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A bit more than two years ago, Fiona English and myself were asked by Julia Lockheart, the editor of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, whether we would be interested in guest editing a Special Issue on Genre and Regenring for that publication. A themed workshop and conference, as well as months of editing work later, not one, but two issues are now published (Volume 11: Numbers 1 and 2), by us jokingly referred to as the Chicken and the Egg issue respectively.

This seemed like a good point for us two co-guest-editors to reflect on the process, so here a conversation that we had one September morning, in case you are interested in our thoughts on the process, the idea of using two different forms of editorial (one traditional, one as an abecedary) and whether we would change anything.

Find out more about Issue 1 (the Chicken) here.

Find out more about Issue 2 (the Egg) here.

(This was a typed chat, and I have tried to get rid of typos but have not changed grammar or structure of the unscripted exchange.)

Cover image for the two Special Issues on Genre and Regenring

Alke: So, the two issues are out and I thought it would just be a nice idea if we reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Do you think we achieved what we wanted to do?

Fiona: I’m actually really proud of these two issues. The range and quality of the articles is fantastic – so interesting to read and so well written. The production side too is great. They look and feel good in the hand.

Alke: I agree, as the physical things, the journals worked out really well. Now for me this was one of the surprising things – that I always thought of the journals as a physical entity, but that is not how the publisher saw them, they see them as separate articles… that took me a while to realise. If we had thought about them like this, would we have done anything differently, do you think?

Fiona: Yes I know what you mean. The on-line article as stand-alone access makes the experience quite different. I don’t think we would have done anything differently in this particular case nor do I think we should have. The flow of the physical versions works really well and hopefully people will actually get to see this. However, if we do another thing like this we might think about it differently and provide a different kind of threading to preface each article. Maybe that’s something we could do in any case? If the publisher let us.

Alke: I’m not sure we should volunteer any more work on this, to be honest 😉 And I really like them as a collection – I think this is where the value of this lies, to see the different ways of using genre side by side, in a way. I seem to remember that one of the things we wanted to do at the beginning was give people the confidence to try out more and to take more ownership (shouting about?) the practice they were already doing, almost giving them a theory to be able to justify their playing with genre as a ‘serious’ thing – and I think that this collection does show that off, and hopefully does that.

Fiona: I agree – and I’m certain this has been achieved. I’m glad we pushed some people to write differently while leaving others to their own devices. It means that we have a range of genres which then means that readers can consider the affordances of each as they read. What do you think about setting up a kind of feedback forum? Getting readers’ responses to the different articles with regard to how the genres used impacted on their reading and on their attitude to the ‘knowledge’ being explored/developed.

Alke: I think that would be really interesting – maybe I could ask for that at the end of this blog post and also ask the contributors to add to.

Fiona: Yes great. It could also comprise an element of any seminar/party we might plan for the future.

Alke: I love it! A feedback party instead of a launch!

Fiona: It would be good to get feedback on people’s own attitudes to alternative genres for academic production and how they might be valid in the context of REF!!! And yes, a feedback party –

Alke: I think we might have found our angle for the follow-up event! Now, we also played with genre, not just in our own, separate contributions, but in the two editorials… which in a way are very different…

Fiona: Yes I’ve been thinking of the differences in experience doing them. The essential difference in terms of process is that one is a kind of narrative – it tells a story in a chronological order so to speak. The second works as a kind of glossary – explanation of terms of ref or rather concepts that are explored across the issues – and as such required a different kind of thinking – explanations and definitions rather than narrative. We had to say more about our frames of reference in the second one and more about the journal as a flow in the first. Is that right?

Alke: In a way, yes. I have to admit that I (maybe naively) had thought that the abecedary would be so much easier to do as a format than it actually was. In the end figuring out what to include and what not, and having the constraints of the alphabet was a really interesting challenge!

Fiona: the abecedary was a challenge for sure – but a very interesting one as it forced us to foreground concepts and key issues and to use the alphabetic constraints to think of fresh ways for describing/defining them. In other words, the affordances of each genre ensured that we approached the same information differently and in the process of so doing produced different ways of articulating it. This made us rethink – always a good thing.

Alke:: Exactly. And I am really glad that we decided on taking on that challenge rather than going for something like a conversation (which we had also considered), especially because it made us think about the content more in terms of definitions, rather than just rehashing the narrative in a two-person narrative way!

Fiona: Yes – that’s very true. And it was fun too! Playing around trying to find a way of using all the letters – only one cheat with the X.

Alke: Thinking about it, I think we could have made ‘xerography’ work… the idea of copying stuff, or not, would have worked int the context of gains and losses!

