Yesterday (December 7th) we had a campus session based around task D & E.
The first half was looking at what made a productive conversation, communication. This related to both tasks but was aimed more at task E (the conversations through the comments). In task E you are asked to comment on each other’s work.
The second half of the session looked at the style of academic writing. You are asked to use this style in both task D & E.
This blog is an overview of the campus session (what we did) for those who could not make it and a reminder for those who were there. I am also hoping both people who came and those who could not be there will comment about this blog.
First half of the session:
This was a movement-based session. We wanted to look at how people engage, interact with each other. We were thinking about what makes a ‘good’ productive, stimulating conversation. In a way we are saying that academia is about engaging in a large conversation. It is about ways to understand and explain ideas across people who are quite spread apart (both in distance and in time). In other words academia has conventions of communication, (the academic style of writing that is asked for in task D & E is one of these conventions). These conventions have developed as ways to carry on useful and engaged conversations across distance (for instance between people in universities across the globe) and across time (for instance to develop ideas people who wrote in 1700 had in today’s world). In task D & E we want you to start to learn how to write within these conventions (in academic style) so that your ideas can fit into productive learning conversations through the blogs and comments.
But how do you have a conversation? We wanted to look at the personal values and feelings that people had about engaging in conversation. We wanted to see what a conversation looked like! We did this by replacing words with movements. We asked each person to choose three words that were elements of a productive conversation (these were elements like ‘respect’, ‘re-evaluation’, ‘questioning’ ‘passionate’ ‘quality’). Each word had a type of movement that would represent the word. For instance passionate was a big movement and quality was a slow movement.
We imagined the room was a metaphor for a conversation, stepping into the room was the same as stepping into a conversation. When we stepped into the conversation (room) we would execute the movements we had that represented our three important elements of a productive conversation. The movements were a physical representation of what each person individually valued as elements of a productive conversation.
We stood around the edge of the room. But before we could start we needed a reason to begin, enter a conversation (enter the movement space) and a reason to stop leave the conversation (leave the movement space). Each person made-up a personal rule for beginning and ending the conversation ‘dance based on their feelings about starting and ending a conversation in ‘real’ life. We did not know what each other’s rules to begin or end were. But we knew they were rules that were similar to their feelings about starting a conversation. Music was put on and people could start the conversation ‘dance’ as soon as their rule to start (enter the space) was met.
The first time we did it people waited on the edge for sometime and then a couple of people started moving others joined in and then the whole thing seemed to come to an end pretty quickly. We then talked about what had happened – we felt it looked like people had not stuck to their rules for starting.
Feedback from participants:
People had wanted to stick to their rules for starting but then felt they had to do something so just did anything. Then they felt sorry for other people who were out in the space moving so they joined in but finished as soon as they could. Once a little bit (token amount) of movement had taken place they felt they had done their bit and left. The whole thing finished quite quickly.
That’s what it looked like.
What did we feel this meant: we felt that starting the conversation because you felt you had to or felt sorry for someone meant that you didn’t bring much to it other than being there. It was not productive because as soon as you had done your ‘bit’ you left. Also there was nothing to really interest you because you only joined in to be polite not because you had anything to add or say. People said that the blogs could feel like this; because they don’t know people they felt they needed to be polite and say something but didn’t really want to do any more than that. They did not really write things to engage people more to acknowledge they were there.
We asked the questions; how can you become interested in something? What makes you interested?
We tried the dance again, this time everyone had to wait until their rule for stepping into the space was met and not just join in to be polite! We put the music on………………………………………………no body moved………………..no body began……………………we stopped for feedback.
Feedback from participants:
Nobody moved because nobody else did anything that would make them start.
They all had rules to start to engage that relied on someone else starting first; we asked how this reflected on the blog space. In truth no-body would really start to comment on each other unless someone else did first. This was understandable if we were looking at conversation in general but we were looking at a productive learning conversation. We asked participants if they needed to re-evaluate their rule for beginning to engage. Did they need to ask themselves if it was productive to wait for someone else to be engaged before you were? We said nobody had to change their starting rule but they could if they wanted to and I joined in the next one with my starting rule which allows me to just start – as an advisor I felt my starting rule should be just begin as soon as the music starts.
