Happy Week 5 #creativewriting

I can relax a little bit as I feel that I have found what I will do for my first assignment. Assessment does create stress! If we don’t fully get what we have to do or even get a sense that we can do it.

While all the sessions so far have been extremely valuable and opened windows to new worlds, this week’s session really helped me to connect with my love of picture books. While we didn’t really look at any of them, I did in my own time as I found it useful to relate the theory about happiness as articulated by Ahmed (2010) to these. The module so far confirmed to me that I learn best when I can combine theory with practice. With something that interests me as I seek to find applied patterns of the theory and make meaningful connections. I read the whole book in advance of the session and two other ones by Ahmed, but after the session, I felt that the discussions we had with Caroline and my peers really helped me deepen my understanding about happiness and unhappiness further.

Also, finally knew what I would be doing for my first assignment and confirmed this with Caroline. I actually had written the first draft over the weekend, in advance of our session about happiness and before I confirmed with her that it would be ok. I just couldn’t stop myself. Did I just had a feel that it would work? I immersed myself into the picture books and the theory. It was fascinating what I was discovering. I felt like an archaeologist… sort of. My original plan was just to make a start with the essay over the weekend, maybe 500 words max, but I wrote over 3500… I was pleased I had written that draft before we discussed happiness in class. It really helped me further deepen my understanding about what I had read and what I was discovering in the picture books. So I soon started editing. And reading studies about the literary form of picture books more generally. I can’t stop now. I find it all hugely exciting and invigorating.

… C.S. Lewis is right… “ A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest. ”

So what is Ahmed’s happiness work all about? I articulated my understanding of her theory in my essay through analyzing three contemporary picture books. I love the picture books I selected:

Pandora (Turnbull, 2016)
South (Duncan, 2017)
The bear and the piano (Litchfield, 2015)

My interpretation in a few lines>>> Pandora an ex-killjoy with a pessimistic outlook, the Fisherman in South, an initial happy migrant but then a melancholic one similar to the Bear, indicate that creativity enables us to live happiness in the moment when we are immersed in it as a basic emotion, but that there is a real desire for something else and that is experiencing happiness as a social emotion, something that is shared with others based on a common value system.

More in the essay.

Ahmed’s work definitely gave me the language to articulate what I was discovering. Ahmed’s work is serious stuff. I had no idea what I would discover in the three picture books. I analysed the text and the illustrations. And they are right. The main vehicle to communicate emotions seems through the illustrations. Now, I am unsure if I will I ever again read picture books in the same way as before writing this essay? And what about writing my own stories?

I worked on the essay systematically and am now ready to share the draft with somebody who would be interested in reading it. Just would like to see if what I have written makes any sense to anybody. Could also share with the writers… I follow one of them in Instagram (Litchfield). But would he reply?

I have also, because of the above, that emotions are mainly depicted through the illustrations, been thinking about illustration and that I should perhaps step out of my comfort zone and do a little bit of drawing regularly and see if I can warm up to illustrate one of my stories. In all three picture books The writer was also the illustrator. Now that I have the draft for the first assignment ready, I am thinking about the second one. This can be a creative piece I have written. Thinking of my refugee story in English and the Greek translation and one more I will do, the German one. A new challenge for me as I haven’t used my German for nearly 20 years in my capacity as a translator.

Through a clip on youtube, I discovered Goodreads.

Looking forward to next week.

References

Ahmed, S. (2010) The promise of happiness. Duke University Press.

Duncan, D. (2017) South. New York: Abrams.

Litchfield, D. (2015) The bear and the piano. London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Turnbull, V. (2016) Pandora. London: Quarto Knows.

The picture books I analysed

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Week 4 money, money, money #creativewriting

This was hard and this is what I said when asked at the beginning by Dr Chris Vardy. when he asked the whole class.

I thought the previous sessions and materials were difficult but this was super hard. Learning is. It is never just fun. Reading all these texts about finance and economy or mainly finance from four different theorists (Ferguson, Jameson, Arrighi, La Berge) was a real challenge. Hard to follow and digest. I am still trying to. Making notes on the sheets of paper helped. I definitely wasn’t able to follow them by reading on screen. The discussions in class were useful and made some of the concepts clearer. I am pleased I had read everything in advance. The discussions in class really showed how we can co-construct knowledge through questioning, active listening and sharing ideas to develop and move out our collective understanding forward and into new directions. The text analysis of specific passages was a valuable strategy in this process. Much better than any Powerpoint could ever do… as we were all engaged and actually immersed in the texts. Thinking as an academic  developer, I am wondering if some of the questions could be discussed in smaller groups? What difference would this approach make?

