Warning> Second draft
This module on the MA in Creativity Writing, I am doing at the University of Salford was fascinating. It was my last one. I managed to RPL one of the diploma stage modules that had a focus on professional practice. I love the fact that they are all 30 credits too as you really feel that you are learning something deeply and that it is worth it. All modules have been really useful. I have learnt so much. They opened new pathways for exploration, theoretical and applied ones, not just as a creative writer but also academic writer and academic developer. I am already weaving some of what I have been taking away into my work. This course is really showing me the value of cross-disciplinary learning and working and how ideas from one professional area or discipline can travel to another one, become novel interventions and trigger new ideas. Fascinating!
This module introduced me to the concept of uncreative writing. Uncreative writing in a creative writing course? Very strange, I thought. I did not immediately see a point in this. The first task was to type a five page existing text… I thought this is strange and while I did not feel motivated to do this. I did and in the end I recognised by rebellious nature in how I worked on this but also the need to connect with a specific text to do anything with it. It was really important for me and I can see how often we feel disconnected with stuff we are given to read. Interest-driven learning is really powerful and a strong motivator to learn and engage more deeply. My struggle to understand uncreative writing, my readings and the little experiments we did, definitely all helped. I had a eureka moment when I was working on my first assignment after the initial “I have no idea what I am doing”. Actually after a very slow start, I speeded up when I had a more concrete idea what I was going to do. The path to get there was foggy but the sun came out. It was really useful, enjoyable and a rich learning experience. I often lost myself when I was working on it and then made progress much faster than anticipated.
The truth is that the more I read and experimented, the more I started enjoying finding out more about uncreative writing. I have to say the term conceptual writing (used interchangeable with uncreative writing) did sound more appealing to me, at least at the beginning. The word concept in itself was really saying something about the way we engag in ready-made texts. Conceptually and then we make up rules. I liked that part a lot. Reading some of the work by Kenneth Goldsmith was fundamental in developing my understanding and ground my experiments. Kenneth acknowledges that we have so much text that we don’t really need anymore. Is he wrong? He also challenges our perception of plagiarism and he has been provocative with his own students in this area. Uncreative writing made me also think about open educational resources in a different way and I am writing about this a little article but I am also linking it to creative learning and teaching. Initially, I found it strange that whole thing about uncreative writing. But the idea was to provoke and help us consider alternative approaches to storymaking. To break free from conventions and give us the license to do the un-usual, the radical also and produce creative text in different shapes and forms. We were also reminded through this work that the seeds for our stories could come from anywhere, even from other stories. They often do anyway but we don’t acknowledge this.
The visualiality (is there such a word?) of the text, in poetry and prose, became more important. It is not just about adding nice pictures but more deeply engage with the text itself and more creative ways, even where we position it on the page, the size, typefont, what else we make visible or invisible. I will now critically and creatively, I hope, review some of the stories I have written to push the boundaries a little bit more. I suspect something like this, will be more demanding for the reader and my big question is, will they be ready for it?
I could relate to making the ordinary themes that became extraordinary in Lydia Davis‘ work. Her condensed stories (not sure this was the term used, maybe synoptic? Also known as flash fiction) brought fresh writing air.
Lydia is very playful with language, I find, and what she explores often reminded me of the things I could consider as a writer for children. In a way I read her stories which I suspect were written for adults as triggers to re-awakening the child in the reader. This is my personal interpretation with some of her work. She makes the ordinary appear extraordinary. Lifts the mundane and makes it shine. I have been writing picture book stories for a double audience, I think picture book writers/artists do. Despite the fact that we broadly know that picture books are for children, often children that can’t even read, they are really cross-generational creations and have layers and layers of opportunities to engage in diverse readership, if this is the desire of the author and illustrator. But also what stops us from creating picture book stories for adults? While I have only limited evidence brought together through personal explorations into the current bookmarked, I can see that increasingly picture books are more openly written for adult readers.
Perhaps the recent book by Charlie Mackesy The boy, the model, the fox and the horse, signalises a new direction for the picture book market or an additional direction perhaps? In this we are not just encouraged to wander and wonder but also to engage in creative reading (something we also started looking at in this module, see Ron Padgett’s book).
I find The Fate of Fausto by Oliver Jeffers similar.
Many are in horror and avoid writing into books but actually, from the years of working as a translator, I felt the need to add my own marks to the books I translated and read and this never left me. I just think this could be a way to engage more deeper with what we read and making sense of it but also start a dialogue and debate with the material, the story. Don’t know if anybody else feels like this.
