GOGN Fellowship project: Co-creating an open picture book about open education

A few days ago I found out that my GOGN fellowship project was accepted. I am over the moon. Hard work is ahead. But also a lot of creativity and resourcefulness will be needed. I have no idea what we will co-create but that is the exciting part of it.

by Chrissi using Sketches

So, what is the plan? To co-author an open picture book about open education. Yes, a picture book, to raise awareness about the value of open education and what can be achieved through it using a story. A story that is cross-generational and can be told, red to non-readers, Young as well as experienced readers. When we talk about open education often we relate it to higher education but, isn’t this a bit late? Is there a need to start earlier? Isn’t there a need to see things more holistically?

Thank you to the GOGN team for seeing value in this unusual idea and supporting it. The project will be a collaborative one. I cherry picked the dream team from my GOGN family members from around the world. I met all of them, thanks to GOGN when I still was a PhD student or shortly after. GOGN was and still is a valuable peer support network and community for me!

Back to the fellowship project. I started getting organised really quickly. If you have worked with me before, you will know that I don’t like last minute things. I prefer to start working early on a project. Therefore planning and managing time available is really important. We are all busy. I would like us to make a strong start launch it on the 14th of October during the GOGN seminar and the project plan is ready and will be discussed and finalised soon with the core team.

An open communication channel has already been established via a group DM on Twitter for the core writing team. The Google doc folder is also ready and has been shared with the team. The idea I had to select story seeds from the wider global community is now ready. I decided to do this via a survey. These seeds will then be considered during the collaborative writing process.

It will be a picture book with animal characters, as animals in picture books can be more inclusive. But what animals will be in the story? And in how many languages will we be able to translate it?

The MA in Creative Writing I just finished, the picture book course I am doing this year at the Golden Egg Academy, but also my experience of the first two open collaborative picture books I created What will today bring and The Invisible King, and my experience of 10 years translating novels and pictures books, will help me with this new project as my approach has been informed by these experiences, courses and related activities.

Evie Hurst, one of the illustrators I worked with before on The Invisible King picture book, has said yes so she will do all the illustrations for this book. Evie is currently a first year undergraduate Student in Illustration and Animation. This time, I will stay away from providing directions or notes linked to possible scenes. Not something that will be easy for me, I have to admit, as when I write, I also visualise the images. But my last experience with Evie showed me that my approach wasn’t the most effective one and that the illustrator needs that creative freedom to interpret the story. I can see it clearer now and my readings also confirm that this is the most effective approach when the writer is not the illustrator. Ody Frank, a Six-Form College student in Animtion and Game Design and my youngest son, will design the book.

The story will be a collaborative writing output. While co-authoring is common in academic writing, creative writing in the context of picture books is usually a solo experience. Except perhaps when we look at how Bookdash in South Africa works. On the last picture book, I worked with multiple illustrators, but I have never co-authored a picture book story. It will be exciting to see how this will work and what story will emerge through this collaborative creative writing process. The whole dream team is shown below in the picture.

We have already started working together and thanks to everybody’s critical comments (exactly what was needed!!!), we have our survey ready to launch the picture book project and collect story seeds from the wider community. Please feel free to share as widely as possible. The survey will remain open only until the 31st of October 20.

I am really excited to see how this project will develop and where it will lead us. Thank you GOGN and all collaborators for embracing this project.

visualising GOGN memories

The Invisible King, a collaborative picture book project, now live!

During  the lockdown that began at the end of March I continued engaging in creative activities, not just relating to work. One of them is writing stories. Really short ones. I also wrote a really long one over 20,000 words for my final MA project, well part of it. The other part of the storydress and both of them are connected.

One of the really short stories written in lockdown, is The Invisible King (only 88 words). An open ended story.

As I wanted to turn his story into an open ended collaborative picture book and share widely to raise funds for a good cause, I turned to colleagues from the Illustration pathway and some of their students to find out if they would like to work together to bring the story alive as a picture book. Their current show can be accessed at https://inprogress.mmu.ac.uk/foundation-graphic-design-illustration-pathway/

We have worked over a number of weeks to make this happen and the final book can be seen below. I was impressed by the dedication and creative energy. The Invisible King is open and free to be downloaded and can be used respecting the open license we used. We used the following: CC BY-NC-SA: “This license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator. If you remix, adapt, or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under identical terms.” Find out more about it.

We have created an open inclusive book that invites the reader not just to read, but to create, using their own imagination and with others, the end of the story but also draw on the pages and add their imaginary world to it. Therefore each Invisible King story will be different. What is this story about? Read it and find out. Do you recognise this king?

I would like to thank everybody who contributed to bring this project to life especially my colleagues Louise Batchelor and Ben Greenhalgh and their students Evie Hurst, Lucas McCoy, Lucy Waterworth, Ellie Kilshaw, Lisa Silva, Will Fairbrother-Clarke, Marianne Storer, Georgina Moore, Ted Bain Smith,
Luisa Ventisei & Phaedra Maria Chatzidamianou, a 5-year old little girl.