What did stick with me is that it appears that the economy has been reduced to finance (is this because capitalism is the only economic model for some time now and a reality we seem to be unable to escape?). It doesn’t seem to be a good thing… in my little world as we seem to have stopped questioning the fundamentals of an economy.  And the current status quo helps the rich get richer and pushes the poor to and off the edge. Inequality is amplified and opportunities too, but not for all. Just for the privileged. And according Ferguson (2009) it is the lack of education we should blame that basically a large proportion of the population is financially illiterate. But this also feeds the current system and is convenient for the few who are as they directly benefit from this reality. What else do I remember? We are moving rapidly away from making money through producing something. Money is now made through investing in stocks for example, turned into capital and converted back into money. This works again for those who know how to play these financial games. Games was not mentioned in any of the texts but it just popped into my head as it is tempting for the wider masses to get involved in the stock market for example but if you don’t know the rules of the game,and if you are not a confident and competent player, you will soon loose everything in your quest for the “good life” you all you will experience cruel optimism (Berlant). what is the real value of money? Is it power? are there other ways to gain power? And why are we after power anyway? Does power, or perceived power, give us the opportunity to make change happen or stop it?

One of the authors put a case forward that actually finance is not evil, it is actually what drives innovation, I think it was Ferguson (2009). It is interesting, but not surprising that it is the privileged who say this. I need to read more to better understand the world of finance and economy. The papers I read provided a useful trigger and food-for-thought into an area, I am not sure I would have explored otherwise.

I am glad I didn’t skip it as I do feel that I learned a little something that will help me in my critical reading and creative writing. I am sure it will. It definitely raised my awareness and showed me that I can confront my fears and actually surprise myself relate it to my own experiences in my own little micro cosmos.

I have continued thinking about the first assignment and thought I was getting somewhere, when I was told that looking at thee theories is too much. Is my thinking far too complicated? I can see how capitalist realism, cruel optimism and the quest for happiness somehow fit together and are present in contemporary picture books. I got some books out of the library about happiness and inclusion (Ahmed) and suspect that this is the direction of travel for this first assignment as I do see that a positive future is often presented in picture books. I have been re-reading some of them and bought a few more and will over this weekend select which ones I will use. Then writing begins.

Essay idea: How is the quest for happiness (Ahmed) experienced in contemporary picture books.

References

Ferguson, N. (2009) The Ascent of Money: A financial history of the World, London: Penguin

 

There is life after the PhD… at least for a phenomenographer #go_gn … webinar companion post

Thank you everybody for joining this webinar. Bea, Nats and Matrin for your help, support and moderating. I hope it was useful for colleagues. On my blog, you will find more resources that could help you on your doctoral journey including my viva preparation. Let me know if you need anything else.

Two ideas that emerged through the webinar…
A list of alumni on the GOGN website with the methodologies we used in our studies may help colleagues to identify who could help them with their study but also help other individuals consider us for supervision and/or external examining. A similar list with our areas of interest, may also be useful for the same reasons.

I used the same title for a recent GOGN webinar (announcement here) and before I actually put together the presentation for this I wrote the following post related to this as my thinking was focusing on this. It all happened over a few days on my train journeys to work when my head was still fresh.

The abstract I had submitted is the following:

In this webinar Chrissi will share with us her doctoral research milestones, the discoveries she made along the way in the area of cross-institutional academic development and collaborative open learning and where these are leading her now in the world of academic development and supporting colleagues developing in the open. Phenomenography, is a methodology developed especially for higher education research. It is a methodology that calls for action. It was the methodology used in this study. Where are the tensions and the opportunities for institutions, academic developers, academics and students? Join Chrissi in this webinar, to discuss and debate. You are all warmly invited. 

I will add a link to the webinar recording here.

phdbottles

Caption… Warning! A PhD doesn’t come in a bottle… what you see is an optical illusion…

A PhD is a complex and complicated adventure through which we make new discoveries about the world around us, other people but also about ourselves. At the time and for a long time we will feel confused, disappointed, disheartened, alone but also excited and without eureka moments and self-belief we wouldn’t reach the end line. This is how it was for me at least. But what we also need on this wild rollercoaster ride is companions….

Mantai (2017, online) was right when she wrote “It is no secret that it takes a village to raise a PhD graduate”. A supervisory team will never be enough to support a PhD student. Further connections, peers and mentors play a vital role in the doctoral student experience. In my case my critical friends were my peers from the Graduate OER Global Network (GOGN) and a few close colleagues at work. Of course my family supported me too. They all saw the struggles, the frustration. They lived them with me, through me. They also were there to share the good moments, happy times and the success when it was finally arrived. So Matai (2017) is definitely right! A village is needed, if not a town…

20180424_175554.jpg

GOGN girls having fun! A must in the doctoral process…

I did my PhD at Edinburgh Napier University and my final supervisory team were Dr Sandra Cairncross and Prof. Keith Smyth. The seed for my doctoral studies was formed through course work projects I did during my MSc in Blended and Open Education at the same institution. The MoRE project and the dissertation that followed in which I created an online course and brought PgCert in Academic Practice/Higher Education students from different parts and higher education institutions of the UK together to learn about assessment and feedback using problem-based learning in facilitated groups. In that study I explored the learner experience using phenomenography. That was my very first experience of using phenomenography and an initiative developed and offered in 2010, that brought together PgCert students studying on different programmes together in distributed facilitated groups. Some research linked to that early work, and also work done during my doctoral studies, around cross-institutional collaboration in the area of academic development, which I have initiated and then developed with colleagues, has been shared through the following publications:

