Do, think, share #64millionartists

Junk modelling
Junk modelling

New Year’s Day. The day when everyone makes those resolutions to start dieting, take up more exercise and just generally be a ‘better’ person. Years ago I stopped making those resolutions because I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I would never keep them.

So why was this year any different?

Searching on Twitter (I know!) for ideas about the role of creativity in learning and teaching, I came across the account for 64 Million Artists and decided in  a mad moment to sign-up for their January Challenge. Still haven’t really unpacked what prompted that impulse, but I’m glad that I did.

Put simply, you get an email to your mailbox every day throughout January outlining a different creative challenge. You do, then think, then share.

Over the month I have, amongst other things, compiled a picture of the year ahead,  made a junk sculpture, danced myself silly (nothing new there!), documented my day through taking a photo every hour (goodness my life is boring!), carried out a random act of kindness and, written a story a line at a time in partnership with fellow Lacunae blogger, Natasha.

I won’t claim to have completed all the challenges.  But I had a go at most of them. You can see my responses to the challenges, and those of many others, on Twitter via #64millionartists.

So what did I take away from this experience, and how is it relevant to learning and teaching?

Do

Talking to my 8-year old self.
Talking to my 8-year old self.

It’s amazing how much time you can spend thinking and writing about creativity, and yet not actually do any creative activity beyond the thinking and writing.. I think this can be a real issue when working as an academic developer. I have certainly spent more time showing people how to make rich pictures and explaining the theory behind them than I have ever spent doing them myself.

Putting aside 20 minutes a day to complete the challenge, and allowing myself some more time if I was enjoying the activity, was a real treat.  And I did feel like I had achieved something everyday. I don’t consider myself to be any good at certain types of creative activities but I am quite competitive, so turn the activity into a challenge and I’ll give it a go!

I think this points to the first take away message from this challenge. Having a go was what mattered. And having someone else telling me what it was I had to have a go at gave me permission to not be very good at it.

As teachers do we give ourselves time to do something each day (or even each week!) that we might not be very good at? By this I don’t mean the ‘worthy’ activity of identifying areas for CPD and working on them. I mean just having a go at something where the outcome itself is of little consequence. Given we are all so time poor, it isn’t surprising if we don’t. But perhaps we should.The actual ‘doing’ bit of the tasks, which in many cases involved very tactile experiences, felt very satisfying. This was definitely more about process than outcome.

And it is that focus on process that might make this a very useful learning tool when students can be so very focused on outcome. It’s difficult to introduce tasks into learning and teaching that aren’t directly related to the context of their desired outcomes (their qualifications) – “If it doesn’t count towards their grade, they won’t do it”. And because of this we do take the time and effort to try and contextualise activities that don’t involve direct scored assessment by explaining how they might help them do better in that type of assessment. Once again we drag their thinking back to outcome rather than process.

But what if we didn’t try and do this contextualisation? What if we just provided a short, sharp bit of creative ‘doing’ each day? Would they do it? They might if it were fun!

But why would we, as teachers, bother?

Think

Memories of summer
Memories of summer

Now you don’t need me to reiterate here all the arguments about the role of reflection in and on learning – hopefully we can all agree that this is a ‘good thing’. But it is not always easy to get students to engage in reflection in a consistent and constructive way. In order to somehow structure the activity we provide templates or series of questions that require a response.

Perhaps we should think about how we can use a much more ‘free association’ approach (going all Freudian!) to encouraging the development of these particular academic muscles. The prompts given by the 64 million artists team were What was it like? Did you enjoy the experience? Did it feel difficult?

The qualitative researcher in me baulks at the inclusion of some closed questions as a prompt for reflection, but actually I found they worked well. When short of time or feeling a little alienated by any of the activities, I could respond quite simply no/yes, but often I found that afterwards the question of ‘why that response?’ spent time percolating through my thought processes. Sometimes even eliciting more sophisticated responses! At other times I felt I could just stick with the no/yes response with no need to justify my response in any way.

Might students, especially those only just beginning to shape their academic identities, find this a more engaging prospect when compared to the more directed reflection we tend to offer them?

Share

Instructions to an alien. How to mend a broken heart.
Instructions to an alien. How to mend a broken heart.

