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Engaging Imagination: Helping students become creative thinkers

February 26, 2017 in Reading Journal

This book explains how creativity is heavily linked to student interest/ attention (of potentially, any subject-whether art & design related or not).

The book also talks about the advantages and pitfalls of the digital classroom environment. And this relates to my recent discovery of MOOCs, which I naively knew nothing about before meeting a freelance client last week, who discussed the possibility of me producing illustrations for a MOOC he is developing with the Cadbury Research Library about their exquisite Mingana Manuscripts collection at Birmingham University.

I also, shortly after this discovery, learn about the inception of MOOCs within the historical context of higher education (at our PG Cert seminar held on 24/02/2017).

Visual diagram breaking down the definition of a MOOC

Image by Mathieu Plourde


This book was useful to me as the language was one I felt could penetrate into my brain a little more easily, like one of the concepts they discuss on modes of learning: to “get the learning to stick”.

I’m still a little hazy on the difference between ‘engagement’ and ‘learning’, but these pedagogical ‘tips’ definitely helped me.

Axiomatic principles that work with students (summarised):

  • make it personal/relate to the learners
  • provide different modes of learning resources
  • ‘jerk them out’ of their comfort zones of learning methods, if complacency is observed.

Breaking down the idea and act of ‘Reflection’ and what it means for teachers and students to reflect. One thing that I’m left pondering about is to explore how I, as a teacher, might understand if a student knows all of the ‘multimodal approaches’ that allow a person to process information. Also, how and when do I gauge if a student, by the point of higher education, necessarily understands what is the most effective approach for their individual learning experiences?

I’m about halfway through this read, but I think I’ll continue to finish all of this and add into this post. It seems as if I will uncover further discoveries I will feel a need to document for my own teaching practices, moving forward.

Do I agree this film’s story is true?

February 1, 2017 in Reading Journal

I came across this film from an email I received from the Guardian. I think it’s a statement showing what we have seen in the past.


I think in recent years, Outreach work in HE sectors and the work of Student Services and Careers available whilst a person studies has vastly changed this perspective. Society accepts more of what was once thought taboo (Mental Health, Anxiety, financial backgrounds, class, cultural barriers). Though more work in these areas alongside current political climates will change perspectives again.

I didn’t know how much to prepare

February 1, 2017 in Tutor Group Discussions

I didn’t know how much to prepare for our first tutor group meeting, so I started a presentation to answer our questions, but it ended up not being used, as the session was, gratefully on my part, informal and discussion based. It was great to hear the varied experiences of teaching in the room.

So that my preparation work for that session isn’t completely lost, and in case anyone reading is remotely interested, here is a little link to it online (though it’s not the slickest presentation, be warned!). It includes some images and a short film of a ‘self directed learning’ workshop I presented at a practice sharing forum at the National Gallery in September 2016.


(Tutor group meeting 1): Inclusive Learning and Teaching in Art & Design

January 27, 2017 in Reading Journal, Tutor Group Discussions

Some initial thoughts for 27/01/2017 discussion after reading excerpts from:

Liberation, Equality and Diversity in the Curriculum

Retention and Attainment in the Disciplines: Art & Design

  1. In what ways are students shaping institutional policies and practices around inclusivity?

I found this example of how students are actively shaping policies, a short video is found in this link on asking the NUS to investigate and complete an Institutional Racism Review.

I am sure this is one of many examples. In light of the ever-growing focus of fees rising, students have become more aware of the quality of their learning. there is no one archetype of a ‘student’ anymore. Everyone is a student, whether in a HE sector, university building or in less traditional settings.  Some students have vast amounts of experience in certain aspects of life than others.

We all have different learning styles, different expectations from an educational institution. So in light of this need for a better quality of learning some students are finding ways to express their views on institutional policies that may not work for them individually, or even apply to them. One size does not fit all.

Banner with hand written typography 'We Heart Education' With 'He' and 'Art' of the word 'Heart' in contrasting colours black, red and white

Students are evidently:

  • expressing their views vocally and through protest to change policies
  • more reasonable adjustments are being accommodated for students, because they are more confident in asking for aids which will allow them to study better.

2. What progress has been made in terms of inclusivity and ‘liberating the curriculum’ since the NUS report was published in 2011?

Here are some ideas/words/thoughts that leapt out to me when reading through the excerpts of the NUS report:

  • Cultural Competence /Currency /Exchange
  • Asking where inclusivity begins/ends/is reviewed
  • Reflection for students and staff individually and together
  • Student-centred learning
  • Safe environments for critique
  • Confidence building
  • Student-staff exchange of knowledge
  • Object-based learning
  • Liberation of curriculum / de-schooling ‘institutionalised thinking’
  • Connecting with NUS Campaigns to hear the student voice
  • Creating inclusive learning as part of staff appraisal/performance assessment.