  • Nerantzi, C. (2011) ‘Not too much facilitation going on’ – Issues in facilitating Online Problem-Based Learning in Academic Development, in: Celebrating the Past and Embracing the Future: Evolution and Innovation in Problem-Based Learning Conference, 30 and 31 March 2011, University of Central Lancashire, pp. 111-124.
  • Nerantzi, C. (2011) Freeing Education within and beyond Academic Development, in: Greeener, S. and Rospigliosi, A. (eds.) Proceedings of the 10th European Conference on e-Learning, Brighton Business School, University of Brighton, 10-11 November, pp. 558-566, ECEL2011
  • Nerantzi, C. (2012) A case of problem-based learning for cross-institutional collaboration, Special European Conference in E-Learning, Brighton 11, Volume 10, Issue 3, Special Issue EJEL, The electronic Journal of e-Learning (EJEL), pp. 306-314, available at http://www.ejel.org/issue/current.html
  • Nerantzi, C. (2014) A personal journey of discoveries through a DIY open course development for professional development of teachers in Higher Education (invited paper), Journal of Pedagogic Development, University of Bedfordshire, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp. 42-58 http://www.beds.ac.uk/jpd
  • Nerantzi, C. (2015) Who says academics don’t do CPD? Connecting practitioners and developing together through distributed cross-institutional collaborative CPD in the open, in: Rennie, F. (ed.) The distributed university, JPAAP Special Issue, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.98-108, available at http://jpaap.napier.ac.uk/index.php/JPAAP/article/view/136
  • Nerantzi, C. & Gossman, P. (2015) Towards collaboration as learning. An evaluation of an open CPD opportunity for HE teachers, in: Research in Learning Technology Journal, volume 23, available http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/index.php/rlt/article/view/26967
  • Nerantzi, C. (2017) Quality teaching through openness and collaboration – an alternative to the TEF?, Special Edition: Teaching Excellence Framework, in: Compass: Journal of Learning and Teaching, Vol. 10, No.2, Greenwich: University of Greenwich, available at https://journals.gre.ac.uk/index.php/compass/article/view/485

Further related publications can be found here. Then one idea brought the other and I soon realised that open academic development courses can be sustained if developed and organised in collaboration with colleagues from other institutions, therefore being informal cross-institutional collaborations and presenting and alternative model for offering academic CPD.

And this is what happened. The module Flexible, Distance and Online Learning, a module I created for our PGCAP at the University of Salford, also became an open cross-institutional course that was organised with Lars Uhlin at the Karolinska Institute using Problem-Based Learning. FDOL was offered for the first time in 2013. One of its iterations became one of my case studies for my doctoral research. The course team split in 2014 and two new courses emerged through this that are still active today, Open Networked Learning (ONL) and Flexible, Open and Social Learning (FOS). The second case study became a course I developed in 2015, Creativity for Learning (#creativeHE) again with collaborative learning features but not predefined or fixed in advance… The course became almost immediately an open course and an open community and was part our our MA in Higher Education at Manchester Met where I moved to during my studies.

As part of my study I reviewed a large number of pedagogical frameworks and models that had collaborative learning features. There was a mix of conceptual and empirical ones that were proposed using digital technologies and used in a range of settings  including face-to-face, blended, fully online and in the open. The analysis showed that there were four common characteristics: facilitator support, activities, choice and community (Nerantzi, 2017).

frameworks_reviewed

Design frameworks and models reviewed with collaborative learning features and supported by digital technologies (2017)

One of the key output of my studies is an openly licensed collaborative open learning framework. I added this below.

learning engagement patterns alternative version-02

Cross-boundary collaborative open learning framework (Nerantzi, 2017)

The framework synthesizes the phenomenographic findings, the categories of description, the outcome space together with a critical discussion of the literature. It’s three dimensions: engagement patterns, learning needs and design characterises help the course designer and facilitator in creating learning opportunities that are responsive and flexible. It is a cross-boundary collaborative learning framework, you may have noticed. Boundary crossing as defined in this study has four dimensions (Nerantzi, 2017):

  • Cross-boundary learning through modes of participation
  • Cross-boundary learning through time, places and space
  • Cross-boundary learning through culture and language
  • Cross-boundary learning through diverse professional contexts

I hope course designers will consider the collaborative open learning framework, when they (re-)consider their collaborative learning strategies. The thesis is in full available online (see references). I have been writing up specific sections from the thesis to publish them in peer reviewed journals. I have to admit that I found it hard to get back into something I feel has come to an end when I did my last corrections and submitted the thesis to the library.

