Julia co-ordinates the East Midlands Centre for Writing PAD. She is a DMU Teacher Fellow and her practice involves applying creative, arts-based methods to the teaching of theory in order to deepen learning and increase engagement.
Julia is the Research ELT Officer for the Graduate School at DMU, her role involves the design, development and evaluation of online courses for PhD researchers. Julia is particularly interested in inclusive approaches to learning design, with an emphasis on visual pedagogies. In a previous life, Julia was a Senior Lecturer in Art, Design & Humanities, delivering Critical & Contextual Studies across a range of Fashion programmes.
Academic writing can be scary for students and staff alike, and writing in the sciences is no exception. At Writing PAD East Midlands (@dmuwritingpad) we use creative and visual approaches to break down writing barriers. We initially focused on Art & Design contexts, but are now moving into other disciplines too.
Running a workshop at the annual HEA STEM conference in Newcastle, 'Creativity in Teaching, Learning and Student Engagement', seemed a great opportunity to test out our hands-on techniques with a new audience. My co-presenters were Mhairi Morris from Loughborough University and Alke Groppel-Wegener from Staffordshire University: Mhairi’s expertise as a Lecturer in Biochemistry was also a factor in our decision to attend!
On arriving at the venue I had a feeling of apprehension: how would our hands-on activities with paper and felt tip pens go down with scientists and engineers? Would anyone even turn up? Royal Literary Fund Fellow Max Adams distracted me from my fears with his engaging ‘Never mind the story - who's the protagonist?' session. He took us through a number of exercises and ideas, applying a narrative structure as used in screenplays to a STEM (or other) research writing context.
The question: 'Who's the protagonist?’, as in who (or what) goes through the most change over the duration of writing our 'stories', was highly thought-provoking, and answers varied from 'A river' to 'Students' to 'Ourselves'. This was a fascinating lens through which to examine STEM writing in a new and engaging light.
Then it was our turn. We shared some background to Writing PAD, and then introduced ourselves and our similar pedagogical concerns: an interest in visual, tactile approaches to academic writing and research, plus a commitment to overcoming writing barriers. It was explained that this would be a whistle-stop tour through three inter-connected techniques.
Alke kicked things off with her Dress-up Doll of Formality, asking participants to consider 'dressing for the occasion' in relation to writing genres by adding clothes to a paper doll template. Clue: the ‘mankini’ on Alke's slide represents the 'tweet' writing genre! You can read more about this technique on Alke's blog: www.tactileacademia.com
I then passed round A3 'Frames' for a twist on the Reframing technique, using science-based imagery postcards developed by Mhairi as the central focus. Attendees whizzed through each frame at record speed, responding to 'What?', 'Who?', 'When?', 'Where?' and 'Why?' prompts and filling their frames with key words, sketches and questions.
Finally, to start off the writing process, Mhairi asked participants to turn over their postcards and write three sentences derived from their 'Frames'. Mhairi had sourced copyright-free images for her postcards and had them printed for use with her students: these were inspired by Pat Francis in her book 'Taking a line for a write'.
We shared some Top Tips and Resources, then gathered feedback. It was gratifying to see that our workshop was well-received by staff from a range of STEM disciplines and institutions, echoing our findings with students outside our original Art & Design remit.
The workshop experience provided some valuable new insights on our creative practice: I left the conference with lots of ideas for further development. It was a great combination of working with familiar techniques alongside like-minded colleagues and considering fresh perspectives suggested by new encounters and contexts.
The HEA Annual Conference is now open for bookings, you can find out more information here