Reading and writing group – May

Photo by Miika Laaksonen on Unsplash

This month we have chosen another book as the stimulus for our reading and writing – With Great Power Comes Great Pedagogy.

Six chapters of the book have been made open access this month – if you click the ‘Read an Excerpt’ button you have access to the following:

  • Introduction: A Once and Future Pedagogy (Kirtley, Garcia and Carlson)
  • Text, Object, Transaction: Reconciling Approaches to the Teaching of Comics (Dale Jacobs)
  • Thinking in Comics: All Hands-On in the Classroom (Nick Sousanis)
  • Teaching the Unthinkable Image: An Interview with Lynda Barry (Leah Misemer)
  • Comic Art Research: Achievements, Shortcomings, and Remedies (John A. Lent)
  • Misunderstanding Comics (Johnathan Flowers)

If you would like to join in – chose a chapter, read and then write a 500 word (approx.) response. You can either post your response on your own blog or send it to us ( ) to publish on Lacunae.

We are a little late setting the text this month, but it would be good to meet an ‘end of the month’ deadline if we can.

We will be aiming to publish responses in early June – let us know if you are joining us so that we can schedule releases.

We may be in the gutter . . .


Photo by Jean-Philippe Delberghe on Unsplash

Our reading and writing group project for March was to select a chapter from the book The Power of Partnership , read it and respond. This post considers the Introduction to Section Two: Intersections: Annotations on the Spaces in Between by Nancy Chick.

Telling the story

Introductions tend to be pretty formulaic – some grand editorial overviewing plus nutshell synopses of each chapter, finished with a “ta da” of significances and maybe a bouquet of applause. But here Nancy Chick – my long time hero* – reinvents the introduction, twice.

* We share an origin story, forged by literature, outlaws from Social Science research paradigms.

She offers a literary reading of the section through the lens of a favourite book, Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera (1987). This offers a double-duty authenticity which reflects her own identity as an author, an academic and practitioner, and which remains true the meaning and essence of the texts introduced.

And there is a cartoon which places these ideas within a visual and spatial relationship: the spaces in between.

It’s this idea of the space in between that I want to explore. For me ideas are born in the spaces in between Chick’s quotes:

‘in that in between space you can access both worlds’


‘telling the story vs being part of the story’

‘us and them’

‘our identities are never singular’

‘personal stories are important’

But they are also built in and by the spaces between texts – and those texts are only related through my experience and reading of them. So, when Chick (which is weird to write because honestly I’m thinking ‘when Nancy’) writes she thinks of ‘all the inks’ in her annotated copy of Anzaldúa’s text I immediately think of the four colours of Doris Lessing’s Golden Notebook (1962). Lessing’s protagonist, Anna Wulf, in fear of the chaos and formlessness, the messiness of life, the prospect of breakdown “Everything’s cracking up” separates her life into four distinct volumes: the notebooks. Black is historic; red is political; yellow is fictional; and blue is personal. In the personal volume she pledges to write honestly, and in so doing put aside ‘the instinctive feeling of shame and modesty’ which make it so hard to inscribe the body. Anna’s commitment to the unspoken taken-for-granted realities of everyday life brings readers the first tampon in English literature: “I stuff my vagina with the tampon of cotton wool.” This is why I remember Doris Lessing’s Golden Notebook so vividly although I read it just once over 20 years ago as an undergraduate.

So, the in between space is intertextual as well as intersectional.

I remember being a student, viscerally. I remember exactly how my (long gone) copy of The Golden Notebook looked, even how it smelled. I remember the colour of my vintage satin bedspread (still here) on my bed as I read it. I remember being a student. But that was over 20 years ago. I know what it was to be a first in family student of English Literature, discovering feminist fiction at a Russell Group University in the East Midlands during the early 90s. I’m an expert in my own experience. My identity, my readings of the world, like my reading of the text, is grounded in this history.

