Meeting creative academics, reflections from a new #creativeHE friend

Dr Aspa Paltoglou @aspasiapala lecturer in Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, joined the #creativeHE community recently and shared the following with us about her experience so far…

“It has been great fun and very inspiring going to the meetings organised by #creativeHE. In these meetings, academics from various departments of universities in Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside meet once every month to discuss about creativity in Higher Education. The meeting place changes every time and one of the universities is the host.

I have attended two meetings up to now. My first meeting was (conveniently) at GROW in the MMU Business School Building. The second meeting I went to (this time with colleague Jeremy Hopper) was at Salford University. I had been looking forward to going to my third meeting in Liverpool. However, even the thought of going through the rail disruption caused by storm Ciara was too distressing to attempt the journey. In better weather, I would have cycled there. But for now I decided with heavy heart that it was best to give it a miss. To console myself, I thought I’d write the blog and think back to the two meetings I was lucky to attend.

Such meetings can become a bit abstract and too theoretical, but that was not the case for the #creativeHE meeting. In both of the meetings I attended, there were activities we could use in our teaching to engage with the staff and students. For example, in the first meeting we were given printed photos and we were asked to choose one of them. The photos were beautiful pictures from urban and natural landscapes. We then were asked to report why we chose the picture and who we are, and then nominate another person to do the same. This sounds a very simple thing to do, but it made a big difference for me. It was the first time I was not nervous doing introductions and ice breakers. Talking about the photo somehow took the focus away from the person talking and made the exercise more fun. This ice breaker would be very useful when engaging with staff in staff meetings, when introductions are needed.

photo montage
Coming soon: A #creativeHE photo set

Then we were told to write something we do not like about our teaching on a piece of paper, scramble it, and throw it in the middle of the table. After the break we picked one paper at random, and we based the discussion on that. The paper that was picked referred to using PowerPoint in teaching sessions. A very interesting and thought-provoking discussion followed, regarding the problem of using PowerPoint in lectures. For example, we discussed that students do not tend to be happy when we go back and forth with our slides, although sometimes it is important to do this in order to make connections between the different concepts discussed. PowerPoint tends to make the presentation linear, and that is not always helpful. I had a meeting with a student afterwards and asked her what she thought about PowerPoint. She said that she finds PowerPoint in lectures really useful because it helps to organize the information in a very clear and straightforward way. Even so, the discussion made me think of how best to use PowerPoint in lectures, its positives and its drawbacks, and alternative activities and software one could use in a lecture. A really useful discussion overall.

The second meeting included another fascinating activity, this time led by a clinical psychologist. We were asked to imagine we were in a pool full of water, and that we should move around the room accordingly. We were then asked to reflect on why we found ourselves at a certain location in the room. I found myself away from most people in the room, and I realised that I was happy this way, as it gave me freedom to move around. This made me realise that freedom is really important for me to develop as a researcher and lecturer, at least at this point in time.

The second meeting had been scheduled to be about teaching in large classes, for example lecturing for a class of 350 students. However, in the end we did not talk as much about it. That did not matter at all, as different colleagues presented some really interesting projects and ideas, such as using Facebook to encourage students to make creative presentations of their projects and engage with the community. All participants at the meeting spoke and it was clear that we were all bursting with ideas about higher education and creativity. We could have been talking for days, and it would still not have been enough! It was great that we did not have to stick to a meeting agenda and just go with the interest of the group, and let the meeting develop organically. That in itself is a very creative thing to do.

These meetings provide the opportunity to take a step back from our ordinary teaching and research and reflect on our practice and ask how we can make it more creative, effective and interesting. These meetings also create a sense of being in a community with like-minded individuals that are passionate about improving their teaching practices and inspiring students. Apart from meeting face-to-face, there are the #creativeHE hashtag on Twitter, website and Facebook group, where news about relevant conferences, journal calls, and books are posted. These again provide a hub of very useful information regarding all things creative in education and research, further consolidating the sense of community. It will be lovely to have some students attending the meeting in the future, to discuss about their ideas on how to make teaching more creative and effective.

In summary, #creativeHE meetings are worthwhile, fun, informative and very creative. I would encourage students and staff to join us! Weather and trains permitting.”

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