“An explorer can never know what he is exploring until it has been explored. He carries no Baedeker in his pocket, no guidebook which will tell him which churches he should visit or at which hotels he should stay. He has only the ambiguous folklore of others who have passed that way. No doubt deeper levels of the mind guide the scientist or the artist toward experiences and thoughts which are relevant to those problems which are somehow his, and this guidance seems to operate long before the scientist has any conscious knowledge of his goals. But how this happens we do not know.”
- Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972).
One thing that has come up again and again through our work on The Dark Would, is the issue of time. There’s never quite enough of it and with frantic schedules ‘play’ can feel like a luxury - often the first thing to drop off the list. These mini-bites - rather than adding to an already monolithic to-do list – make use of all those little pockets of time that would otherwise pass us by un-noticed. What playful, challenging, creative, or inspiring activities could you engage with in those in-between moments? How could you utilise time spent walking from one side of campus to the other? Or whilst waiting for a bus? Or for the kettle to boil?
At its best learning can feel like a privilege and a choice rather than a chore but reminding ourselves of this can be easier when we develop ways of further exploring what we are are learning and - drawing on Bateson - relate them back to those problems and questions that are somehow ours. These mini-bites could help you to make the most of every moment and embed new knowledge all in the name of play.
Mini-bites are a valuable way of reflecting on a topic or idea outside of the classroom. With so much new information to devour and retain each day it can be difficult at times to distinguish the important from the forgettable. Playful and creative daily tasks can help us to digest new information and are a quick and convenient way of making sense of our thoughts.
Though they take many forms - from freewriting to photographs, daily tweets to journal entries or even reflective walks - these activities can all be engaged with for short lengths of time and at regular intervals, helping us to embed new knowledge, to play with it, question it and perhaps even make sense of it in relation to other aspects of our lives.
Reflective journalling is a useful way of engaging with new knowledge on your own terms. The Dark Would team kept a shared journal in the early stages of the project to help collect and make sense of the ideas and thoughts we were having and as a way of recording the many questions being raised. We used them again at The Dark Would event held in May 2015, providing them to delegates with prompts and suggestions littered throughout. For example:
Find somewhere comfortable to sit. Draw a sound map in your journal. Put yourself at the centre and map the sounds you can hear in relation to you. Concentrate on them. Describe them on your map.
Reflective journals are also used frequently in teaching on IATL's interdisciplinary modules as a form of assessment.
Whether for assessment, for project work or for personal use allowing yourself time to reflect on and play with new knowledge in this way can be extremely valuable.
There are very few rules when it comes to reflective journals. They can be filled with images, drawings and text, they can be put down on paper or typed up electronically, they can even come in the form of a film. Though you may find it useful, journals don’t necessarily have to be visually creative. All that matters is that you are approaching your thinking creatively, by staying reflective, explorative and filled with questions.
Free-writing is an extremely simple and sometimes cathartic task. Set a five minute timer, sit down in front of your computer or with a blank piece of paper and pen and write. The goal is to write automatically. Don't think about what you’re saying and why, don't go back and re-phrase or edit, just write. Going back later to read what you have written can be a useful tool and may help you spot connections or common themes to your thoughts. The practice of free-writing could help you seed new ideas or raise some interesting questions.
Daily photographs or tweets
What have you learnt today?
What questions has is raised in you?
Do you want to know more?
If you had to summarise your answer to the questions above in a 140 character tweet or a single photograph then what would it look like? What would it say? Working within such tight constraints can force us to dig deep and find the questions that drive us whilst the additional constraint of time, can help keep the task fun, light and playful. It’s important to know that the emphasis here is on identifying your questions rather than any answers to them.
Further information about one word walks can be found here.
If you plan to use these activities to support your teaching then you, as the facilitator, should clearly outline details to participants and provide an idea of the amount of time they are expected to spend working on them. Activities should be grounded in or relevant to knowledge gained in the classroom. They can be more formally embedded into module assessments should you wish, but it’s perhaps important to consider how this might affect - for better or worse - the way that participants choose to engage. I would suggest that these playful mini-bites may well work best when offered as an invitation.
If you are participating in these activities as a learner, then you should see them as an opportunity to question and explore your subject beyond what is simply required. What do you want to learn? Why is this important to you? What questions are being raised in you from any new knowledge gained? Questions like these are important, they can help to embed new knowledge gained and make it personal to you, make it playful, even necessary. Mini-bites can empower participants by inviting them to approach their education as their whole selves, providing opportunities to explore knowledge in new ways and inviting them to consider who they are as learners in relation to who they are as individuals.
The beauty of these tasks is that they can be carried out at any time and in any location.
When being used in teaching and set by a facilitator it is important that these activities relate back to knowledge gained in the classroom. It is worth considering whether or not mini-bites should be set as suggested or required work. Will participation be for credit and if so, how might this affect how participants engage?
If setting a task that utilises social media platforms like Twitter, you would be wise to think carefully about any possible risks. Twitter is a public platform and as such it’s important to ensure that tasks set and responses received are not likely to be misinterpreted. You should also consider whether or not participants might be inclined to hold back or re-word their answers because of the public nature of the audience.
At The Dark Would event, participants were given opportunities to share information and drawings that they had included in their reflective journals but we were very clear that there was no requirement to do so. We felt that participants were likely to gain more from the experience if they were able to engage freely. We wanted them to be brave, open and comfortable to question the structures around them. Concerned that they may be tempted to soften their views if others were going to see them, we decided to leave the choice in their hands. Our concerns might well have been unfounded but it’s an important question to consider.
Delegates at The Dark Would event were provided with an information pack and tucked in alongside the event schedule and free pens they were each gifted with an A4 artists notebook. Though most of the pages we’re left clear, ready for them to populate, a scattering of prompts and questions had been left on the internal pages, just waiting to be found.
We used these reflective journals and the prompts hidden within them as a playful way of inviting delegates to engage with the many questions being raised at the event. The following task, for example, was a simple way of getting them to consider the everyday constraints that they are working under and to find creative solutions around them:
Tweeting as a task: Constraints.
How do you encapsulate a thought in 140 characters? #Darkwould
In addition to providing the journals we were careful to build some free-time into the event programme so that those attending had the opportunity to utilize them. Not always used to having permission and time at work to puzzle over their thoughts, some people found this to be a struggle - perhaps wandering off to check their emails instead. Others though, embraced the opportunity with open arms and were nourished by it.
"Thank you so much for inviting me into The Dark Would. I was sceptical of what I would get out of [the event] [....] I was unprepared for the path ahead. The Dark Would has renewed my passion for teaching - or rather, exploring with students. My year of teacher training gave me a toolkit and a map covered in warnings. “Do not enter.” “Here be dragons.“ “This way to level 7.“. Two days in The Dark Would gave me a backpack with survival essentials and a map covered in doodles. “Uncharted.” “Goblins (friendly?).” “Last sighting of unicorn.”’
IATL have a range of craft materials that you may wish to borrow. We are also working to produce a short film to provide guidance on the use of reflective journals. Please email IATL at warwick dot ac dot uk to find out more.