Fiona: xerography – yeah – but then we’d not have had ‘eXpectations’ – though we’d probably have squeezed that in elsewhere. Gains and Losses – yes – that’s true. What do you think these were between the two editorials?

Alke: Well, the first editorial gives much more background info as to how these issues came about, while the abecedary only really mentions the workshop and conference in passing. But they were both really important events. And, as you say, the second one is much more about definitions, being clear about what we are talking about and mean, which is easy to gloss over in a way when you are writing a narrative.

Fiona: Yes I agree. The first one tells the story of how things came about and why and how the journal is organised. It makes an easier read, probably, as a whole because it does what people expect despite the informal tone we use. It is also more effective in profiling the different articles because they are introduced within a narrative structure. This is the story of how we got together and this is the story of how we got the contributions for these special issues and this is the story of how the issues have been organised. The Issue One editorial had to go first – the chicken before the egg otherwise readers would have been totally confused.

Alke: LOL

Fiona: t’ll be interesting to get feedback from the readers/contributors of Issue Two about how they feel about the editorial. They won’t have seen the first one.

Alke: That’s a really good point! I hadn’t even considered that!

Fiona: No nor had I until we started this discussion. (the affordances of a dialogic genre 😉

Alke: 🙂   Would we change it if we had to do it again? Or better: is there anything we would change?

Fiona: That’s a good question. Did we point out in the Egg that we had done a different kind of editorial for the Chicken? I can’t remember. I think we saw them as two sides of the same coin and forgot that not everyone would read everything. Again, back to the thing about single article purchases too!

Alke: let me just check…We do mention it under ‘A is for abstract’ – sort of. Phew!

Fiona: That’s lucky – or rather not lucky – we took it into account. It’s amazing how quickly one (I, that is) forgets what one’s done almost as soon as you turn over onto the next page! I constantly have to keep checking back in things I’ve written to see what I said about something.

Alke: Well, I guess that comes with doing a lot of things. And once they are published, on file, so to speak, you don’t need to keep the details in your head, because you can just check back. but I think it is a really interesting point, that we didn’t just conceive this as a physical journal, but as a double issue, and didn’t really ever saw them as split up!

Fiona: That’s right!

Alke: maybe that means we misjudged our audience?

Fiona: Hum – yes perhaps. Not our audience exactly, but how our audience might read. This is food for thought. What we did with these two Issues could never be done via the on-line single purchase approach. We thought of these issues as if they were a book – a complete thing. That’s indeed what they are. The market forces behind the publishers, though, see/treat everything as stand-alone. It’s the same with modular university degrees. The idea that there is no need for an overall view/story but that things can just exist – contextless and floating out alone. In fact, the publisher’s approach militates against special issues!

Alke: I think you are right. In the book I just wrote they asked for each chapter to have its own separate bibliography so that the chapters could be sold separately (we decided to ignore that request for now…), but that changes the whole argument you can make and splits it into bite-sized chunks.Some things you want to say are bigger than that!

Fiona: Absolutely – this is a problem indeed and one which, in my view, leads to people picking up fag ends as the saying goes. In other words, piecemeal knowledge – knowledge with no context – in other words, not knowledge!

Alke: In fact, I think if at the beginning of this process somebody had told me to edit a collection of separate but related journal articles, I don’t think I would have been up for that! It is that context that makes it interesting and useful!

Fiona: Me neither. The whole pleasure of it was to put together a unified piece of work not lots of separate pieces of work.

Alke: So hopefully people will read both issues and not just pick out the odd article!

Fiona: I do hope so.

Alke: Anyway, anything else we would change?

Fiona: I don’t think so. For me the contributors have done a fantastic job in honing their articles not just in terms of academic content but in style and voice more so than in most other journal articles. I think they also saw themselves as working as part of a whole too. I mean they understood what they were writing to be a contribution to an overall story too. I think we got the range and balance right too across each issue.

Alke: Yes, I agree. I wouldn’t change the content. However – and this totally shows my roots as a designer – if I had realised how easy it was to change the cover image, I would have asked for two different ones: one of the furoshiki laid out, so you could see it whole, and one of it wrapped up, rather than combining those two ‘states’ into one image. but then maybe that would have put too much focus on that one artefact? Anyway, just a tiny thing with hindsight 😉

Fiona: Yes – that would have been good. And I don’t think it would have put too much onto the one piece. I think it would have perfectly represented regenring. But tant pis! They are still beautiful objects these two issues.

 

Find out more about Issue 1 (the Chicken) here.

Find out more about Issue 2 (the Egg) here.

 

If you have read both, one or just parts of these special issues, please comment on this post with some feedback about the above topics or others!