Another similar example, is the picture book Mophead by Selina Tusitala Marsh. What a powerful story that is. This book was gifted to me by Paul Stacey, the Executive Director of Open Education Global at the recent Open Education Global conference in Milan in November. How did he know that this story would touch my heart? Paul didn’t even know that I was on a creative writing course and write picture book stories…
What this module also helped me to see, is that the stories that I wrote are more poems than prose. Maybe there are poetic stories. I definitely need to work more on them. To break free from tradition a little bit more, to make them exciting textually and visually as well, but beyond the classic or traditional text and illustration arrangements. Ali (2013, 4) says characteristically
“Writing is a way of thinking, the poem itself offers the best form of structure. It invents its own rules under the making: Neither line, nor form, nor diction or syntax is taken for granted by the writer. It is an anarchic piece of text that lives between boundaries.” (Ali, 2013, 4)
The story in a box I created for the first assignment, my interpretation of an existing picture book as an act of uncreative writing is perhaps such an example, but also the board game I developed earlier in another module based on a picture book story. I had the opportunity to mix in crafting, which was an interesting addition and added a very different feel and dimension to the final output but also to the process of making the box and what was in it and the arrangement of the story and artefacts. A story does not need to be told or shared in a 2 dimensional artefact, the traditional book format.
During this module it was fascinating to see where we were all taking the materials we immersed ourselves. We experimented in very different ways. It was really insightful and refreshing.
Both assignments have been submitted (I think we are getting feedback for the first one next week). I am waiting patiently for feedback and marks, while at the same time I will start thinking about a possible final project over the Christmas holidays. Just random thoughts in my head at the moment but something will emerge, I am sure. Something that will stretch me further. Something that will challenge me. Maybe a series of short poems or stories inspired by Lydia Davis but for children where the protagonists are neither humans nor animals… what could they be?
Thank you to both my tutors, Judy and Scott, on this module and the whole programme team as well as my peers for their valuable input and support.
Ali, K. (2013) Genre-Queer: Notes Against Generic Binaries. In: Singer, M. and Walker, N. (eds.) Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction. London: Bloomsbury Academic & Professional.
There are no guarantees when we try something different that it will work, but we do need to trust the process and others but also ourselves. I did and voila. Our padlet filled with a wide range of contributions (see post linked to week 1). The responses may have come in last minute, most of them, and created a challenge to read these in advance of the session (yes, it was a challenge), but they did come in. When I saw all the responses my face lid up and I was so so happy that I felt the need to share my happiness with a colleague. And I did. The experiment did work and as a group we decided, well it was my students idea, to swap papers and read another one from the same issue. This time discussing it face-to-face just before we start our session three. Amazing! Who said we can’t engage our colleagues in academic literature around learning and teaching? I think the appetite is there. We just need to find a hook to make this work. There will be multiple hooks, I am sure. And different things will work for different people.the “ripping the journal approach” seemed to have worked in this case.
This week we explored reflection and learning theories. Well, we did spent most of the time discussing and critiquing reflection and much less on learning theories. Always tricky… always. As theories themselves are decontextualised. My attempt to contextualise them was through the use of images, visual triggers, but also an activity to start working on the microteach session plan. While the groups did make some progress, I felt the activity did not work well. Maybe it didn’t work at all. It required students to have some knowledge already of the key learning theories. And while most of these were in Moodle and we provide related resources, I wasn’t sure how many had engaged with these in advance of the class. Perhaps I should really be more explicit in how the resources in Moodle could be used in preparation for a class. So there was a gap with the learning theories that I think did not let us progress as much or as deeply as I wished. Looking back now, I could have modeled more the key approaches or theories and turn them into a role play asking students to identify the theory used each time, or the theories that underpinned a specific approach as it is a mix, not a clear cut. Why didn’t I think about this earlier? In the past, I have done all kinds of different things, even editing specific Wikipedia pages, entries linked to specific learning theories, and we write about it in a paper published with a colleague on that course (Nerantzi, C. and Hannaford, L. (2016) Flipping the classroom using teams. A case study from Academic Development, in: Whatley, J. and Nerantzi, C. (eds.) (2016) Teaching with Team Projects in Higher Education, Santa Rosa, CA: Informing Science Press, pp. 119-130).
