Archive

Tag Archives: thinking through writing and making

writing-pad-logo

Come and join us on November 8th 2016 at Middleport Pottery in Longport (near Stoke-on-Trent) to find out about using genre as pedagogcial resource. The first in a series of Writing-PAD events this academic year focusing on genre(s), this day introduces a theoretical framework for exploring genres and their affordances, including a recent example of how this can work as pedagogical practice. Via a tour of this very special venue, we will not only explore a valued English Heritage site, but also use this as a starting point for playing with the idea of genre and regenring in our own teaching practices. The day will also include the launch of the recently published book Writing Essays by Pictures by Alke Groppel-Wegener.

Cost £145 : Includes the whole day, with refreshments on arrival and in the afternoon, a delicious buffet lunch, a special tour of the venue and your own copy of Writing Essays by Pictures.

Book via Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/thinking-through-genre-exploring-genre-as-pedagogical-resource-tickets-28084047141?aff=eac2

(Draft) Programme:

10-10.30 Registration and Refreshments

  • Let’s start the day as we mean to continue by making our own name-tags – regenring a tiny part of conference/symposium tradition into something more expressive.

10.30-11 Welcome

11-12  Genre as Pedagogical Resource by Dr Fiona English

  • Fiona introduces a theory that could frame genre as pedagogical resource, updating thoughts from her book Student Writing and Genre.

12-12.30 Writing Essays by Pictures by Dr Alke Groppel-Wegener

  • Alke shares the story of the development of her recently published book Writing Essays by Pictures, an example of regenring the traditional study skills textbook into a picture/work-book.

12.30 – 1 Discussion

1-2      Lunch

2-3.30 The Pottery and beyond

  • Explore Middleport Pottery via a special tour and then use this experience to start thinking about ways of genring teaching practices.

3.30 – 4.15 Linking Theory and Practice

  • Fiona and Alke start us off using the Writing Essays by Picture books as an example to explore gains and losses of this particular regenring process to demonstrate an example of using the theoretical framework established at the beginning of the day. We will then move into the discussion of the outcomes of your genring activities.

4.15 – 4.45 Discussion of the day

4.45    End

The Speakers

Dr Fiona English is Honorary Senior Research Associate at UCL Institute of Education with a background in linguistics and language and literacies in education. Much of her research has been concerned with student writing and academic literacies, with her book Student Writing and Genre using a social semiotic perspective to explore the relationship between genre and the production of academic knowledge. More recently she has published Why do Linguistics?: Reflective Linguistics and the Study of Language with Tim Marr.

Dr Alke Groppel-Wegener is Associate Professor of Creative Academic Practice at Staffordshire University and a National Teaching Fellow. Having trained as a theatre designer but ending up teaching study skills, she became frustrated with the traditional ways of teaching academic practice, which has led her to develop her own approach being inspired by the creative processes of art and design and collated her strategies as Writing Essays by Pictures: A Workbook for students. She blogs at www.tactileacademia.com.

The Venue

Middleport Pottery is home to Burleigh Ware, which is still made on site using traditional craftsmanship. (And there is a shop where you can get your own Burleigh Ware, too). It was restored with the help of the Princes Regeneration Trust, has become a top visitor attraction and the home of The Great Pottery Throwdown.

It is a short walk from Longport Train Station, a 5 minute train ride from Stoke-on-Trent, and we would encourage participants to use public transport.

Please note that this is an old site and some of the areas are cobbled and might present a problem for people with mobility issues. It is advised that you wear sturdy shoes (no high heels) for the tour, and that you let the organiser know of mobility issues in advance, so that she can discuss your needs.

The Series

This exploratory workshop is the first in a series that will stretch through the academic year and culminate in a special issue of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice.

Through discussion within the Writing PAD community, we know that very often lecturers, and particularly practitioner/teachers, are doing a lot of interesting things in their teaching, but they seem to lack the confidence to share this work, specifically within the academic conventions of publication beyond a description of what they are doing.

