Inspire - a Teaching Fellows' newsletter

A quarterly publication on the contemporary issues influencing teaching and learning.

Bags, mags and collaboration

 By Osbert Parker, Visual Arts and Peter Thomas, Learning Enhancement Team

The first teaching week in January has become an exciting time in the Grove Atrium. For two years running, in 2016 and 2017, we have transformed the space for week-long, interdisciplinary intensive projects, involving over 100 students,

We have used these projects to punch a hole in the usual teaching schedule to make it possible for students to have a different experience of learning at the University and to interact with new colleagues, nurturing inclusive learning environments. Collaboration (Lindauer, 1998), and convivial (Bateson and Martin, 2013) self-directed learning lie at the heart of what we have been doing.

The 2016 project, Lost Luggage, was the brainchild of Osbert Parker (Senior Lecturer in Stop Motion Animation), and was developed and implemented with Gavin Fernandez and Peter Thomas. Students were presented with genuine pieces of unclaimed luggage (bought at auction). The brief was to use these forgotten bags and cases, and their contents, in creating new narratives, and to design outcomes in interdisciplinary teams that explored the imagined identity of the owner.

The 2017 project, I Am A Magazine, was coordinated by Peter Thomas (Senior Lecturer in Academic Writing & Language), and developed and delivered by a generous group of staff from the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries, the Library, LET and MoDA. This time the students worked from a selection of magazines from the University’s special collections and archives. The groups were asked to respond to this selection in any way they wanted…apart from in the form of another magazine.

Feedback from the participants tells us that they did not find the projects easy, but that they enjoyed working with technologies, practices, spaces, and staff and students they had never encountered before. The challenges they faced stemmed from having to collaborate with students from outside their own discipline and to independently decide what to do and how… but, these were also the reasons the projects were so positive:

One student remarked:

I felt like I was creating something not for the sake of grades, but for the experience. Knowing that what you do will be seen by everyone motivates you a lot. And most importantly you can make new friends, it sounds cheesy but it’s true. (Lost Luggage)

The restlessly creative groups produced innovative and self-directed work in a range of media, including: animated films, performances, installations, and photographic and sculptural pieces. Another student commented:
and including staff, from across the departments of Visual Arts, Design, Performing Arts and Media.

I am really proud to show my culture to the audience and when I saw that people enjoy my works, it felt such an achievement. (I Am A Magazine)

These intensive weeks of collaboration have kick-started two New Years with imaginative energy. By destabilising the usual expectations and formats to create new multi-disciplinary learning environments (for both staff and students) inclusivity is enhanced in two ways – by feeling part of something bigger than we imagined and by seeing our individual voices heard more widely.

We hope this continues in years to come, and that it expands to include other schools and faculties.

Bateson, P.&P. Martin (2013) Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lindauer’s , M.S. (1998) Interdisciplinarity, the Psychology of Art, and Creativity: An introduction. Creativity Research Journal. 11, 1. Pp. 1-10..