My plan now is to develop a new activity that could be used in a future class and maybe there is an opportunity to build elements of this into the remaining sessions. I think that would be good and useful. Maybe next time round I could model in each session at least two different approaches. I will need to think about it more to come up with a plan that would work. For now, in session 3 I will integrate an element about two contrasting learning theories using related teaching and learning approaches. Let’s see what happens.
Everybody says they want creativity and innovation but when we get it we often regret it as it is messy, experimental and will generate resistance. It is also often stopped before it happens. Are innovation and creativity just buzzwords? Within a community, there is trust. Trust in each other, trust in self, trust in the process and we are more tolerant and open to alternative approaches, alternative viewpoints, alternative ideas and processes. If there is no trust,there is very little we can do… by coincidence I just read the following article linked to recent research about engagement. And while it is not linked to learning and teaching, I can see parallels and a study like this in our context would be extremely useful. My own research with Barbara Thomas, into pedagogic innovation (#pin), paper forthcoming, does show that the individual is the driver for innovation, that the individuals is seeking the collaboration with others and welcomes and seeks the support of their institution.
Hopefully my colleagues and students understood that reflection is something we do naturally and continuously. It is not an add-on or a bold-on at the end… the true value of reflection is that we can step back and step outside our own experiences, critique these and engage in conversation with others to make sense of our experiences and identify a good way forward for us and others. Reflection is not a deficit model for learning and development. It gives us rich opportunities to interrogate practice, celebrate achievements and be positive about the future. Nothing and nobody is perfect.
See you all very soon for our week 3 session. I think I have overplanned (again) and I may ask you to help me to decide what to do in class and what to leave out. Yes, I will give you some choice and will decide what we do 😉 Are you ready for this?
I hope the sun will be shining tomorrow…
I always feel nervous when I start working with a new group. Is there anybody who doesn’t? It is, I think worse, at the beginning of the academic year, because of the longer gap. I often ask myself then “Can I still do this? Can I still do this well and with passion?” We are in term three now so these feelings were not as strong as they would have been after a summer break… I have to admit and I have been teaching in the previous terms. Looking back at the last almost six years, I have been teaching every term, providing feedback, assessing work and marking. Every term? Do I feel exhausted? I don’t think so. Teaching gives me fresh energy. During the last term I was also team-teaching on a postgraduate unit with a colleague in Nutritional Sciences with my colleague Haleh Moravej. Not my specialism at all. I actually know very little about nutrition and only from an healthy eater perspective. I have to say that I loved that experience as it was a completely new area for me. It was so exciting and I had the opportunity to work very closely with a peer in the faculty and our students. Yes, they were our students. This is how we both felt and we are currently writing this team-teaching experience up to be shared more widely, hoping others will consider this approach of teaching. Teaching students in the faculty is important for us academic developers. We don’t always have that opportunity. We often create it ourselves. For example, when I was at Salford, I used to teach German. It was so refreshing and useful. Especially as when teaching on our PGCAP I could more fully participate in the discussions about students with my peers and also share my own first hand experiences with them.
Ok, back to the now. ILTA is our first unit on the PgCert. It stands for Introduction to Learning, Teaching and Assessment. A very important unit for me. If not the most important one. We get colleagues from across the university in different role, academic and professional services and sometimes colleagues from other institutions as well. Many are new to teaching in HE, others have been doing it for a while or a bit longer even, others have to do the unit and the PgCert as it is part of their probation requirements, others come on their own as they want the qualification and the learning and development that comes with it. It is that diversity of people who come together that can make it a rich experience and can create lasting relationships. I have been teaching this unit since arriving at ManMet in Oct 13 and every time it is a unique experience with its ups and downs, of course. Often I have wished it to be longer… When I was working at Salford (ok, going back in time again), I was the PGCAP programme leader there working with a small team of academic developers and learning technologists. I was known as the PGCAP lady… and my students were the disruptive troops in a nice way and we often worked directly with the then PVC Academic and the VC. We really did disrupt practices but with a purpose. We had a 30 credit core unit and that really worked well in creating a sense of community. I felt hat it made a real difference to how colleagues engaged, the experimentation that we did together (even some research! and disseminated further through conferences and publications). Here at ManMet, we are planning for changes in this direction now, which is very encouraging.
