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As mentioned in an earlier post, I am working with some colleagues on bringing the Fishscale of Academicness to the masses. And I am happy to announce that a draft for the Only Connect un-book has been submitted this week!

Developing a teaching resource for testing has also made a step forward. Today my colleagues Geoff and Katy went to Huddersfield to meet up with Sarah, Judith and Liz to talk through what we could do. It turned out to be a very enjoyable afternoon with many ideas being shared (and not just one but two different varieties of cake!).

At the moment it looks like we will develop two different ‘kits’ – one for face-to-face delivery (including a presentation, staff notes, activity proforma and possibly another handout) and one for distance learning (including presentation/film, on-line activity and print-out resource). We will also put together a method for testing and data collection.

Next immediate step: visit the final degree show tomorrow and find students that might be interested to work on the design!

I’ll keep you posted!

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There are exciting developments with what I call the Fishscale of Academicness. You might have come across this before at one of my talks – or through my little booklet (which is described here).

There are two exciting new things happening – my colleague Geoff Walton and myself are working on a chapter on this for an open-access book on information discovery journeys. We have been having a number of meetings about this in the last few weeks, and I am happy to report that it is progressing nicely. We are trying to combine what I already have as written for the little booklet with a commentary on information literacy and information discernment, that locates this in an academic context. Most recently we have been working on ways of how to combine the different texts/images, here some of our working drawings:

We are hopeful that we have worked it out!

The other exciting thing is that we have been given some funding by the university to produce at least two different ways of delivering this – a hard-copy and a digital one, which we want to use to test this further with students in the coming academic year, hopefully in different departments and possibly at different universities.

Let me know if you are interested in taking part in this further research!

As you know I have been thinking about visual ways of representing experiences in patchwork/quilt form for some time. And this had developed quite nicely to what I call the ‘Post-it stage’ (other sticky notes are available) until the idea of the fabric printer moved it into another dimension of possibility. but it still felt a bit vague, and I was thinking that I would like to test this out in a smaller, contained way.

And lo and behold, an opportunity presented itself! I was asked to present a session at an internal conference hosted by our school of education – and ideally something that would give an overview of what I am trying to do with my students. And if I could put together a poster, too…

So having to do a poster anyway, I thought, why not come up with a patchwork design to put on the poster – and then if there is time I could run that through the fabric printer and see how it comes out.

My first idea was inspired by an artistic quilt – so something much more about one large image rather than regularly shaped bits that are joined together. I also liked the idea of using a frame in some way. Sarah has done a poster with a large ornate gold frame in it, which I really like, and I was thinking of nicking that idea and using it to show Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, which in a way is framing almost everything that I do – it sort of provides a really good model of how I approach both teaching and learning. So I was thinking of having a gold frame and on each of the four sides have a little label with one of the four stages Kolb refers to. As the actual image I thought I would use the idea of the Land- and Seascape of Creative Practice, but extend it so that it includes the Underwater Iceberg and the Fishscale of Academicness. A bit complicated, but in my head that still makes sense.

mini quilt concept drawing

mini quilt concept drawing

And while I still like the idea, I was wondering whether it might be a bit inappropriate because it is very much linked to art and design and takes studio-practice as a starting point. Really what I wanted to do was to come up with a poster/quilt that would prompt me to talk about the actual activities I do with my students (some of them still in development), rather than a lot of theoretical background that might not apply anyway. So maybe square pieces added together to make a larger square image after all?

Sitting down again with another large sheet of paper and another stack of post-its I was thinking of how much overlap there would be between the quilt I am planning about the development of my work and teaching philosophy and this one. In a way I wanted this one to be more ‘hands-on’, really focus on analogies and activities I actually use in my teaching, rather than give evidence of inspirations and conference presentations. But I also wanted to include some quotations that might be important.

I took key illustrations from the little tactile academia book(let)s and things I draw on my whiteboard in class as starting points and after some playing around I realised that it might be nice to have a checkerboard effect – with images as one colour and words as the other. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing I came up with a size and order I liked.

mini quilt at post-it stage

mini quilt at post-it stage

Now it was just a matter of filling it up. I say ‘just’, but of course this took actually quite some time. It is interesting, but it is at this stage, that I might abandon a project. In a way by now it is worked out – and I have a very clear idea in my head of what it would look like if it was actually finished. Of course in that case it would never really be shareable, so it is a good thing to have somebody waiting for a file they can print as a poster and a deadline to boot.

