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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.
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!
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!
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…
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!
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
While going through the latest Design Research Society newsletter, I came across these two conference that might be interesting to check out…
November 7-9 2014, Dublin, Ireland
(but call for papers ends on 21st June… yes, slightly extended- phew)
June 23-27 2014, Boulder, Colorado
Call for paper ends 8th November (…phew some more time for that one)