To address this, we have decided to pick the focus of Genre, Genring and Regenring for this academic year, and are organising a series of events that will provide support for this issue and culminate in one (or possibly two) special issues of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, guest edited by Fiona English and Alke Groppel-Wegener.

The other events in planning are:

  • a first follow-up in February 2017 which explores the traditions and conventions of academic writing. There will be speakers in the morning, which are still to be confirmed, but we are talking to Julia Molinari, Lisa Clughen and Julia Lockheart, who will explore academic writing as a genre – and discuss the changes it is going through. The afternoon will be given over to a sharing session/exhibition where delegates have the opportunity to show off examples of their genre-ing and regenring practice, either as artefacts or in a poster format. The will allow the opportunity for people to share best practice, but also to get feedback and ideas for potential research designs in order to explore their practice more and on a more theoretical level. This event will probably be held at De Montford University in Leicester.
  • A second follow-up in the form of an academic conference, either at Easter time or early May 2017. Here people can share their practice in an academic format, and those presentations could use the feedback from the conference to inform papers for the Special Journal edition. This might be hosted at Nottingham Trent University or Staffordshire University.
  • If there is interest, there are plans for a writing retreat to facilitate the writing of the papers, possibly at Nottingham Trent University.

We are currently investigating funding to keep costs down, but it might be the case that we need to break even on this. You will not have to attend all these events to be considered for the special issue, but as we are trying to build up a mutually supporting network, it would be nice if you could come and join us at as many as possible.

Advertisements

Dear all,

I’m glad to announce that I have finished the workbook for students I have been talking about for years and that after the ‘test’ copies produced as part of last year’s Kickstarter campaign, an extended version of  “Writing Essays by Pictures: A Workbook” (ISBN 9780957665224) is now in print… just in time for all those lovely new first years arriving at Uni!

This is very much a development of the work I have been doing for the last few years, much of it chronicled on this blog, and it uses visual analogies to lead students through the process of writing essays at University. Find out more about its origins on the dedicated page here. Mainly designed for students to work through on their own, it could also be used in led workshops and is full of creative and visual ideas for teaching information and academic skills. It is priced at a level that hopefully many students will be able to afford to buy themselves, and I hope that some of you might add it to your reading lists to help students transition to writing at undergraduate level.

Available from all normal book suppliers from this week, list price £15, currently £12.99 on Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0957665229) or just £10 direct from the publisher (http://innovativelibraries.org.uk/press/thebooks/).

I am currently working with both the Writing PAD network and my fabulous publisher to organise some workshops for staff who want some more ideas how to use the material within in their teaching, which I will of course announce here once we have settled on dates.
Best wishes,

Alke

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)

In my teaching, I often talk about how useful it is to make as part of the process of both research and writing (and I know I am not the only one who tries to get students to do this). Students often see this as suggesting they take a detour of sorts, a process that doesn’t let them go to their perceived destination in a straight line (and this is very much linked to Lucy’s recent post on the creative process here). I think it is not taking a detour, but rather not letting them take shortcuts before they are ready for them. In order to take a shortcut, you need to be familiar with the original work, because otherwise you might cut something out of the process that later on will turn out to have been vital.

Unfortunately it is very easy to get used to taking the shortcut, especially if you are short on time and are familiar with the processes. In some situations this is fine, but there are projects where it is really worth taking the long way round. Here’s a recent example from my desk…

I am currently in the process of putting together a workbook on essay writing for students (as regular readers of this blog will know, and new readers can find out about here). It tries to explain academic practice through visual metaphors and also includes little making projects. I had wanted to do this for some time and had a first draft finished one-and-a-half-years ago, but the time wasn’t quite right to finish it until recently when I convinced myself to take the plunge and actually commit to it through a Kickstarter campaign.

