#Take5 #28 The best way of tackling employability?

Image3_Workshop Regular practice 3 copyMaking A Living Week, November 2018: Industry, Diversity And A New Topic of Conversation

This blog post brought to us by Angharad Lewis, Lecturer in Visual Communication at The Cass: The Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design. All photographs taken by Steve Blunt.

The programming of events designed to connect our art and design students with practitioners and industry are thought to be a great way to support work-related-learning; but are they always effective, relevant and a turn-on for students?

To address this, we responded to student feedback and tweaked our format and made interaction between students and guests really dynamic, whilst also tackling issues of diversity and inclusivity.

Making A Living Week

I have had the pleasure of curating a day of activity for students as part of The Cass’s ‘Making A Living Week’ (MALW) for the last two academic years. The idea of this week of activities, across all Schools in the Cass, is to aid students’ transition from studenthood to employment and to introduce and develop skills and processes that kick-start their journey into industry.

Changing up the format

Based on student feedback from last year, and after discussion with colleagues, I made some changes to the format this year. In 2016/17 the Visual Communications (Vis Comm) day for MALW comprised three talks from industry experts*. Informal feedback from students following the event was that the talks were useful and engaging but that it was tiring to ‘be talked at’ for the whole day.

Less Pale and Male?

I was also conscious that the line-up of the 2017 event gave a platform to industry figures who all happened to be male and white. The speakers were inspiring, but I wanted to take positive steps to present industry figures who better reflect the students themselves – so that students see people on a stage (being held up as ‘expert’ or ‘successful’) to whom they can relate on a personal, cultural and social level. As a department, we want to offer credible role models that reflect the diversity of our student cohort. This means more women, more people of colour, more people from a working class background.

The Girlhood

The format of our 2018 event also included interactive elements. The students all began the day together with a talk by Kati Russell, founder of The Girlhood, an initiative whose goal is to “encourage a richer mix of women in the creative industries”.

Kati’s talk included practical exercises with pen and paper for the students to take part in. Her theme was empowering the students to make confident choices about their career path into professional working life, whatever their gender. Although Kati’s projects via The Girlhood are aimed at young women, it is important that students of all genders hear positive messages about diversity in the creative professions. As a School, we are increasingly conscious of the disparity between our richly diverse students, and the comparative paucity of diversity presented by the professional design industry.

Image1_Katie Russell talk[image Katie Russell talk 2.png]

Hands-On Workshops

After Kati’s talk, we introduced four more guests from industry. Students broke into groups, and spent the rest of the morning participating in practical design workshops, run by our guests, in Vis Comm studio spaces. Workshops covered four hands-on areas: using paper creatively on a budget (led by Justin Hobson from Fenner Paper); typographic poster compositions (led by design studio Regular Practice); putting together a winning portfolio (led by creative portfolio consultant Fig Taylor); and mastering digital workflow (by creative director Nik Hill).

Image2_Workshop Nik Hill copy[images: Workshop Regular Practice (top).png / Workshop Nik Hill (above).png]

The Keynote

In the afternoon, everyone reassembled for our keynote speaker, Kate Moross, a designer, illustrator and art director who spoke very engagingly, without notes, and with great honesty about her experience in the industry. I had invited Kate to speak because she is something of a maverick – she began doing commercial work for clients while she was a student and set up her own company soon after graduation. She has a clear ethos about the way she practices design and doesn’t follow the rules as defined by the dominant forces of the industry.

Preferred Pronoun?

In the week leading up to the event I had noticed an interesting thread on Kate’s Twitter feed, the subject was tips for people organising design panels, and not making assumptions about speakers’ gender identities:

“1. Don’t assume, it’s that simple.

  1. Ask people what pronoun they prefer.
  2. A pronoun is a pronoun not a gender identity, so you can ask that too….”.

The Tweets had kicked up quite a storm of debate. I knew that Kate was gay and I had recently read an article where she referred to herself as gender non-binary. I thought I had better ring Kate up and ask about her preferred pronoun. We had a good chat (I found out that ‘she/they’ pronouns are cool with Kate) and I realised that this is a new topic of conversation that is now relevant to my work as a teacher. Kate asked whether we have any queer or gender non-binary students and I was happy that I could say we do.