I would also like to thank Tessa Strickland and Professor Malcolm Press for their valuable suggestions during the making process as well as my very supportive tutors Dr Judy Kendall and Dr Scott Thurston from the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Salford I am currently studying towards for reading and providing the following testimonials:

“This project will help to unlock imagination and creativity in young minds and at the same time engage future generations in the importance of working collectively across boundaries to create a more sustainable and socially just world.” Prof. Malcolm Press, Vice Chancellor, Manchester Metropolitan University

“This collaborative picture-book tracks the reign of King Covid with humour and vibrancy: a flight to outer space, an elephant mask and a wonderful toilet roll wall. To commended for its positivity, a book for our times.” Judy Kendall, Reader in English and Creative Writing, Programme Leader MA in Creative Writing: Innovation & Experimentation, University of Salford

“This vibrant and original book beautifully utilises creative collaboration to reimagine one of the greatest challenges to face humanity in living memory. Thought-provoking and necessary work.” Scott Thurston, Reader in English and Creative Writing, Director of Research for English, University of Salford

Would you like to read The Invisible King? You can access it at https://zenodo.org/record/3924437#.Xvzb1ihKg2x

Through the book we would like to raise money for the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity at https://www.justgiving.com/mayorofgreatermanchesterscharity to support the most vulnerable during this pandemic. Be generous if you can. Thank you.

In the ManMet news  > Choose your own adventure, picture book to raise funds for COVID-19 support charity

Related publication

Nerantzi, C. (2020) The power of collective imagination, with contributions from Greenhalgh B and Batchelor, L., in: The work of imagination. Exploring the nature, role and value of imagination in learning, education, work and other aspects of life, Lifewide Education, No. 23, August 2020, pp. 118-122, available at https://www.lifewideeducation.uk/uploads/1/3/5/4/13542890/lwm_23.pdf

Stay safe and thank you all!

From a Greek mama with love

Studying from home?

Nassi is starting university in September and will be leaving home. When universities moved online overnight during this pandemic, I had a glimpse of hope that Nassi would be staying with us next year and study from home. As a mum, especially a Greek mama, who feels a very strong bond with her children and finds it extremely hard to believe that her little boy is no little boy anymore (I actually had baby typed here originally…) and let go, this was a sweet thought, like μέλι (honey). One more year together. I could protect him from the big wild world and the hungry wolfs, from tiny deadly viruses too, I was hoping. Really? I soon started feeling guilty.

Of course, I also feel sad, very sad, that Nassi like so many thousand students like him will not be able to enjoy university life in the same way many thousands before him did. I hope that his university years will be special for him. Somehow. When he finally goes, I will constantly be thinking of him. I will be worrying. I don’t even know how I will be able to sleep at night. Yes, it is that bad. I remember when I took him to the nursery for the very first time and left him there, all these years ago. The memories are still fresh in my mind. I felt that I had abandoned him even if it was for a few hours. That was a frightening feeling, for a Greek mama especially.

I have to admit that I didn’t just like the idea of Nassi studying from home so that he can be with us, but I also felt that he would have an advantage. No, I didn’t make this up to find excuses. He would learn quickly what learning at university really means. I have been an online and remote learner and student myself for the majority of my education and have been supporting and facilitating online learning in a range of settings. My dad must have been one of the very early non-traditional students who did his undergraduate degree remotely in the DDR when he was working full-time and had a young family. I know from my own experiences that learning requires commitment, determination and discipline, routine and work, hard work. Learning online is not the easy option. So my thinking was, if Nassi can adjust to learning online with help and support, of course, and develop effective study habits, he will be able to learn anywhere, anytime, anyhow. He will become a responsible and confident student. Isn’t this what we want all our students to be? We talk about students’ autonomy but how do we help them get there? Taking responsibility for his own learning from the outset, will not only help him get through his university years and get the maximum out of these, but also prepare him for life. Actually, schools also need to rethink, radically I would say and stop being exam prep factories.

Then, I started thinking why, yes, why on earth are we not (more) systematic in our approach to learning and teaching and approach education as a part of lifelong learning that is seamlessly integrated into our lives. Systematic might be the wrong word. What I mean is integrating learning and education into the fabric of life. The whole education system as one, in harmony. Like a live organism. And moving away from our obsession for exams. I had to add this here. Also, this business with paying fees (there are more inclusive models to fund higher education!) and valuing some degrees more than others? Where does this come from? Why? Nobody is an island. We are social animals. Aristotle said, and he is right. We need each other and we all need to contribute in our unique ways to come together, to move forward together. Treviranus (2016, 7) says this beautifully “It is our variability that gives us collective strength.”

