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Marion, one of the lovely participants in our first Thoughtbites workshop sends this account:
I took part in the ‘thoughtbites‘ workshop looking at ‘folds and layers’ as a method for visual-tactile note taking.

I myself have always found it very difficult to keep any notebook in a state that I appreciated it after its use or that I wanted to return to it and remind myself of what I had written.

Working with my hands and materials whilst listening I found myself beginning to relax and filter information based on what seemed important at the time. Although I felt I had hardly listened consciously, certain information became very dominant and stuck with me afterwards.

Engaging with the materials I noticed that I had used them in various ways that began to make sense to me and that I could see certain methods that I could use in the future and which also could be shared with others as a form of template.

Examples were the use of dials and circles (e.g. priorising information, looking at the ‘central’ question), icons that could serve to highlight specific information and covering/uncovering information through material layers as a way of discerning information.

Collage Workshop VMC 2015 from Marion

In my own research I have come across the functions of the right and left hemisphere of the brain which opens up an interesting perspective on memory retention through visual-tactile means and the workshop has inspired me to include these methods in the future.

In mid September, Susan and I met up at the 4th International Visual Methods Conference in Brighton to fly the flag for thinking-through-making-and-doing. While we had originally proposed a panel, we ended up running two workshops titled “Thoughtbites: Transdisciplinary cuts, folds and collage in thought and practice”. As part of that we had been commissioned by the conference organisers to author and print a little booklet that most attendees got in their conference bag (not all of them as the conference ended up over subscribed so we hadn’t printed enough).

Titled Thoughtbites – Cuts and Folds in Thought and Practice, this booklet used the work of notable philosophers as starting points for reflection and very basic activities – so people were able (and meant) to customise their own copies, and in the two workshops we used the same starting points to make, reflect on the conference so far and just provide some space for thoughts.

The first workshop used the pop-up facilitated by cuts and folds¬† to transform the usually flat surface to a three dimensional structure, complete with little windows to glimpse through. We were inspired here by Rene Descartes’ notion of the material world and its non material counterpart, the subjective and objective, abstract and material, mind and body. We also explored layers, inspired by Edmund Husserl, thinking about layers of meaning and how they reveal and conceal, sparking new trains of thought.

 

The second workshop explored the idea of tracing – and Gilles Deleuze’s suggestion that we should focus on the differences of tracings, the intentional and unintentional losses and gains, in order to reveal meaning. We also looked at Jacques Derrida and the fold as well as the moebius strip – is it possible to determine one side from the other? Does it matter?

Looking back what was most interesting was the way discussion unfolded. While some people came to both sessions, mainly people attended just one. But what was really different was the set up. The first session was done in the ‘Waste House’, a workshop space constructed pretty much entirely from recycled materials. Here we had one huge table, which resulted in everybody sharing materials with each other and a very informal conversation that included everybody throughout the 90 minutes. The second session was in a more traditional seminar room, where we had set up a number of smaller group tables. And while people were talking at their tables, the atmosphere was markedly different (though not necessarily in a bad way).

Overall it was a nice few days, with maybe some people encouraged to make some more time and space to reflecting through enjoying the process of making.

(sorry for the delay in posting this, freshers flu and start-of-term workload made it hard to blog immediately)

So I have started planning my quilt.

I did this by first investing in a stack of mulit-coloured post-its (other sticky notes are available), and trying to note down significant incidents in my learning and teaching career one per post-it. Some of them are things that I do with students, some of them are presentations I heard or workshops I attended, some of them are things I have published, some of them are people I have met and subsequently collaborated with. And some of them are things I want to do in future.

After the first rush of ideas had gone, I went over my CV and added things I had forgotten about. And then I started arranging the pieces on my living room wall. And then I rearranged them. As they started falling off the wall I switched to a large piece of paper on the floor, which ended up as two papers side by side.

I have since rearranged my ‘layout’ a number of times, added some pieces, taken away others (I wanted this not to be about every little thing I have done, but rather about the things I at the moment consider significant). And this has already been really helpful! I am now more aware of how a lot of the bits I do connect to each other. And I can see what direction I have most recently worked in much more than in others. I think I am much clearer now as to what I want to achieve, and how the things I plan to do link together.