Sincere Stories

For her talk, Kate was enthused by our ‘Making A Living Week’ theme. She felt it was important to talk honestly to students to prepare them for the realities of work, in a way that is sometimes lacking in teaching on creative courses. Interestingly, Kate did not present any slides of her own work (other than as backdrop for her Q&A), eschewing the standard format of design talks. Instead, the visuals in her presentation were entirely typographic – prompts for stories about her experience or practical advice and facts. For the first half of her session, Kate talked in a refreshingly honest way about topics like how much to charge clients, the no-holds-barred do’s and don’ts of CV-writing, and how traits that got her dubbed ‘a swot’ at school came in handy when running her own business.

Image4_Kate Morross QandA[image Kate Moross keynote1.png]

Kate then spent almost an hour taking questions. I can honestly say that this was one of the most successful questions-and-answer sessions I have ever attended. Kate had asked us to provide question cards in advance to generate uninhibited debate. She took the time to answer every single question, never disparaging the topic (even “can I have an internship at your studio”) and giving each a thoughtful, honest answer.

The positive energy in the room was palpable and the students were buzzing at the end of a very busy day. As staff, we felt that Kate Moross in particular had struck a chord with students as a speaker: finding things out from people who you can relate to culturally – who feel on your level in some way, however successful they are – can be powerful. Like hearing something from a sibling, rather than a parent. The format of the day also felt productive, with students given several points in the day to be active, get involved in discussion and explore their own ideas and generate practical work.

A comment on a student’s blog felt like a positive endorsement.

“I found Kate Moross’s talk really inspiring, the way she spoke about industry and getting yourself out there made me feel less scared and more excited!”

Angharad Lewis bio

Angharad is a lecturer, writer and editor specialising in design and publishing. She is co-editor of Grafik.net, former editor of Grafik Magazine and has contributed to various magazines and books on the subject of graphic design, illustration, publishing and photography. She is author of several books, most recently So You Want to Publish A Magazine? (Laurence King 2016). Angharad is Lecturer in Visual Communication and Course Leader of BA Design for Publishing at The Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design.

 

 

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#Take5 #27 The Best Way of Blending Learning?

LESSONS FROM A TEACHER DEVELOPMENT PROJECT: One positive instance of using technology for student learning, rather than its own sake.

This guest blog explores the authentic embedding of digital practices within our pedagogic toolbox and has been prepared for #Take5 by Dr Paul Breen (@CharltonMen) who also shares, below, a link to his free book: Developing Educators for the Digital Age.

TEACHER IN PAUL BREEN'S PHD STUDY USING I PADS IN CLASSROOM

Image: Teachers in Paul Breen’s PhD Study using iPads in the classroom

The tools for the job

“SHOULD teaching take place within an academic bubble detached from the outside world, or should it make use of all that is new, authentic, engaging and multi-dimensional?”

This was a question raised by one of the participants in my recent study of teacher development within the context of an English Language Centre in a UK Higher Educational environment. In this case, the teacher argued that for teaching to be effective for today’s students we need to make maximum use of the digital age. In his own work, he drew on Guardian Podcasts as a means of inspiring Academic English students to go out and make their own recordings of real life events related to their specific subjects.

By getting his class to do this, he was actively engaging the students in demonstrating knowledge through content creation. Furthermore, students were now active rather than passive recipients of information and their knowledge was being tested in a way that was innovative rather than in a traditional one dimensional exam format.

Assess that – differently

Not everybody expresses their learning or knowledge in the same way, and this teacher’s work with podcasts was offering new outlets of expression for particular types of students. In this case, the greatest beneficiaries were perhaps those who learn by seeing and then doing, but arguably the challenge of this task would engage the majority of his students. New technologies had given these students the chance to be creative and expressive in a way that historically they might not have been able to realise quite so easily. They were putting into action skills that are vital in the higher educational environment – creativity, organisation, multi-tasking, plus elements of finding a balance between independence and interdependence.

TPACK: It’s Digital Literacy Jim…

Using technology in this way is also a good example of not simply using technology for technology’s sake, which is still a major problem on many courses and in many classrooms. If a particular tool just doesn’t add anything, then don’t integrate – just the same as if your daughter doesn’t like playing with dolls, don’t force her to just because that’s what little girls are expected to do.

