Dwelling Story Development Workshop: rapid story development for student-led creative practice

This last week I was given the opportunity to lead a workshop at the Active Learning Network Conference at University of Sussex. The entire day was a great experience and I got meet a lot of new people and to explore lots of really interesting ideas about Active Learning. The workshop was great fun even though I managed to set up in the wrong room and had to prepare everything really quickly. Luckily the participants were really helpful and together we got everything ready in just a few minutes.

The workshop set out to model a silent collaborative activity that has an aim of placing inclusivity and quite reflection at the heart of a story development through Dwelling. The idea is that participants respond silently to a visual trigger and inscribe their contribution to the story idea via posters which are continually added to in an iterative process of questioning and response. The final posters are then taken away, either individually or in groups and used as the basis for further fiction/factual, script/story development. The approach can be as a rapid development activity that is of benefit where time for ideas development is restricted. It can also be adapted easily to other settings, contexts and subject disciplines. The workshop simulated the use of this technique on a media practice fiction production course where there is a need for rapid development of an outline story idea that can go into preproduction.

The idea for the workshop came about through a number of different influences. The first was the discovery of an alternative to brainstorming called brain writing. This technique has been around for a while and there are lots of different versions of it. However, the form I came across in an article online was a little different from the way it is usually done and also, I adapted it a little to fit the story development process. The basic premise is that the ideation part of the process is to be undertaken in silence and involves participants writing ideas on post-it notes. The aim is for everyone involved to come up with as many ideas as possible in a restricted time. One of the benefits of this approach is that there is no judging of ideas, there is no nervousness, there is no dominating and people are free to just have ideas.

A second influence was an experience I had at the Rethinking Research Conference at Coventry University earlier in the year. By the way, the conference keynote was delivered as a cabaret which was truly inspiring and made me want to learn to sing. Anyway, one of the workshops I attended was run by three Practitioner-Researchers from The University of Central Lancashire’s, Dance Performance and Teaching team: Sara Giddens, Ruth Margaret Spencer and Justyna Katarzyna Urbanczyk The session was entitled quite simply ‘Dwelling‘. During the workshop large, blank sheets of paper covered each of the tables around which we were sat. At the centre of each table was a one word theme and participants were asked to respond in writing to the theme in a state of silence. It was an interesting experience and not only did we inscribe our thoughts but we added to other people’s comments in this way developing a conversation with others in the room, though we might not know who they were.

Though the emphasis of the workshop was on how slowing-down and finding-still-ness might inform alternative approaches to research. The experience seemed to be just as applicable to the classroom setting. The aim of bringing mindfulness to the classroom seemed to be more than appropriate and certainly resonated with the experience of using brain writing in ideation sessions with students. Mindfulness offers an opportunity to regulate attention by focusing on the present moment and this is something I felt very strongly during the workshop, that engagement and focus without interruption. There is also a sense of openness about the process of focusing on the moment which seems to instil a sense of curiosity. There is even research that suggests mindfulness can lead to changes in the way students apprehend information, process it and even how they manage learning (Lynch 2013).

The workshop leaders informed us that they in turn were inspired by Heidegger’s idea of “attentive dwelling” (1978:150). In fact, Heidegger has spoken on Dwelling a number of times and he seems to suggest that building (or perhaps we can change this to creating) and dwelling a synonymous (Heidegger & Hofstadter 1971, 10). My reading of his ideas (a novice reading at best I acknowledge), to me posits the notion that dwelling clears a space for building (creating), one that opens up for the potentiality of ideas to reveal themselves. A space in which an idea is able to gather to itself, in its own way, those things around it. Heidegger uses a metaphor of a bridge to explain how this process occurs pointing out that the bridge gathers two sides together and locates itself as a site for the confluence, of what might be thought of as the unconscious spirit of ideas that lies below the surface of realisation. There is then, a sense that for Heidegger dwelling is about return to a sense of peace in which the true nature of things is known (Heidegger & Hofstadter 1971, 3). That Dwelling as a form of thinking that returns us to where we always have been, without the noise, without the distraction, to recognise we are already there through careful attention to the moment.