And that really worked for me – it took the project idea and gave it some real deadlines, and promising to make something tangible to give to people who had pledged money for it was apparently just the right pressure I needed to make this actually happen. Putting the crowdfunding campaign together was a bit like putting together a research proposal/bid only writing in a way that was accessible to people and adding a video, and I can only recommend it. (I have also been asked to write a guest post on this for the Piirus Research Network, which I will do in due course.)

But what really surprised me was how useful it was to design and make the book itself. When I made the funding campaign live, I thought that I had the content pretty much nailed and that I only needed to do the layouts for it. I should explain that this wasn’t just a writing project for me, but also a design project.

Theoretical Jellyfish

Josh Filhol’s Theoretical Jellyfish

For the project I had tackled before, turning the Fishscale concept into a shareable resource, I had worked with a very talented illustrator and while that was a good working relationship, I found myself frustrated sometimes. And that wasn’t due to his work in any way, shape or form, it was because I felt like I wasn’t making it. It is not that I didn’t appreciate what another person – or in other circumstances a team – can bring to the table. I know that my illustrations wouldn’t have been as good, and there were also a number of things I would simply never have thought of in a million years (the theoretical jellyfish, for example). Plus, I didn’t really have the time to do this project back then, so if it hadn’t been for my illustrator this would never have seen the light of day.

But this new project I wanted to be ‘just mine’. I didn’t realise I felt this strongly about it until one of my colleagues from the Graphic Design department offered to design it for me. I just really wanted this to be my work. And when I thought about why I felt this strongly about it, I realised that I hadn’t really done a substantial project like this in a long time, while I had spent way too much time filling in all sorts of monitoring forms, putting together official documentation and writing research papers. Call me selfish, but I wanted to have some fun!

I also had some very specific ideas of how to design this. I wanted to illustrate it by collaging the patterns that can be found in envelopes from banks, etc. – and there are a lot of different patterns and colours if you start paying attention to these. I didn’t want to do it on the computer, I wanted to put together hardcopy artwork for each of the spreads. I wanted some of the text printed, but some of it to be hand-lettered. And I wanted to have this risographed, which is a particular printing process which means that I would have to do colour separations, too.

Work in Progress

Work in Progress

Anyway, these are just details you don’t really need to know for this story, what is important is that I didn’t want to take any shortcuts – and I ended up doing the illustration and layouting with the help of scissors and a glue stick, a rotring pen and a lightbox. And if you start working like this, your relationship with your content changes – and that also changes the content (well, it makes you change the content). You start thinking about text and images together – the layout makes you reconsider your text, maybe something needs to be cut so it fits or there is some more text needed somewhere else; the placement of illustrations changes according to the text you have, maybe to fit paragraphs, sometimes illustrations are just not right anymore and new ways of illustrating bits need to be found. Once I had gotten into the process, this became not just a slight revising of the content, a word here and another there, a sketch on this page moved to the next, no, I rewrote sections significantly. My introductory spread (the text of which you can find here), for example, hasn’t kept anything of the draft I started the design process out with – it’s a different text, it’s different artwork – and it uses a different way to explain the whole thing.

The scary thing is that if I hadn’t gone through the process myself, if I had handed my text and sketches of the images off to somebody else, this wouldn’t have happened. The book would have my original introduction in it, maybe slightly rewritten and certainly a bit pruned, but it would have remained the old version – and the new one is just better (even if I say so myself). The process of designing as well as the time I spent physically making the hardcopies of the colour separations changed not just the appearance but also the content, it gave my thoughts an opportunity to develop further, which has made a better workbook in the end. Not taking the shortcut has meant ending up somewhere slightly different than I expected to, somewhere I believe is better, because sometimes it is worth investing the time to take the long way round.

from Sue Challis

 

Introduction
These notes are from initial research explorations of the value of collage both as an aid to problem-solving and as an extension to thinking and learning. They are also part of my unpublished PhD thesis (Maximising impact: connecting creativity, participation and impact in the qualitative evaluation of creative community projects: Coventry University, School of Geography, Environment and Disaster Management 2014).

