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Images of Culture

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"The exercise was designed primarily to gain insight into our first-year cohort, including who or what has shaped their values and beliefs..."

Desired outcomes for the activity

This section summarises the knowledge, understanding, or skills that students are expected to acquire by the end of the activity.

This pre-arrival photographic exercise was designed primarily to gain insight into our first-year cohort, including who or what has shaped values and beliefs up to this point, the potential impact this might have on who our students are as learners and the collective potential to enrich the teaching and learning environment.

Objectives:

  1. To stimulate self/other dialogue and discussion at the start of the module.
  2. To create a rich learning resource exploring the importance and influence of culture on self-knowledge development.
  3. To begin exploring the values we hold and how these inform our behavior and actions.
  4. To invite students to bring something of themselves, including prior knowledge and experience into the learning environment.

The activity

This section explains how to conduct the activity, and might include a step-by-step description or session plan for the activity.

This activity was part of CORE Practice: Shaping our future selves (2012-2018) a compulsory module seeking to engage students cognitively, intellectually and emotionally through teaching and learning encounters that resonate with real-world work knowledge and practice. At the same time utilising the necessary skills of interaction, participation and collaboration sought by employees and society more widely. At the start of the module attention focused on student transition, with an emphasis on practice that promotes independent, reflective and flexible behaviours. Prior to arriving at WBS and in preparation for the start of the module students were asked to upload a photograph that told a story about where in the world they come from. Each image uploaded, by the 600+ strong student body, attempted to capture a sense of custom, belief, ritual, value, behaviour and or attitude associated with their home culture. In short helping each other understand more about what and who shapes or influences the way we might think, act, and interact differently as well as what we share and have in common.

Student Instructions:

  1. Upload a photograph, preferably one taken by yourself (not sourced from the internet) that shares something about where in the world you are from.
  2. The photograph should attempt to capture an impression and/or sense of; either a custom, belief, ritual, value, behaviour and or attitude associated with you and your cultural identity.
  3. When taking the photograph ask yourself the following:
  • Communication:How can I help my peers understand something about where I am from and what shapes my identity?
  • Contribution:In what way(s) might the photograph/s help share understanding about what I value?
  • Creativity:What does form and perspective offer to how we see what makes us similar/different?
  1. When submitting the photograph please include: A 140 character max caption which will be displayed with the image.

This photo is a stark reminder of how you must never forget your roots, your values and where you come from. Life will take its course, but your roots are what will keep you grounded.

    1. Finally, and most importantly, this activity has been designed to encourage a broad and artistic interpretation of the brief, with each entry serving as a catalyst for future dialogue and debate. There is no right or wrong way of doing this task. What matters is that through this 'action' you are starting a dialogue with your peers about cultural diversity and value-led learning.

Activity resources

This section includes copies of resources used in the activity, and any relevant background research or supplementary reading.

The photographs were uploaded onto mywbs and captured in a photo-wall.

 

As the Module Leader, I was able to approve individual photographs as they were posted before being made visible to students. I disabled the comments feature to avoid students feeling constrained or potentially anxious about approval seeking or failing. Over the course of the module I used the images in the following ways:

  1. As an introductory film of moving images as students entered the lecture theatre for the first time at the start of the term and their first UG core module.

"By the end of the first session, I started feeling like I belonged…that my person matters and is important to others. The sense of community was a real contrast to the traditional lecture (Yr1, Accounting and Finance Student)."

  1. I selected 12 images from the submissions, and with student approval used them to create a teaching and learning resource for a group work activity on culture and identity in one of the early seminars.
  2. The School created a display of student images initially displayed in the foyer of the business school and can now be found outside the Create Space.

Reflection on the experience of planning and/or delivering the activity

This section includes a reflection by the member of staff or student who submitted the activity, on their experience of developing and/or facilitating the activity.

    The advantage of setting a task within a module (and at the start of the year) is that students are highly open and responsive. I found that I had this magic window in which to capture and focus attention on something that felt personal and personalised. Whilst I needed the technical support of the Teaching and Learning team in WBS to help set the task up, maintenance was low, despite the hundreds of students engaged.

    What worked well, and what worked not so well?

    What was perhaps the most powerful outcome was the gift of insight, offered not only to myself as the module leader, but also for students to acknowledge the international and cultural diversity of their peers as they embarked on this new stage of learning and development. Bringing something of students’ identity into the learning environment right at the start of their study was an important signal that their experiences would form an essential part of the learning journey ahead.

    What challenge did you face?

    Scale! Over the years the module first-year intake grew from under 400 to over 600. The challenge of creating a teaching and learning environment where students feel valued as individuals, who are named and whose values are actively engaged with, explored and reflected on in meaningful and relevant ways is no mean feat. Then there is managing the ‘softer’, but no less complex dimension of Higher Education. In a module were the design and delivery unsettles the distinctions between academic and vocational knowledge or between propositional and embodied forms of knowing then taking time to embed tasks like these in meaningful ways is essential.

    How might you change the activity in future instances?

    This kind of task is highly flexible and could easily be adapted to explore a wide range of values-led debate and exploration tailored to different disciplinary contexts. I have recently reached out to my Personal Tutees to understand how lockdown has perhaps forced, by circumstance and context, individuals to (re)consider and or (re)discover what or who they value, how these have been strengthened during the pandemic and how they now serve to guide and inform actions, behaviours and or aspirations going forward. Images like these, whether inside our outside of module delivery are simple but effective ways of helping staff and students reflect on their own values and how these are embodied in everyday actions, behaviours and decision making. I wouldn’t change the activity but I would continue to explore how ‘ice-breakers' such as this can be used to introduce a more complex, robust, and continuing debate on respect, inclusion, diversity, equality, and social justice in our curriculum, classrooms and beyond.

    Contacts

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