I and my colleagues (I attended the conference with two research assistants) were very taken by this approach and we adapted it to a focus group methodology for a project we were at the time, just about to initiate. With the intention of evaluating the introduction of course blogs at our institution, the focus group session started with participants (in this case students) writing ideas down on post-it notes in response to a prompt. These were then placed on large sheets of paper on which each key theme had been inscribed at the centre. They were then encouraged to add other comments to the posters in an iterative, but silent process. This worked very well and after each Dwelling session we were able to facilitate a lively and productive discussion around the poster comments.

Alongside the development of the focus group methjod, I also adapted the approach to tackle a problem with a drama production module I was about to run for a group of second year production students. The issue here is that without teaching screenwriting (which would take a good 6 to 8 weeks) I needed the students to generate a story idea within the first three weeks of the semester so that we could get the pre-production planning started as early as possible. I also hopped to tackle another associated issue I which is that left to their own devices students, as novice screenwriters will tend to default to the lowest common denominator and you get stories that are immature, predicable, reflect a narrow world view and mostly involve a gun. A final problem I wished to tackle revolved around the attachment students have to their first idea. They seem to think that their first idea is the only idea and own it with such deep emotional attachment that it is difficult to shift them from it.

So, the aim of the story workshop would hopefully fast track the development of an idea, root that idea in a real-world experience and divest students of their attachment to their own first idea.

It seemed to work, the students were extremely engaged, and really excited about the posters (they were virtually ripped off the wall by their respective owners). Plus, the trick I played on them (see below for more on this) seemed to work in that their ideas changed and they continued to change as they received further feedback during the later stages of the story development process. Perhaps the real evidence of the approaches success though, concerns a group of students who arrived back from the winter break some three or four weeks into the semester. Having missed the workshop, they were offered the opportunity to develop a script on any topic they chose (this was the control group that added an empirical dimension to the research). Needless to say, while all the other scripts were dramas with a real depth to them, this one group made a somewhat cliched film about gangsters that featured a gun.

For anyone who wishes to adopt the methodology for this approach to story development I will close with a short recipe for its use. Feel free to adapt it any way you chose and I look forward to hearing of other people’s experience of using dwelling in other ways.

Workshop Methodology

Context: the need for rapid story development for drama production, to address the difficulty for novice screenwriters to write anything complex and mature i.e. without a, to break them of their addiction to their first idea.

Preamble: in advance invite participants to bring with them to the workshop an image or artefact from their past which for them evokes a story that they can tell. It is of value if they believe that they will be expected to tell this story in class and if possible it should be written down in advance (one page – title, logline, synopsis) and handed in to the workshop facilitator. Even though the participants won’t get to tell the story they have prepared it is important they have one in mind so that at the end of the workshop they can compare their first idea with their new ideas.

Instructions: place large A0 sheets of paper around the room with at least one per workshop participant. Invite the participants to stick their photo or artefact to the centre of a poster. Explain that in silence (you may need to police this) everyone will now go around the room and look at each poster in turn. Explain that they should write whatever comes to mind (what does the image or artefact make them think of). Let them know that as the workshop evolves you will be giving verbal prompts to add other comments to the posters. They should understand that they can write anything, they can add to other comments, change them, engage in dialogue with others through their comments. However, they are not allowed to write on their own poster.

Process: as the workshop evolves give prompts to initiate further writing (I use prompts designed to develop a three-act structure i.e. people, place, time; inciting incident; problem encounters; resolution or ending). You should probably allow anything between 45 minutes to an hour but be sure to give time for each participant to write something on each poster after your prompts. At the conclusion of the workshop invite the participants to take sometime to view their own posters. Ask them “has your idea changed”?

References

Giddens, S., Spencer, R.M., Urbanczyk, J.K., (2018). ‘Dwelling’, paper presented to Rethinking Research: Disrupting Challenges Research Practices, Coventry University, January 19th 2018. Available at: https://goo.gl/twYVCg [Accessed 9 June 2018].

Heidegger, M., 1978 (first published in 1956). The Origin of the Work of Art. In: D. Farrell Krell, ed. Basic Writings. London: Routledge.

