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Writing PAD East Midlands Forum 15th April 2019

Posted in Events

Kaye, Tina, Alke and Jackie
Kaye, Tina, Alke and Jackie swap recipes for learning

Hello again!

After quite a while, we finally got together with our regional Writing PAD colleagues last month to share ideas, plans, not to mention some rather lovely lunch in the DMU staff common room.

In attendance were our very own Arina Cirstea (unfortunately she escaped before the photo was taken!), Jackie Hatfield and Tina Horsman from Loughborough University and Alke Groppel-Wegener from Staffordshire University.  Unfortunately Lisa Clughen from Nottingham Trent University wasn’t able to make it, but we had a ‘pre-meeting’ in Leicester so I was able to update everyone on what Lisa was up to.  Mhairi Morris should be with us next time (no excuse as we will be at Loughborough University!).

Everyone has been extremely busy (not to mention creative!) since we last met, so most of our meeting was taken up with updates on our individual (and sometimes collaborative) activities…

Jackie and Tina

Jackie and Tina kicked things off, and they have both been very much immersed in the world of Lego© Serious Play©.  Tina has now followed Jackie’s lead in undertaking LSP training: this was funded by the institution following the success of Jackie’s LSP initiatives, especially in one to one support of neurodiverse students.

They have run LSP workshops at Loughborough with staff including the disability and mental health teams, the library and Doctoral College plus Foundation Art & Design students.

Jackie and Tina have received a Practitioner Project Award by the Association of Dyslexia Specialists in Higher Education (ADSHE).  This research project will investigate “using LSP within support sessions as a multisensory medium that will enable students to unpack complex challenges relating to themselves and their neurodiversity, as well as their academic work.” you can read more about this award, as well as Jackie and Tina’s work here.

Lego Serious Play: Neurodiversity in HE
Lego Serious Play: Neurodiversity in HE

They will be presenting a poster at the ADSHE conference, and plan to publish their findings as well as also delivering a workshop at the National Association of Disability Practitioners conference.

As if that wasn’t enough, Jackie and Tina are currently applying for a Loughborough University Teaching and Learning Innovation Award: they hope to develop a mobile Lego serious Play Lab to further apply the methodology across their institution.

Jackie strongly recommended the Sean Blair and Marko Rillo book, Serious Work,  as a practical resource for developing LSP sessions, especially its approach to skills building which she has adopted.  This has been on my ‘reading pile’ for a some time: note to self to actually finish it!

Serious Work
Serious Work

Jackie and Tina explained the way that they use LSP in student one to ones: in brief, both tutor and student build a model simultaneously.  For example, a student builds a model of their own experience of dyslexia while the tutor builds a model based on the information they have about that student prior to the session.  The two models are then discussed and a joint model created: Jackie and Tina have found that this gets to the root of where a student is at much more quickly than other methods.

Neurodiverse students have given positive feedback on these sessions, which can also be used to support note-taking by putting the model on flip chart paper and annotating the model.  Models can either be kept until the next meeting or photographed to refer back to later.

Both Jackie and Tina have used LSP in many other contexts during one to one sessions, from exam preparation to structuring a PhD chapter: inspiring stuff!

Tina has continued to develop her practice around mindfulness for learning: you may remember that the book that she wrote with Karisa Krcmar, Mindfulness for Study, was reviewed here a while back.  She is currently updating this publication as well as leading the Mindfulness Network for Higher Education.  This group comprises study support tutors, mental health advisors and academics from institutions including Leeds, Goldsmiths, Anglia Ruskin and Coventry and Tina co-ordinates regular meetings for this network.

Another action for me: connect with Tina’s group re my work with Mindful Lego, work in progress on Mindful use of Technology and the Mindfulness group at DMU.


Then it was Arina’s turn: she talked about the Introduction to Critical Reflection sessions that we have run together as part of the DMU Library & Learning Services Open Programme.  In this session I use Lego Serious Play as a vehicle for student reflection on their experiences so far at DMU: Arina then takes students through some writing activities, culminating in the production of a reflective paragraph.  This has worked well, and Arina and I will be running a similar session next month to support postgraduate students: Writing up Personal Reflections: strategies to reflect on your research process.

Arina also delivered a staff development workshop at Coventry University on the topic of Learning gain, and learning culture:  Helping our students ‘grow’ through co-curricular writing development, within the CAW Series for Staff, held at the Centre for Academic Writing. Participants were involved in discussions, resource sharing and reflected on their own pedagogical practice using Play Doh, creating increased interaction.

Reflecting on pedagogical practice with Play Doh
Reflecting on pedagogical practice with Play Doh

She is interested in using these creative techniques to increase student engagement, especially in terms of first year students who may not engage when sessions are more about skills rather than their topic.

Arina didn’t mention this, but she and I also collaborated on a workshop, ‘Pause. Play. Reflect: Lego Serious Play for Wellbeing’ for DMU’s Festival of Teaching.


Next we heard from Alke: she has been delivering board game workshops, initially at the Undisciplining conference held by the Sociological Review.  She devised a way of converting any process into a board game using a four-step approach.  This was so successful that Alke was asked to deliver a full day workshop on the same subject last month.