Sharing your thoughts and reflections – always a ‘deep- breath’ moment! The focus here was on sharing the feelings and thoughts about doing the activity rather than sharing whatever you had produced. Again, process rather than output. Lots of people did share what they had produced, however, and I found that sharing very affecting.

You could share via a project space on the 64 million artists website, or via social media. Mostly I engaged via Twitter, and as the month progressed I felt a real sense of community developing.

I have been reading and thinking a lot recently about student self-efficacy and resilience. And I keep returning to a piece of work that Simon Cassidy wrote about on the HEA learning and teaching blog. Specifically, the issue that students who are more resilient for themselves also have the potential to support the development of other students’ self-efficacy and, as a result, their resilience. As Simon points out, this has encouraging implications for peer-led learning and mentoring.

Again, there is a tendency to formalise this type of learning and mentoring, but is there space for a much more fluid engagement in a learning community? One of the things that struck me about the January Challengers that shared via Twitter was just what a diverse bunch we were. In most instances the only connection was participating in the challenge, but that connection still enabled learning from each other, and a supportive and encouraging space.

One aspect I include in workshops I facilitate that focus on providing learning and teaching beyond time and space is the need to provide opportunities for learners, who may never meet face-to-face, to create a social space for peer-support. In my work as  a tutor with the Open University that space was a ‘Cafe’ forum within the module space on the VLE.

Interestingly, during the rounds of introductions that characterise the beginning of the module students seem to want to be able to situate each other both in terms of space and time. Contributions usually started with “Hello my name is xxx and I live in xxx”. Subsequent discussions – discussions where people were continually presenting and (re)presenting their identities – usually included some elements relating to the the contexts in which they were attempting to study.

But these spaces, confined as they were within the VLE and linked to specific modules, were formally informal! Is there the potential for students to come together around a theme like creativity and an aim like completing the challenges to develop a learning space that encourages peer learning and support? Would that space be the richer for having students from different disciplines and at different stages of their academic careers contributing?

More questions than answers there! I’d love to hear your thoughts – or to hear about any similar strategies you already have in place.

So, the January Challenge is done and dusted, but I have signed up for the Friday Challenge – a creative challenge sent to your email box every Friday. Why not join up and join in? http://64millionartists.com/pledge/

Oh, you shouldn’t have! (Or…is it a grower?)

Jockey Innovation Tower, PolyU, Hong Kong
Jockey Innovation Tower, PolyU, Hong Kong

The arrival of the fourth Innovating Pedagogy report from The Open University was met with muted enthusiasm at Lacunae HQ. Like a fancily wrapped gift that turns out to be rather disappointing…’It is just not very…innovative…this year!’, came the puzzled response.

In previous years the predictions have proven to be pretty good. For example, the 2014 report brought us the flipped classroom, BYOD, storytelling, threshold concepts and (a firm favourite!) bricolage –  innovations that we at Lacunae tinkered with for most of 2015!

So what is different about the predictions for 2016?  Well, part of the problem was that many of the ideas just didn’t feel very new or relevant at first glance. Many of us have been implementing ‘crossover learning’ for a decade or so. If you don’t teach maths or science,  all of the suggestions about labs and scientific argument don’t seem very useful.

On the other hand, those ideas which are more exciting, seem somehow out of reach. Different technologies to help teachers ‘read’ individual students and respond to their specific needs just seem a bit out of reach to the jobbing (time-poor) academic who sees their students one hour a week.

But then we took a second look…..

The key phrase  from the blurb for the report that framed this second reading was “ten innovations that are already in currency but have not yet had a profound influence on education“. And it is that notion of profound influence that brings the light bulb moment.

When you believe that your practice attempts to value the links between informal and formal learning, when interdisciplinarity is at the heart of what you do and you are convinced of the potential to capture affective learning through reflection – and perhaps more importantly you work collaboratively with others who think/feel the same – it is easy to forget that not everyone values these pedagogies. Or even if they value them in some abstract sense, the ideas lack heft and form when it comes to influencing policy. So, although terms like crossover learning, incidental learning and context-based learning may seem a little like cover versions of our favourite tunes, we do see the possible benefits of getting everyone to sing from the same song sheet!

Also, for those readers that feel tempted to skip over the bits that seem aimed at STEM colleagues – don’t!