Shortly after completing my doctoral studies I was selected to be an UNESCO co-mentor with Naomi Wahls, also a GOGN member, on an exciting open education project in Uzbekistan in which we reviewed together the current re-accreditation programme for academics who teach modern foreign languages at Uzbek universities. The process was fascinating and we all learnt a lot. Based on our collaboration, the mentors proposal we put together and my doctoral study, I have started constructing an open learning framework with a focus on engagement that incorporates the collaborative learning dimensions. I am adding it below as it stands at the moment and I will be refining this and writing this up in more detail.

openlearningframework

Open Learning Framework (Nerantzi, 2018)

Now, what I think is interesting for me as an academic developer, at a time of turbulence and competitiveness, at least in the UK but also more widely, is that academics in these open cross-institutional courses come together with others from different disciplines, countries and sectors, to share practices. Academics do engage in development activities driven by their own interest to enhance their students’ learning experience. Academics see their development as vital to enhance student learning but they want to be in the driving seat and not be told what to do. Who does… and this is why professional relationships of equals based on trust can make a real difference. When academic development collaborates with faculties and departments as equals, as colleagues, when it is not seen as “the soft arm of management” (Di Napoli, 2014, 5) and academic developers work with academics in networks and communities, the approach is seen as more democratic and more effective (Neame, 2011; Neame, 2013). My research shows this too. Democratic is often mentioned in the findings…  Crawford (2009) found that academics seem to prefer external, in her case disciplinary networks and communities after they have completed their internal development linked to their teaching, typically a PgCert, to meet their contractual requirements. There they find fertile ground to grow their teaching and supporting student practice. Today the plethora of open practices creates alternative opportunities for academics for engagement driven by their own interests and aspirations. More than ever before. My own research in this area confirms that not only cross-disciplinary or even cross-institutional but especially cross-boundary approaches to professional development, networks and communities that foster open collaboration act as motivators for engagement in such activities. It will be important for institutions to acknowledge this and provide the freedom, space and resources to academics to enable, support, foster and recognise the value of such development opportunities for their staff through academic development in collaboration with academics in the faculties, students and the public. The recent TLCglobal, an idea by Associate Professor Dr David Smith, Head of School of Education at Charles Sturt University, started in 2017/18, brought together a small group of academics from ManchesterMet in the UK and Charles Sturt University in Australia for peer-to-peer support of practice. Preliminary findings indicate that trust relationships among these academic peers developed rapidly despite or maybe even thanks to the physical and institutional distance and disciplinary and cultural otherness.

Earlier this year, I completed a postgraduate module on Research supervision and the MA in Coaching and Mentoring (pending the marking of my dissertation). I am looking forward to continue mentoring doctoral students through GOGN and can’t wait to get my first doctoral student. Could this be you?

Wishing all my GOGN buddies all the best on their journey and reach out when/if you need help.

Tuko Pamoja GO_GN-01

References

Crawford, K. (2009). Continuing professional development in higher education: Voices from below. University of Lincoln. [EdD thesis]. Retrieved from http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/2146/1/Crawford-Ed%28D%29Thesis-CPDinHE-FINAL%28Sept09%29.pdf

Di Napoli, R. (2014). Value gaming and political ontology: between resistance and compliance in academic development. International journal for academic development, 19 (1), 2014, pp.4-11.

Mantai, L. (2017). Pracamedics, teaching during the PhD, 3 October 2017, Teche Maquarie University’s Learning and Teaching blog. Retrieved from http://teche.ltc.mq.edu.au/pracademics-teaching-phd/

Nerantzi, C. (2017). Towards a framework for cross-boundary collaborative open learning for cross-institutional academic development. PhD thesis, Edinburgh: Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from https://www.napier.ac.uk/~/media/worktribe/output-1025583/towards-a-framework-for-cross-boundary-collaborative-open-learning-for.pdf

radox

I think Radox has worked out what doctoral students and academics want and need! Feel positive > feel energised > feel free > Stress relief, if everything else fails…

Week 3 Fresh visions for alternative futures wanted #creativewriting

Our third session and I did sit next to the ladies I felt I knew a little bit. Don’t think this is a bad thing but also liked the suggestion to reach out to other people. I mix my students up all the time and it is a good thing to open up to new people and their ideas. And the class seems to be now more diverse than in week 1. It is interesting that the back row, this is were I am sitting as well, is participating a lot. Usually, but not always, you have the naughty students hiding at the back. Maybe naughty in this case is more outspoken? A little bit? I am sure things will change as the weeks progress. I sat there as I wanted to blend into the background but this seat also gives me a good view of the whole classroom. Sitting at the font does not appeal to me as I would have my back turned to my peers in the current furniture arrangement. It doesn’t feel right. Could we sit in a circle? The rows don’t encourage movement and more dynamic classroom interaction. I feel.

We discussed Capitalist realism (Fisher, 2009) and Cruel optimism (Berlant, 2011) and I would definitely not be able to participate without having done the readings, even if my head did hurt at the time. I was fascinated by the discussions we had in class and the questions asked by Caroline really helped us think deeper and see connections between ideas and concepts but also our everyday realities. One of my peers made a statement saying that capitalist realism seems to be more a reality than a theory. This was an interesting angle to consider. I guess it may be a sign when theory becomes fully integrated into practice and is lived. The implications of capitalism realism for the individual and society appear to explain a series of mental health problems, the raise of instability, insecurity and anxiety. We are angry. And the outlook is grim. For the many.

