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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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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!

Last Friday’s Look, Make and Learn event at the University of Huddersfield for me ended up as a reminder of ‘flow’ – and the joy of having time and space to just explore.

Sarah Williamson started us off with a session on “Bookmaking for visual thinking, recording and reflection”.  As readers of this blog will know reflective bookmaking is a wonderful tool of exploring thoughts and while working on mine (not quite finished yet, but see below for some pictures of its current state) I realised how long it has been since I actually took the time to make one.

Sarah showing how to make an Instant Book

Sarah showing how to make an Instant Book

Sarah started us off with nice and easy by showing us how to make an Instant Book (sometimes also called Beak Book) out of an A3 photocopy of a map. (If you want to make your own Instant Book, check out the first page of this guide.) She also explained why we were using a map and not blank sheets of paper (and a pale map at that): it takes away the fear of the blank page. A blank page seems to suggest to the maker that it needs to be filled up with perfect stuff, while really this is all about process. Using a texture or pattern as a background will then help with what comes after it. A pale map is perfect for this, as it provides a background that can be worked into.

We then moved on to the Concertina Book (also called the Accordion Book) out of a long strip of paper. (If you need instructions on how to make your own, check out this page – we didn’t put covers on ours in the session, but there is a simple way of doing that included here too.) And in order to get rid of the blank page again, Sarah had brought in two random pages for each of us, one from a music guide and one from a DIY manual, and challenged us to find some words or phrases that explained why we decided to join the day, cut them out and stick them into our books.

While this seems very random, it is amazing how everybody seemed to find something that spoke to them. Here are the phrases that jumped out at me and made it into my book (almost making a poem):

Found text in my reflective book

Found text in my reflective book

I wanted to do something weird

From such beginnings

I had fun

The whole process can be riddled with ‘creative’ errors. It can happen that some strategy, unfit to reproduce the original ‘vision’, ends up outputting something completely unexpected, yet intriguing.

the borders between knowledge and imagination become even fuzzier

it is resolutely something else

a celebration of real things.

20161213_164331The next session was led by Chrissi Nerantzi and called “Make It Yourself (MIY)”. This was a very fast-paced session that took its starting point in the question whether learning (and thinking) that is only ‘head-based’ can ever work – even at university, which seems to have a very head-based tradition of theory rather than practice. We all filled a paper heart with what we love about teaching and then exchanged these hearts and discussed the ones we (randomly) received in small groups. Then we were sent out in pairs to fulfil tasks ranging from talking to students to finding useful objects around campus. We ended up in a circle making a physical net by throwing a ball of wool to each other, sharing feedback on the session.

20161018_153931After lunch I led a session entitled “Playing with Genre”. Here small groups had 30 minutes to design a board game based on writing an essay. We ended up with four games that we discussed and compared to some examples that students had put together in class for me. This is a great way of getting students to talk about what they perceive to be their strength (becoming short cuts) and weaknesses (becoming obstacles), as well as their expectations. I had planned to talk a bit more about how the board game genre also has the potential to become an alternative to the schedule of classes in the module documentation, but while there I realised that this might not have been that interesting for most of the people present as it is quite specific to people who actually plan whole modules. This might become a more detailed blog post in future… or maybe an event on its own (let me know if you would be interested in this!)?

Liz Dixon and Judith Kidder rounded off the day with a session on “Using LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) in teaching, learning and research”. I had heard a lot about this, but had not actually done this myself. We did three short tasks – building a sculpture showing our role at work, a recent teaching experience, and then remodelling the latter into how that could have been improved. I particularly liked the remodelling, as it made me think about not just what I had done, but reflect on how I might change it for next time – something I probably would not have come up with if I hadn’t seen the sculpture in front of me. Liz and Judith emphasised the three steps of kinaesthetic learning, reflective conversation and written reflection (which we didn’t have time for, but that ideally should follow these tasks as part of the learning process) – and how important it was to free your mind of the literal interpretations.

Judith said that this sort of metaphocial modelling is a different way of communicating and that it is a way of unfolding different possibilities. In a way this brought the day full circle for me – my reflective book had been filling up throughout the day and I had added my Instant Book to the Concertina Book, so there is now some unfolding going on when reading through it. It has a thread running through it (inspired by the net-building wool), which at some stage writes ‘flow’ – something Sarah talked about at the beginning of the day. Refolding the combination of Instant and Concertina book made this word appear on the ‘cover’ page – and it is also a good way to sum up a great day!