Why have we not adjusted our approaches to learning and teaching and often see technology as an add-on? There are a series of conceptual and empirical frameworks and models that have been developed years ago to scaffold and support learning using digital technologies. We still talk about lectures, and seminars and tutorials and struggle to move away from “delivery” and “content” or even worse “content delivery”. Don’t get me started. A lot has been written about the future of higher education and ambitious models and possible directions have been shared (recently Orr et al., 2020; Ehlers, 2020). It will be really interesting to see what is going to happen. Costa (2020),  for me it is Cristina, voices a much needed perspective and stands up for online learning and the opportunities that are opening up for all of us, if we are willing to un- and re-think and re-align our practices and expectations, as she says. Online education is not a deficit model. It isn’t, for me either.

Will anything change or are we going to go straight back to “lectures” full stop.  I hope not. Old habits die hard. We will see.

There is now an opportunity to be bold and I can sense an appetite for change. Jessop (2020) recognises the opportunities to re-imagine more effective pedagogical approaches. Now. Approaches that have been around for a while. Active learning in various shapes and forms supported and enabled by technologies that have the power to create seamless and connected learning experiences ( Scott, 2020). There is excitement in the air. I can feel it too. Finally, I think, we also seem to recognize (more) the value of creativity in learning and teaching. Maybe we just talk about it more… Maybe I am seeing things that are not there. Wishful thinking? Creative approaches are often pushed to the corner…  under the carpet. Innovators are ignored, excluded and ridiculed. And their innovations as well. Nelson (2018, 4) wrote “There is a strong pedagogical impulse to eliminate haphazard approaches to learning and sadly imagination and creativity are a casualty.” These are his words. Anybody who has pushed the boundaries knows if this is true or not. They will have felt it, experienced it. Are we moving from creativity as casualty as Nelson (2018), said, to creativity to the rescue? Crawford (2020, online) recognises that “… the creative vaccine can work its magic on all our minds at this dreadful time…”. He talks about art, but creativity is not just art. Resourcefulness is what many of my colleagues have shown during the pandemic. Many have become experimenters and explorers. Hungry for new ideas. There is a fresh air of excitement about teaching all around us, that I haven’t felt for a long time. Can anybody else feel this too? We do seem to be more open to ideas (than ever before?), to different ways of teaching tactics, to use Hammond’s (2017) words and supporting our students’ learning. Plato said that “necessity is the mother of invention”. Could it be adversity? I think change was needed for a long time but it just wasn’t happening. Were we sleepwalking? Chatzidamianos (for me Gerasimos) and Nerantzi (that is me) (2020) have come together and knitted the PPE for learning and teaching in higher education during the pandemic based on their observations from recent experiences: Positivity, People and Emotions.

When I started writing this piece, I didn’t plan to just share the fact that Nassi will be going to university and my feelings about it. I am of course excited about him starting university, which I haven’t mentioned yet, I think. But there was something else that has been occupying my mind for a little while.

So, here is my idea. Finally.

Couldn’t the first year of an undergraduate degree, of all undergraduate degrees, yes you read this correctly, be offered online by default? By all universities? Is anybody else seeing the advantages this would bring for our students, their university experience and their lives? But also communities and society as a whole? Wouldn’t such a re-structure of our programmes, help our students master learning how to learn? How to develop effective study habits, how to inquire? To take responsibility for their own learning? What difference would it make to the wider academic community? To inclusion, retention, progression and success at university and in life? Some would say this should happen before anybody starts university. Also true. Why isn’t it? We will of course, have to sort out access to networked technologies for all citizens first so that it doesn’t become another intervention for the privileged, for the few.

I know, universities are big ships and difficult to maneuver. It is however, not impossible to change direction.

From a Greek mama with love

 

References

Chatzidamianos, G. & Nerantzi, C. (2020) “Stripping the layers of the onion” in learning and teaching in HE: positive lessons learned from working during a pandemic, AdvanceHE, 3 June 2020, available at https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/news-and-views/stripping-layers-onion-learning-and-teaching-he

Costa, C. (2020) The limits of online education are assumed, not a given, 4 June 2020, Social Theory applied, available at https://socialtheoryapplied.com/2020/06/04/the-limits-of-online-education-are-assumed-not-a-given/?fbclid=IwAR063w7Xob6SzpyXTMQRkM5D_tnvwL0hdR26T33a5fLe8q41-y7_i2veHYM

Crawford, P. (2020) Coronavirus – an outbreak of creativity, Arts and Minds Blog, Arts and Humanities Research Council, 22 May 2020, available at https://ahrc-blog.com/2020/05/22/coronavirus-an-outbreak-of-creativity/?fbclid=IwAR0agQVM1X3MxHuQyoFzcm8X8htsNjGTglieoY_YP4-1PITVOwOxHA-5fQY

Ehlers, U-D. (2020) Future Skills. The future of learning and higher education, translated by Ulf-Daniel Ehlers, Patricia Bonaudo, Laura Eigbrecht Karlsruhe, available at https://nextskills.org/library/future-skills/