This idea of not using technology just for technology’s sake lies at the heart of Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler’s (2006) TPACK framework – Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge. This is a contemporary framework designed to ease the process for teachers who are integrating technology into their lessons. The goal is to achieve a synergy of technology, pedagogy and content during instances of teaching where such an integration is appropriate.

What this means in basic, practical terms is that there is an intersection of all three core components to produce what the authors’ term as ‘expert teaching.’ Though I don’t like that precise term, the example of creating podcasts is one where the teacher has met some of the fundamental requirements of TPACK. He has not pre-determined which technologies should be used. Rather, their usage evolved gradually.

In this case, he started out using podcasts as a means of helping students practice listening and research skills… and it became much more than that. Going back to the daughter and the dolls analogy, he didn’t set out with a prescriptive idea of particular tools that would be used and insist that certain toys had to be chosen because that was the norm.

Instead he let usage flow naturally, and then let subsequent usage flow naturally again from that. Having seen the enthusiasm that students showed for Guardian Podcasts he sent them off to make their own. In doing so, he found a way to motivate them further and build a deeper set of academic skills.

Emergence

Experimenting and allowing the value of the practice to emerge, allowed the students to discover their own learning identities, again like the child who starts playing with bridges in farm sets and then decides she wants to progress to Meccano next time around. By letting a child find their own learning style, in that case, you might well have planted the seeds of a future engineer, or even scientist.

In this case of learners making their own Podcasts, you have certainly created a student who is more capable of finding the balance between independence and interdependence that is essential to undertaking higher educational studies in the UK.

Reference

Mishra, P. and Koehler, M.J., 2006. Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers college record, 108(6), p.1017.

Bio: PAUL BREEN is a Senior Lecturer in the University of Westminster’s Professional Language Centre, and author of a recent publication on teacher development entitled ‘Developing Educators for the Digital Age.’ The book is available here in print form or as a free open-access download through the University of Westminster Press.  

 

Take5 #16 How to enjoy being an academic: Collegiality as Positive Practice

Sandra Abegglen, Tom Burns & Sandra Sinfield

This #Take5 blog focusses on three academics working collaboratively in their learning, teaching and research practice: as a way of helping us to better enjoy our time as practitioners.

Context

All three of us work in UKHE, in a post-1992 University with a diverse student body from non-traditional backgrounds[1]. Our job descriptions vary, with TB and SS in staff development and SA as a course leader in Education; we are one full time and two fractional with heavy workloads[2]. Our institution has been through radical reconstruction, including a merger, the institution and then modification of AWAM[3] (Academic Work Allocation Model) and now, of course, the coming of TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework). In common with many staff across the HE sector we experience constant pressure with little time for research and writing. Our response was to work more closely together, co-mentoring and co-writing to sustain our energy and our enjoyment of teaching.

How it started

Before the Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching became completely staff facing in our new Centre for Professional and Educational Development (CPED), we had set up a module partnership where we shared our learning and teaching practice – and also our students. SA ran (and still runs) a Peer Mentoring in Practice module whose students mentored TB/SS students on Becoming an Educationalist. As we piloted our students through their tricky first year experiences, supported by those second year students, we discussed the what, why and how of our praxes: our ontologies and our epistemologies. From this emerged our first paper (Abegglen et al. 2014), and a determination to model collegiate academic practice to our students within and across our modules[4].  Even though our job titles and foci changed, we have continued to find ways to collaborate; to be collegiate.

How it works

Academia itself is a complex dance in complex landscapes of practice, navigating multiple tensions and meaning (Wenger-Trayner 2014). We discovered that co-mentoring and writing together, like cooking or dancing, required trust and continuous dialogue: ideas need to simmer and bubble before they are ready (Elbow 1998). Our writing relationship became a place of trust and oscillated and oscillates between the social and the personal, offering a space for our own academic identity-construction in this time of super-complexity and rapid HE change.

What we like about the way that we work together is that anyone one of us can suggest an idea for innovation – or share a reflection on current practice – or discuss a new approach or theory. An idea for a new paper emerges – and a draft then circulates – which we all add to, modify, edit and amend. The continuous writing/thinking circle provides intense moments of thought and engagement – mini-writing retreats – stolen from the busy working day.

