Journeys in visual learning
Had the pleasure of attending the launch of the East Midland’s WritingPAD Centre on 26th June. It was an opportunity to share experiences and practice in visual and kinaesthetic learning techniques with academics, librarians and learning developers. It involved visually mapping our personal and group ‘journeys’, which included creating a fabulous collage with colleagues from the London College of Fashion, and being read some challenging poetry, enhanced by collaged images – ‘Contextualised performance with collage’. The event leaders, Kaye Towlson and Julia Reeve, are Teacher Fellows concerned with engaging students by making the textual visual through metaphor and analogy. They are guest editors for the forthcoming edition of WritingPAD’s journal, The Journal of Writing in Creative Practice where you can find lots of exciting ideas for embedding these learning techniques into the curriculum.
WritingPAD (Purposefully in Art and Design) emerged at Central St.Martins, where course leaders decided to create an Art and Design course as if everyone was dyslexic, believing that techniques used to assist dyslexic learners would benefit everyone. For instance a written dissertation, combined with a visual synthesis of it, something since taken up by other institutions including UoP. We heard from specialist tutors for students with learning differences from Loughborough University who are trained to teach in a multi-sensory way. They stressed the importance of students having a ‘route map’ so that they can see the whole and the steps required to accomplish their journey. I thought this might be useful for library induction sessions. It might help students to understand that research is a complex process and explain why they should attend library sessions at different levels of their course. UPLift, UoP’s interactive information literacy framework is ideally suited to this step-by-step format too.
So what have we done here in UoP Library that constitutes multi-sensory learning? We have our Information Landscape which we use in the classroom to get students to assign academic importance to information sources – Sue, the Business Librarian, was the first to try this. I tried the ‘consequences librarian’ with some Foundation Art and Design students. Someone drew the librarian’s head, folded it over to pass on to the next person, to draw the librarian’s body etc. They were instructed to think about how their librarian would help support their studies. The students enjoyed it and said that they were confident that they could ask library staff for help whenever they needed to. They also brought in their friends to show them their ‘librarians’ in the display cabinet near the art and design stock! One to resurrect I think. A combined exercise with the Faculty Librarian and course tutors led to some interesting visual diaries of a visit to the library – students could draw, photograph or simply write about their journey to find a book. The aim was to help students remember the process in whatever way they found useful. There was such variety in the results that it was overwhelmingly clear that we should provide opportunities for students to learn in whatever ways suit them.
In the next year I plan to take up some of the suggestions from the day, for instance, developing the idea of working with an image as a research starting point, encouraging the students to write keywords, research questions – the what, why, how – around the image as a more visual stimulus for their ideas. The idea of image-enriched mindmaps could also be valuable – a way of reusing the library’s old weekend supplements perhaps?
I am enthused once more and looking forward to working with the students in new and exciting ways. If any academics are reading this and think they’d like to collaborate on some of these ideas, I’d love to hear from you – firstname.lastname@example.org