Starting off on this has also made me consider the process of putting the quilt together:

  • As mentioned above, only things I consider significant now, otherwise this would be far bigger (and say far less I fear)
  • I got rid of the pieces linked to subject-specific knowledge. This goes back to my thinking about the Accreditation Quilt, while subject-specific knowledge is of course important to a teacher, the learning and teaching skills are somewhat separate. What I am thinking is to represent subject-specific knowledge on the back of the quilt. And I don’t think that is going to be a quilt for me, that will be a whole picture, because by its nature I consider this much less ‘bitty’.
  • After this first flurry of activity (which always seems to happen when I have stumbled across a new idea I think might work), I think this also needs some back-up. At the moment the pieces are very sketchy notes to myself, some of them as images, but most of them containing key words or titles. In order to fully appreciate what the pieces represent and how they are fitting together, I need to design them to actually become representations – and then reflect on why I decided to put them here and not there. That could then also be used as a starting point to present my learning and teaching career to somebody else (if I go on and present this as an Accreditation Quilt, for example).

It is this ‘backing up’ of ideas that will get me to where I want to be, and that will show the Thinking through Writing and Making process I am so keen to explore further. So while this collection of post-its will come to my appraisal later in the week, the thinking process will continue while I redesign the pieces and write about them, at least some of it shared on this blog in future.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about the Higher Education Academy (HEA) accreditation, which is aligned to the UK Professional Standards Framework. This has become more and more important in the Higher Education climate in the UK, so much so that universities (my own included) are now setting targets as to how many of their staff need to be accredited by what time.

I think this is a really good idea and although I already am a Fellow of the HEA, I am curious whether I could ‘upgrade’ to Senior Fellow. So I have volunteered to support this within my award group, with the goal to get everybody who is interested together in putting together a portfolio for whichever level is most appropriate. (We don’t have to go directly to the HEA, as Staffordshire University offers a ‘Route by Portfolio’ as professional development accredited by the HEA.)

As part of this, I have been thinking about this idea of a portfolio, and alternative presentations, particularly during some conversations with Carolyn Bew, the discipline lead for art and design, where we were wondering how much of this needs to be writing-based (which, of course, can be a problem for art and design based professionals, some of which don’t have much confidence in their writing abilities). And we were thinking that it would be nice to develop a slightly ‘different’ type of portfolio as an example of a more visual approach to the whole thing.

I’m quite interested in alternative ways of presentations anyway (and I have talked about some of them on this blog), and when one of the participants of one of my workshops gave me a paper on patchwork writing, I began thinking about the direction of a quilt.

I think a portfolio has the wrong connotations – for me having had two so far in my professional life, one concerned with graphics, one full of theatre designs – a portfolio, to me, shows finished work. A patchwork, or a quilt, links the separate pieces through thread, and it can be presented as very much unfinished, representing the on-going journey of a teaching professional.

So I was thinking of this ‘Accreditation Quilt’, and actually started designing it – what bits to put in, how to colour code it, but it didn’t really take of. Don’t get me wrong, I think it was a nice idea, but it wasn’t quite there.

And then I realised that I was going about it the wrong way. What I was trying to do was trying to find a different way of representing the information in the prescribed portfolio. Why was I doing that? To stand out? To have a bit of fun? To make a point? None of them brilliant reasons for doing this.

A couple of days later I was filling in a form as preparation for my yearly appraisal – and I really struggled with the form. I am doing so many separate things, some of which are somehow connected, I found it really hard to condense them all into bullet points that would make not only sense to somebody else, but maybe most importantly to make sense to me, to allow me to see the patterns and figure out what I want to work on more in future. And I was thinking that I need to find a better way of organising this information… what have I achieved, what didn’t quite work, what do I want to achieve in future?