This co-mentoring and co–writing has surfaced friendship, communication and support; we have wrestled with time and against time – but always supporting each other. We like working together – and from this (vaguely transgressive) behaviour has emerged our quite healthy academic output (e.g. Abegglen et al. 2015).

Our advice to others would be to set up similar support/writing/practice circles: to offer a resource, a helping hand and sounding board to each other; to make time for that which makes our work so enjoyable: thinking about ways to further interest, engage and stretch our students – and in the process to really enjoy being academics in these ‘interesting’ times.

Spaces to take your articles and reflections to?

Try ALDinHE: The ALDinHE Conference (http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/events/hull17.html) and Journal (http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/ojs/) are excellent places to take reflections about empowering academic practice.

Try #tlcwebinars: You might want to work up your ideas into a professional development session – and offer a Teaching and Learning Conversation (TLC) Webinar. The TLC Webinars are offered monthly via Manchester Metropolitan University in association with the Universities of Northampton, Salford, Surrey, Suffolk, Sheffield Hallam and London Metropolitan (https://tlcwebinars.wordpress.com/about/).

By the way – the next TLC is on Tuesday 13th December, 12.00-13.00 on ‘Using Social Media to create a sense of belonging in students’ – and delivered by our colleague, Danielle D’Hayer (https://tlcwebinars.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/using-social-media-for-belonging-and-bonding/).

#Take5 blog: And finally – you might want to offer us a reflective blog post on your practice to share. Typically our blog posts are anything from 300-1000 words – and we are interested in any area of teaching, learning and assessment practice. Send your ideas for posts to t.burns@londonmet.ac.uk or s.sinfield@londonmet.ac.uk – we look forward to hearing from you very soon!

References

Abegglen, S., Burns, T. & Sinfield, S. (2015). Voices from the margins; Narratives of learning development in a Digital Age. The Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change, 1(1).

Abegglen, S., Burns, T. & Sinfield, S. (2014). Disrupting learning landscapes: Mentoring, engaging, becoming. Investigations in University Teaching and Learning. London, 9, pp.15-21.

Elbow, P. (1998, 2nd Edition). Writing without teachers. New York: Oxford UP.

QS Top Universities (2013, 10th Edition). Worldwide university rankings, guides & events. Retrieved from http://www.topuniversities.com/qs-world-university-rankings

Wenger-Trayner, E. (2014). Learning in landscapes of practice: Recent developments in social learning theory, in Association for Learning Development in Higher Education. ALDinHE 2014: Learning development spaces and places. University of Huddersfield, 14-16 April.

Ziker, J. (2014). The long lonely job of homo academicus. Retrieved from https://thebluereview.org/faculty-time-allocation/

End Notes

[1] Our HEI comes 18th in the QS World University Rankings for the international diversity of its student body (10th edition, 2013).

[2] Viz. Ziker (2014): ‘On average, our faculty participants worked 61 hours per week. That is 50 percent more than a 40-hour workweek’.

[3] AWAM: Academic Work Allocation Model – where all 1492 of an academic’s annual hours were micro-managed – as opposed to the old HE model, where FT academics were allocated 550 teaching hours – and had some control over the rest of their time. Whilst AWAM no longer formally exists – we have defined teaching and overall working hours in which everything we do needs to fit regardless.

[4] Acknowledging that the formal education landscape traversed by our students is hostile, often alien and typically judgemental, we decided to take an embedded approach to the ‘enhancement of practice’ to develop student apprehension of the codes and practices of HE in authentic ways. Thus in the year 2014-15, alongside an embedded ‘blogging to learn’ project, we also stated as an aim in our Module Monitoring Logs that we intended develop and model collegiate practice to highlight to students a more positive side of university culture and learning in general.

#Take5 No.15: The Best Teaching and Learning Conversations

TLC: The Best Teaching and Learning Conversations

http://www.celt.mmu.ac.uk/flex/tlc.php

Happy new academic year! This year, #Take5 is celebrating MMU’s Teaching and Learning Conversations (TLC). These free, open online conversations offer an exciting informal cross-institutional collaboration to provide joint CPD opportunities for everybody teaching and/or supporting learning in Higher Education.

