it could also be used in led workshops and is full of creative and visual ideas for teaching information and academic skills. It is priced at a level that hopefully many students will be able to afford to buy themselves, and I hope that some of you might add it to your reading lists to help students transition to writing at undergraduate level.

Available from all normal book suppliers from this week, list price £15, currently £12.99 on Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0957665229) or just £10 direct from the publisher (http://innovativelibraries.org.uk/press/thebooks/).

I am currently working with both the Writing PAD network and my fabulous publisher to organise some workshops for staff who want some more ideas how to use the material within in their teaching, which I will of course announce here once we have settled on dates.
Best wishes,

Alke