‘Creative approaches to science writing’ HEA STEM 2018 31.1.18 Newcastle

On a bright but freezing morning last week I found myself heading northward to meet up with Writing PAD collaborators Mhairi Morris and Alke Groppel-Wegener.  We were to deliver a workshop on ‘Creative approaches to science writing‘ (p9 of link) at the annual HEA STEM conference in Newcastle.  The title of the conference, ‘Creativity in Teaching, Learning and Student Engagement’, as well as Mhairi’s expertise as a Lecturer in Biochemistry, had drawn us to this unusual Writing PAD environment.

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’.

A fascinating lens through which to examine STEM writing in a new and engaging light.

Julia Reeve, Alke Groppel-Wegenr & Mhairi Morris

Julia Reeve, Alke Groppel-Wegener & Mhairi Morris during a brief lull in creative proceedings…

Then it was our turn.  We shared some background to Writing PAD, 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 3 inter-connected techniques, which would usually take much longer than a 1 hour workshop would allow.

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.

The Dress up Doll of Formality

The Dress up-Doll of Formality

I then passed round A3 ‘Frames’ for a twist on the Reframing technique described in earlier posts, 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.

Reframing science writing

Reframing science writing

Finally, to start off the writing process, Mhairi asked participants to turn over their postcards and write 3 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‘.

Postcards as a focus for writing

Postcards as a focus for writing

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.

It seems appropriate to the STEM context to offer some quantitative data on the workshop, as well as our more familiar qualitative feedback comments!

Number of participants: 10

100% of participants would recommend this workshop to a colleague

100% of participants rated the workshop as useful, with 80% of these rating it as extremely useful

Participants get creative...

Participants get creative…

A sample from ‘What was the best thing about the workshop?’

‘It made academic writing less terrifying for many participants’ (This one made me very happy!)

‘Creative/visual ways to address a dry topic’

‘Fun, engaging, good to meet other participants’

‘Approach to creativity is welcome, inspiring, with some useful techniques & good engagement’

Our 3 techniques: Dress-up doll, Reframing & Postcards

Our 3 techniques: Dress-up doll, Reframing & Postcards

A sample from ‘Have you identified any applications of the workshop techniques within your own practice?’

‘Activity to help PhD students with writer’s block’

‘My own writing’

‘Great to use for Primary Science educators’

It was fun to deliver this workshop with Writing PAD friends, and to meet enthusiastic new colleagues too: much food for thought here for developing our techniques further and applying them in new contexts.

Watch this space as Writing PAD moves into more new territories!

Julia

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