Manchester Metropolitan University with London Metropolitan University, Northampton, Surrey, Suffolk and Sheffield Hallam universities are organising these monthly Webinars to bring together colleagues from different disciplines, institutions and countries to engage in Teaching and Learning Conversations.

Together, we will discuss and debate a variety of current teaching and learning topics in a series of monthly webinars which will be a great opportunity to reflect on our practice but also share good practice and find out what is happening beyond our own institutional walls in the more global HE landscape.

All webinars are open to the wider community to join and will be advertised locally at participating institutions but also via social media channels. Please feel free to share the link to the TLC programme and individual webinars with others who might also be interested. Have look at the programme below, and read the instructions on how to participate.

TLC now has its own blog where you can find more information about each Conversation – and where links to recordings of previous sessions will be flagged up.

Come to the Next TLC:

Using poetry in teaching #TLCwebinar with Dr Sam Illingworth, join us on the 18 Oct, 1.30pm UK time

In this interactive session, Sam who is a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University, will discuss how poetry can be used as a facilitatory tool to explore a variety of subjects in higher education. Further details and information about Sam can be found on the TLC website at: http://wp.me/p6HUdF-7F

Joining the conversation:

Simply follow this link http://mmu.adobeconnect.com/tlc/ and enter as a guest by typing your name, institution and country into the name field and clicking on the “Join Meeting” button.

Whether or not you have previously participated in a webinar or online activity using Adobe Connect we advise that you make sure that you do some checking and preparation in advance. Check your set-up and connection here. You may also find our Adobe Connect Webinar Participant Guide useful to print out in advance of the session. We really hope that you will be able to join for what should be a lively and highly interactive TLC.

We are really looking forward to discussing poetry with Dr Sam Illingworth and all of you.

#Take5 #14: The best way to SLOW down and focus?

Close your eyes and relax…

Sam Aston and Helena Ross from The University of Manchester, have been focussing on wellbeing and meditation to help students calm down, relax and focus. Here in this #Take5 blogpost they share their techniques and strategies – and invite us to share our practices with them.

Sam Aston is a Teaching and Learning Librarian working in the Learning Development Team at the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons at The University of Manchester Library. She works on My Learning Essentials to deliver skills support and is currently applying for senior fellowship of the HEA and conducting a research project on academic skills expectations of transition students as they move into HE. You can find her on Twitter @manclibrarian

Helena Ross is a full time student studying sociology at Manchester and is a member of the student team the Library employs. The team work on a number of different projects alongside permanent staff, examples of this are collecting survey data from students, recording podcasts for My Learning Essentials and assisting with events across the Library to name a few.  

Close your eyes and relax…

In response to recent talk about the value of slowing students down to allow them to rest and reflect, we thought about what we do to support students here at the University of Manchester Library. Wellbeing features strongly as a strand within My Learning Essentials (MLE) programme of skills. MLE works with partners in The University’s Counselling Service to deliver sessions as part of the overall development programme. Throughout the year Counselling delivers sessions entitled ‘Calm your brain/learn to concentrate’, ‘Making the most of your mind’ and ‘Challenging unhelpful thinking habits’ and they are well attended.

This week, exams have started at The University of Manchester. Students are feeling the pressure building up to perform to the best of their abilities and this can distort their focus. During the exam period we dedicate more time to the pastoral care of our students, offering ‘Calm your brain and have a croissant’ sessions, acknowledging the fact that we operate in a 24-hour building and that students should have breakfast to get themselves off to the best start.

During this time we will often ask students to sit and meditate at the beginning of the workshops that we facilitate. For three to four minutes we ask the students to close their eyes and to focus on nothing but their breathing whilst relaxing their bodies. Students have responded well to this, and, though they look a little surprised, when asked they usually join in.

Another way that we promote mindfulness is using the MUSE headbands (http://www.choosemuse.com/) which are a helpful way to teach mindfulness meditation techniques. They allow you to work through progressively more challenging exercises at your own pace and record your progress, helping to build confidence and gain a better understanding of how to calm your brain.