Heidegger, M., & Hofstadter, A. (1971). Building Dwelling Thinking. Poetry, Language, Thought, (1), 42.

Lynch, S, 2013. Mindfulness in Higher Education: It’s a Win-Win Situation. Enhancement Themes, [Online]. Available at: https://goo.gl/4EyxtV [Accessed 9 June 2018].

Tucker, C., (2017). Borrowing a Powerful Brainstorm Protocol from IDEO. In: Catlin Tucker, 1st September 2017. Available at: https://goo.gl/R47B3p [Accessed 9 June 2018].

 

RISE peer feedback model

RISE to the challenge of dialogic feedback

It seems that students want more feedback but studies show they don’t read it or don’t understand it (McConlogue 2014, 1496). But that might largely be down to the monologic, transmission model tutors use for giving feedback. If we want students to increase their uptake of feedback then we need to encourage them to proactively engage with the feedback. To achieve this then perhaps it is useful to start to see feedback as an “interactive and communicative process in service of learning” (Strijbos, J. W., & Sluijsmans 2010, 267) that is not an isolated incident along the way but something integrated into learning in an iterative and repeated manner.

Nichol (2010, 502) suggests that if students are to be thought of as “active agents“, who are equal participants in their learning then they should also be “active constructors“(Nichol 2010, 503) of feedback. Such a shift towards dialogic forms of feedback would see students engage in forms of interaction that might free them from a dependency on “tutor judgements” (McConlogue 2014, 1497) and help them develop the capability for turning their newly found skills in reviewing and feedingback to their own work.

The process of reviewing and commenting on formative writing through course blogs would seem to offer a useful space for developing just such a range of skills. There is though a fundamental need to scaffold peer feedback processes (Kollar & Fischer 2010, 347). Students need to be trained, to have the process modelled, they need practice. Tutors also need to be in a position to facilitate the development of positive and productive commenting and to understand that it is possible that the quality of the interaction with feedback is more important than the quality of the comments (Nichol 2010, 502). With this in mind I have started to devise a general model for application of some of these ideas. It starts with a workshop that introduces some principals and offers some suggestions about how to give good feedback. It goes onto include opportunities for face to face interaction between students post the review and commenting process.

Wray’s (2017) RISE model for structuring peer feedback is going to become an important tool for focusing the students reviews into constructive and valuable feedback. Coupled with a rubric for evaluating the quality of the feedback they give/receive based on Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy it may be possible to generate some interaction around the course blogs when we introduce them.

RISE model for peer feedback

Aligned as it is with Bloom’s taxonomy for higher order thinking the model aims develop feedback skills as positive communications that not only structure the process of review but give a model for reflection and the construction of new knowledge. I haven’t tried it yet but I am building it into plans for the coming academic year. It maybe that the terminology is too dense for some students and this is an issue that has been identified in the literature. As tutors we draw on a large repository of tacit knowledge that enables to easily unpack the meaning of complex jargon and we need to be aware that students don’t necessarily share that repository of knowledge with us. Nonetheless, the model looks inspirational and this reason enough to test its use as a means for structuring student peer feedback.

References

Kollar, I., & Fischer, F. (2010). Peer assessment as collaborative learning: A cognitive perspective. Learning and Instruction, 20(4), 344–348. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2009.08.005

Nicol, D. (2010). From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 501-517. http://doi.org/:10.1080/02602931003786559

McConlogue, T. (2014). Making judgements: investigating the process of composing and receiving peer feedback. Studies in Higher Education, 5079(October), 1–12. http://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2013.868878

Strijbos, J. W., & Sluijsmans, D. (2010). Unravelling peer assessment: Methodological, functional, and conceptual developments. Learning and Instruction, 20(4), 265–269. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2009.08.002

Wray, E., (2017). RISE Model for structuring Student Peer Feedback. Retrieved from http://www.emilywray.com/rise-model/

Case Study: blogging as a tool for early engagement in media practice education.