When we met Alke was busy planning her first ‘Academic Afternoon Tea’: in true Regenreing style, adopting the format of the afternoon tea for a professional development workshop.  This has now happened, and I can vouch for its success – you can read about it here.  This event framed teaching using the concept of the Hero’s Journey (take a look at this video) and asked questions like:

Who are our Heroes (or students) and what do we want them to do?

What do our Heroes bring back from the unknown world of learning?

There’s also a connection here to the work of Max Adams in considering the protagonist: both approaches derive from scriptwriting and have great resonance in academia.

All set for Academic Afternoon Tea
All set for Academic Afternoon Tea

This event linked to Alke’s interest in Experience Design as a way of considering teaching: planning learning in the way that an experience designer might approach the design of a theatre set, theme park or escape room.

Alke’s recent book with Jenny Kidd, Critical Encounters with Immersive Storytelling, also deals with Experience Design, although not from a teaching perspective.  You may recall Alke’s previous publication (she is very prolific!) Writing Essays by Pictures being reviewed here.

Alke didn’t get to discuss these, but as if that wasn’t enough, she has also guest-edited not one but two issues of the Journal of Creative Practice with Fiona English.  These issues look at genre in terms of teaching and assessment (Vol 11, 1 & 2).

Alke's recent publications
Alke’s recent publications

And finally, Alke will be mixing the perfect L&T at the upcoming Playful Learning conference!


Since our last meeting Kaye’s work as Library & Learning Services Fair Outcomes Champion has grown: this project addresses the BAME student attainment gap, and DMU is one of five partner institutions working on this project.  You can read more about the DMU Freedom to Achieve project here.

Kaye’s work has included working with ten programmes per faculty to identify and implement best practice.  She has also run team talks and a read to debate club as well as working with student curriculum advisors as part of the project.  I recently worked with the students, who participated in a Lego© Serious Play© workshop to support reflection on their experiences on the Freedom to Achieve project.

Kaye and I have contributed a chapter, Playful Writing with Writing PAD, to the newly published book ‘The Power of Play in Higher Education‘ by Alison James and Chrissi Nerantzi.  We also created an accompanying video, which was quite a learning experience!

From our Power of Play video: baking a cake of knowledge
From our Power of Play video: baking a cake of knowledge

Kaye also contributed to the #Mindbuilder competition, taking on the challenging role of judging Lego models from Doctoral students, and we have run a Swollage workshop with the DMU placements team, to be rolled out for students this Summer.

Swollage will also feature at this year’s Playful Learning conference, with Kaye and I running a workshop entitled ‘Playful reflection with collage, your opportunity to engage with Swollage.’

Kaye has also taken part in Andrew Walsh’s Escape Rooms course, and has woven creative approaches such as Play Doh modelling into events including team away days.


I have a few external workshops coming up: as well as Swollage with Kaye I’ll be offering some Mindful Lego in an outdoor setting at the Playful Learning conference.  I’ll also be using Lego as a medium to reduce exam stress in a creative workshop at the Inclusive Practice Network Conference with my DMU colleagues Angela O’Sullivan and Leisa Nichols-Drew:’Assessment – pick and mix or sour grapes?’.  I’ve also been piloting use of white and clear Lego for wellbeing and social interaction with the DMU lunchtime club for Autistic Spectrum students.

Mindful Lego
Mindful Lego

I’ll be presenting a session at the RAISE conference with colleague and PhD researcher Gosia Plotka, ‘#Mindbuilder: building engagement and inclusivity with Lego Serious Play’: this will discuss the Doctoral College LSP competition from both staff and student perspectives.

My University of Salford colleagues and I will be reprising our Vitae workshop ‘Something just clicked in my head’ at the University of Derby Annual Research Conference shortly, and I will be doing a ‘session swap’ with Nicole Brown from University of Kent in June, where we will each offer creative researcher development sessions at each others’ institutions.

I was very happy to report that my article on Reframing from Kaye and I’s guest-edited edition of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice was cited in the rather excellent book, An A-Z of Creative Teaching in Higher Education.

A-Z of Creative Teaching in HE
A-Z of Creative Teaching in HE

As Arina mentioned, we’ve been running some student sessions on building reflection skills, and I’m planning to develop further student workshops utilising a range of creative pedagogical approaches in the new academic year.  Creative workshops for DMU staff including LSP, Reframing and ‘hands-on’ Infographics continue, and the programme will be extended in the Autumn…

So what’s next for Writing PAD East Midlands?

We have a firm date for our next get-together, which will be at Loughborough University on Wednesday 2nd October: please let us know if you’d like to come along.

Also, we are planning an event for May/June next year, plus a collaborative publication which we hope to open up to the whole Writing PAD community.  This was discussed in some detail, but we’re keeping it under wraps for a little while longer…look out for more news on this coming soon!

Apologies for such a lengthy post – this is honestly an edited-down version of all that was discussed!  Please do get in touch if you would like to share something on the blog or collaborate on our creative endeavours in any way.

Bye for now,


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