Individualism and competitiveness seem to thrive in expense of collaboration and community and the collective. Everybody is in there for themselves and media, mass and social, feed that hunger to stand out, be seen and admired for a polished self and a synthetic or fabricated lifestyle that comes with it. The ‘me me me’ culture seems to be turning into an epidemic. Many examples were mentioned in class that erode not just our economy, politics (Brexit was of course also mentioned), our society but also our everyday human relationships.

While Mark Fisher explains in detail the negative effects of capitalist realism and makes a case evidencing that culture, literature and education have been subsumed by it, I am not sure that he offers an alternative, a viable alternative. To what extend did he have an alternative in mind when he wrote this book? The imperative need for an alternative is there but concrete ideas seem to be absent. Maybe there are none. Maybe this is the reason why people cling with nostalgia to the old, a distorted reality that lives in their dusty memories, a mushy salad of experiences and fantasies.

But do we want to dismantle the status quo? And who is “we”? I don’t think it is everybody, all… all of us…I think it is still very much us and them, or them and us. And the distance between us is widening and deepening as we speak…

What role does/can literature and culture more generally play to (re-)imagine new realities and provide not just a glimmer of hope, which is soaked in passivity, but can grow into collective empowerment, participatory revolution? For me, one of the problems is that we see politics and economics completely detached from culture. And the chasm is growing. We allow it to grow. It seems to be convenient for some… for those especially who try and shower us with nostalgia of the glorious past that never was while harvesting their capitalist fruits from all of us. And we don’t even realise that this is happening or we allow it to happen as such practices have been normalised.

I still felt sad about Mark Fisher, his depression and how in the end he took his own life. Capitalist realism appears to have been his lived reality and perhaps he experienced a form of cruel optimism and the idea of “good life” crumbled in front of his eyes and he no longer could see an alternative, not even in his fantasies…

While we had these open discussions I kept thinking about children’s literature and specifically picture books and if or to what extend these present spaces to dream up new realities. I started searching for signs of capitalist realism (Fisher, 2009) in stories, picture book stories. The Bear and the piano by David Litchfield came to mind… I feel that the story also has elements of cruel optimism and the “good life” (Berlant, 2011). How does the bear save himself from falling apart? From crumbling? If the bear in the book can do it, what stops us?

While the discussions were really insightful, I kept coming back to the essay I have to write…

Assessment 1: Essay

For the first assignment, you should offer specific literary or cultural examples that you have approved with the module tutor who covered the topic  that you are interested in.

Specific questions have been provided and included in last week’s post.

I know now that my secondary sources can children’s books, even picture books. The plan is to start putting some of them together and then carefully identify which ones I could use. Vicky, my children’s literature buddy from the course, says that she does that first before tackling an essay and it does seem like a wise strategy.

Possible secondary sources so far…
Andros, C. (2018) The dress and the girl. Abrams.
Litchfield, D. (2015) The bear and the piano.

Need to check the VLE now and do some reading for next week.

Update over the weekend?
I started reading for next week, before the weekend began… I had a question mark as I wasn’t sure what to write. How to write it. The reading for week 4 is very heavy, but in a different way from what I have read the previous weeks. It focuses on financial forms in literature after the financial crash. The book, Scandals and Abstraction by Leigh Claire La Berge is the one I am reading online at the moment. I think it doesn’t help that I am reading it online. I feel that I am getting closer to the text when I actually hold a printout or the real book in my hands. I struggle to connect with this one exclusively online. I have used snippet to get some bits of the pages I have read so far, so that I can print them out and make some notes on these. This will help a little bit. I suspect the week 4 post will be short. I am already looking forward to week 5 (emotions and happiness through the work of Sara Ahmed) and suspect that this will provide food-for-thought for the first assignment. Could I also link to cruel optimism and capitalist realism? I see hopeful visions articulated in contemporary picture books that contrast with capitalist realism and cruel optimism and would like to explore this further. Are fresh alternative visions  present in contemporary picture books? I need to articulate this question a bit better and share with Caroline. See what she says and then make a start with my first assignment.  I am re-reading some of my picture books (well, we had bought most of them for the boys when they were younger) and identify the themes that emerge from these.

picturebooks

Sunday picture book readings…

References

Berlant, L. (2011) Cruel optimism. London: Duke University Press.

Fisher, M. (2009) Capitalist realism. Is there no alternative? Ropley, Hants: John Hunt Publishing.

The following made me think…

Week 2 critique as an appreciation to understand and expand horizons #creativewriting

Our first proper session. The room was full. We were about 20. Definitely more than last week. I saw some of my peers again. Instantly I felt less lonely. Next to me (yes, in the last row) sat a lady I hadn’t seen before. She is also interested in children’s literature, I quickly found out. What a lovely surprise. We discovered that we had a few more things in common. Many of my peers have done an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing or Literature. This will have given them good foundations for their current degree. I haven’t. I need to learn to swim fast and this reminded me actually of how I did learn swimming as a child. It wasn’t a pleasant experience… I had to jump in the deep end of a pool. I still remember how scared I was and kept moving to the back of the queue hoping that I didn’t have to do it, until there was nobody else in front of me.

