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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.

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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…