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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 have finished the ‘virtual’ patchworking and am working on fabric now – thanks to the lovely technicians at Staffordshire University who printed my file onto a quite substantial cotton.

The Patchwork printed onto fabric

The Patchwork printed onto fabric

The patches are all colour coded – so one purple is for the Tactile Academia stuff, blue for the Writing in Creative practice workshops, black for publications, grey for publications in the works, white for very early publication plans, green for teaching activities, red for administrative/uni stuff, orange for important outside influences and yellow for ‘old’ stuff, i.e. my PhD and things before that. And I am really pleased with how this turned out.

However, to add a bit more interest, I have decided that before I attempt the actual quilting, I am going to add some (very basic) embroidery, picking out the odd word or illustration. The way I choose these colours are based on the content – so really it is another layer of colour coding. I started with the content relating to the Tactile Academia booklets, mainly because there I already had colours picked out: blue for The Fishscale of Academicness, red for The Winning Hand of Independence, yellow for The Button Connection, cream for The Dress-up Doll of Formality (and all sorts of ways of playing with written genre), dark green for The Butterfly Challenge and light green for The Land- and Seascape of Academic Practice. Actually this last one I thought was very complex and deserved two colours really, so I used the light green for the islands as well as anything connected to object-based learning and introduced a pink for the ‘shallow’ waters – and anything connected with the ‘off-loading’ practices of craft (the pink inspired by the Pairings Project, which really should have been more magenta, but I decided to stick with the colours liberated from my grandmothers sewing box rather than buying new ones). You can find a very light blue representing The Underwater Iceberg (a book in  preparation), and orange representing my work on blogging (inspired by the colours of the blog on that which is now defunct).

Since then I have also added dark blue for the work with collage and reflective bookmaking, purple for the overall tactile academia ideas, a light brown for genre that is not written and olive for experiential learning (although I don’t seem to have a picture of that – oops!). I will post soon about the actual quilting of it…

And, just as with the whole process of putting this together, this work has allowed me time to reflect and analyse my work. I have been able to see how the things I do interconnect with each other – and how long I have already been on this journey of ‘Tactile Academia’ without knowing it. This has been particularly useful as I have also been in the process of putting together the portfolio for the accreditation to Senior Fellow of the HEA . Taking the time to work on the quilt has allowed me to see a lot of things more clearly – and it has given me an example with which I can visually and conceptually explain what I do in a learning and teaching context.

As already mentioned when blogging about the previous booklet, genre is a really important consideration when teaching writing. When putting together The Butterfly Challenge, half of it was trying to make readers aware that the different genre of writing follow different rules that a novice might not be aware of.

This was something that warranted further exploration, so the Northampton workshop looked into this in a bit more detail. And for that I was putting another book together, this time just concentrating on the consideration of genre.

The Dress-up Doll of Formality likens the choosing of appropriate communication channels to dressing for the occasion. Some occasions are very strict as to what outfit is appropriate, others not so much. Using a Gingerbreadperson as model, the book goes through suggestions of how particular genres of writing could be visualised as clothing, for example a business report could be seen as a three-piece suit: it should be formal, tailored to the business, there are certain elements that makes it complete (like a waistcoat and a briefcase completes the outfit, executive summary and appendices make the report).

The most important of these (from the perspective of my teaching) was the academic essay, that by students often seems to be seen as a prison uniform (complete with ball and chain), but really I think they should consider it more like an Elizabethan outfit – yes, it is a bit old-fashioned (conventions mostly are), but it has a lot of structure in it, as well as pleats and layers, just like a carefully crafted argument should.

D:DCIM100DICAMDSCI0454.JPGThe teaching activity that goes with this is giving students a ‘model’ and asking them to draw genre out of a hat, and let them then design an outfit that would reflect that genre. here it is really useful to use a Gingerbreadperson as ‘model’, because if using a proper paper doll students can get sidetracked by trying to make their outfits beautiful. A Gingerbread-doll will always be funny, and that lets students focus on the idea rather than the design. of course the most important part of the activity is getting them to explain why they chose this particular outfit.