So, in our first session, I think I was upbeat (music always helps and I like playing music when students enter the room but also for me while I set up). I felt excited. It was a fresh start for all of us and I was looking forward to meeting everybody. Colleagues, who are now also my students, were smiling when they arrived and many were there early. That was a good sign, I thought 😉
I think I did manage to draw (at least some of) my colleagues in, to create an atmosphere to open up and to start thinking about learning and teaching in different ways. We introduced the unit, talked a lot of about learning outcomes and constructive alignment and the assessment requirements. I had far too many slides!!! Far too many. Will I ever learn? I just get excited with things I can do in the classroom but then I do often run out of time. Anyway.
Having an open mind in such courses, PgCert courses, is really important but also to trust in the process, what we do and how. But also trust each other. If my colleagues don’t trust the process, the group and don’t trust me, I am not sure we can go far. There will be resistance, of course, there will be (not always, of course) as some of the approaches modeled are less frequently used… but if we are in this together, we do become more tolerant and open to new ideas, a course does this much better than a workshop, and a longer course does this better than a short course. My own experience and research has shown this.
So, the plan was to help colleagues feel comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time and engage with perhaps less used learning and teaching approaches that hopefully would stimulate some new thinking, unthinking and re-thinking but also action. Yes, from the very first session. There is no point waiting for it to happen later. The best time is now! Professor Phil Race talks about In at the deep end. I just love that phrase! BTW, I learnt to swim, not by watching videos or following instructions, I actually had to jump into the deep end of the pool literary… the whole class did. I have to admit that it was a scary experience and I did go at the back of the queue. But in the end I did it. Everybody did.
For me it is important to help my colleagues to immerse themselves into something that is different. Something they don’t do already. Something that makes them think more deeply about what they do, could do and may do in the future in their teaching and supporting students’ learning. I want to help them boost their confidence in teaching and be more aware of learning itself, the process and their learners and how to create varied, inclusive stimulating and exciting learning opportunities. Otherwise what would be the point of academic development? I often ask myself that question. And yes, while it is also about benchmarking and effective practice and raising the quality of teaching across the institution and getting more colleagues qualified, our courses also provide a fantastic opportunity to go beyond the minimum expectations. Nurturing creativity and innovation in teaching is so important and have a real potential to lead to transformation, of practitioners, their practice but also lead to transformative learning within and beyond students’ time at university and beyond! But I am not a bystander. I am part of the process, I am also immersed in it and I am learning with and from my colleagues too. I challenge and am challenged. And I am exposed. I practise at the edge and this is often forgotten… I don’t play it safe and yes, there are risks. I am far to curious to explore, to have adventures and make surprising discoveries with my colleagues that will all help us move forward… to not practise this way…
We got a wide range of experiences in the group and the discussions and debates started from very early on. What is often missing from these courses (and external examiners often comment on this) is the critical engagement with the literature. I wanted to change this. I have tried all kinds of approaches in the past… I had no idea if it (it= I will come to this in a moment) would work but I wanted to give it a go. I had used a variation of this approach in another PgCert course and in workshops. The idea came from Steve Outram. At the time we were both working on an HEA Change Academy project at Lincoln University and he mentioned it in one of the sessions he led. Ok, but what did I do? I ripped an academic journal apart, a physical copy of it and shared an article with each colleague in the group. But why on earth did I rip a journal apart? I suspect that some of my colleagues were shocked when it happened in front of their eyes. I thought that the act of ripping a journal apart in itself will be memorable. But then also everybody had that article in their possession. No need to read an email, download it, print it etc. Could this help colleagues engage with it? To read it, to start immersing themselves into the academic literature around learning and teaching in HE, to start familiarising themselves with a new subject area and its terminology? However, there was no guarantee that it would work. But the potential that it would was huge, for me at least so I experimented with this approach.
Final notes: I still have that curiosity to experiment, play with ideas, surprise others and do the unexpected. I need to stay more focused but how can I do this with all that excitement that feeds my imagination and my actions? I am opening this up to my colleagues and students and hope we can engage in a conversation around our shared experiences.
I can only be me. I only want to be me. Read here what is important to me.
Let’s see what happens in week 2.
Time to give back. Time to reciprocate. Haleh @halehmoravej and I meet a few months after I joined ManMet. That was over five years ago. Our shared passion for creative experimentation in learning and teaching brought us together. We have learnt to maximise on what unites us and how we can complement each other. We are colleagues, peers, equals. Stefani (2003) illustrated the positive impact of academic development on academics when collaboration and partnership models are used. We have experienced this in practice.