One of the reasons that this blog has been fairly quiet over the last few months, is that Fiona English and myself are in the process of co-guest editing two special issues of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice. We are really excited about the mix of content, which represents a number of genres as well as discuss using genres in teaching and learning. (Of course I will let you know when the issues are actually out, one of them is going to print soon, the other is about to enter the typesetting stage.)

a preview of the cover image for the forthcoming journal issues

So when we heard that EAP in the North were running a workshop on Exploring Genre(s) specifically in the context of the creative arts, we thought this was an excellent occassion to visit the University of Edinburgh and chat a little bit about our expertise in this and check out what other people are doing.

It was such a lovely event, and I was reminded of our own ReGenre conference last year (indeed, one of the attendees of that event was here giving us an opportunity to catch up), because it was run in a way to allow for lots of sharing and discussion along the way.

Alex Collins from the University of Edinburgh showed us how he engages art history students with core skills via workshops that are backed up with his online Art History Toolkit (check it out here, but be aware that he might ‘wipe’ content in preparation for the new term to then populate it again as the term progresses – though he is currently looking at other ways of running this, and I really do hope it’ll become a permanent resource for all of us to dip into – there is lots of good stuff here, not just for art history students!).

Clare Carr was talking about some of the different genres music students at Durham University are being asked to write in – and wondered whether assignment setters need to be more precise about how they brief and also describe the genres they are actually after. The term ‘essay’ means many things to many people!

This linked in perfectly for an exploration of what an ‘essay’ is or could be – and the Dress-up Doll of Formality exercise I introduced delegates to. After some fast and furious discussion and outfit drawing on the tables, the sharing with solutions of the group was rich (and we are hoping to get the produced images up on the EAP in the North website). This short taste of regenring was a great lead into a quick overview of Fiona’s work – and of course us talking a bit about the forthcoming special issues.

After a short refreshment break, Clare Maxwell was talking about writing genres specifically within Design in her work at the University of Leeds, genres that are very often located in the overlap of academic, vocational and creative work – but sometimes difficult to locate in publications of designers (that old theory/practice divide is still coming up it seems). One of the issues of discussion following on from Clare’s talk was the role of ‘I’ in writing – and the necessity of authors to be aware of what it does.

We then broke off into small groups, where some people had brought ideas to share and discuss. In the group I joined, Anna Rolinska laid out her plans for a Pre-Sessional English for Creative Disicplines course at Glasgow School of Art, which was fascinating, with all of the group then sharing ideas, which hopefully gave Anna some more inspiration. I hope she will write a little post on this later in the year.

Most of us ended up in the pub for a drink and more chat afterwards. On top of everything else, it was a gorgeous day – Thank You to Alison Thomas and her team for organising such a fabulous event!

The setting for the workshop was this lovely campus, need I say more?

(Last) Call for Papers – final deadline 15th August 2017
For a special issue of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice guest edited by Dr Fiona English and Dr Alke Groppel-Wegenerwe are currently looking for submissions that celebrate the practice of genring and regenring. Even though the journal title includes ‘creative practice’, these examples do not have to come from a creative practice background (as we would argue that genring and regenring could be seen as a creative practice by itself). You also do not have to have been present at the workshop and conference we have been running on this subject – if you are doing any sort of genring and/or regenring we would love to hear from you!
We would suggest the following formats:
Examples focusing on the process of (re)genring
We want to showcase a selection of genring and regenring practice, based on a template – see my recent post on this blog giving a bit more information on the template here (and email me (Alke) on tactileacademia[at]gmail.com for what information is needed if you want to contribut an example).
The examples should be focused on the process of (re)genring and should concentrate on one outcome genre only. They are not about the assessment, module or unit, but about the genre itself.
Case Studies
Between 2000 and 3000 words, these should be description and analysis of examples of your practice. These should be wider in scope than the examples.
Full Papers
Between 5000 and 7000 words, these should contain theoretical discussions that take the subject beyond the examples and case studies.
Reviews
Have been to an event linked to genre, genring or regenring recently? Want to review an outstanding example you have come across? These are usually between 500 and 2000 words.
As this issue is celebrating reGenring we are, of course, open to genres other than the academic paper. However, please keep in mind when planning your submission that we are constrained by the format of the journal, and the JoWiCP in particular.
This means:
  • landscape orientation of pages (we can probably somewhat play with their standard layout, but only with good reason)
  • pictures need to work in black and white as we cannot guarantee them being printed in colour (although in the online version they would be in colour). Please ensure that you have ownership, or have obtained copyright clearance for any image submitted.
We would suggest that submissions that don’t follow the traditional academic paper genre are bookended by an academic abstract (about 150 words) that explains the chosen genre and the reasons for choosing it and a conventional bibliography. We will be using Intellect publishers style guide, which you can download here.
We will also need an author biography of 50-100 words with all submissions.
All articles submitted should be original work and must not be under consideration by other publications.
Journal contributors will receive a free PDF copy of their final work upon publication. Print copies of the journal may also be purchased by contributors at half price.
Final deadline for submissions (via tactileacademia[at]gmail.com) is 15th August 2017.