What was particularly interesting in the session was what Dr Caroline Magennis, the module leader, said about unlearning. Unlearning some of the theory and sticking to the rules. Unlearning what some of my peers learnt during their undergraduate studies in creative writing/literature, would be important. Her argument was that, that knowledge about literary theories might be constraining for creative writing. It could act as a barrier. So sticking to the rules is not a useful strategy for creative writing. Very interesting observation which echos an extract I found in a book recently about the importance of freeing oneself when writing creatively and added to my week 1 post (Smith, 2005). So, will creative writing work for me as I don’t feel entangled in literary theories? Less is more, in this case? It seems to be. This, of course destroys Bloom’s taxonomy, completely and the revision by Krathwohl as well! This linear construct usually shown as a pyramid that captures higher order thinking and is regularly used to define learning outcomes moving upwards from more simple to more complex. I knew it and am saying it all the time. Learning is messy, learning is not a linear process. Who says we can’t be creative without knowing the rules, the theories etc.? I am pleased I signed up for this course! And that we are encouraged actually to be creative by ignoring the rules… and that obviously is easier when you don’t know the rules…

As my literary theory foundations are very wobbly or not existent, I probably feel exactly like our PgCert students at the moment who are highly qualified often with a doctoral qualification but have to jump into a Masters level course in higher education, theory and practice, without having studied anything or very little in this area before. While I did a few modules around literature and language in my undergraduate degree in translation, many years ago, I really can’t remember anything about literary theories. So, am I a blank canvas? Scary. I confessed this to the lady next to me. I have a lot of catching up to do… and better start reading and engaging critically and creatively with what I read.

I am here to learn. A module overview was provided (what is that “uncanny” seems to be mentioned a lot? There is a lot of new terminology. Thinking as a translator makes me want to create a glossary, but I haven’t started any yet…).

In the session we got some information about the assessment. It was useful so that I can get organised and make a start with my assignments. Essays. Looking back now at my educational life… I actually can’t remember ever have written an essay or having asked my own students to write one. Now I have to write potentially two in the same module. One of them can be a hybrid. But what does this exactly mean? What could it be?

Seeing the essay questions, all 13 of them for the first time on the screen in class, made me freeze. I couldn’t relate to any of them… now what? When I arrived home, I downloaded them and read them again carefully. I have narrowed them down to four, but am still unclear how to work with them. And if I could use two of them for the two essays or how I would work with them. I guess in a way the given questions seem to be like research questions I am expected to respond by doing secondary research. Is this how it works? That seems to help me a little bit. Now also thinking about thought paper… is this what an essay really is?

For week 1, I printed everything I found on the VLE and read the articles. They were not easy to digest. I made notes on the printouts and articulated questions. We went through one of them together in class. The one about Literary criticism with a focus on being postcritical and what that means. First we briefly discussed our understanding of  theory more generally. What is it? I think we agreed that a theory is a lense used to explore something, in our case literary work. For me theory is something that can be a conceptual or empirical construct, or the combination of the two, that helps us make sense of something. In literary theory a lot seems to be about politics, society and culture, I noticed. The intersection of theories and the blending and overlaps of theories is now acknowledged more and recognised in the 21st century, I heard Caroline saying. That is encouraging as our world is not black or white, through my eyes anyway…

Going together through the post-critical article was useful and really helped me better understand what it was all about and what is changing. I really liked the fact that we will explore theory and practice through time and link to our time. It makes the discussions fresh and current and helps us relate to the theories and our own experiences, practices and realities.

In the evening, I was still thinking about post-critical literary criticism. I reached out to Wikipedia… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-critical while some references were missing there, I could still make sense of some of it. I had read the article about it we were given and the class discussion we had earlier today also helped. I was worried earlier that it would all turn into mash but it actually makes sense now. Well, it starts making sense. Not all of it did in the morning when I first immersed myself in the article on my train journey to work. The questions that were asked in class about the article were really useful and helped me understand what this is all about. I started getting under the skin of the sentences. For me post-critical as I understand it currently is a lense of exploring literature, a lense of evaluating literature and perhaps human activity and behaviour more general based on appreciation, empathy and do I dare to say compassion? Compassion to understand, to be open to alternative perspectives and to learn from these in order to extend and expand our current understanding about something in particular, as one of my peers said. In a way, as the article says, it is about moving away from suspicion, finding what is wrong and policing literary work and perhaps also reducing the gap between the person who criticises and the person who writes? The concept of post-critical reminded me of appreciative inquiry often used in pedagogical research to explore experiences. We also use appreciation and appreciative approaches as academic developers when working with our colleagues to acknowledge and celebrate what they bring to teaching and supporting students and building on these instead of seeking faults and accusations. We know that this approach does not lead us anywhere. Wondering now, are academic developers who operate in the post-critical domain more effective and what does this exactly mean? What are the implications for university leaders and managers? What would entering a post-critical phase mean for all of us learning, living and working in the academy? A few things to think about.