Suddenly I was thinking of the quilt again. but not quite the ‘Accreditation Quilt’ I had had in mind previously, but one with individual pieces that represented critical incidents from my learning and teaching career, something unfinished, with sketched out pieces for future work, representing ideas. Putting this together could help me work out the information needed for my appraisal. Which is the common theme of my previous alternative presentations – designing them always helped me work out something or internalise information or knowledge. They were never that much about externalisation and/or appearance. (Which is probably why most of them remain unfinished – for now.)

So I decided to design a quilt. And while I might be able to use it for the accreditation to Senior Fellow of the HEA, that’s not really why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because I want to be able to visualise where I’ve been and where I want to go. I want to reflect on this not just with a bullet point on an appraisal form (because that’s what we have to do for the university), I want to see whether there are patterns and directions. I want to develop an overview that at the moment I don’t think I have, because I’m focusing on too many bits right now.

And funnily enough I also already have a good name for it, two terms that were typing mistakes I liked so much I put them on post-its on my desk for the right opportunity to use them: Indivisual Evaludation. It will be representing my individual journey¬† in a visual way, and it will allow me to evaluate that journey, taking as its starting point a chronology provided by dates. And I’m sticking with the quilt idea. While it may ‘only’ be a paper mock-up for now, one day I might actually make a real one. (That already gives me one of my ‘future’ pieces – an exhibition of the quilt and other tactile academia artefacts.)

Anyway, coming to this blog soon: news of the development of my very own Indivisual Evaludation Quilt. I probably won’t blog about every little piece of detail (I don’t want to bore you with my meandering career), but I will try to keep you abreast of some examples and how the shape, etc. evolves.

Why not join me in this endeavour, and we can form a virtual (or perhaps real) quilting circle!

While checking out the Tate Liverpool website to find out more about the ‘Tracing the Century’ exhibition, I came across a workshop they offer on documentary drawing on 19th January 2013. While it might be a bit too focused on the connection of documentary drawing to war artists for my taste, I am intrigued, especially because I know that there is a lot of drawing going on when it comes to documenting and reflecting within academic research.

I’ll be there…

Another long overdue post…

a well-prepared bag full of bits

On 14th September I was lucky enough to join Sarah Williamson on a reflective walk she organised and led as part of a Teaching and Learning event at the University of Huddersfield. As you may know if you are a regular reader of this blog, Sarah teaches Art and Design teachers and this walk is one of the things she does with her students to remind them of the learning they have done and to encourage reflective practice.

While it will be difficult to do this experience justice, here are some of the things I particularly remember…

The Gateway – an entrance to a new experience

While we had a short walk to the actual beginning of the walk, once we were there, Sarah pointed out the gateway, making us aware of the idea of starting a new experience – this was not just a walk anymore, this was about us reflecting on our teaching practice.

leaving blahblahblah behind us

Once we had passed the gateway and turned the corner, we were greeted by a larger print-out stating BLAH BLAH BLAH, something we were to leave behind us on this walk (and hopefully in our reflection on our practice…).

We then encountered a number of texts and quotations that had been secured to the trees and shrubs, all concerned with reflective practice and teaching – and particularly the impact that landscape and environment can have on these issues.

encountering food for thought on the way

After the first part of the walk, which could be likened to a sort of literature review, very much referencing key texts and practitioners in this area, we were warmed up and could start to think reflectively ourselves.

a bag to collect mementos from our journey

To help us with that we each got a paper bag, which would become filled with little bits and pieces along the way.

We thought about describing things, how to find the right words, and how important that can be when trying to communicate something.

find that colour

For that we each got a number of colour charts and had to find something of that exact colour.

match a description

We then stepped away from the literal by matching given words with something we saw – and then explaining to another member of the group what we had found.