I became interested in the potential for collage to become part of formative or summative evaluations following my attendance at a Higher Education Academy workshop on collage (Thinking Through Writing and Making, HEA Workshop, Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent, 29 March 2012) when I experienced collage as a problem-solving technique, and through continuing contact with Alke Groppel-Wegener through the Tactile Academia blog, which explores the value of creativity as an aid to academic writing and thinking.

These brief exercises came from the need to formulate recommendations about evaluation strategies which would be feasible for small to medium-sized community projects in less formal or skilled contexts than my own research field trials. I was interested not only in the value of collage but also in the degree to which the method would engage participants outside of a group or creative project context. Participants were asked to complete a problem-solving collage at home and in an academic lecture. I have also included the collage activity which I took part in which prompted my interest in the technique as a research method. Although these are by no means formal research interventions and thus results are only indicative, they are recorded here to suggest the value of further research into the relationship of resistance or willingness to engage with creative techniques to other factors. These might include the type of activities, technologies and materials, the type of participants, and the contexts and skills of implementation. The examples below also suggest that willingness to engage with creative activity and its impact are related to prior experiences and self-narrratives.

 

Example 1 Collage as an aid to problem-solving

(six adult volunteers, examples from two feedbacks)
I asked six adult volunteers, chosen arbitrarily from my own neighbours and friends but excluding arts professionals, to ‘think of a seemingly intractable problem, work-related or personal, and make a collage while you are thinking about it’. I gave or posted them bags of very similar and random materials (images, text, textiles, stationery) to work on in their own time. For some participants, the task seemed very daunting and slightly odd. Two people returned the bag, both saying that they felt , ‘too un-artistic’ to attempt it by themselves. Four people made collages. I asked them to tell me or write a short account of the process, commenting on how they felt when doing it and what impact it had on their thinking or problem-solving. Figures 1 and 2 are examples of two collages; their makers’ comments follow; and Figure 3 is an example of my own work, made at a Higher Education Academy workshop on collage (Exploring Layers of Meaning, HEA Workshop, University of Chester, Chester, 26 March 2012).

Figure 1 Problem-solving collage (A4 size) Participant 1, adult female)

Figure 1 Problem-solving collage (A4 size)
(Participant 1, adult female)

Text 1

Comments on problem solving collage Figure 1 (above). Participant 1, adult, female.

Extract from email from participant 8.8.13, 22:23

“Subject: Re: Collage”

“The collage was about the assessment of the mental health of a teenager who is extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation. She has been groomed/ lured by a paedophile ring and given drugs. She takes many drugs. She frequently threatens suicide. She is very verbally abusive to those who try to care for her because of her abuse in her own family of origin. The collage also deals with the response of organisations surrounding the girl and the difficulties in their relationships with each other. The hanged figure represents both the girl and another worker caught up on the turmoil surrounding her. The orange jagged line represents the panic. The Arabic script triangles/ shards represent the impossibility of putting our concern/ her situation/ our situation into meaningful language. The heads represent workers minds making different sense of her experience and our response to her experience. The blank spaces in the heads represent divided minds and the unknown of our own minds hidden from ourselves and from each other.

“Doing the collage helped me stand back from the situation and look at it differently. I had felt overwhelmed by the situation and by my feelings. The collage helped me feel more analytic. It also helped me see parallels between the girl and the worker, both of whom stir up my pity and also my frustration.

“As you know, I hung onto the collage bag for a long time before I felt I had a problem or could see how the collage might help. I was so challenged by this incident at work, which seemed impossible to resolve, that I thought I might as well do it, with no expectation of it working! The pictures and text which had meant nothing before I started to think about the issue seemed to become very relevant when I began to use them for the collage.

PS you know I can bullshit at length!”