Hammond, C. (2017) Introduction: Critical pedagogies – horizons of possibility, In: Hammond, C. (ed) (2017) Hope, Utopia and Creativity in Higher Education. Pedagogical tactics for alternative futures, 1-19

Jessop, T. (2020) Let’s lose the deficit language about online education, 2 June 2020, WonkHE, available at  https://wonkhe.com/blogs/lets-lose-the-deficit-language-about-online-education/

Nelson, R. (2018) Creativity Crisis. Towards a post-constructivist educational future. Clayton, Victoria: Monash University Publishing

Orr, D.  Luebcke, M., Schmidt, J. P., Ebner, M. Wannemacher, K., Ebner, M. & Dohmen, D. (2020) Higher Education landscape 2030. A trend analysis based on the AHEAD International Horizon Scanning, available at https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-030-44897-4

Scott, G. (2020) Can we plan for a socially distanced campus?, WonkHE, 6 May 2020, available athttps://wonkhe.com/blogs/can-we-plan-for-a-socially-distanced-campus/

 

week 10 > in voluntary lockdown

Hundreds of people in the UK and thousands globally are still dying from this horrible virus. We have become impatient to go back to “normal” life. Apparently pigeon shooting and horse racing is starting again. Really? I guess we have different priorities. Human life seems not too matter. I despair. I worry. I am staying in lockdown.

At a time when everything feels like a race, a race against each other, the photo below gives me hope. A glimpse of hope for humanity. Watching the rocket launch and especially the warm welcome when the astronauts finally arrived at the International Space Station was heartwarming. It really showed what we can achieve together and make the impossible possible.

image taken from the live stream that was available at https://youtu.be/pyNl87mXOkc

We can work together and sustain such collaborations if there is commitment to each other, commitment to work together for the wider good. Ephemeral common interest motivated by personal gains as a driver for a collaboration is never a good sign and will not last. We see this again and again.

At the end of this week, we will be offering the open course FOS with colleagues from 10 institutions in the NW of England. We are grateful for their contributions and being part of this adventure. We hope that it will attract interest from the wider academic community and staff and students will join us to learn together. Especially now, during the pandemic where everything is changing rapidly, despite the stillness we may see, our minds and practices actually travel faster than ever before, change faster than ever before. Are we ready for September? This course will hopefully help us experience something different, something that will help us reflect on our own practice, a course that will help us experiment and learn with others. Something that will provide new ideas, something that will trigger changes in our thinking, actions, interactions and practices. The experimental nature of the course means that not everything will work. This is a given. We are not aiming to model perfection or excellence. Is any of this actually possible or desirable? Experiencing eureka moments, experiencing things going wrong, being there for each other, troubleshooting and recovering but also discovering new ways of solving old problems, we hope will make FOS attractive to all those who join us for 10 days in June. Often colleagues give up when they try using a technology and it doesn’t work. I have done it too. But every such experience is a learning opportunity that helps us re-think our own approach and the tactics we use. Tactics is a useful way of putting it, I feel, and Craig Hammonds thoughts relating to this has been an inspiration.

“To recognise and accommodate the expressive and meandering connections emergent from within the scripted worlds of liberated learners, practitioners must start to creatively and tactically manoeuvre pedagogical alterations within the stultifying rules of the academic monolith. Democratic practices and tactics should be experimented with, to ensure that serendipitous and subjective voices are afforded space to birth and grow towards meaningful explication.” (Hammond, 2017, 15)

The plan is to model real practices. Not perfection. Not everything will work. Things will go wrong. We know they will. But we will use these experiences to learn. To troubleshoot together. To move forward. We probably learn more from negative experiences if we allow it to happen. If we don’t ignore our own mistakes and shortcomings and do something about it. So easy, too easy to blame the technology or somebody else…

FOS has its roots in the final project of the MSc in Blended and Online Education I completed at Edinburgh Napier University. Like so many other ideas and concepts I developed later on. Looking back at this journey and what grew out of this experience, I can say that this course has been transformative for my practice as an academic developer. This project led to the postgraduate module FDOL at the University of Salford I developed and the open FDOL course with Lars Uhlin from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. After offering FDOL three times using PBL as a cross-institutional collaboration between our two institutions, two child courses were created that indicated two different directions of travel (ONL and FOS). My doctoral research and the discoveries I made as FDOL was one of the cases I investigated, took me to new places. FOS was born out of FDOL and some features are influenced by BYOD4L.

What else? I have continued crafting. Made two special masks this weekend. Just need to post them. I also love looking after our plants in the house and in the garden. Maybe we will even have some strawberries. Maybe.

I have been writing like mad on my final MA project. I have over 15,000 words already and still have a way to go. I know where the story is going. Just missing some of the details. I am really looking forward to my early mornings to make a little bit of progress every day. I know when I have ran out of creative steam and I stop. Thirty minutes is my max. I feel a sense of achievement every day. By the end of June, the very first draft will be complete. Maybe even sooner. I am getting there. Can’t wait to see it all coming together, also with the storydress, that is ready and waiting.