Last week was a crazy week for me, but the highlight undoubtedly was the ReGenring Academic Writing and Assessment conference I co-organised at Nottingham Trent University.  (And as co-organiser I might be slightly biased as to how fabulous an event it was…) I promised to write this up quickly for some people who couldn’t join us, so here are my impressions of the day:

The Trent Institute for Learning and Teaching that was hosting us had booked us into a great lecture theatre in their conference centre in the Newton Building. This location worked really well, apart from the fact that they don’t allow you to put up your own signage. Official signage apparently has to be ordered weeks in advance, and we didn’t quite make that deadline, so in a way the day must have started for many people with the challenge to find the room…

But find it they did and then delegates were immediately set the task of making their own name tags, my favourite way to start a workshop. Turns out it also works for a conference. With more delegates than I had previously worked with coming, I had been a bit worried whether we would have enough ‘making’ space, but people seemed to make good use of the set up table and then drift over to continue started conversations on the other tables once their name tag was finished.

some of the things I cam home with

After a brief welcome by my co-organiser Lisa Clughen and myself, we started off with a talk by Julia Molinari about what makes our writing academic. This was a great start to the formal part of the day, as it set out a theoretical background for the question of where academic writing sits within the production, reflection and dissemination of knowledge – and whether it is the only way of doing these things. Julia argued for diversity within work with examples from long ago (Galileo argued his findings as a conversation) and from right now (and one of her examples, Nick Sousanis, we would hear from directly later on). What I took from her talk was questioning the contexts of ‘theory’ and ‘academia’ – and becoming more aware of the differences of these contexts (which might in turn help to break down the traditions of the latter).

After this theoretical grounding, we moved into the practice when David Hindley and Lisa Clughen talked about student perceptions and experiences of academic blogging. This was a reflection on the evaluation of one of Dave’s modules that asks students to write an academic blog post of 600 words as an assessment instead of an essay – plus making 3 informed comments on posts their peers put up. I was really interested in this, as it is a very different way of using blogging than I use (I use it to formatively prepare research for an essay at the end). Introducing the comments as a way of engaging the students beyond their own research seemed to work very well, and what also was interesting was that all students contribute to the same blog, hosted by Dave, so he is the person that posts the contribution, so he de facto becomes the editor, which allows to cut out concerns about students posting inappropriate material. While these practical aspects were interesting, the findings from the evaluation, which included questionnaires and focus groups, really were the star of this talk. They showed how students were not only feeling empowered by this way of contributing to debates in their field, but also how they found the joy in the research and writing. Clearly this works!

Nick talking about his first comic ‘Lockerman’

Our third keynote speaker, Nick Sousanis, gave a very eloquent and entertaining whistle-stop tour of his work, with specific focus on Unflattening. I have mentioned this book on this blog before, and if you haven’t looked at it yet, you should really get it! Nick’s subtitle for his talk was ‘reimagining scholarship through comics’ and he also talked about some work he does with students who are not confident when it comes to drawing, but that the format of comics – the combination of text and images, but particularly layout of pages within and around the boxes and the gutter – is a rich environment to explore when you are exploring what you are trying to “say”.

After all this food for thought, we needed some actual food and therefore relocated to a room a floor above to have lunch. I wasn’t really at lunch, as I was setting up the afternoon session, but when I popped up to grab a sandwich it was great to see how many people were sitting together and talking with each other.

While the morning had been carefully scheduled, we had planned the afternoon as a ‘Sharing Session’. Whenever I am going to events like this, it often seems like there is too little time to think and talk through the presented ideas. So instead of planning more formal presentations, we had put out a ‘Call for Practice’ so that people who are using alternative genre as assessments or in teaching could self-nominate and bring some materials to share with interested delegates. As we were particularly interested in the process of (re)genring, I had designed a simple template that I fed the information I had from people into, so that everybody who had responded to the Call for Practice could have a poster made that showed off ‘their’ genre within a very simple theoretical framework (looking at the gains and losses – I think I’ll blog about the details of this separately in the next few days). So when people drifted back into the room after lunch (or after going for a walk, or visiting the local comic book store), we had the posters set up and the people who had brought examples, etc. started to show off their practice. This worked really well, there was a lot of conversation around the room, clustered around posters as well as continuing conversations around the tables. We didn’t just have tea, coffee and cake, TILT had also sprung for some prosecco (particular thanks to Lisa for this brilliant idea!), so it really felt like a celebration.