Figure 2 Problem-solving collage (A3 size) (Participant, adult male)

Figure 2 Problem-solving collage (A3 size)
(Participant, adult male)

Text 2 Comments on problem solving collage Figure 2, Participant 2, adult, male;

Extracts from researcher’s notes of informal interview 17.11.13

Researcher (R): How did you feel about the collage before you started it ?
Participant (P): I was reluctant to do this – I was ready to email you and say I wasn’t going to do it, then your reminder came…I don’t really have any problems to solve…I felt that it was a waste of time. I didn’t like the blank page of it, the open-endedness of it…I’m a non-arty person. I am not a person who does collage.
R: But you did do it in the end ?
P: Yes, the only way I could do it was, I put on some choral music which I like, I do listen to music sometimes but most of the time I am doing something purposeful…I had to have something else in my head to get going on it or it would seem like a waste of half an hour.

R: Can you describe your collage?
P: I chose the maps because I like maps and I made a river there, and the string follows the route because that’s how I measure my route on a map anyway…, the dots and maps had a meaning for me, I made the dots into arrows and each arrow gets bigger – that’s me deciding on a line, choosing a direction to go in in life and discarding the things that didn’t have meaning for me…

R: What interested you most about doing the collage?
P: Well… as I was, as I was trying to do it I found myself interested in the way I was selecting things, how I discard some things, like, I am someone who tries, and I try to persuade other people to do this too, to move on, to select a way forward and put the other possibilities, which we have decided not to do, onto one side, to discard them and move on. …So when I started this I realised that it was more about the process of how I solve problems than a particular problem, I discard the irrelevant stuff more than other people I think, then I don’t worry about it. It was like acting out something about myself. I had to decide, select what side of the paper I would keep and which bit discard or hide, it was all about selection…This became pleasurable when I had some idea of where I was going with it…
R: What are these two piles?
P: Well I , these are the things I didn’t want – the discard piles – I stuck them there, it’s only stuff I didn’t want, it might be important to someone else…As I was getting into it…I did start to enjoy doing it… I was thinking about myself, about getting somewhere, solving problems. I saw the solving problem part was about discarding what you don’t need and assembling a way forward, only in the abstract, honing down and selecting to get somewhere. I feel strong, it’s something that works for me… so I was mirroring what I do. When I got the idea of the map or journey I really did enjoy it.
R: Most people throw away the discards. You have stuck them on the collage. Was there a reason for that ?
P: Well, it’s…I suppose it’s because it’s not foolproof…the process of deciding to keep the discards… they are worth keeping, that’s my readiness to admit I’m wrong or go back and look at things again, other options. I think I’m visualising something, the process of keeping the discard, something about myself I hadn’t put into words really before…

 

Example 2 Collage as an aid to problem-solving (researcher’s own activity)
During the second year of my research I attended a Higher Education Academy workshop on collage (Writing in Creative Practice: Exploring Layers of Meaning, HEA Workshop, University of Chester, 26 March 2013) and made a collage myself which was a significant help in solving my own problem of making the transition from community arts practitioner to academic writer. This extract from a journal article written at the time (and subsequently incorporated into reflections in the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice) sums up the value of the collage to me, particularly the process of selection from random materials. As Butler-Kisber says: “Novel juxtapositions and/or connections, and gaps or spaces, can reveal both the intended and the unintended” (Butler-Kisber 2008: 269):

Figure 3 Problem-solving collage (researcher - artist, adult female)

Figure 3 Problem-solving collage
(researcher – artist, adult female)

“I made a 3D collage bag (Fig 3) about my problems with academic writing. A phrase from the provided text sprang at me: ‘… that idea kept back …’ (I think from a Conrad story), and leafing through the collage materials I chanced upon a map showing the house I was born in: as the Quakers say, these two finds ‘spoke to my condition’, helped me understand my reluctance to commit to a genre of writing that seemed to obliterate me and strengthened my resolve to understand how writing might become both academic and creative.