Stay safe and look after each other!

References

Hammond, G. A. (2017) Roland Barthes, Guy Debord and the Pedagogical Value of Creative Liberation. Prism: Casting New Light on Learning, Theory and Practice http://prism-journal.blackburn.ac.uk/ ISSN 2514-5347 Vol. 1 (2): pp. 8-24, Available at http://prism-journal.blackburn.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/2.1-Hammond-PR2-1.pdf

week 9 diary > no longer paralysed

This week I have really enjoyed making progress with my story. It is over 12,000 words at the moment and I still have a way to go, probably a month. Not sure yet about the final length. I like that I know where I am going as this story develops from a picture book story, under 500 words. I have the story skeleton. While initially, I felt paralysed by the task, progressively I learnt to love the writing process linked to this story. Now, I feel a bit naughty mixing reality with imagination, a lot of it. Something I like doing anyway. But I wasn’t sure if it was right to do this, in this particular story. As it is based on real stories. I have let go. I feel the freedom now. The freedom to invent, to be playful with language and experiences, to trigger emotional reactions in my characters, hopefully also in my readers. There is so much I don’t know still and will never find out about my parents’ past. Maybe it is better that way, maybe. The gaps have been useful for me. They test me, they challenge me and create opportunities for invention. How would it be for them to read this story, one day? Would they recognise themselves in it? Would anybody get a sense what really happened and what is made up? My wish is that the story flows as a whole and would enable the reader to immerse themselves into it from the start to the end and live different realities. Realities they never experienced. Or maybe they did and the story brings it back to life for them. The other day I spoke to my mum and she was telling me that she was reading a book… as soon as she said that I knew what was coming. She was enjoying reading it and then looked at who the translator was. It was me, her daughter. She sounded really proud. She asked me how I did it. Well, with a lot of patience and commitment to quality and respect to the original and the author, of course. It is hard work and a craft at the same time. A labour of love. I did it for over ten years, mainly translating literature. Now I was trying to write my own pieces.

I am really looking forward to my early mornings. My 30 mins writing blocks, every day, even on  weekends. I seem to be really disciplined and get an energy booster for the whole day when I know that I have made a little bit more progress. Little by little the story is coming together. I feel that I am not just creative in my approach but also critical. I go back and forward, polish, change and connect, connect tighter. Simplify. Always little by little. My daily target is manageable and achievable. I did the same when I was translating books. Maybe I am transferring that practice to a new context. Maybe this way of working helps me believe that I can actually write longer stories and not just for children? Am I growing  as a writer? A tiny bit? Writing regularly definitely helps. My very first reader, except my supervisor who has seen it a few times already, read what I had written about 2 weeks ago. The feedback was really encouraging. Can’t wait to share with them the full story. I have also been thinking about how to link the storydress with the longer story (no title yet) and have found a way, I think, that could work and connect the two outputs naturally. We will see.

Ody went for a walk with me. It was the first time for him in 9 weeks. He was ok. We had a good time together while Nassi met his girlfriend from a distance. Dating in the time of physical distancing. My plants in the garden and in the house are doing well. Our rocket is yummy, we have flowers on our strawberry plants, the tomatoes seem to do really well and I am potting and repotting mint and flowers. Also drying some mint.

I continued my crafts. The silver clay was a disaster. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. Some things are better learnt with somebody showing you. Making the moulds was the easy part… The firing, needs more work so that I don’t ruin the designs. Will go back to YouTube as the written instructions didn’t help.

I finally decided to give the cabochon pendants a try. Even managed to do this following limited instructions. I am pleased that the pressed forget-me-nots worked really well. Need to press a few more before they are all gone.

My parents’ portrait is on the wall and our black and white outline family picture is also hanging.

Thinking about one more painting for the living room. Santorini came to mind, again as an outline, white on black. Will check our photos when we went last time. I wish I was there now. I wish we had that little house on the top of the hill. I wish we could swim in the deep blue sea. I have no idea how travelling will look like in the future. On a plane, a train, a ferry. All seems scary at the moment.