We tried it again, this time some people started with big (passion) movements. There was a lot of interaction.
Feedback from participants:
One person noticed that passion as a big movement can be a little overwhelming and sometimes it needs to be small and intense. (Maybe considered and focused).
Another person found that people who stuck to being respectful or polite where hard to dance with after a little while because you could not get beyond the same polite movement.
Other people noticed that the comfort place for most people was to be doing the polite movement because it was safe!
Some people that did the personal conversation movement ended up drifting from person to person.
When people got into a rhythm with someone else they felt quite relieved, but people outside of that small group felt that it was hard to enter the group. They felt the group was much more organised than it really was.
Do you think these observations could apply to the blog spaces too?
We did the dance a few times developing the rules and trying things out as we noticed them in feedback. At the end people were asked to write what they see, what this made them think and what they wondered.
People have some connection
It was very random, but with power
Many instances of copying
Observation what happens when people observe each other and situations?
Lots of copying
Lots of copying of movement (respect)
Small groups formed
Each exercise was very different
People will only engage in movement (conversation) fully if they are interested
People’s attention has to be grabbed
A lot people copying
The group are not trusting each other at first maybe near the end a bit more
It’s ok to play a small part in a conversation as long as you are involved
Breaking the ice
How it was ever going to end?
If some people don’t comment because of lack of trust or lack of confidence?
Does this reflect each person?
Is it ok to not be drawn in?
What was your rule?
What made the conversation easier?
How important are rules?
How it was going to end?
When to start coming in?
What made you change your mind?
Have a look at what they wrote and see if you think they apply to the blogs and the activity of the comments on blogs.
Overall we felt we learnt a lot about how conventions of politeness and respect could get in the way of having a productive conversation. This was because we were not their as friends and we didn’t know each other very well but we need to get to the ‘meat’ of the conversation without feeling we were being rude.
This is the problem that academia has tried to solve; how do you talk to someone in a university hundreds of miles away who you have never met but about something that you are quite passionate about. THIS IS WHY ACADEMIA HAS CONVENTIONS AND RULES – FOR INSTANCE A PARTICULAR WAY TO WRITE . Academic writing is just about another set of rules to be polite but to cut to the chase and get on with the interesting learning conversation. This led to the second part of the session which was about looking at the conventions of academic writing in ore detail.
I led the first part of the session. The way of working is my way of looking at embodiment, how the body can be a part of a whole understanding. Some of the research for this part of the session was done with Prof. Anna Craft a few years ago. The ideas are part of some research I am doing at the moment about the body, environment and learning
Paula led the second half of the session. We looked at the idea that writing in academic style use conventions as we said above. These conventions are to aid with neutrality, exchange of ideas, critiques, statements and concepts. We looked at the idea that a set of concepts forms a theory. When writing in an academic style you express and explore concepts and theory. It is important to have these to allow the Reader to understand where your points are coming from, why you are taking a particular point of view.
Paula introduced the idea of Critical Thinking as a process that is used to think about topics and issues. In small groups we did some exercises discussing (having a conversation about a topic), writing down some concepts and theories that different people in the conversation had.
We looked at the important distinction between the content of some written text (WHAT it is about) and the structure of some written text (HOW it is written). We said that academic writing, marketing and descriptive writing are all structures for writing. (They are about How it is written)
To summarise: in the first half of the session we discovered why it important to have conventions for communication that support the kind of conversation you need to have. We identified where our personal conventions for engaging in a conversation might need to change. That we may need to have a distinction between our personal rules for engaging with people in general and our personal rules for engaging in an academic context.
In the second half of the session we looked at some practical examples of the conventions within academic writing and we practised some writing in small groups.
People pointed out how frightening the posting of blogs is, especially if you are not sure about spelling. We talked about using spellcheck and reading your work to someone. We talked about the importance of getting help if you have dyslexia. I have dyslexia, I have a step by step guilde to what to do to try to get government help as a pdf on the communication page of my website. (If you want to look at it)
We talked about the difference between facebook and the blogs. How the people on facebook are people you know but the people on the blogs are not and you would not know them if it was not for this course.
So what do you think about all this? PLEASE comment