My own experience tells me nothing of what it is like to be a student in 2020. And especially not what it is like to be a student in 2020 during a global pandemic. The only way to discover ‘the complex and multiple lives students inhabit outside the university’ (Peseta) is to work with students to discover the space in between, and those ‘personal stories are important’.

Being part of the story

So, the other introduction is a cartoon.

Comics are constructed through animated panels separated by empty spaces the ‘gutters’.* Scott McCloud suggests that it is the gutters – the spaces between which enable the reader to observe the parts but ‘see the whole’. In a medium which doesn’t allow for real time action, the gutter simulates time and motion, leaving it for us to decide what happens between scenes. The gutters become invisible messengers, which are purposefully left empty by the author to be filled by the reader. David Low styles these non-spaces as a source of ‘continual, active communication between author and reader’, that is a process of ‘gutterance’ (2012, p. 372). Narrative, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and gaps beg to be filled. And so, the gutters constantly challenge readers to co-author the narrative with their own inferences (Low, 2012 p.376). But, although the reader draws their own conclusions, they are not left to chance, the author influences the conclusions that can be drawn.

In the in between space you don’t just access both worlds – you create the world.

Lars Wallner (2018) explored how readers fill those spaces, how worlds are created. He found that meaning making in the gutters was not a function of cognitive structure but rather a product of social action. We make worlds together. In partnership.

So, back to the cartoon introduction to section 2. There is a gutter. A big one, which runs down the middle and splits ‘you can access both worlds’ down the middle.

I prefer to read this ‘You can both’ ‘Access worlds’. The author has nudged us to find our meaning, to make the transition, and to transform multiple images of partnership, multiple ideas, quotes and experiences into a unified idea.

*Thanks to Greg McInerny (@GregMcI) for introducing me to gutter in comic books, and for our inspirational discussion about the gutters in teaching and learning.

Thanks also to Gwen van der Velden (@Gwenvdv) who’s tweet on the Dutch game ‘stoeprandan’ (or kerby to Brits) also made me think of the value of gutters in a different way.

A uni-verse of hope

Hidden beauty in Geelong

Our monthly reading and writing projects are open enterprises – anyone can join us! This month we were really pleased to receive this contribution from former HEA colleague Jenny Louise-Lawrence. She responds to a chapter by (another HEA colleague) Abbi Flint.

In her chapter, Space in the Margin, Abbi uses poetry to explore staff-student partnerships. It is fitting, then, that Jenny’s response takes the form of a poem…

Without Hope partnership becomes a transaction.
A mere response to national drivers, to policy instruments,
A rude ploy for over ambitious strivers, For over acheivers
To overwhelm all Others.

With Hope partnership is just.
It’s a transmission
A movement of power
Not from one to the Other,
(Though sometimes the One is the Other)
But a shared ignition of
And mind
And motivation
To imagine another way,
To choke, to stutter, to find some…. progress
Evolution Of the Heart.

Responding to lessons in partnership

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Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash

In her chapter Sitting on rocks, human knots and other lessons I learned in partnership, Anna Bruder leads us, invitingly, into her story of partnership. Authorship and Agency are probably the key characters in this story which has, I’m pleased to tell you, a happy ending. Let’s delve into why these are powerful ways to explore partnership.


The story Bruder told of her early experiences as a teacher sounded familiar – you can tell that she cares for her students and has always wanted to involve them in the learning process. However, she describes her frustration with the fleeting nature of those high moments, the buzz of the class that remained a ‘transient glimmer of clarity. A flash in the pan.’ Bruder’s desire to extend this feeling and take it beyond the classroom ensured she was ready for a new way of engaging with her students. This desire is arguably universal, if only we could sustain the learning, make the learning transferable. Yes! I thought reading her story. I want some of this too.