We are still in lockdown, sort of, at least some of us. Many seem to ignore the guidelines, even the ones writing them. So many have lost loved ones. So much pain. I wish this virus would disappear and never come back. I am praying for all those in pain. Stay safe!

week 8 diary > the masked shopper

I did overcome my fear and went into a shop, wearing a mask and gloves. I didn’t like that shopping experience but at least I got what was on my list, mainly cleaning stuff. Not that we didn’t have any… I was surprised that almost nobody was wearing a mask and/or gloves. I continued also making masks and have now find a way to make them bendy around the nose thanks to all the experimenters who share openly on YouTube. Just like this one.
This week, the Government’s message changed… apparently we have to be alert. But I am actually alarmed. Alarmed by how the pandemic seems to spread quietly around the country… We can now meet one person from another household. I had such a request and decided to be there to make sure distances were kept. Not that I didn’t trust, but my fear was bigger and guided my decision. A date with the mummy police watching.
Making further progress with my story writing (for the storydress). I have actually started enjoying injecting my imagination into the authentic experience as remembered and retold to me by my parents, in snippets. My mum’s side of the story is now ready, the first draft, I mean, and I can not only see my mum in there but also myself. I think at times I have been playful in my approach despite the fact that the story is traumatic. I like the ideas I have come up to tie things together and will be asking a friend soon, to read it and tell me their honest opinion. I noticed when I read the other day a section to Adam, that I was at the same time tidying up my sentences. I shared two paragraphs with him, one that made me smile and one that made me cry. Is this a sign of a good story? I definitely could and did connect with the story, but would other readers do as well?
Marking has began. And while I enjoy reading the FLEX submissions and providing feedback, I think it takes me longer to read as I find the work fascinating and can see how the module has been useful for my colleagues. I suggested to a few of them already to consider writing up their work, for publication, as there are some real gems in there worth sharing more widely. Many of the submissions are directly link to teaching during the pandemic and the sudden transition. Really interesting what they say and how they have dealt with the changes. I am collecting the key themes that are coming out of these… another reason why it takes me so long to mark this work… While I am still marking and will be for a while, our new FLEX iterations have started and today is our orientation session. Many colleagues have already posted their introductions in our Moodle area and also said hello in our community. I am grateful to our mentors, colleagues who have completed FLEX for helping this term. Let’s see how the redesign of Moodle also works.
I carry a story in my head for some weeks now. Not started writing it down. My priority is the longer story I am working on at the moment for my final MA project. I seem to have found a writing rhythm. Early in the morning, for just 30 mins maximum, before work, when my brain is fresh and has ideas. I had started writing about this earlier in the post. Now I seem to be back to this. I am looking forward to my early mornings and the writing surprises it will bring. As I am starting to write my dad’s side of the story, I need to give his character a unique voice, a personality, mannerism, and apply this throughout. My next challenge. Will I be able to do this? And will I be able to do this well?
Inspired by the above I decided to create a family picture on plywood. Looking at the outline on the black background, I can actually see it working, without faces, without colour. Just a few white lines. So I decided to use this approach.
20200519_090223
Less is more? Also in art? It will therefore be different from all my other colourful paintings that decorate our kitchen and dining area, which I made when the boys were little.
My plans are growing in the garden and indoors and we are trying our luck with silver clay. I have been avoiding this for some time as it seems too complicated. I have also started making my own creams.
Stay safe!

week 7 diary > partying in the streets so so close to each other… really?

Before I forget, again. We have been designing our meals using a weekly menu. For the last three weeks now. It helps prepare balanced meals and make sure that there is variety on a weekly basis. It also helps us to use what we have instead of always needing or wanting what we don’t have and go back to the shops. We have become more resourceful, try new combinations, often altering recipes we find online and creating colourful dishes with Nassi and Ody.

on one of our walks in Glossop

With Nassi we went on a few walks. One day we went into Glossop. Normally we go the other way towards the hills. I didn’t expect to see that many people. Distancing was not always possible. I became concerned. We crossed over a few times with a Nassi some other people did too, but not everybody seem to mind being that close to others. A group of teenagers past as too. They were not all from the same household, no way, and in the park people were sitting on benches. Oh no, what is happening to me. I turn into the lockdown police. We past the shop and we had gloves and a mask with us but didn’t go in. I normally would. I love shopping. I haven’t been in a physical shop for over 2 months now.
On Friday a street party. I understand it was V day. And nothing wrong with street parties, of course. But now? And without any sign of social distancing? I have never seen so much movement in our street, never. The kids were up and down the street playing together, not all from the same household… adults were sitting together and drinking not all from the same household. As time past they forgot more and more about physical distancing and came even closer together. We seemed to be the only ones not out there.
And then I had a nightmare. I was in a shop filling my basket and suddenly realised that I wasn’t wearing a mask and my gloves. I left everything behind ran out and woke up. Am I developing a phobia? There is a Greek word for this, I know and I know the word. But I am  not going to mention it here. How many people have had similar experiences/nightmares?
I made some further progress with Mami and Papi’s portrait and when I showed it to my parents on Skype the other day, Mami even recognised herself. She liked the hair which at the time was just an outline.

