Thanks to Huraira Baba, PhD student in Architecture, for the following blog post about Alison James‘ session for DMU research students: Exploring your Doctoral Research with LEGO® on 28th June 2017. This was the 3rd in a series of creative Writing PAD workshops for researchers this academic year.
I hardly knew what to expect, going in through the doors for this course. The course said it would be a Lego session for better academic writing. I was looking forward to seeing how that would play out. So, I signed up, and went for the session that morning.
My first impression was of the facilitator. She was enthusiastic and cheerful, welcoming us all, and right away cracked a joke before starting. Alison passed around gift bags and I automatically said, ‘Thank you!’ with a smile, to which she quickly replied ‘Well it’s not for keeps, unfortunately, you‘ll have to leave everything I’m afraid.’ which got everyone laughing. The first group work was to build the longest tower with a window in two minutes. Now as an architect, the first thing that came to me was how to make the most beautiful tower, but the competitor in me just wanted to build the longest tower as quickly as I could and just get a window somewhere. Which I did. In two minutes. And then we got rolling.
Second session: pass round an object and tell us what you think it is. ’Beetle!’, ‘Turtle!’, ‘Spider!’ ‘Bad hair day!’ and so forth. Everyone took turns naming what they thought the object was, as it was passed round. We took three rounds naming this object, and just when it looked like we had run out of options to name it, someone quips: ‘Mountain climber!’. And it did look like it, but more than that, it opened up our minds to metaphors. How an object can be a representation of whatever you want it to be. Of using Lego objects as metaphors to create different positioning and analyses and structure of our writing and research. It enabled us to depict our journeys, using Lego building blocks as metaphors for what we wanted represented.
Moreover, we explored. Starting from the session that challenged us to depict our present position in our research using whatever we wanted from the Lego collection. There were animals of different sorts: crocodile, elephant, horse, hippopotamus, dog, as well as crowns, flowers and soldiers, a massive variety. There was a wine cup, which a participant awarded herself after some perilous writing and the subsequent submission of her literature review to her supervisor. Another participant was a crocodile in the water and it was not surprising that she had a workable structure and a firm grip on where she was and what she was researching on.
It was interesting, when in the next session, all participants were encouraged to link with any other person’s work that connected to them, inspired them, or made them aspire to attain, or reach something. Many identified with a participants’ structure that had chapters clearly and colourfully represented as towers that would eventually lead to a successful completion. There was an order, an organisation, a clarity to it, that drew many to link up with and aspire towards this person’s work. Participants were encouraged to create metaphorical gifts for one another, illustrating where they projected the ‘gifted’ person to be going and what they needed to do to get there, again using Lego.
We had a motivational session where we had mantras we often use to bolster our morale when challenged, and identified areas that worried us the most. We matched the five best mantras to aid in solving our identified worries. And they did.
It was an exploratory journey, where through play, challenges were metaphorically represented, and ways through them were proffered. It was an engaging, lively and amazing session. There was an honesty about the whole method of learning. Many challenges seemed somehow surmountable by the mere fact of putting a figure, an object, an identification to it. It somehow became exactly what it was, a surmountable challenge which once identified, did not seem that threatening. Writing the research did not seem threatening anymore. As a creative arts researcher, it provided an engaging and creative way of analysing my research, and of visualising and literally putting ‘hand on board’, to solve and tackle any challenges I came across, and learning from it all.
There was an honest connection between the brain and the hands, because it totally eliminated ‘overthinking’. I would never have thought a Lego session could open my mind to a new way of learning and structuring my work, and subsequently, my writing, but it did. And I’m glad because now I have a tool that suits my style of thinking and solving perfectly. More of these sessions are needed. It accords us more creative avenues to explore our research and aid each other to become the excellent researcher we aspire to become. What are we here for, after all, ‘if not to make life easier for each other?’. This just did.
PS. Since the session, my progress with my research has been amazing. I have gone on to implement solutions to problems I had identified which were gleaned from the participatory and engaging session. It’s been brilliant to say the least. Would I sign up for it again? No, I ‘ll do more than that. I would encourage its inclusion in the researcher programme as a recommendation. It was that good.
Lovely to hear the student perspective on this workshop, and thanks to Alison for running such an inspiring session!