As the report acknowledges, learning through argumentation is relevant across the disciplines. But we would argue that it isn’t just transdisciplinary, but provides opportunities for an interdisciplinary pedagogical approach. The report recommends professional development for STEM teachers to build their skills in supporting argumentation. Providers of that professional development would do well to draw on the skills of philosophy teachers and law educators. Scientific mooting anyone?

Likewise, computational thinking might provide a handy matrix for extending the acknowledged benefits PBL, but if we also overlay the matrix with the principles of learning and teaching based on ‘wicked problems’ then we could really be onto something.

The key to making everything fall into place and get the most from the report is to look at the table on Page 7. This presents all of the pedagogies identified in all four of the reports, grouped into six themes: scale, connectivity, reflection, extension, embodiment, and personalisation. When you look at the 2015 pedagogies in this context, it is much easier to see the value they bring and to understand how they contribute to a bigger story.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

It’s a charade!

https://ahermitsprogress.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde.jpg

It took me a while to get into it, but I’ve bought into the whole Twitter thing now. But one thing I have struggled with is how can it be usefully employed in teaching? Is it me? What transforms the twitter sphere into a learning space and what can be gained from interacting with your students in 140 characters? I’ve seen it used in live feeds during lectures, or for a ‘chat space’ at revision time, but these applications haven’t really excited me.

Imagine my wonderment, then, when I attended a workshop led by Rosie Miles, Reader in English Literature and Pedagogy, from the University of Wolverhampton last week. Underpinned by the theory of ‘ludic learning’, Rosie has successfully developed a twitter-based activity in which students assume roles from fin de siècle literature and tweet in character. Reflecting on the experience, Rosie describes how twitter becomes a disruptive space characterised by the many-voiced, democratic, participatory spirit associated with ‘carnival’. Students relish in the opportunity to explore characters in novel ways and achieve deep, transformative learning through performances of self.

Twitter is the perfect space in which to situate these conversations. It requires students to say things better, smarter. By using protected accounts, it is easy to set up a twitter bubble – a space where students can interact without interference from the outside world (this is important for assessment).

I can see some many applications in other disciplines. Ask students to assume the characters of social theorists? Historical figures? Artists? Elements? Such a simple idea, yet brilliant.

Click here for the abstract for Rosie’s conference paper. She is keen to encourage more examples in other disciplines so if you give it a go, give her a tweet @MsEmentor .

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

Guiding stars of wonder and light

star
Image by Susanne Nilsson

These Queens of the North come bearing gifts from afar. From all over Scotland in fact. Vicky Gunn and Pauline Hanesworth have each inspired me in different ways with their commitment and integrity in their approach to teaching and learning in higher education.

With their newly published report (co-written with Jane Morrison) on equality and diversity across Scotland, they give us a resource that highlights the importance of a holistic approach. The three gifts they offer here? Engagement, commitment and – above all – hope.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

We bring you the gift of unflattening – a shape-shifting provocation

graphic novel

In Lacunae, we want to explore how things appear differently when we look at them in different ways, offering us new perspectives on familiar concepts in our everyday lives.

Unflattening is a doctoral thesis by Nick Sousanis and its format, that of a graphic novel, challenges the traditional form in order to examine the relationship between the word and image.

The invitation to look at the intricacies of an argument through the black and white etchings of a petal are appealing yet because of the representation we are actually forced to reflect differently. This shape-shifting piece of work resonates with what we want to do in academic development. Make us ask questions about our beliefs in the Academy, what constitutes scholarship and what shape it should take in our discipline? And when we talk about our learning and teaching, what form(s) can we use to represent our evidence.

In this blog post Cory Doctorow discusses the doctoral dissertation in graphic novel form: http://mostlysignssomeportents.tumblr.com/post/130485371991/doctoral-dissertation-in-graphic-novel-form 

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

The Big Bang (Learning) Theory: “You’re not sanding Penny”

To the uninitiated theories of learning can seem at best opaque and at worst pointless– but getting to grips with behaviourism can uncover some taken-for-granted assumptions which underpin many traditional educational practices. Moving things along from a salivating dog, or a radar pecking pigeon this clip sees Sheldon training Penny to be a more acceptable human being. Leonard’s plea ‘you’re not sanding Penny’ could be the call to action (learning) that you are looking for.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.