“Specifically, to see the relevance of the …[creative]…process to the wider debate about academic writing and creativity, and, more urgently, to the tensions I embodied trying to understand where my own creativity sat in (what are for me) the arduous and sometimes opaque protocols of academic discourse. Although I had long been familiar with John Wood’s ‘Critique of the Culture of Academic Rigour’ (2000), encountering the Writing PAD project through a ‘hands on’ HEA seminar was the trigger for this: it gave me permission to regard my own creative activity as a way of knowing”.
Challis, S (2013: 189-190)
Example 3 Collage as a means to extend thinking time

(65 undergraduate, third-year Geography students, 15 Youth and Community Work students, Coventry University 2012 and 2013)

At the start of two, two-hour lectures entitled ‘Visual and creative research methodologies’ I gave each Geography student an envelope containing a similar range of collage materials (text, images, fabric, paper, scissors, glue) and explained that the intention was to explore the idea that concentrating on making a collage whilst listening to complex new ideas would support understanding (Butler-Kisber 2008).This activity was drawn from my own experience at the HEA workshop described above. While they worked in silence on their individual collage books (folded paper) I gave a lecture about a range of visual and creative methods, using digital slides, occasionally asking them to ‘look up now’. At the end of the session we discussed their experience and at the start of the second session (a week later) had a brief group discussion reflecting on its impact. I made notes from this discussion but there was no further follow-up as it was the last session of term in each case. This was by no means a satisfactory research exercise, having no means to measure changes in concentration or learning. However, as an activity suggestive of further research, I have included it here for its relevance to issues of resistance to and acceptance of creative methods, rather than the light it sheds on collage as an aid to thinking. Further research might include a questionnaire reflecting on self-reported change and feedback from other lecturers.

For Youth and Community Work students I was restricted to one two-hour session which was less formal (for example, sitting in a circle rather than in a lecture theatre). I introduced the session as above, but invited students to select collage material from a wide range laid out on a table. Students made collage books while I gave a presentation about visual and creative methodologies. The making was followed by a group discussion and some people shared their books.

 

Figure 4 Collage made referring to content of lecture (A4 folded paper) (Geography student, male)

Figure 4 Collage made referring to content of lecture (A4 folded paper)
(Participant, geography student, male)

Text 3 Researcher’s observations from notes made after each Geography student session

(two sets of two, two-hours teaching sessions, with collage in first session of each set; November 2012, November 2013):

Some students made work clearly referring to the lecture content (Figure 4 ); these sometimes used text or phrases from the lecture or commented on it. For example, one male student made an image of his children learning “arts as well as sciences: I want them to have both to be whole people, not like me I just did sciences”, rather wistfully adding, “I haven’t got any children yet” (Researcher notes from group discussion). Others made collages clearly relating to feelings . A male student made a page, (Figure 5 ), with fierce concentration while listening to a video clip of a woman describing her experience of domestic violence. He commented: “I was feeling strong feelings while I was listening, it was quite upsetting really. I wasn’t really thinking about the drawing”. My interpretation of the drawing was that it reflected his turbulent feelings through colour and markmaking, and intensity through strength of physical gesture (pressure on page and over drawing). As such, it might offer a useful prompt to further discussion or thinking. In both classes a student stapled his finished book together and said that it was ‘private’. This could suggest that personal feelings had been expressed (although these may simply have been critical of the process or ‘rude’).