Executive Summary

This case study evaluates the use of blogging as a tool for promoting early engagement on a level 6 media production course. Based on an action research methodology the case study draws on qualitative interviews and blogged responses to explore the student experience of blogging as a tool for promoting formative assessment. It outlines the research findings and offers suggestions for ways in which others might implement a similar approach. The need for the research emerges from the need to integrate theory and practice into the curriculum so practice is informed by theory; and to ensure critical reflection on practice is located within an appropriate theoretical framework. The paper builds on previous work into approaches to project-based learning in media practice education in UK HEI’s.

What was Done

During the BA (hons) Media Production Top Up student’s welcome week I arranged for a staff member from the Learning Technology Unit to work with Laraine and myself on a session in which all of the students set up a personal blog. We used the free WordPress.com platform to do this and students were asked to write a short welcome post and to email a link to this to their tutor. Initially the aim was to pilot the use of blogging on Factual Production, a L6 unit for which I am the course leader. As part of the project I then scheduled a session which introduced students to the idea of blogging, the style of writing commonly adopted, the value of commenting on each other’s blogs and so on.

The blogging activity was initiated by a lecture on Documentary Modes (Nichols 1983) which I deliver as part of the course. The students were then set a first blogging task which required them to select a documentary video of their own choice from the Vimeo staff picks list[1] and to critically watch the video using a handout on Documentary Modes as a means of thinking about how the video functioned. The following week the students were asked to apply the concept of Documentary Modes in a short analysis and to use this as a basis for a short 300-500-word blog post. The aim was for students to determine the particular mode their chosen documentary fell into and say why. The task required them to use references and provide a bibliography as per normal academic requirements. The first writing task was started during class time and the students were given 30 minutes to begin their blog posts with an expectation that they would be finished in their own time. The following week the students were asked to comment on each other’s blog posts and the course tutor (me) also evaluated and gave written feedback in the form of a comment on each blog post. This process was then repeated a second time with a second blogging task organised in a similar fashion.

In order to evaluate the pilot, we ran a discussion group at a later point in the following semester which resulted in a number of short blogs being written by the participating students. These were captured via Survey Monkey and have formed the basis for the data collection phase of the research.

Motivation and Aims

It is possible to formulate Media practice education as a form of experiential learning following a claim often attributed to Aristotle (2001) that ‘the things we have to learn before doing them, we learn by doing them’. This idea is further expanded by Kolb (1994) who see learning as coming about through a cycle of experience and reflection-on-experience and by Schön (1983) with his concept of the reflective practioner. More recent literature (see Moon 2004) develops this idea further suggesting that experiential learning occurs through a process of reflection on the actions and interactions that come about through experience, leading towards a refinement of judgements of choice and future action. For Moon and others, experiential learning is analytical, immersive and requires learners to be participant both cognitively and affectively. It develops not only skills and knowledge but attitudes, values and behaviours (Hoover & Whitehead 1975, 25). So it would seem clear the reflection is a key means to developing the kinds of expertise that emerges from practice (Lave & Wenger 1991). This is further supported by Barnett (2007, 79) who suggests that if ‘performance is only to be valued through the material outcomes that it yields, [all it will reveal] is a warped and partial valuing of the students’ educational efforts’. Thus, it is possible to argue that critical reflection is a significant and important element in all practice-based teaching.

However, a number of issues arise when using critical reflection to assess project-based learning in media practice education. The first concerns the need to integrate theory and practice into the curriculum so practice is informed by theory. Secondly, there is a need to promote an engagement with critical concerns that circulate around ideas of practice so that critical reflection on practice is located within an appropriate theoretical framework. Finally, there is the need to promote an early engagement with critical reflection so that there can be a formative component to what is an act of looking back upon practice.

Thus, the project aimed to encourage student’s early engagement with theoretical concerns as they relate to their units of study. It aimed to do this through the introduction of a blogging activity that would encourage students to draw on theory to inform their own practice at a much earlier point in the teaching period. It aimed to encourage students to identify and utilise theoretical sources at a much earlier stage in the unit schedule, preparing them for the critical reflection at the end of the course. In addition, it aimed to build formative assessment of the student’s critical engagement with theory and practice into the course schedule at an earlier point in time. Thereby providing feed forward in support of the critical reflection at the end of the course.