Nick then led us in his Grids and Gestures drawing exercise. This was something he had mentioned in the morning, when we didn’t have the time for it. And it turned out to be the perfect thing for the afternoon, drawing together the sharing session with an activity (must remember that for the next conference!). If you want to know more about Grids and Gestures – and maybe do your own -, check out Nick’s blog here or his write-up of the activity in the SANE journal here.

We ended the day with Fiona English drawing the different strands together in a plenary. She reflected on the richness that using different genres allow to communicate (and produce) research, and that maybe investigating genring and regenring within a theoretical framework will allow us to convince the sceptics about the usefulness of this as a process.

I wanted to end this post by telling you about feedback bunting, but I’m already over 1000 words, so will leave that, too, for another post on another day. But I do want to say thank you to all the people who came to this day and made it so successful, and particularly to Lisa, my co-organiser! One of the feedback comments ended with “more please!!!” – we will try our best!

 

We have now confirmed our other speakers for the morning of the reGenring conference.

Julia Molinari will ask ‘What Makes our writing academic?’

In this talk, I would like to explore in what sense a text that does not follow established conventions of English Academic Discourse (EAD) can be considered ‘academic’? I will argue that such a text can be academic not in virtue of its textual features or of its modes, but in virtue of the extent to which it fulfils an academic purpose and practice. I will draw on theories of multimodality (A. Archer & E. Breuer, 2016), of higher education (Barnett, 1990, 2012, 2013; Besley & Peters, 2013) but also of the philosophy of sociology (Winch, 1990) to argue that since creativity, imagination and argumentation are amongst the purposes and practices of a higher education, then we need to look beyond language – understood as just one of many modes – to more fully fulfil the range of our academic aims.

David Hindley and Lisa Clughen will present on ‘Student perceptions and experiences of academic blogging: some reflections on the use of blogs as a way of fostering greater student engagement, collaboration, and ownership of learning’

This paper takes the standpoint that academic blogging offers precisely the type of inclusive writing genre and inclusive environment for writing development that Elbow (2014) advocates. It is informed by a mixed-method research project which analyses the use of blogs as a formative part of the assessment within a final year undergraduate module, Contemporary Issues in Sports Practice.

Finalised programme to follow soon, in the meantime, don’t forget to check out our other speaker here and the Call for Practice here (which is still open). Book your place here before it is too late!

Cover of Unflattening

I am happy to announce that Dr Nick Sousanis, author of the wonderful Unflattening, is going to be one of our invited speakers in the morning of the ReGenring conference at Nottingham Trent (see here for the Call for Practice). The title of his talk will be ‘Unflattening: reimagining scholarship through comics’ . Instead of an abstract, have a look at this page of Unflattening

Page 64 of Unflattening by Nick Sousanis

Also joining us will be Dr Fiona English, author of Student Writing and Genre, who will facilitate the end of day discussion. There have been some really interesting responses to the Call for Practice, and we can expect examples of genred and regenred work in form of comic books, radio plays, posters, poems, blogs, exhibitions, magazines and videos – don’t forget to let me know if you want to share some practice in the afternoon session yourself!

More info on our other speakers coming soon, don’t forget to book your (free) place here.

After the successful workshop where we explored Genre as a Pedagogical Resource in November, I’m happy to be able to announce the follow-up event: a conference on reGenring Academic Writing and Assessment, hosted by the Trent Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) at Nottingham Trent University in conjunction with Writing-PAD.

workshop participants making their own nametags in November

workshop participants making their own nametags in November

We will start the day with invited speakers in the morning (not quite finalised who yet, but I’ll keep you posted!) and give over the afternoon to a sharing session – and for this we need YOUR examples of practice! The idea is to have this fairly informal and give everybody who registers their interest some space to show off some artefacts or practice, that could be via posters or by bringing examples. We are also planning to put together a special issue of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice (guest edited by myself and Dr Fiona English), so what you bring could be linked to an article you want to write for that (although it doesn’t have to be).

If you are playing with genre in your teaching or assessment practice (in any discipline) and you want to share some of this with us, please email Alke at tactileacademia@gmail.com with a brief description of what you are doing and what sort of artefacts you would like to bring to show. Please use ‘reGenring’ as the subject title of the email and indicate whether you would be interested in contributing to the special edition of the journal.

For more information on the conference and to book your place, please click here.

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.

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

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