While the headbands and iPads are an exciting showcase of the new technology that students can access through the Learning Commons, with practice students can use the meditation exercises they teach independently, whenever they need. While headbands allow students to practise the techniques and give a better understanding of how mindfulness helps the brain, the meditation exercises themselves can be beneficial in all kinds of situations from sleeping soundly to gathering your thoughts in an exam. Most of the exercises are only a couple of minutes long, making them a suitable choice for students who don’t feel as if they have the time to attend a full-length meditation session (these people are also likely to be those in most need of relaxation techniques!) and can even fit into the short breaks recommended for productivity by techniques such as Pomodoro.

There is no one ‘type’ of student who will particularly benefit from MUSE or the meditation workshops – after all, stress is one of the most universal issues that students deal with in university. Short mindfulness breaks can be just as useful in helping students who are disorganised and who struggle with procrastination as they can be in encouraging those who overwork themselves to take time out when they need it! 

We are sure that there is more that we could be doing and we would be really interested to hear from others about their approaches to supporting the wellbeing of students or staff.

 

Take5 #13: The best way of being creative?

To coincide with a week-long run of #creativeHE facilitated by Norman Jackson –  16-22 April 2016 – we are posting a #Take5 from Norman – asking us to join in a conversation about creativity in the disciplines. Join in the conversation in Google+ here:
https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/110898703741307769041

#Where Does Creativity Reside in the Discipline?

Surveys of academics/faculty in different disciplines (1) reveal that sites for creative thinking and action appear to be available in most aspects of disciplinary practice. Sites for creativity can be connected through the idea of disciplinary inquiry and problem solving. They can also be connected to Dellas and Gaier’s (2) concept of creativity ‘the desire and ability to use imagination, insight, intellect, feeling and emotion to move an idea from one state to an alternative, previously unexplored state’. This is fundamentally a process we call ‘development’ and I think the idea of development incorporates all the thinking and actions that enable us to bring imagination into concrete existence (3).

Question: This is the list of things academics in different disciplines considered to be associated with being creative? WHAT DO YOU THINK? WHAT’S MISSING? Can you illustrate how these things work together in concrete examples of creativity in disciplinary practice?

Creativity in the Disciplines
Being original – is understood as creating something new and useful to the discipline. For most academics this is embodied in the processes and products of research many of whom are active contributors. The idea is also connected to invention and innovation. For example in history this could mean: new approaches to solving historical problems; new techniques to gather and analyse data; new approaches to validate evidence; new interpretations of evidence; new forms of history and new forms of communicating historical information.

Making use of imagination – is about using mental models in disciplinary thinking. It is a source of inspiration, stimulates curiosity and sustains motivation. It generates ideas for creative solutions and facilitates interpretation in situations which cannot be understood by facts or observations alone. Disciplinary problems and concerns provide an essential context for the use of imagination.

Finding and thinking about complex problems – the engine of academic creativity is intellectual curiosity – the desire to find out, understand, explain, prove or disprove something. Curiosity leads academics to find questions that are worth answering and problems that are worth solving.

Making sense of complexity, synthesising, connecting and seeing relationships – Because working with complex problems often involves working with multiple and incomplete data sets, the capacity to synthesise, make connections and see new patterns and relationships is important in sense-making (interpreting and creating new mental models) and working towards better understandings and possible solutions to difficult problems.

Communication – the communication of ideas, knowledge and deeper understandings are important dimensions of creativity in the discipline. The symbolic language and tools and vehicles for communicating are all part of the disciplinary heritage. Story telling is an important dimension of communication. Disciplinary cultures are largely based on writing using the conceptual and symbolic language and images that have been developed to communicate complex information. Story-telling and story-writing are important sites for academics’ creativity.

Resourcefulness – in the professional disciplines many roles involve solving difficult problems requiring ingenuity and resourcefulness. For example, a social worker or medic might need all their resourcefulness to access and acquire the resources to solve a client or patient’s problem.

Do join in the conversation via #creativeHE: https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/110898703741307769041

Sources
1Jackson, N.J. and Shaw, M. (2006) Developing subject perspectives on creativity in higher education, in N.J. Jackson et al (eds) Developing Creativity in Higher Education: an imaginative curriculum, London and New York: Routledge 89-108 Available on-line athttp://www.normanjackson.co.uk/creativity.html
2 Dellas, M. and Gaier, E.L. (1970) Identification of Creativity in the Individual Psychological Bulletin 73, 55-73
3 Jackson N J (2016) Introduction Creative Academic Magazine April 2016

Take5 #12: The best way of supporting student research?