It is interesting to note that at the beginning of this chapter, the words ‘control’ and ‘performance’ appear several times in relation to teaching, suggesting that teaching was indeed initially for Bruder something with which she was trying out new personas to maintain her own authority. I’m sure this is again something that resonates with many of us. Indeed, I often find myself saying in my PG Cert class with new lecturers that they should ‘let go of content to focus on learning’. We explore questions of knowledge and ownership as well as the idea of the teacher as ‘gatekeeper’. However, as the chapter progresses, these words fade, control is in fact ‘ceded’ to be replaced with risk taking and trust. Tracing this evolution in the chapter made me wonder if in fact I do this enough in my own teaching. I think I would like to revisit this notion of ‘control’ with my own learners and will definitely borrow the silent ‘conversation’ to draw out explicitly power and resistance in my own context.

The human knot

The desire articulated above prompted Bruder to begin a partnership and she was encouraged to change the culture of her classroom by creating, quite literally, a human knot in the classroom with her students. Her knowing tone anticipates my initial baulking. Really? A human knot with your students?? I try – and fail – to imagine this working in my Scottish context. And yet Bruder’s powerful assertion that this physical human knot ‘works because it makes learning an embodied practice’ makes me want to silence my inner cynical (fearful?) voice and try it with my learners. Perhaps part of its appeal for me now lies in the impossibility of creating a human knot. As we sit in our own homes connecting through digital spaces, the very notion of connecting physically with the bodies of others in a classroom space feels profoundly shocking. Instead this learning can only be imaginary and anticipatory.

Bruder ends her story with an invitation to respond to questions, all of which have helped shape my response to this chapter. I would like to end my own post with a question to you.

  • In our current COVID-19 world, what do you miss most about embodied practices of learning?



A new dawn, a new day? On the importance of being welcoming.

Our reading and writing group project for March was to select a chapter from the book The Power of Partnership , read it and respond. We are publishing the responses over the coming week.

I selected Chapter 2 ‘ From Novelty to Norm: Moving Beyond Exclusion and the Double Justification Problem in Student-Faculty Partnerships‘, by Wilson et al.

The chapter begins with a really depressing story about students presenting at a SoTL conference. Despite their best efforts to present robust and legitimate research in a professional, public forum they felt their work was undermined by the patronising questions they received from the academic audience. This leads them to expose and analyse the norms and behaviours which, they argue, prevents students from becoming full members of the SoTL community.

As someone who has done a lot of work with students and tries really hard to be inclusive and respectful, it really did make me cringe. But perhaps I wasn’t surprised.  As I progressed through the chapter, I started to feel frustration, fuelled I think by the dichotomy of ‘faculty vs. student’ within the narrative. I accept that the book is about staff-student partnership, but from my position in academic development, I see a much more complex and kaleidoscopic range of players in SoTL partnerships. Students (undergrad, postgrad and alumni), researchers, lecturers, academic developers, technicians, advisers, consultants – the list goes on – are all involved in SoTL work. Each person brings a distinct set of epistemologies, methodologies and values; often these features are still emerging and evolving as individuals struggle to fuse multiple/blurred identities. It is a messy place and, sadly, I have seen many examples of exclusionary behaviour which impact on individuals in exactly the way the students here describe. It is not just students who are made to feel unwelcome.

And it is not just conferences that are the problem – publication brings out the worst in exclusionary behaviours. I’ve witnessed several horrible cases of peer review for SoTL publications.  The feedback has been personal, unkind and unnecessarily derogatory – it unfairly attacks the ability of the author to be conducting SoTL and referred to the process of reviewing as a ‘waste of time’.  This makes me so angry, not the least because it flies in the face of everything we know (from SoTL research!) about feedback/forward and collegiality.

It is so important not to underestimate the impact of these behaviours, even on experienced members of the SoTL community. I was myself recently excluded by senior faculty. After 6 months of working with a team of academics to develop a research project on a topic which was bang in the SoTL sphere, I was brutally and unexpectedly ousted from the team on very vague grounds that research is not ‘part of my role’. It was handled clumsily and disrespectfully and it did, I will confess, shatter my confidence.