We have worked together on a range of learning and teaching initiatives and Haleh was also my student on two modules when she was working towards her teaching qualification in higher education. But before then we were already team teaching on our PgCert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and she was an active member of the Greenhouse community and later #creativeHE. And we have worked together on an undergraduate unit she teaches and done some research together using playful approaches to module evaluation together with her students. Over the years, I got to know Haleh really well and many of her students too. Her passion is infectious. When she invited me to co-develop and team teach the postgraduate module Nutrition in Practice I couldn’t resist.
As academic developers we work with academic staff, our students on the programmes we offer are academics too. So we are usually a layer removed from the students our students work with. Some might say our students are not really students. I have heard this myself. But they are students and it is a unique opportunity for academics to have that double role: Lecturer and student at the same time, as this double role is helping them to experience themselves what their students are going through and learn to empathize with them. We see this happening as academic developers and there are useful and impactful experiences for academics when being a student that help them consider changes to their own practice. Our students are professionals like you would have in a health professions course or an MBA for example. The only difference I see is that most our our students are members of staff, our colleagues.
I treasure the opportunities to teach other students than academic colleagues. And there have been such opportunities in the past. Often, I create them. I think academic developers should do this as part of their professional role, I mean working and teaching non-academics too. Being an academic as an academic developer is important too. A peer who but also to teach on programmes outside academic development. I used to teach German in my last institution and found it always useful in my discussions with colleagues to share my stories about my undergraduate students. It does make a difference. My experience showed that it helps develops trust. But I haven’t seen universities where this is actively promoted or build-into the academic development role. Is there an opportunity there to do more about this?
With Haleh, we planned the module for some months in advance and our meetings were always full of ideas and excitement. We had big plans and were looking forward to doing this together. Then the unexpected happened and I fell ill when we were going to start. I was upset with myself but could not do anything about it. This illness meant Haleh had to start on her own but she kept me in the loop and always referred to “our students”, from a distance I still felt part of the team. I loved seeing all the pictures, videos and tweets. I was looking forward to seeing the students when I got back to work. That happened in week three.
Finally I was there. Finally I saw our students. I was with our students. Loved their energy and desire to learn. Their openness and honesty. Their eyes sparkled and I could see their determination for learning. Haleh had already done her magic to bring them together as a group. They had started opening up. Their diversity, culturally and professionally, enriched our experiences and we wanted to maximise on this.
So what does an academic developer do in a class she knows nothing about the subject beyond being liking good food and healthy eating? Well, with Haleh we discussed not so much the what was going to be taught in this module but more the how and why. In a way we really moved away from content delivery, and I don’t like that word “delivery” at all, to bringing the curriculum alive through stimulating, varied and hands on experiences that will help our students think and enable them to discover their own areas within nutrition and develop as professionals. This happened through a wide range of approaches we employed that transformed learning into a full body, heart and mind experience. We listened, discussed, we made, we played, we cried and we questioned. We all learnt. Emotions are so important in learning. Often we ignore them, we brush them under the carpet. But when we work with people it is really important to remember we all have an emotional dimension too. And this emotional connection can be made strongly through stories. Moon (2010, 60) states “A good story seems to facilitate listeners and the teller in moving around in the psychological space of the story, guided by the unfolding actions of the story. For the listener to allow herself vicariously to experience the ‘story world’ involves her in ‘suspending her disbelief’ and thereby suspending some current connections with the here and now. She allows herself to be transported ‘aboard’ the story and may encounter different reality.” The story I shared, I felt enabled this. While the story was based on a personal experience, the re-action it generated and the emotional involvement it triggered showed that it was a powerful strategy. I suspect we will all remember the story I told and connect it with something very specific we learnt thanks to it.
Guests brought the world into the classroom, the lab provided a space for creative experimentation and responding to students feedback, Haleh will also take students away from campus. Haleh organised this super quickly responding to students’ feedback. We normalised the use of technologies in and outside the classroom and created opportunities to help students develop as professionals using digital tools, platforms and spaces.
The use of a social media, process and product portfolio, owned by the students, was invaluable and put the students in charge of their learning and development (Scully, O’Leary & Brown, 2018). I am impressed with the professionalism of our students and how responsibly they have embraced digital technologies for their learning. Students have used the portfolio seamlessly not just capturing classroom activities and assessment but also to share and showcase their work more widely in order to establish a professional space and online presence in readiness for a career in nutrition science.