Generating Research Conversation with “The Wheel”

Terry Elliot, Western Kentucky University Writing Project, February 2016

I have a semester-long research “thing” that all of my students take part in. I call it a “thing” because it could range from a standard research paper (their default setting I fear) to an extended informational blog to ebooks to collaborative handbooks.  The purpose of this early assignment is to get them thinking first about their personal and disciplinary passions AND connecting those with their immediate community in the classroom.  Passion and connection.

I also introduce a really effective sharing technique that I call the “wheel”. The wheel allows students to get up, move around, converse, and then sit back down to reflect.  I love how it seems to be a whole activity, a gestalt.  The “wheel” can be easily adapted for other purposes.  In fact the next assignment is for participants to reduce their original list of ten to five topics that they then turn into research questions.  Rinse and repeat.

Here is the Friday assignment:

  1. Bring 10 ideas/concepts/things that you are curious about to class on Friday. Make sure at least five of them are from your major/discipline. These are topics. It doesn’t yet matter that they are too big, too small or just right.
  2. Make sure you the tutor, as facilitator, have ten of these ideas/concepts/things as well.
  3. Count off students around the room as either “one” or “two“. Have the “ones” form a loose circle in the center of the room. Have them face outward from the center. Get the “twos” to pair off with the “ones“.
  4. Participants introduce themselves to each other.
  5. The twos will tell the ones about their listicle of ten items.
  6. The facilitator can either participate or listen from the side and take notes (or not). When the facilitator senses completion between the ones and twos (plus a little extra time) she announces, “Switch clockwise.”
  7. Repeat the conversations until the participants return to their original positions.
  8. Repeat the “wheel” with the inner ring rotating and telling their listicle of ten.
  9. After completion sit closely together (or standing) do a “post-mortem”. I practice ultimate time here. I ask the question and wait until I have a response.

Here are some questions I use:

  1. any discoveries made?
  2. which one of all the items did you like the best? explain.
  3. which one of your own items did you like the most? explain.
  4. did you drop any items for consideration as a research topic?
  5. how did you share your list?
  6. did you get better at sharing your list? explain.
  7. are there items you might cross off your list after this exercise? what are they?

This is messy, but it is all about the idea that students are part of a research community who can help each other. I always leave time for some social dynamics. I have five or more students in each of my classes who are not native speakers.  This allows them to practice speaking and the repetition allows them to feel more and more comfortable as they work with their classmates. Often students discover what not to research. Others find something else that someone else shared seems to fit their needs. By keeping the exercise as open as possible, keeping the initial conditions simple, then I believe that the resulting mess can be extremely productive.

Anything here can be adapted. Participants can be facilitators. You can vary the tempo of the “switching”.  In other words, it can be a game with no definite outcome in mind.  Whatever comes will come.  If it fails, ask them why it fails. In fact make sure you include time for an exit slip at the end for feedback for making it better and make sure you use that feedback to begin the exercise the next time you use it.

I love this technique. It can be fast or slow.  It can be interrupted or completed. It is adaptable. It gets students moving forward and ‘keeping on’.  And best of all you can move the class toward community and conversation.  Always be connecting is my mantra and this little tool is a happy way to do that.  But remember the advice of weightlifters:  all lifting programs work until they don’t.  They will come to view this as routine if you use it willy nilly.  Make sure you vary it or better yet have other ‘music’ in your conductor’s repertoire to mix it up.

Terry Elliot says: I am a father, a husband, a farmer and a teacher. I have taught K-12 for ten years and university for ten years. My areas of interest are digital rhetoric and composition, tech pedagogy and connectivist MOOCs. I have been a tech liaison for the Western Kentucky University Writing Project, a facilitator for three years for the National Writing Project’s CLMOOC, and a tech advisor for my university’s technology advisory group. I have several online presences including my blog here: http://impedagogy.com/wp/  as well as on Twitter: @telliowkuwp or @tellio . My current interests include online research methods, RSS technology, multimodal rhetoric, and social annotation.