Without getting overly dramatic, these are real-world examples which show that it is not just students who are excluded from the SoTL community. So, what does this say about SoTL as a discipline and the SoTL community? Is the picture even gloomier than the authors suggest?

Reflecting on SoTL’s history and development, I do think it suffers from a chronic case of imposter syndrome.  This is not surprising given that so many of us have to fight for recognition and resources on a daily basis. I can’t excuse the behaviours that we all know exist, but perhaps the lack of confidence and clear identity of the discipline makes it a breeding ground for overly-defensive and cliquey behaviour (actual and perceived).

I wonder if now is the time – and let’s face it, these ARE extraordinary times – to look at our SoTL identities, values and practices and work together to re-define our community manifesto. For all the bad stories I have covered here, I can counter with examples of collegiality, kindness and genuine professionalism. As partners in SoTL we are all equals. Let’s do it differently. Let’s be welcoming.

Going underground

Our reading and writing group project for March was to select a chapter from the book The Power of Partnership , read it and respond. We will publish the responses over the coming week.

An image of the original underground map

In their chapter The experience of partnerships in learning and teaching: a visual metaphor Kelly E Matthews talks about the messiness of working in partnerships and presents us with an image that is, indeed, very  messy!

At the same time, the image is bold, brightly-coloured and connected. Matthews argues that images, rather than simply words, offer “space to affirm the messiness of an idea, an aspiration, a practice, a pedagogical praxis, and a commitment”. And her provocation to us is “How is your partnership messy?

So what visual metaphor would I choose? A London underground map. Yes, that most cited example of design providing clarity, but at the expense of accuracy! That masterpiece of compressed design overcoming messiness! So, how does this provide a visual metaphor for messy partnership working? Whilst acknowledging that messiness, I do think that at some point – in order to move forwards/backwards/sideways – we do need to step over, outside, beyond that messiness.

It is worth reading about how Harry Beck used design to bring some level of organisation and clarity for fellow travellers – how he surfaced the underground detail. Apparently he wasn’t commissioned to do the work. Anna Renton, senior curator at the London Transport Museum says that “It was more a demonstration of his ingenuity, in seeing a problem and coming up with a solution to it, rather than a response to public demand”. Alternatively, I suppose his actions could be viewed as rather presumptuous! What right did he have to decide how to impose order? What does this tell us about the power relationships of the day? But I am going to put this well-trodden ground aside for the moment. Beck did his design and, as it turned out, people didn’t need to know the every detail to move around, to navigate and get where they wanted to go.

Current map of the London Underground

Recently TfL published a version of the map that shows the walking times between the various stations – in a sense adding back in a layer of that accuracy that was abandoned in that original design. If you want to stay in the fresh (?!) air or experience the bustle of London, this version of the map is great. But I can understand that tourists might find walking around on the busy, noisy, confusing streets of the city a bit overwhelming, and happily retreat back to the clarity. Although if you do want to go between Leicester Square and Covent Garden, trust me, you really don’t need to use the tube!

One of the wonderful things, I think, about the underground map is how it has been adapted and/or subverted over the years. There’s a version that makes links to well-known films and one that links to books. You can use another version to find out where to buy the cheapest pint of beer. If you are a fan of bad jokes, there’s the Punderground. Then there’s the ‘honest’ version – although this one is possibly only funny if you already know London well. There are the versions that aim to represent what an accurate map of the underground.would look like. So many adaptations that you never knew you needed!

So yes, partnership working is messy, but to achieve anything at all we – although who that ‘we’ might be will vary – need to establish some order, I think. But we need to do it in such a way that people find it useful. And we need to acknowledge, accept and even celebrate that others will adapt and subvert that order for any number of reasons.

So my visual metaphor for partnership is the London underground map – thanks Harry!