I have done this with the delegates at the Northampton workshop as well as with students and I think it is a really good way of getting them to think about different types of communication, which makes them think about the inherent rules each of these types gets constructed by – it helps them see the difference between an academic essay and the text for a website, for example.

I have also used this at a workshop where people were trying to figure out how they wanted to communicate to the world. Through the creative activity of putting together these outfits in small groups, they really started thinking about whether the traditional option they started out with was what they needed and wanted.

This booklet was produced in a preview edition of 31 given out at the workshop, including the paper doll and four A5 sheets that reproduced the outfits in the book as a starting point for making their own.

Here are some outfits which have so far been produced (can you spot the ones that are Tweets?)

Kaye Towlson (of De Montfort University) sends the following report:

Report, feedback and future planning:

Kaye Towlson and Carol Keddie delivered a well received and inspirational workshop entitled : “New ways of seeing” to 10 students from a wide range of disciplines including Housing, Multimedia Design, Cardiology, Biomedicine, Youth and Community Development, Health Studies, Nursing, Human Resources and Fine Art. The group included Undergraduates, Postgraduates and a Phd Research student. All students participated fully in the activities and engaged with tasks from the word “Go”. There was also much peer to peer learning going on as students discussed the different visual learning techniques as they performed the given tasks.

Students enthusiastically embraced new visual planning and thinking techniques such as the image enriched mind map created using collage techniques, dressing up the “doll of formality” (Groppel-Wegener 2012)with selected keywords and images derived from their mind map.

jumble of plaits

jumble of plaits

They enjoyed forming a research plait by combining the assignment question, selected keywords and references of relevant journal and book resources identified through searching the library catalogue and relevant research databases. This information was recorded onto three separate strands of paper given at appropriate times in the workshop. The plaiting together of these three essential elements of the planning and research process simulates the knitting together of this information into an evidence supported argument in the form of a completed assignment. (Amended from Francis 2009)

Students were then introduced to the University of Creative Arts Creative Cycle which maps the route of the creative cycle from the initial interest through to submission and post submission reflection on all the learning inputs, tasks and skills acquired. Students were asked to create their own road map for the successful completion of their chosen assignment starting from the initial assignment allocation through the planning, inputs and activities culminating in the successful completion and handing in of the assignment. They were asked to illustrate the roads map with images (doodles/sketches or collage)  to identifying tasks, to add emoticons to reveal how they would feel at that point of their journey and maybe chart the ups and downs, twists and turns experienced on the route.

doll with keywords

doll with keywords

Feedback from the session was very positive; students commented particularly that they liked the mind map and the journey map, others particularly liked the doll (”especially cause I was relating keywords and assignment to a person”).

Many said they intended to use mind maps in future

Other comments:

 “Thank you it was inspiring”

I liked: “the ways teached to divide an assignment into smaller pieces”.

“The creative aspects of the session absolutely BRILLIANT!”

I liked…. “The atmosphere and the context”

I am going to …..”Continue to mind map my work this way before I begin an assignment”.

“Fantastic!”

I would like to see….”more like this please! New tips on ways to work effectively”.

“Please do more courses such as these as a Phd student I have found it really useful and will be attending many more”.

 

Future development:

The intention is to offer this workshop again and to utilise some of the techniques within curriculum based teaching. IT is also intended to offer this workshop to LRS Librarians and CLaSS and to ask them to bring a selected assignment question with them from one of their areas of responsibility.

To expand visual learning, thinking and planning techniques applicable to information/digital literacy and offer other workshops.

To feed experience and feedback from today into ongoing Teacher fellow project.

Reflection…….. To investigate scope for utilising similar visual techniques to encourage reflection in student learning, both during the assignment path and also after. To reflect on tasks and skills completed, their effectiveness, areas for amendment and improvement, areas of transfer.

 

The workshop intended to stimulate creative thinking and planning and to introduce students to non-traditional visual techniques that they can utilise through their course. It is safe to say that these learning  outcomes were met.

 

Kaye Towlson 12/2/13