Caroline asked us also about the pleasure  of reading. What about also the pleasure of writing? Can this all be spoiled easily by literary criticism? And in academic development, the pleasure of teaching, my academic criticism? Also in research? And peer review there? I can see so many connections…

Back to my readings now for next week. I was told that it is very short… I started reading Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism but find it very heavy and it feels much longer than it is.  I am reading this very slowly… It does have loads of gems and I am picking up “soundbites” that speak to me at the moment as I can relate to these politically, socially and culturally. It feels however, very messy and disorganised reading this book and I am really unsure how I would use this text for a possible essay…

I can relate to the below but refuse to agree that there is no alternative! There must be an alternative! There must be multiple alternatives, hope and futures. What role does literature play?

“Capitalist realism’: a widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” (Fisher, 2009, 2)

“Action is pointless; only senseless hope makes sense.” (Fisher, 2009, 3)

“The focus shifts from the Next Big Thing to the last big thing – how long ago did it happen and just how big was it?” (Fisher, 2009, 3)

“Over the past thirty years, capitalist realism has successfully installed a ‘business ontology’ in which it is simply obvious that everything in society, including healthcare and education, should be run as a business.” (Fisher, 2009, 17)

I also need to revisit the possible essay questions and get in touch with one of the lecturers to share my initial ideas. First, however, I need to construct them for myself. Could I draw a visual map? Struggling at the moment…

The essay questions that have started tickling my interest, a little bit, are the ones below. Still very unsure…

1.      ‘From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly everything is possible again.’ (Mark Fisher) Can literature and culture imagine alternatives to capitalism?

3.      ‘To share what deviates from happiness is to open up possibility, to be alive to possibility’ (Ahmed). To what extent does literature showcase Sara Ahmed’s politics of feeling?

8.      ‘A novelist who takes himself as the principal subject of his novel is asking for it’ (Smiley). Critically assess the risks and rewards of auto/fictional practices, drawing on relevant critical and creative material, including at least one auto/fictional text of your own choosing.

9.      ‘We are suffering, in academic life, from a surfeit of words. […]The challenge, then, is to find a different way of writing’ (Ingold 8). How might genre queer texts respond to this challenge? Illustrate your answer with specific examples.

Weekend update:

Capitalist realism: I have now read the whole book by Mark Fisher. My brain hurts. As I was reading it page by page I became entangled in his ideas and stories and tried to jump with him through these. It was not always possible. His writing reminded me of a patchwork and a deeply reflective piece. I could relate more closely to his writings that seemed to echo my own experiences and life story. I needed help understanding and making sense of it.

So I started googling and quickly discovered some of his lectures. I had no idea he is no longer with us. I was shocked when I read that his life had ended just over a year ago. I watched parts of the clips and his passion and pain, I would say were evident in these. I felt sad watching him and at some point I wished I had met him. He emphasised on the power of the collective but how our capitalist reality, the reality we live in, according to him, is polarised and obsessed with the individual, and how damaging this is for human relationships, all of us and the world we live in. Is there a way out of this? It seems that Mark was in search for an answer which he positioned in the power of the collective. But were was the collective, were were we, when Mark needed us the most?

I have ordered the book and will read it again. It will not be the same…

Assignment 1: I have been thinking about the assignment I have to write, the first one for now. I had an idea but then I quickly abandoned it…. I now have another idea with which I am happier with at the moment as it would give me the opportunity to stitch together my current readings and my life as an academic developer. This bridge would be really valuable for me. The essay questions provided invite is to explore one article of the theories we explore in this module.

Looking at them again, and the ones I selected initially (see above), I can’t see any of them relating to “cruel optimism” (Berlant, 2011), which may be the one I would like to use.

This theory is presented in week 3 (I found a Cruel Optimism book here) and while I almost don’t know anything about it, I can relate to it somehow. I see “cruel optimism” in picture books but I also see it in academic development, my current professional reality. After also, reading an LSE blog post linked to “cruel optimism” of PhD graduates, a paper about the deficit doctorate and a recent Guardian article on bullying in higher education, I feel this may be something I would like to explore in my professional context based on my own experiences as an academic developer and experiences and realities of academic developers more widely. Can I do this?

My draft question: How can academic developers’ cruel optimism about the ‘good life’ (Berlant, 2011) in the academy be explained and to what extent could it shape the identity of academic developers?  

References

Berlant, L. (2011) Cruel optimism. London: Duke University Press.

Fisher, M. (2009) Capitalist realism. Is there no alternative? Ropley, Hants: John Hunt Publishing.

Smith, H. (2005) The writing experiment. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin. Available from http://www.academia.edu/9485157/THE_WRITING_EXPERIMENT_Strategies_for_innovative_creative_writing

our Play book with @alisonrjames and many many others is now in production

We have received notification that our edited book with Prof. Alison James is now in production. Alison and I have, and also all contributors, worked on this for a long time now and it is amazing that we are almost there now. We even have a flyer!!! See below 😉

The Power of Play in Higher Education_flyer

It all started when I first met Alison back in 2013 at the annual SEDA conference and our love for playful learning united us. We stayed in touch and our professional relationship developed into a deeper friendship. We created opportunities to do some work together over the years and got the opportunity to co-edit a Creative Academic Magazine issue thanks to Prof. Norman Jackson who entrusted us to explore the use of play in higher education. We couldn’t believe how many people contacted us and how many contributions we received… so many that we decided to publish the issue in 2 parts…

creative_academic_magazine

Nerantzi, C. & James, A. (eds.) (2015) Exploring Play in Higher Education, Creative Academic Magazine, Issue 2b, June 2015, available at http://www.creativeacademic.uk/magazine.html

Nerantzi, C. & James, A. (eds.) (2015) Exploring Play in Higher Education, Creative Academic Magazine, Issue 2a,  June 2015, available at http://www.creativeacademic.uk/magazine.html

These earlier explorations into play and our own practices in this area, generated ideas for an edited book at the time where play as a concept in the context of learning and teaching in higher education was still very new.

