In the honours program that I run I spend a lot of time with the students making things strange. (Actually that’s a reasonable description of how I do most of my teaching, honours or otherwise.) The majority are all from media disciplines, things like journalism, media studies, public relations and the like. But at heart their training, and the core of their educational experience, is as humanities students. This means most of their assessment that has really mattered has been written, that their primary mode of learning is individual, and that all assessment is individual. Group work is minimal, often reviled, and rarely developed in a manner where working in a group, rather than individually, makes much difference.
Anyway, one of the ways in which I make things strange is to regularly use completely different semiotic economies or registers as ways of mapping knowledge. In this case drawings. Generally they can’t draw, but this naivety can be valuable as all sorts of things turn up in their drawings simply because they are so unaware the drawings become highly self aware. If that makes sense. (Some produce highly regular patterns, others not, some stick to the centre, some to the edges, some have to cover the entire page, some only a corner.) As one of the completion tasks for the year I invited everyone to make a graph (so actually much easier than a drawing). The x axis is time, which in our case means the entire honours year. The y axis is bisected by the x axis so that it falls above and below the x axis. Above is positive, below negative. I then asked them to plot, as a line graph three things:
- their understanding of what research is as a practice or thing (research as a way of doing and not the common garden variety noun that they started honours with where research = to do a lot of reading about something)
- how much they know about their topic or research subject, and how that changed through the year
- how much what they were studying, or what their outcome would be, changed from what they thought they would be doing, and whether this change was good or bad
I then asked them to write on the graphs the three things (not in any order) that had the biggest impacts on their honours outcomes through the year. These are the drawings that resulted.