The portfolios are a colourful tapestry and evidence experimentation and a professional maturity documenting learning adventures and discoveries. Many of the portfolios are also shared more widely and are turning into conversation spaces about nutrition. Our students are developing a professional identity as a nutritionist. It is truly wonderful. Have a look at Leticia’s portfolio!
The students used their own devices to capture visual memories of their learning experiences and share these further via their WordPress portfolios and Instagram mainly, from what I have seen. Most importantly they also learnt to put their devices to one side and be with their peers in real time. Often we are physically with people but we are hooked to our phones and engaged with others elsewhere. There is a danger that we are always trying to be were we are not and don’t live the moment where we are with the people we share the moment with in the same physical location.
Doing the mid unit evaluation with our students was insightful. We used a variation of the LEGO(R) SERIOUS PLAY(R) method to gain deep insights into the individual and collective experience in our class and combined it with other approaches as we felt that it would further strengthen sharing and dialogic engagement (James & Nerantzi, 2018). That featured individuals building of two mini models, one for what they are taking away from the module so far and one for what they would find useful to change/happen in this module before we reach the end. We asked our students to add a capture for each model on a post-it and then we did sticker voting when the models were shared. This way everything that was shared was transparent, we could react and respond and also clarify and better understand what was said and what could be done. Students’ honesty did shine through but also their determination to learn. It was fantastic to hear how positive the module was perceived already and more importantly that they felt they had learnt new things and also found the practical sessions useful for their development.
I was impressed with the dishes students prepared responding to specific briefs they self-selected and how much care went into these based on their understanding of nutritional value for particular groups and individuals of our society.
I think we all realised from very early on the important role the social dimensions plays in our development but also in the context of nutrition.
What I have learnt
- Team-teaching between academic and academic developer is something that is valuable for both sides, develops close working relationships, mutual understanding of each other’s role, opportunities and challenges. It is a valuable opportunity for the academic developer to teach students who are not members of staff and for the academic to work critically and creatively with a colleague on the design, implementation and evaluation of their teaching.
- Academics are open to change and transformation as they care deeply about their students. They put a lot of energy into creating stimulating learning experiences. This really drives what they do. They value the opportunity to work with somebody they trust when seen as equals to consider alternative approaches that have the potential to benefit their students.
- We need to trust our colleagues and we need to trust our students. Creating a sense of community is what makes a real difference and develops trust within. The academic plays a key role in laying the foundations for such a community to emerge and establish. Showing our human side helps develop empathy.
- Empowering students to pursue their own special interests linked to a module and programme of study and building in choice increases their engagement and commitment to their own development.
- Diversity boosts collaboration. We saw this in action. Students were curious about each other and keen to learn with and from each other. Sharing diverse experiences with other other helped them connect their reality with others and build a wider understanding of differences, culturally, politically, economically and socially.
How can we encourage such mutual professional development collaborations more? They are valuable practice-based development that break free from workshops and organised activities and offer on the job and just in time development with direct application for all those involved. There are of course resource implications to further spread such developmental collaborations, but I am wondering if there are specific cases where such an investment could potentially transform learning and teaching and reinvigorate practitioners? Could such an approach then be cascaded and have a ripple effect?
I had started growing chilly plants on my windowsill in January. During one of our sessions we shared them with our students. To look after them, to nurture them and help them grow, just like we did with our students.
Thank you for this opportunity Haleh.
I am looking forward to the next chapter of our shared adventure.
James, A. & Nerantzi, C. (2018) Guest Editors: A Potpourri Of Innovative Applications Of LEGO® In Learning, Teaching And Development, In: International Journal of Management and Applied Research, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 153-156. DOI: https://doi.org/10.18646/2056.54.18-011
Moon, J. (2010) Using story in higher education and professional development, London: Routledge.
Scully, D., O’Leary, M. & Brown, M. (2018) The Learning Portfolio in Higher Education: A Game of Snakes and Ladders. Dublin: Dublin City University, Centre for Assessment Research, Policy & Practice in Education (CARPE) and National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL), available at http://dcu.ie/sites/default/files/carpe/eportfolio_report.pdf
Stefani, L. (2003) What is staff and educational development? In: Kahn, P. & Baume, D., eds., 2003. A guide to staff & educational development. Oxon: Routledge, pp.9-23.
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.
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?
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
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)
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