Are we liberating the curriculum creatively in the Art & Design HE sector? I have seen an example of this at CSM where a ‘DIY Art school’ was set up in collaboration with live, external arts venues such as the Tate Exchange:

And in another example, creative briefs were provided to a 1st year group in the CSM BA (Hons) Graphic Communication Design course, with an underlying objective: to allow the students to familiarise the assessment process staff will use as the framework to mark these students’ work in future. By swapping roles the brief allowed space for students to scrutinise and rationalise this assessment framework with teaching staff, at an early stage in their course

3. How might a diversity audit enhance inclusivity on the course(s) you are involved with?

As a slight comparative to begin thinking about this question, the following link is to a short article in Time Out about people with hidden impairments on their  experiences of seeing live music:

Imagine this article as a ‘mini audit’ of access facilities in music venues. Already I can see that a simple re-design of website structures for these music venues can have a huge impact on the experience of a future customer with  a visual impairment. Changing the environment and the impression of the environment, not highlighting the restrictions.

I wonder if an audit of this kind, if done collaboratively with students, would encourage more understanding of each others’ behaviours, attitudes, of cultural mindsets. What environments has every student come from to be in this same environment (eg the lecture theatre/studio)? Does this differ a small or large amount to environments they are used to working and living in? How confident does that make a person?

I will be working on the Graphic Communication Design course at CSM. With this course and college in mind for this audit, I think a key element to providing inclusivity is to create this safe environment within the group of students on this course. Safe in a sense of every individual being confident to express their ideas in their work without prejudice. This would effectively enhance the group’s confidence in producing work, but also in providing valuable, constructive critique to their peers and even being bold enough to challenge ideas or critiques made on their own work with an intellectual response/reflection.

A phenomenological approach to primary research in Spatial Design

August 10, 2016 in Atmosphere, Spatial Environments

This case study advocates a phenomenological approach to site-specific documentation and evaluation, placing human psychological needs and lived experiences at the centre of Spatial Design education. The project, with 2nd year students from the BA (Hons) Spatial Design course at London College of Communication, delineates how primary research methods are introduced as a prelude to sensory driven design iterations. It showcases how a public space became a pedagogic environment for students to bridge the gap between studio practice and lived experiences through active learning. It also underlines how introducing practices informed by academic research enhances the students’ learning experience.

The article is published in:

Spark: UAL Creative Teaching and Learning Journal

Click here for the full article.


Diagram by BA Spatial Design student Sarah Bakieh

Sustainable systems and positive human agency

November 6, 2015 in PGcert

I spent the majority of time on this topic wondering what ‘sustainability’ actually means.

I did three pieces of reading, which first made me feel perplexed, then a bit annoyed, and finally slightly more comfortable.

1) Perplexed

An enhancement guide for Sustainability in the Curriculum

This guide doesn’t explain definitions of ‘sustainability’. It says that sustainability is not just ‘related to our physical environment’, but what is it related to? The closest thing to a definition is the quote from UAL’s strategic aims, ‘To create a culture of social and environmental awareness in order to develop and integrate sustainable and ethical practice throughout all aspects of our life and work.’ (University Strategy 2010-15)’.

2) Bit annoyed

Dawe, G., Jucker, R. & Martin, S. (2005) Sustainable Development in Higher Education: Current Practice and Future Developments. York: Higher Education Academy 

This goes through different definitions of Education for Sustainable Development (EDS). There are variations on three factors: environmental, social and economic.

Dawe et al present different criteria for EDS. One is ‘Acceptance of limits’, related to the idea that ‘we are living within a materially non-growing, closed system’. This is based on a model called ‘The Natural Step’, accompanied by a picture of a person draining too much water from planet Earth via a tap. The tap represents technology (not cutting edge technology, given taps were invented in the 1800s!).

The Natural Step

I react against this definition. I think education is about not accepting limits. Are we really living in a finite, closed system? For example, fossil fuels might be limited but what about the other ways we might be able to create energy?

There’s a great book called ‘The Magic of Thinking Big’ which is all about dispelling the assumed limits that we place around ourselves and going beyond them. I think we should want students to be proactive, innovative and taking action, and not see themselves as consumers who are fearful that our resources will run out.

In the workshops I deliver, there is a focus on empowering the individual. (Dawe et al do talk about the ‘empowerment of the learner’.) Developing speaking skills is not just about better communication, it’s about your agency as a human being and doing something that matters to you. It’s about breaking limits, taking risks and helping create a future that is better than some of the dystopian futures I hear about in the context of sustainability.

3) Comfortable (ish) 

Sterling, S. (2013) Future Fit Framework: An introductory guide to teaching and learning for sustainability in HE

Sterling gives much clearer context for ‘sustainability’. More importantly he relates it to ‘graduate attributes’ and how graduates should prepare themselves for the world. He sums it up here:

‘In a nutshell: sustainability education prepares people to cope with, manage and shape social, economic and ecological conditions characterised by change, uncertainty, risk and complexity.’

A German view of sustainability literacy seems the most practical to me. This checklist (Michelsen and Adomssent 2007, p22) includes: the ability to deal with uncertainty, working in an interdisciplinary way, being participatory, the ability to plan, feeling empathy, motivating yourself and reflecting on wider concepts.

All of these things I understand in relation to developing enterprise and employability skills, and particularly to speaking skills. For example, being participatory (something I explored in Topic 2, Equalising student participation) and feeling empathy (when giving feedback, there is a need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes).

