Re-genring academic writing – the power of play, 23rd June, Nottingham Trent University

Many thanks to Mhairi Morris from Loughborough University for providing us with this blog post about her experiences at the recent ‘Re-genring academic writing – the power of play’ event at Nottingham Trent University.

Carl Jung once said, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” (CG Jung, 1976)

In recent years, I’ve grown more and more fascinated (read “obsessed”!) with the link between science and creativity. Not willing to buy into the idea that the scientific disciplines and the creative disciplines are two distinct pathways that rarely overlap, I have found myself exploring the idea that good science requires a creative mindset. Indeed, this appears to be backed up by science itself (see any number of Rex Jung’s publications) and is not a new concept! In “The Evolution of Physics” (1938, p95), Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld note the importance of finding a question over finding its solution, saying, “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”

So why is it that we find ourselves so constrained in academia, in both creative and scientific disciplines, to adhere to a given set of rules about what makes a piece of writing “academic”, encouraging the use of lengthy sentences full of multisyllabic words, and disinclined to accept performance-based or artistic expressions of research as valid contributions to the academy? (Note the intended use of irony in that last sentence….!).

On the 23rd of June 2017, I had the pleasure of attending the “ReGenring Academic Writing and Assessment” workshop at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), hosted by Lisa Clughen of NTU and Alke Groppel-Wegener of Staffordshire University.

Following a fun and playful make-your-own-nametag activity, Julia Molinari (University of Nottingham) kicked off the day with an exploration of what makes a text academic. She argued that rather than being a function of its textual features (i.e. adherence to rules and conventions) or its modes (i.e. conventional publication in peer-reviewed journals), the “academicness” of a text is more about its ability to fulfil an academic purpose and practice. Consider, for example, the Harvard student Obasi Shaw who submitted a rap album, “Liminal minds” for his final year thesis, or Nick Sousanis whose PhD thesis was entirely in comic book form (more about this below).

The next session, led by Lisa Clughen and David Hindley (NTU), looked at students’ perceptions and experiences of academic blogging from a mixed methods research project on the use of blogs as a means of formative assessment in the final year undergraduate module, Contemporary Issues in Sports Practice. As Peter Elbow advocates in Vernacular Eloquence (2012), “the language that comes most easily to mind and mouth…will help people write better and with more satisfaction,” (pp 6 & 8). Blogging, on this basis, provides an excellent medium as an inclusive writing genre and an inclusive environment for writing development.

We then heard from Nick Sousanis, a comics artist and professor of Humanities and Liberal Studies at San Francisco State University, whose thesis was written and drawn entirely in comic book form. “Unflattening” chronicles the importance of the visual in teaching, learning, thinking and understanding and has won multiple awards and prizes. I was so captivated by it that I requested a copy for my birthday, which my lovely husband dutifully gave me! (And I love it!!) Asides from the sheer beauty of the artwork and the haunting images of the cookie-cutter educational conveyor belt upon which we thrust our children and young people, Nick’s session provoked and inspired thought amongst the workshop participants, awakening a hunger to learn more, to have a go, to get involved. I can’t remember the last time I attended a conference or workshop where so many participants were so engaged! Kudos, Nick. Kudos!

Unflattening Excerpt

Indeed, during our afternoon sharing session, the participants unanimously voted to have him facilitate a practical session in which he encouraged us to have a go with something called “grids and gestures” where we attempted (with varying degrees of success!) to depict our typical day using only lines and shapes.

Grids and gestures

To round off the day, we discussed ReGenring in an informal session chaired by Fiona English (University of London) before heading home to sort through the myriad of newly formed (or reinforced) neuronal connections that arose from the day’s activities. If, as Carl Jung says, “The creative mind plays with the objects it loves,” then WritingPAD workshops and conferences are rapidly becoming my playground. When does the next bell ring for playtime?!

With many thanks to Lisa and Alke for arranging such an excellent workshop, and to the presenters and facilitators who inspired and engaged us all so thoroughly.

Mhairi Morris

Back with more from our East Midlands Writing PAD community soon – if you would like to submit a guest post I would love to hear from you!

Julia

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