Prof. Sally Brown kindly supported us putting a book proposal together and after some time we secured a book contract with Palgrave. Thank you so much Sally for all your valuable advice and guidance. Alison and I were delighted when we got the offer but knew the hard work was all ahead of us. At that time, I was still working on my doctoral thesis… but this didn’t stop us. Our plans were ambitious and we worked systematically on the book project to bring it to fruition. We were hoping to get contributions from practitioners from different disciplines and professional areas as well as from different parts of the world. We did and we are grateful to all colleagues who came forward and contributed to this book and made it such a rich collection. We have learnt so much through your stories.

There is still some work that needs to be done on the book. But it is now in production. We will be delighted to share the book with our contributors and the wider academic community.

LSPbook_coverOur openly licensed booklet around the use of LEGO in Higher Education will follow and there is still the opportunity to contribute to a special issue around the use of LEGO (IJMAR). See the open call here.

The Play book was a big and complex collaborative effort!

A big thank you to all contributors, Prof. Sally Brown for her valuable support with the book proposal, Prof. Bill Lucas who wrote the foreword, all colleagues who read the book and provided testimonials (they will be added to the back cover of the book) and Alison, of course, for working on this exciting book project together. It has been a joy. I loved our long Skype conversations and still do 😉

Week 1 freedom and playfulness

I am, and always have been a mature student. This doesn’t mean I was always that old, of course… When I started my undergraduate studies, I was almost 24. Today, I was again one of the very few mature students in my new class. This time, the age gap was much larger, my peers could be my own children.

Being among young(er) people is always a privilege, to find out about their hopes and dreams, what moves them, what scares them. I think that is one reason why I love working at university… and because I love learning and helping others learn, of course. I think politicians should spent time with our young people, regularly. So that they can discover what really matter and how they can help create a future for the next generation.  

While I did feel like an outsider and a bit lonely in that class, I knew why I was there and that I would have the opportunity to connect with at least some of my peers as the weeks will progress. It was lovely seeing everybody and talk to the two girl who were sitting next to me for a tiny bit at the end. At some point I looked around and was surprised that I seemed to be the only person taking notes… A book was introduced that will be used it seems a lot in the creative writing workshops. Have you heard of The Writing Experiment? That is the one.

I loved that experimentation was mentioned throughout and that we will be encouraged to actively experiment with our own writing. Who knows what I will create! We seem all to have very different writing interests and when we were asked to introduce ourselves by stating our name and a word that comes to mind when we think about creative writing, the first one that popped into my head was freedom, but then also playfulness. So I mentioned both. I think they are interlinked and definitely connect me at least to my writing intention, the writing process. If this is also reflected in the actual writing product, the output itself, I don’t know.

Maybe when I arrive home, my two books, the ones I ordered the other day have arrived (they were there indeed and I will start reading them on the way to work tomorrow). I am curious to dive into the theory now, can’t believe it myself, and experiment with some of the texts that I have written but also write new stuff. I think the re-assurance the lecturer gave made a difference. I liked the idea of seeing the theories as a “guided tour” and that we could self-select where we would stop for a little bit longer.

Speaking about new stuff…The other day, I had a new idea… while being in a tiny space we have in our house. A tiny space that helps me escape into other worlds when I am in there. I feel it’s expansive dimension now. Suddenly. Could this space become the next creative trigger of a new series of stories?

I am looking forward later in the course to uncreative writing, the essay clinic next week, I think. I loved the invitation to unpick tensions, ambiguity, contradictions and be critical and creative of course, which are two options of the same coin, I think. Makes no sense to me to separate them, like the left and right brain theory… doesn’t work.

Freedom and playfulness, that is what I seek.

Let’s see where my children’s stories will take me/us.

ps. I found the Writing Experiment online and started reading it… the following I found interesting…

There are no rules and regulations for creative writing, and no blueprints for a good piece of writing. Anyone who is looking for a formula for exciting work will not find it, and writers who rely on formulae usually produce dull results” (Smith, 2005, ix).

“… language creates the world rather than the other way round.” (Smith, 2005, 3)

Language-based strategies sharpen your sensitivity to language and help you to be discriminating,imaginative and unconventional in the way  you use it.” (Smith, 2005, 4)

References

Smith, H. (2005) The writing experiment. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin. Available from http://www.academia.edu/9485157/THE_WRITING_EXPERIMENT_Strategies_for_innovative_creative_writing