Sterling sums up: ‘..the sustainability learner will be characterised by such qualities as resilience, resourcefulness, creativity, systemic and critical thinking, enterprise, and a co-operative and caring outlook.’ (p 23)

This is exactly the kind of skills that I want to help students and graduates develop. Though I do still wonder if sustainability is something that can mean what you want it to mean.

I thought about sustainability when I designed and delivered a day of workshops this week on collaboration and presentation skills. I worked with two year groups on the Documentary Film MA at LCC. In the morning, the graduating students acted as mentors to the new students, and gave feedback on their presentations. In an afternoon workshop, the new students gave feedback on the graduating students’ presentations in return.

This ecosystem and reciprocity will carry through to next year, when the new students will be graduating and will act as mentors to the next intake of students.

In these sessions, the students are:

  • Resourceful (reflecting on ideas and articulating them)
  • Participative (each person speaks)
  • Supportive (give constructive feedback to peers)
  • Collaborative (two year groups working together)

There is a circular sense of sustainability about it. But I also feel that these skills encourage positive human agency, with the voice helping turn thought into action).

Sustainability and innovation

Equalising student participation

October 16, 2015 in PGcert

The big question for me this week is: How do you get every student in your class to participate?

I really enjoyed reading Psychology Teaching: Working in Small Groups written for the Higher Education Academy by Caprice Lantz. It’s great summary of different ideas, combining theory and practical advice. She talks about ‘Encouraging and equalising student participation’ which seems important.

I found that I am already using some of the other techniques around working with small groups, which I think are essential for helping students speak more comfortably:

1) Small groups. The presentation skills workshops I run ensure each student speaks, partly achieved by using small groups. Each student has an allocated time to prepare and present a short presentation in a pair, before joining another pair to practice again, and then moving into a bigger group. This snowball method means that it feels more like a conversation rather than a presentation, even when speaking in bigger groups. Lantz’ survey of literature suggests that small groups should be taught in a maximum of 6 (Bennett et al., 2002 Small group teaching and learning in Psychology).

2) Peer feedback. The workshops are centred around students giving each other feedback on their presentations. Lantz talks about the ‘traditional master-apprentice view of lecturers and students’. This model means the teacher dominates. This is apparently more commonly found among teachers who identify themselves as ‘experts’ (Silver, M. & Wilkerson, L. A. (1991) Academic Medicine). This equality and two way-learning is something we discussed a lot in Topic 1. Small groups ‘establish a more intimate and dialectical contact with academic and teaching staff than more formal methods permit’ (Jacques, D., & Salmon G. (2006) Learning in Groups: A Handbook for face-to-face and online environments)

3) Fostering familiarity. As the students talk first in pairs in my workshops, then gradually add people to their groups, there is an opportunity to get familiar with the others in the group. Lantz says that Giordano and Hammer (1999) and Jackson and Prosser (1985) both advocate fostering familiarity to help ‘reticent’ students to become more participative. As one student said in my research for Teaching and Professional Fellowship at UAL, “I found giving presentations about my work very difficult at the start but as I’ve got to know people, it’s more like talking to your friends.’

4) Circles. The students in my workshop always sit or stand in a circle when they are giving feedback to their peers. Lantz says that circles are widely considered best in facilitating interaction (Bennett et al., 2002)

What matters the most to me is that everybody speaks. This is not about some people being the best speakers, it’s about each student finding a comfortable way to express themselves.

One question that preoccupies me a lot is: How do you equalise between dominant students and quieter students?

Lantz writes: ‘When groups convene, roles are sometimes ill-defined and dominant students have a tendency to take control while reticent students struggle to contribute or fade into the background.’

I don’t really like the word ‘reticent’ as it suggests that the students are unwilling rather than feeling unable to contribute in some way. But it’s true that some people dominate.

Jacques (2007) has advice around verbal and non-verbal ways to discourage excessive contribution: ‘…you can discourage a dominant student by slightly frowning, using a stop hand gesture and making eye contact with other students’. I might try this but wonder if it’s a bit too obvious?

Victoria Kelley, in her PgCert project, describes a technique using playing cards. Each person has 3 cards and puts one down when they speak. This is interesting. My concern would be if you are a quieter person there could be even more pressure on you if you’re the one left with 3 cards in your hand.

Often when people talk about presentation skills, the emphasis is on individual confidence. In fact, there are many other factors that contribute to someone being able to speak comfortably. These include the physical environment (eg is it formal/informal) and whether the group well-faciliated (eg is the group structured so each student is contributing equally). I think allocating roles is a useful idea, and I will do this when we are doing a group presentation exercise.

I’d be really interested in any other thoughts about how you can equalise participation, encourage participation from quieter students and discourage excessive contribution from dominant students…

Word cloud based on people’s responses to the question ‘What makes a great group?’ in our online seminar discussion, Tuesday 6 October 2015. Interesting how much the word ‘leader’ features, especially given the comments above about equalising participation. (I like the way ‘booze’ creeps in there!)

Wordle pgcert

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