A period of designing began. I started with the images I already had – from the booklets and teaching prep, etc. – but invariably they were all somehow wrong in size or format, so I ended up redrawing most of them. I had some photographs I wanted to include, too. Putting them together just didn’t look as nice as the pink and green post-its, so I decided to treat them so they would all be black and white (well mostly), and so that they were more likely white on black than the other way around, because I wanted to emphasise the checkerboard effect.

Now all I had to do was populate the in-between spaces. I knew I wanted this to be text based, some squares giving my names for the activities (or books), some of them quotations that underline the importance and relevance of experiential learning (and in extension teaching) and some more informal ideas and activities I use in my teaching. For these three I used different typefaces, but tried to keep the font size equivalent. I also decided on a background colour, going for the colour of this website to make it tie in (and because I didn’t want it just white and couldn’t think of anything better).

And my mini quilt was done! Yippee!

For the poster I did frame it in Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, but in a plain frame. And I added a little bit about the idea of Tactile Academia to the bottom, plus the address to this blog if people want to check out the bibliography especially. (I could have included that on the poster, but would have had to make the type really tiny. Plus, isn’t it a good thing to give all those lovely people a reason to check out this blog?)

With it being the Easter break I don’t have access to the fabric printer just yet, but will keep you posted on how this turns out!

This was the first of the Tactile Academia books I made and funnily enough I didn’t set out to do a book at all.

So here’s the story of that one:

In June 2010 I went to the Flying Start symposium held at Liverpool Hope University. This was disseminating the work that had been/still was going on in the Flying Start project, which was concerned with academic writing transition. Here I saw Claire Penketh talking about her work, and one of the things that particularly struck a chord with me was her work on reading at degree level. In her presentation she menitoned a quote from John Bean which stated that “learning to read at degree level is like learning to fish in deep waters” (2001). In her slides she made this point to her students by showing pictures of fish and likening them to certain types of reading – goldfish (a bit like emails, small and colourful), sharks (with teeth, so a bit scary, like a peer-reviewed article might be) and angler fish (just weird, like something that was written for a different audience altogether).

Now I absolutely loved this idea and built up a presentation for my students all around the idea of evaluating secondary sources by likening them to sea creatures and ordering them on a scale of academic depth. It described a number of ‘standard’ secondary sources, such as blogs, newspapers, introductory texts, academic journals and doctoral work. This seemed to go down well and alert students to the necessity of evaluating sources, something they have a problem with in my experience.

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The Fish-scale of Academicness – linocut edition 2012

As I thought this was a very good way of explaining the concept of provenance to students I wanted to turn this into an Open Educational Resource, however, my slides were populated with copyrighted fish from animation, so I needed to find a way to illustrate this. And then a course on the Illustrated Book came along near me and I signed up for that with the express plan to work on the illustrations for this. And so I made a book out of it. I played about with the layout and used tear-aways to show a sense of depths. This book, with original linocuts, was done in an edition of 7 in 2012.

At the same time I thought this might be a very good way for me to explain this concept at this workshop I was organising and how nice it would be to give the delegates something special. So I also made an edition for them, which is photocopied and has drawn illustrations, but it also has the ‘torn’ pages meant to visualise the depth of the academic ocean.

This booklet was produced in an edition of 31 and given out at the Thinking through Writing and Making workshop.

The Fish-Scale doesn’t stop with explaining the concept to the students. I have also started using it as an activity. I give students excerpts of sample text from a variety of academic depths, and ask them in groups to decide what sort of sea creatures these texts would be and draw them. What is important here is that the students also are able to articulate the reasons why they decided on a particular sea creature. We then all order them in terms of their academic depths through a group discussion. I encourage students to go through this thinking process when they are using their sources, and to visualise their bibliography in terms of the depth achieved – and ask them to think about trying to ‘go deeper’ when they progress through the years.

The very small-scale evaluation I have done on this so far, has indicated that introducing the lecture coupled with the activity has resulted in students using a better range and better quality of secondary sources in their essays.

I’m currently planning a research project to test whether this would work with students from other universities and disciplines. Maybe as part of this I will actually get around to making that Open Educational Resource. If you are interested in collaborating on this, please get in touch!