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.

A little more conversation

Thinking Writing
Image kindly provided by Sally Mitchell (QMUL)

This resource comes from the ‘Thinking Writing’ project at QMUL, which explores the relationship between thinking and writing in higher education. It contains some excellent tools for helping students to write better, but I have also found it useful when reflecting on my own writing skills/habits.

It has made me think differently about the importance of conversation in the writing process. Conversations about a piece of writing – either with yourself, your peers or your wider discipline community – can be transformative learning experiences.

However, when we assess, we often deny students the opportunity to have conversations about their writing to develop it. We instruct them not to collude, that their work must be their own. They don’t have the opportunity to consider our feedback and change what they have written, to re-submit and show us what they have actually learned.

If you think about it, the assessment shouldn’t be the end of the learning process. It should be part of an on-going conversation. Some good suggestions for diversifying assessment are provided.

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

Once upon a time….

InviteIn this post we outline the rationale behind a workshop that we facilitated at the Re-enchanting the academy’ conference. We also share resources that provide opportunities for colleagues to reflect on how they might engage students using a range of stimulae – poetic, narrative, experiential and somatic.

Our story begins…

Once upon a time a long time ago the king and queen had a beautiful daughter. One day a wicked fairy cast a spell on the lovely princess, cursing her to never learn. The alarmed King locked the princess far away from the world in a high ivory tower. In time the princess was granted 3 A’ levels and set out for university. But one day, quite unexpectedly, the princess fell into a deep intellectual stupor. Her teachers lectured and talked, and talked and lectured, but the princess never seemed to learn. Each term she sat an exam, and each term she passed her exam, but at the beginning of the next term she had forgotten everything that she had known. The King and Queen despaired.

One day four benevolent fairies appeared and endeavoured to lift the hateful curse which blighted the princess’s university life:

Poésie, who spoke in many tongues and was the most charming fairy of all, offered a linguistic charm, ‘Whosoever reads these words shall feel at ease with the whole world, and will never feel doubt or shame even though their tongue may stumble over unfamiliar sounds and concepts. I give you the gift of confidence.’

Tale, who was never quite in the real world and who aspired to panache, brought a storybook, filled with devices, fancies and imaginings, ‘Whosoever lives these stories shall have the fairest prose of all. I give you the gift of academic writing.’

Sentio, who was a very practical fairy who applied herself to every task, brought a puzzle, ‘Whosoever puzzles this puzzle will grow wiser and wiser as each day passes. I give you the gift of reflection.’

Mind, an unassuming fairy who thought about everything a lot, brought nothing and said nothing, but offered the rarest gift of all: silence. Quieting the noise of the world, Mind gave the gift of concentration.

Why a fairy tale?

In keeping with the theme of the conference, we were inviting our colleagues to suspend the rational world of enhancement and embark upon a journey to a realm of enchantment. It was our job, as facilitators, to create a space in which that realm could be constituted – a space ‘in which it is once more possible to think’ (Foucault, 1970).

Excavating that space from the silted-up landscape of an academic conference – enchantment obscured under layer upon layer of convention, physical and intellectual: congested rows of chairs, an awkward rattle of cups and saucers, knee-balanced laptops and academic posturing, the imposition of ill-fitting theory, and the tyranny of properly referenced slides – is never an easy thing!

We are creatures of habit and convention, and do not always react well when our expectations are disrupted. But we were convinced that the value of our workshop – the possibilities for enchantment – lay in our colleagues experiencing for themselves the activities we had designed rather than listening to us explain the theoretical underpinning for our practice. The use of fairy tale was an interpellation to possible attendees – we are going to try something new, please come and join us if you think this might be your kind of thing!

But what do you do with all the theory and the explanations if you don’t want them cluttering up your space? It felt like it wouldn’t be enough to just demonstrate the activities and end with ‘trust us, this works!’.

Our solution was to create an additional online space where we could deposit the ‘useful clutter’. We then invited our colleagues – we handed out hard-copy invitations to delegates (see above) – that included the URL so that they could access these resources either before or after the workshop.

You are cordially invited….

If you would like to share in and comment on the resources we created for this workshop, please click on the links below

Poésie’s gift of confidence.

Tale’s gift of academic writing.

Sentio’s gift of reflection.

Mind’s gift of concentration.

Tale’s gift of academic writing

In this post Jennie Mills shares the resources she used as part of a workshop at the ‘Re-enchanting the academy’ conference. To read about the background to the workshop and further details of the other activities included, please click on this link.

Background

The activity

This workshop activity harnessed the shared culture of fairy tales, and the inherent pleasure of stories, not as a prompt to reflection, but as a stimulus to action in order to transform academic writing.

In order to engage participants with Helen Sword’s elements of stylish academic writing, I translated some of her main tenets into the familiar apparatus of fairy tales:

  • frogs that change into princes represented how worthy academic titles can be transformed into engaging, illustrative and playful proclamations;
  • a lost glass slipper represented concrete nouns – actual people doing things to actual objects;
  • sleeping princesses represented characters – heroes, villains, agents of transformation;
  • tall towers represented settings – locations in time and space which ground the abstract in the concrete;
  • talking mirror represented what Sword calls ‘voice and echo’ – identifying the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ in the text, eschewing the passive voice, and abandoning assumed authority;
  • and finally, an illustration of a fairy reading a book represented narrative sequence, the structure which puts all these elements into play with each other, and which asks the author what story do they want to tell?

Each of these was one face on a cube, and each cube was accompanied by a ‘key’ which offered more detail and questions and instructions.  Each group was given one cube, one key and an abstract taken from a randomly selected academic journal (all the abstracts were listed as ‘most cited’ or ‘most read’). The task was to roll the ‘story cube’ and re-write the abstract following which ever principle landed face-up in just 5 minutes. Using the abstract was a convenient way to provide an example of academic writing in order to model this approach, in order to encourage participants to use these principles in their own writing and as a tool to explore academic writing with their students. It may be more effective to use the technique on examples of their own writing.

Each group chose one of their re-written sentences to read out, starting with the original version and then offered their new story cubed version. The transformations were striking – and effectively made the point that writing in a direct way communicated complex ideas in a more engaging way than writing in academese.

Discussion

This activity used elements of fairy tales as metaphor, but didn’t really engage with fairy tales as narrative. Is there an engagement with fairy tale which is more authentic?

Please use the comment facility below to contribute to the discussion.