Figure 5 Made whilst listening to video clip about domestic violence (A5) (Geography student, male)

Figure 5 Made whilst listening to video clip about domestic violence (A5)
(Participant, geography student, male)

Mixed gender groups (marginally more female). In each group all but three students participated (five male, one female). There were varying degrees of willingness to take part. In the final discussions several students (about 5/35) said they found the process “useless”, “a distraction” or “pointless”; a similar number said it was “interesting”, “enjoyable” and they could “see the point”. In each session five people were willing to ‘share’, that is, show and talk about, their own collage, usually describing what it represented to them and how they felt making it. The people who shared made broadly positive comments about the activity (for example, that they ’enjoyed’ it). Six students (three in each group) said they felt that the activity had improved their concentration. In both groups several students said that they had been repeatedly told off in school for persistently doodling during lessons. They related doodling to a way of improving their concentration and ‘enjoyed’ the collage activity.
There was no way of telling if this activity did improve concentration, although the self-report of a small number of students might suggest so in some cases. However, as a ‘pilot’ for the method with a large group, including many adult males (missing from most of my previous research which was mainly with teenage boys and adult women) it was indicative: My informal observations suggested that more female students found it easier to attempt and to enjoy the activity, but I cannot be sure this was true without further research. More male students voiced their reluctance, but there could be many reasons for this. Resistance to participation was linked in discussion either to lack of commitment to qualitative methods (many of the students were using exclusively quantitative methods in their own research and had not used qualitative methods before), or to reluctance to do an arts-based activity because of lack of skill or experience. Where there was reluctance, I did not feel that it was the ‘open-endedness’ per se which was a barrier, rather a lack of belief in the usefulness of the method generally, or for themselves in particular.

Figure 6 Collage made expressing personal feelings (A5) (Youth Work student, female)

Figure 6 Collage made expressing personal feelings (A5)
(Participant, youth work student, female)

The Youth and Community Work students (also mixed gender, mainly female) were generally more receptive to the collage making, and many of them in discussion could relate it to activities they might carry out in their own professional practice and qualitative research. They saw it much more as a prompt for discussion than an aid to concentration than the Geography students, although several did relate it to doodling as means of concentrating, and most said they ’enjoyed’ the activity. All students in this group shared their collage in the discussion: one student who had stapled his closed, explained this as an expression of specific feelings relating to self-disclosure rather than the activity. Several students in this group made collages about personal feelings unrelated to the lecture (Figure 6). On the whole, I felt that there was less resistance to the activity in this group; but again, this informal interpretation suggests a number of more specific lines of enquiry, about prior experience, current skills, gender, age, ethnicity and so on.

Tentative conclusions indicative of need for further research

In the first problem-solving collage activity, Example 1, participants expressed reluctance to participate connected with not regarding themselves as ‘artistic’ or being convinced about the method. I also think that a self-consciousness about participating in a ‘soft’, reflective activity underlies the comment in Text 1, ‘I can bullshit at length’.

In all cases, the extent to which participants identify themselves as ‘arty’ impacts on willingness to engage (‘I am not a person who does collage’ Text 2); as does prior experience of qualitative research methods. Gauntlett suggests that willingness to engage with creative activity and its impact are related to prior experiences and self-narrratives (Gauntlett 2011). There are perhaps a whole raft of other contingent and structural factors related both to personalities and context. These could be subject to research enquiry in a number of feasible ways.

However, I would suggest that in all the examples shown here, where there has been an engagement with the process, these impacts could be inferred from discussion and examination of the collages to be possible pathways for further research:

1. Contribution to understanding of self or problem solving not available by other means (Texts 1-3)
2. Expression of feelings in a different (not verbalised) way (Figures 5 and 6)
3. Figure 4 also suggests that collage is not necessarily a distraction from new learning. Combined with the comments in Text 2, I relate this to the physical process of selecting and discarding, combining and juxtaposing, in other words, to the embodied enactment of thinking.

Sue Challis
REFERENCES

Butler-Kisber, L (2010) Qualitative Inquiry: thematic, narrative and Arts-Informed Perspectives London, Sage
Challis (2013) Sketchbook Postal Exchange Journal of Writing in Creative Practice Vol 6 No 2 London, Intellect

Gauntlett, D (2011) Making is Connecting :the social meaning of creativity from DIY to knitting and YouTube to Web 2.0 Cambridge, Polity Press