So last week I went to LILAC for the day, to present my MA dissertation research to a roomful of enthusiastic librarians, which you can read more about here. I spent the rest of the day being an enthusiastic librarian instead! I went to lots of other parallel sessions during the day, as well as the keynote speech, but for this post I want to focus on just one session I enjoyed, because otherwise this would get far too long and unwieldy.
The session was called “Hunting Assumptions: encouraging creativity and critical reflection through collaboration”. This was a two-pronged workshop – on one hand, it was a fun space to learn about activities that other people use in their teaching, and to swap ideas about how you could use them in your own teaching. There was also a more theoretical and challenging side to the workshop – the “hunting assumptions” bit. This was based on Stephen Brookfield’s 1995 book Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, and was all about being aware of your own assumptions about yourself or your learners – stuff like “this activity is too childish for my learners” or “all adults are self-directed learners”, which can stop you from considering new ideas or different ways of doing things. Once you identify your own assumptions you can start to challenge them, perhaps in collaboration with others who can bring a different perspective to what you’re doing. This idea of being critical and challenging your assumptions is, for me, an extension of what we were taught at library school about being reflective practitioners, looking deeper into the reasons behind the decisions we make and the bubbles we exist in. I’ve taken out a book from the uni library for the first time since graduating and am really looking forward to familiarising myself with Stephen Brookfield’s ideas and hopefully applying them to my own practice.
The practical part of the session centred around an activity called Thought Bombs. The idea is similar to “sinking ship” or “hot air balloon that’s too heavy” questions – you’ve got a certain number of people but can only save one and must decide who to save/kill. In small groups, you get a short description of each person and have to make a snap decision about which one you want to save. The difference with the Thought Bomb exercise is that after you’ve made your decision, the thought bombs start arriving – plastic balls with a bit of paper inside, with a statement about one of the people in it. Look:
This statement might be something trivial, like “Jane had a salad for lunch today”, or it might be something that might have more of an effect on your decision to kill/save that person, like “Jane’s future child will grow up to be an evil dictator”. Once you’ve received a thought bomb and read it, you can throw it over to a different group, so there’s thought bombs flying all over the room. These are intended to spark discussion between participants and get them to argue the merits of saving different people. It’s easy to see how this can a) get people thinking around a topic and b) be adapted for lots of different scenarios. You could go off in all sorts of directions with it – the inclusion of irrelevant statements in the thought bombs is a good starting point for a lesson on evaluating information, for example. We saw one example in the session which was geared towards researchers – the three people were researchers at different stages of their careers, using different methods to share their research (e.g. paywalled journal, open access journal, blog). The thought bombs were things like “Jane was caught bribing peer reviewers”. With a bit of tweaking, you could use this activity to get people thinking about the perceived “value” of different types of scholarly communication, and the different ways to reach an audience and have an impact. You don’t have to save/kill the researchers either! You could ask “who would you choose as your PhD supervisor?” or “who would you ask to collaborate on your research project?”.I really liked this activity, and since seeing the research examples I’ve been thinking of ways to incorporate it, or something like it, into the new “developing your research profile” session we are designing for our PhD students, as we really want it to be a discussion-based session and I think an activity like this would facilitate that. I just need to work out the details so it fits in with the messages we’re trying to get across.
I was really glad I went to this session as (apart from being fun!) it dovetailed nicely with what I’m focusing on at work at the moment, and I’m definitely going to try and think more critically about what I’m doing and why.