Mami saw it before I adde the chillies, lemons and hair

With Nassi we made some silicone moulds. That was much easier than I thought. The plan is to make some silver clay jewellery. When we went to the big Maker fair and I watched the demonstration it looked really easy but for a year now I have all the kits and haven’t done anything with it yet. I planned to do a course but this is not going to happen now. We started looking on YouTube and have so far made the moulds. Making some progress. Yeah. We will continue next weekend.
Work has been really busy again. All good and exciting developments and also preparing to re-run FOS, an open course that started as an MSc project back in 2009-10, developed then into a cross-institutional course in 2013 developed with Lars Uhlin from Karolinska and later into the child course FOS (also influenced by BYOD4L developed with Sue Beckingham) which was offered for the first time in 2015 and then again in 2017 with many colleagues. My research around FDOL when I did my doctoral studies and particularly the collaborative learning aspect really helped me inform my thinking, how FOS is offered and how it is keeps evolving. I am very excited as Neil Withnell (who has been there from the very beginning, initially as an FDOL participant, then as a facilitator multiple times) and I are organising a new iteration, the #FOS201 in collaboration with colleagues from 10 institutions in the North West of England over 10 days in June. We hope that it will be a useful experience, especially now, where we are all re-thinking how we teach and also un-think in these Covid-19 times. New-think is needed and this course will provide some stimulation, we hope. I am really grateful to all our lovely facilitators who volunteered to be part of #FOS201 and Neil for his ongoing support, friendship and commitment.

5-14 June, join us!

Stay safe! Apparently we need to be alert now. The stay at home message has gone now. But as my friend Helene said, I am alarmed!!!
Is the lockdown over (yet)? Is the question we seem to focus on. I would like to find out more about the research that is conducted, any new developments in treatment and the vaccine(s). Shouldn’t the news  say more about these?

Week 6 diary > we all had a haircut by now

… even Adam. I might actually need another one soon.
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After writing my last diary entry and saying that the weather was so lovely, and for so long… guess what… yes, it started raining. And hasn’t stopped much. Good for the plants, I was thinking. Our strawberry plants will grow. And the spinach, and the rocket. And they do. They have already. I enjoy saying hello to my plants every day and looking after them.
Work is super busy. Among others, I decided to restructure or redesign my Moodle areas to model what I feel could work for next year so that colleagues who join the units can experience it and consider similar approaches in their own teaching. And we are now almost ready to start. But first marking.
Really enjoyed the session I did this week about frameworks for learning and teaching and pleased I decided to use a hands-on approach to explain what we often do instead of telling people or just show them a flat picture. Experiencing something is so much more powerful and lasting.

… from the webinar… you can also see my mask template on the left… will need to make a few more soon

What else? Oh yes,I have become unstuck with my longer version of the storydress story. I have overcome my fear to inject imagined episodes to an authentic story of story and I have actually started enjoying coming up with ideas. I have still a lot of work to do and can’t wait to share this version with my first critical reader when ready.
We are making good use of our flour and I plan to learn how to make sourdough bread and am also thinking to get a pasta maker that looks like a German cookie maker. Seen it on eBay.
I have been thinking a lot about all my loved ones. When will I see my parents again? Bringing them somehow closer will give me some comfort and after the storydress that captures their life stories, I decided to start a portrait of them. Perhaps Grayson’s Perry Art Club on Channel 4 9(episode 1) inspired me last Monday. Very possible.

Mami and Papi started on the 3rd of May 2020

On purpose I will progress this slowly, to prolong the process, to work on it with care and love. I remember all the things they went through in their lives and my eyes fill up. Seeing them regularly via a webcam and not being able to hug them is painful. Very painful. At least I can see them from a distance.
I enjoyed my meeting with the illustration students this week and I am positive that we will continue working together on our project. Can’t wait to see this project coming together and I have done some more preparatory work on this in the last few days. Very exciting!
There are some good news regarding a Learn Greek app for all those Greeks abroad. Will share with the boys.
Also, Easter is officially over and has been replaced by spring and summer decorations around the house. Will take picture and share here.
Let’s hope the sun will shine again for all of us on this planet.

I had cut these wooden pieces a while ago… now, I am turning them into boats that will help us travel with our imaginations (yes, plural!)

To FLEX or not to FLEX? Term 3 is about to start #flexcpd

Can’t wait to co-facilitate FLEX next term with my colleagues Kath and Ben starting in a few weeks. Since 2014 when I developed FLEX after arriving at Manchester Met it has grown every year and become popular unit on our a PgCert and the MA in Higher Education. It has worked really well for many and offered opportunities to engage in scholarly activities around their teaching and disseminate some of their work through conferences and publications. With my colleague Dr Gerasimos Chatzidamianos we carried out some related research and with a Kath Botham early on we did a pilot for the HEA linked to the use of portfolios within FLEX.
It is now the first time I will be team teaching on this unit but I am not new to such practices. Extremely valuable, I have found in the past for peer dialogue and support. I have been team teaching systematically on our a PgCert with Haleh Moravej, also on one of her units (we have written about our team-teaching experience and this will be published later this year). Then with a learning developer, recently and I often invite colleagues in the PgCert to team teach with me. In the past,when I was at Salford Uni, this provided an introduction to academic development to a colleague who then transitioned full time to become an academic developer. So working together has some fantastic benefits for all involved.

