Creativity and innovations

Oracles and Education: A playful invitation for NTFs

Today’s blog, combining creativity and sustainability, is brought to us by Dr Beatriz Acevedo of Anglia Ruskin University. Beatriz is an artist-academic, with expertise in action research, education for sustainability, and a fun approach to academic development! She is a member of the ANTF committee, where she often inspires us with creative break activities. Beatriz has been an NTF since 2020, and also holds PFHEA status. You can follow Beatriz on @BeatrizAcevedoX on Twitter.

Headshot of Dr Beatriz Acevedo
Dr Beatriz Acevedo (NTF2020), Anglia Ruskin University

In the current uncertain times, educators, academics and researchers need to draw on different ways of observing and thinking. As National Teaching Fellows we are innovators, trailblazers, disrupters, as we take risks and explore diverse approaches for our practice of Learning and Teaching.

For several years I have patiently collected “phrases” from newspapers that work as “oracles” or “horoscopes”. Every Sunday, I pick six of such phrases (as the lines of the IChing – the Chinese Book of Wisdom-) and use them as the basis for a “collage”.  You can see this week’s below! The original idea is from the Colombian artist Osvaldo Polo, and I have been expanding it as a way for exploring and activating lateral thinking. This semester, in particular, I decided to use the “oracle” as a way to reflect on my own practice in the implementation of an innovative course called: “Can We Design a Better World?” for 86 students from different faculties at Anglia Ruskin University.

Image shows a collage of newspaper headlines and imagaes. Headlines read (from top to bottom): The unknown is scary; sweet surprises; getting back on track; a personal touch; a great day of joy; create something that can have an impact. Pictures are a brightly coloured doll (top left), a teddy bear (top right), and a duck (bottom right).

This is an ambitious project aimed at welcoming different approaches in the discussion of a wicked question related to one or more sustainable development goals, while welcoming uncertainty and ambiguity in the design and development of the learning experience. We are 19 trailblazers, led by Elaine Brown, Institutional Lead for Ruskin Modules, developing these modules for all Level 5 (Year 2) students across the university. Our intention is to widen their horizons, develop their interdisciplinary experience and enhance their employability and social entrepreneurial opportunities. 

Because of the different elements involved, the interdisciplinary nature of the module, the exploration of online learning and teaching, and my own process in “not knowing” exactly how the module will evolve, I decided to call on the Oracle. I felt I needed a “tangential/lateral” way of reflecting about the pedagogical aspects and my own emotions and learning throughout the development of the module.  Beyond the planning elements and the integration of different active learning activities, I also wanted to reflect on more complex questions such as “how did we (students and academic team) feel?”; “what have we discovered?”, and “what has been revealed?”  By using the oracle expressed in the form of a weekly collage, I have been able to reflect on different aspects of the experience, while keeping a rich journal of notes and reflections on the pedagogical and practical challenges of trying to innovate in higher education. 

This is a work in progress and I would like to share the “oracle” with the community of NTFs, as a playful little device for us to reflect on our own week. I will be sharing the oracles on Twitter each week (@beatrizacevedoX) inviting reactions, and sparking that lateral thinking practice that can take us to creative paths. Don’t fear –  there is method in the madness! The collage/oracle draws upon the growing field of art-based methods, a developing tradition in organisational and pedagogical research. The work of Heather Hopfl, Donna Ladkin, Ann Rippin, Harriet Shortt, Jenna Ward, amongst many, have forged a path in which certain artistic expressions like photography, drawing and theatre can become vehicles for exploring complex organisational and pedagogical questions. For example, Steve Linstead has recently published a book called the “Magical organization” using the Tarot and its Archetypes (Figures) to analyse certain organizational behaviours, trends and expectations.

In the pedagogical realm, our NTFs have been working extensively exploring play in Higher Education: Alex Moseley and Nicola Whitton; Andrew Middleton’s tactile learning; as well as many other sensual approaches such as Natascha Radclyffe and Haleh Moravej’s contributions to education for sustainability.

The invitation is simple:  Read the oracle as you might read a horoscope, as a fun exercise that can spark new ways of thinking.

Please let me know what you make of it! 

Art-based methods in Management Education and Organizational Research

Acevedo B. The Screaming Pope: Imagery and leadership in two paintings of the Pope Innocent X. Leadership. 2011;7(1):27-50. doi:10.1177/1742715010386859

Gayá Wicks, P. and A. Rippin. 2010. Art as experience: An inquiry into art and leadership using dolls and doll-making. Leadership 6, no 3: pp.259-78.

Letiche, H., Linstead, S. and Moriceau, J.L. 2021.  The Magic of Organization. London:  Elgar Publishers.

Linstead, S. and H. Höpfl. 2000. The aesthetics of organization: Sage Publications.

Taylor, S.S. and D. Ladkin. 2009. Understanding arts-based methods in managerial development. Academy of Management Learning & Education 8, no 1: 55-69.

Ward, J. and H. Shortt. 2013. Evaluation in management education: A visual approach to drawing out emotion in student learning. Management Learning 44, no 5: 435-52.

Creativity and Play in Higher Education

Nicola Whitton and Alex Moseley (Eds). 2019. Playful Learning. Re-imagining spaces for Learning in Higher Education. London: Routledge

Ashton, S. and Stone, R. 2021. An A-Z of Creative Teaching in Higher Education. London: Sage.

Middleton, A. 2018. Reimagining spaces for learning in higher education Palgrave teaching and learning. London: Palgrave.

About interdisciplinary, sustainability and employability

Ruskin Modules, Anglia Ruskin University.

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