Success and Lessons Learnt

The survey posted on Survey Monkey generated 8 responses from a total of 22 who took part in the pilot study. Initial findings support the use of blogging as a tool for promoting early engagement and even those students whose comments were largely negative responded that “it was good as it got me writing about a subject before the essays and this meant I wasn’t going into the essays completely cold” (Student E). Feedback suggested that in general the students found the tasks enjoyable and got them an early start on the research “so I wasn’t going into the essays completely cold” (Student E). Many identified the benefit of regular writing tasks that improved their writing and they also found that the tasks were a good basis for later critical reflection telling us that ”you engaged with the theoretical concepts and connect them with real life examples” (Student C). Some of the issues that were raised by the students included the need to ensure that their blog posts were reviewed and commented on by tutors. They said “I found my research useful when I came to write my critical reflection, however it became frustrating and I began to lack motivation to do it when my tutor did not look at it or provide relevant feedback” (Student F) and this feeling was echoed in other responses. They also wanted the blogging to be better integrated into course work and they wanted it to start right at the beginning of the course saying that they would like it to be a “more important part of the course and [tutors] to give regular feedback on it” (Student A).

It would seem then that there is a real value in using course blogs to stimulate critical thinking, kick start researching the topic and promote early theoretical engagement. Clearly though there are lessons to be learnt and the full and final evaluation of the research data which will include comparison of assessment statistics and debriefing the tutors involved will derive a range of indicators that can be turned into an effective model for rolling out the use of blogging as a means of embedding critical thinking at a much earlier stage of course units.

Scalability and Transferability

Having successfully piloted the use of blogging on one unit on our L6 Top Up programme there are plans to roll this out across all practice units for the Top Up and to also introduce the scheme for the incoming L4 cohort on the BA (Hons) Media Production. In order to do this the course team will need to be trained in the process and this will be part of a staff development session that is currently being planned for the end of this academic year. In particular, it is anticipated that staff will need a model to work to which we will be able to derive from the research findings. The feedback from tutors who have already participated formally and informally in the pilot (some took part informally making use of the blog tool in their own units as well) will be crucial in identifying exactly what support tutors will need if we are to successfully integrate the tool into all of our practice teaching. It is clear from the findings so far that tutors will need help to formulate tasks that have a critical component but at the same time relate directly to the students practice. The staff development workshops planned for the end of the year will address this through sharing of best practice and an outcomes led workshop process.

The research team have already submitted a proposal to present the interim findings to the SSU Learning and Teaching Conference in June 2017. There is a journal paper planned and the team are also planning on designing a workshop on the subject which will be available to other teams as a staff development session. It is also important to factor into the project the opportunity to review the introduction of the tool into the media programme at key stages during the next academic year. Staff, especially AL’s are likely to find it challenging at first and as with any form of change management they will need careful guidance and support if the roll out is to be successful. [word count 1724]

Bibliography

Barnett, R., 2007. A will to learn: Being a student in an age of uncertainty. Buckingham: SRHE/Open University Press.

Biggs, J. B., 1999. Teaching for quality learning at university. Open University Press

Hatton, N. & Smith, D., 1995. Reflection in teacher education – towards definition and implementation. Teaching and Teacher Education, 11 (1) pp33-49

Hoover, D. & Whitehead, C., 1975. An Experiential-Cognitive Methodology in the First Course in Management: Some Preliminary Results. Simulation Games and Experiential Learning in Action. The Proceedings of the Second National ABSEL Conference, Bloomington, Indiana.

Kolb, D., 1994. Experiential Learning as the Science of Learning and Development. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E., 1991. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Moon, J. A., 2004. A handbook of reflective and experiential learning: theory and practice. London: Routledge Falmer. Non-fiction.

Moon, J., & Readman, M., 2014. Graduated scenarios as a means of helping students to produce effective critical analysis of media production work’, in Media Education Summit. Prague, 21st November 2014.

Nichols, B., 1983. The Voice of Documentary. Film Quarterly, 3, p. 17, JSTOR Journals, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 April 2017.

Schön, D.A., 1983. The reflective practitioner. New York, NY: Basic Books.

[1] https://vimeo.com/categories/documentary