We thought about how framing can make a difference, to both presentation of work (or reflection), but also to focus, and how that is really well illustrated by using real frames. This links to Mason’s ‘discipline of noticing’ (2002):

To notice is to make a distinction, to create foreground and background, to distinguish some ‘thing’ from its surroundings. (Mason, 2002: 33)

We took inspiration from the decking we encountered and thought about which ‘ridges’ were reflected in the aspirations we had to teaching. We then jotted them down on Kraft paper (also nicely striped) and pinned them up on a washing line for all to read and discuss (and as an art intervention to remain once we had passed through).

our intervention

Another intervention Sarah told us about she does with her students (although we didn’t have the time to do it), is looking for a found object that is a reflection of your teaching practice, explain to the group why it is so and then build it into an installation by combining it with the objects everybody else has found.

an intervention encountered along the way

As we continued our journey down the tow path along the canal, we encountered some more art, but were also encouraged to notice things that we usually don’t – what is there and so much in the background that we often don’t even realise it, like the noise of the air conditioning units, for example.

We looked at the buildings, refurbished into university buildings but still showing an industrial heritage, and thought about the history of our discipline, and how it might have changed – and what that means for our inidividual contexts.

the dividing line between surface and deep learning

We also looked at the locks, with the water standing high on one side and low on the other, a great way of visualising surface and deep learning,

a precarious balance between the surface and the deep engagement

as well as the little bridge that can be seen to both keep the two apart and link them.

At this stage we also thought about Beard and Wilson’s concept of the Combination Lock for Experiential Learning (2006) and their notion of the importance of integrating the environment, activities, senses and emotion into the learning experience.

We came to another bridge a little while later – bridges of course a good way of thinking about linking one side with the other – maybe the practical with the theoretical, but also giving a good vantage point to looking into both the past – where have we come from in our practice, how have we developed- and future – what is around that next bend of the river, where do we want to go next?

thinking of the bend in the river

Sarah gave us a poem by Philip Larking,

Bridge for the Living (1975)

Reaching for the world, as our lives do,

As all lives do, reaching that we may give

The best of what we are and hold as true:

Always it is by bridges that we live.

We also encountered stairs, which Sarah used to visualise Schon’s notion of the Swamp:

stairs leading from the messy swamp down below to the academic high ground

In the varied topography of professional practice, there is a high, hard ground overlooking a swamp. on the high ground, manageable problems lend themselves to solution through the application of research-based theory and technique. In the swampy lowland, messy, confusing problems defy technical solution. The irony of this situation is that the problems of the high ground tend to be relatively unimportant to individuals or society at large, however great their technical interest may be; while in the swamp lie the problems of greatest concern. The practitioner must choose. Shall he remain on the high ground where he can solve the relatively unimportant problems according to prevailing standards of rigour, or shall he descend to the swamp of important problems and non-rigorous inquiry? (Schon, 1987)

linking it to Fawbert’s suggestion (2004: 28) that we are all working in the messy swamp of complex classroom practice, wheras many managers and evaluators measure what we are doing from the relative safety of high ground. Sarah asked us to consider what the messy swamp in our classroom practice is…

At the end of our walk we found ourselves on benches facing steps going down to the canal, which gave us an opportunity to rest and think back on our walk, and all the different things that had been raised about reflection on our teaching practice. As it is a bit like an amphitheatre we also briefly thought about Augusto Boal’s views on theatre as the art of becoming:

looking down on the canal as if its ever changing flow was a theatre

theatre is born when the human being discovers that it can observe itself… Observing itself, the human being perceives what it is, discovers what it is not and imagines what it could become. It perceives where it is and where it is not, and imagines where it could go (Boal, 1995: 13)

Not so far away from reflective practice, is it?

This also ties in with Palmer:

When I do not know myself, I cannot know who my students are, I will see them through a glass darkly, in the shadow of my unexamined life – and when I cannot see them clearly, I cannot teach them well. When I do not know myself, I cannot know my subject – not at the deepest levels of embodied, personal meaning. (Palmer, 1998: 2, cited in Day 2004: 52)

I went home with so much to think about, about my own teaching, about which elements I could use to make up my own reflective walk to make students think about their practice in a more reflective way. While Sarah is very lucky to have a lovely walk just outside the building she works in, I do believe that it is possible to translate the points she was making and the activities she used to develop our/the students reflective thinking pretty much to anywhere – with a little bit of care.

I’m so glad I made the trip to Huddersfield that day!