FLEX is flexible as the title suggests and it does what it says on the tin. I think it does. Perhaps it is not just flexible but elastic. This may be its appeal? There is evidence that it has inspired colleagues internally and externally to adapt the FLEX approach for other professional development initiatives but also for undergraduate and postgraduate units in different disciplines.

We are in lockdown, for over six weeks now and I have been working systematically to reshape our FLEX Moodle areas. Reshaping with a purpose. Until now, I did not pay much attention to these spaces, I have to admit. So when I started looking at them with a critical eye I started stripping some of its layers away. I think I actually removed most of it. I realised I needed to revisit my own research into learning and teaching supported by technology. There was extensive work I did in my thesis, also linked to pedagogical models and frameworks supported by technology and the collaborative learning framework I developed. I also looked back at my own experiences as a distant and online student on a range of programmes and courses and my role as a facilitator in some of these. This experience and research came in handy. Very handy indeed. I know that frameworks can make a difference to learning and teaching, to scaffold, support and build community. I have experienced it myself and my research confirms this as well.
The new design (well there is a design now!) is streamlined and the use of learning blocks or blocks for learning, with a focus on supported inquiry, and clear (I hope!) instructions will bring clarity, help navigation and foster engagement so that we can come together and learn together. Less is definitely more. I am really looking forward to hearing how colleagues find this space and if they feel that it is easy to navigate through the space and easily find what they are looking for but also participate in the activities and discussions.
As there are two FLEX units, FLEX 15 and FLEX 30 I felt that it would be beneficial to bring the two groups together not just synchronously but also asynchronously. We will do this through our uniting Twitter hashtag #flexcpd and also our brand new private Facebook group. I wasn’t keen to use Facebook but we have used it in the past and also our #creativeHE community has been transferred there and it seems to work ok. Let’s see what happens with your FLEX community there.
Hopefully, our colleagues will who joined FLEX will find the unit useful to not just reflect on their practice but also to get ideas that they could adapt in their own teaching.

week 5 diary > new routines

Got cooking, baking and gardening buddies. Nassi and Ody. We have developed new routines it seems and have become more experimental in the garden and in the kitchen. And I clean a lot!!!
The strawberry plants we bought on eBay arrived and we opened the massive bag of flour and started baking. Actually I do bake with Ody and cook meals with Nassi. Will we have some strawberries this year? Not sure as the plants were mainly  roots… we will see. Maybe we will have to wait until next year.
The weather has been lovely. We had another BBQ… on Sunday when it sort of started raining, a little bit. BBQ and rain seem to go together.
But mainly it has been sunny and warm for NW standards. I can’t remember another year like this. And I have been in the UK for over 20 years now. Drying clothes outside is another of my everyday little pleasures. Half of the garden is a construction site with a scaffold and everything. Yes, the builders working on an extension left it all behind just before lockdown. It would have been nice to have it finished but it wasn’t meant to be.
Work has been really busy. Time flies and I feel that we are now more needed than ever before. Existing relationships are strengthened and new ones are formed all the time that generate ideas for support and collaboration. Last week I participated in a session with our foundation year in art and design and I could really feel how connected my colleagues were with their students and how well they knew them and their work. I can’t wait for next week to see their first sketches, a respond to a live brief and a collaboration that is starting. Bigger plans are also emerging. I suspect things will be clearer in a few days. I am excited and motivated and also feel physically much better. It is all psychosomatic… as a dear friend and colleague keeps saying. Feeling almost normal, which is a little bit scary too, as I just don’t want to get worse again and ever experience that pain again.
No new story this week, but I slowly made some progress with a more detailed version of the storydress stories. While I use autobiographical details, I also free myself from the real experiences and inject my own details that will hopefully make the two stories interesting to a reader. Thinking of capturing these longer version, pure constructs of my imagination, on audio. Both stories together, spoken simultaneously, as they are lived in parallel. I have been thinking about the last feedback I got from my supervisor and am trying to address some of it, hopefully, but in a way that also works for me. I can’t see more text migrating onto the dress, so the above solution with the double layered audio story could work. I will need to finish writing them first and I have been slow… Almost avoiding it?
Coloured in some more of my plywood designs and have moved on to the ones for Christmas. Furthermore, I went back to sewing colourful bags. Working on four at the moment… as if one wasn’t enough. But they do make nice presents. And I love making them. Wanted to experiment with drawing with chlorine on jeans fabric… no, not injecting it. I couldn’t believe my ears this week. Many of the politicians bring me despair and I am not sure why this pandemic should be led by the government, one political party… what about a government of national unity?
The first vaccines were administered at Oxford University. And then fake news started circulating. Not going to repeat them here or link  to it. Why are people so mean?
Is time standing still? … all the Easter decorations are still up.
Stay safe!

There is light! And hope! There has to be…