Earlier this year, Kaye and I were asked by Zoe Redshaw to work with her 1st year Medical Science students, helping them to prepare for a reflective essay as part of their Personal & Professional Skills module.
Zoe felt that her students needed some support in reflecting on their experiences on the course so far: we worked with her to develop an active, creative workshop where students would use collage as an aid to reflection.
At the beginning of the year students had completed a personal SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) analysis: as part of the workshop, students were asked to re-visit their individual SWOTs, and to use free-association collage to support reflection on their journey through the course so far.
The combination of SWOT Analysis and collage meant that this workshop could only have one title: Swollage. We will share more examples of this technique in other contexts in future posts.
Students used their original SWOT analysis as a starting point, placing this in the centre of a large sheet of paper. They were then asked to develop a mood board/collage by tearing out images from the magazines supplied: students were encouraged to do this quickly and freely, selecting images that appealed to them personally rather than trying to rigidly match images to the contents of their SWOT.
Once the mood boards had been created, students were invited to reflect on their choices of imagery: what words did the images suggest? Did they reflect any of the student’s key qualities? Were there any links to the earlier SWOT analysis? Students then used coloured pens to record the words they came up with. Peer learning was also incorporated into the workshop: collages were swapped with partners, who added further comments and interpretations using post-it notes.
Finally, students collated the key strengths drawn from their Swollage into a provided figure outline: they were encouraged to personalise and decorate these as they wished.
Students were able to take away their completed Swollage and Key Strengths figure to use as a starting point for their reflective essay. As with other Writing PAD techniques such as Reframing, this exercise was designed as a ‘bridge’ into an assignment, designed to increase engagement and overcome difficulties with a particular skill, in this case, self-reflection.
This was a brand-new workshop, and a new way of learning for these students. In spite of this, they engaged well with the activities, although a few students struggled with the notion of ‘extracting’ words, skills and qualities from images in a metaphorical, rather than a literal way. We realised that a change we needed to make to run this session next year was to provide some examples of this type of image interpretation in order to fully facilitate divergent thinking sparked by images.
My favourite piece of student feedback was:
‘Going to be honest. Thought it was going to be useless and a waste of time in the beginning but it turned out to be really interesting and I found out a lot of strengths like things I enjoy more that I never really knew before so was a good lesson.’
Other comments demonstrated that our intended aim of developing skills in self-reflection had been addressed:
‘Was able to recognise an improvement in skills and qualities I have achieved.’
‘From this I have learnt a lot about myself.’
‘Offers a really good alternate perspective on looking at strengths and weaknesses.’
It will be interesting to reflect with Zoe on how this exercise has impacted on the reflective essays: we hope to build Swollage into the Medical Science Year 1 curriculum next year.
If you would like to experience the use of collage in reflecting on your own research journey as part of a creative and visual programme of workshops, please join us for our Postgraduate Creative Connections event at DMU on 5th July (see previous post).
Coming up, new Swollage workshops and more…