Bob Bailey

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Getting students to collaborate at the beginning of their studies (Diagnostics) at Foundation has quite a few failures. Through shyness, lack of self-confidence, prejudices, religious or gender politics, mental health etc. students will often not take easily to collaborating and sharing ideas within a small group (roughly 5 or 6). Giving them 3 sound bites and 3 photos and giving them 2 days notice that we will ask the groups to chose 1 of the 6 provided ‘items’ and to create a story from it. The outcomes have been rather hit and miss where a more outspoken or confident member of the group will take charge often trouncing over other, as valid, options. I’d like to review this technique so as to give everyone own the group an equal voice regardless of the circumstances that they are in.


The Idea:

I would like to develop a brief that I tried during an Insights programme last year with a group of  students from a variety of backgrounds, ages, cultures and some with English as a secondary language. It consist of a number of small, postcard sized images, all different, each placed inside sealed envelopes. There was no collaboration in this original brief so I want to amend it to suit this project. The brief is given to the students who will act independently for the first stages of the brief. To ensure that the questionnaire isn’t too wordy or confusing for non-native speakers some potential answers / aides have been added to a few of the questions.


The Learning Outcome:

I am keen for the ‘students’ to feel challenged, to have fun, to understand the need to take note of the previous answer (in order that the character development will flow more smoothly through linked answering) and to feel confident to collaborate and participate in a group decision.


The Objects:

  • A number of postcard sized photographs all showing a different, unrelated, random image.

A number of self sealed envelopes to put each image in, a number of pre-printed questionnaires and something to write with would be additional materials needed during the session.


A selection of some of the images supplied:


The questionnaire:

“You now own this object in the image”. Please answer one of the following questions then pass the image and this questionnaire to the person sitting to the left of you.”

  1. Who are you ?   Are you human or an animal or an alien or a fictional creature ?
  2. What might your gender be ?  female, male, both, neutral
  3. Where do you live ? It could be a road, a house, a tree, underwater, another planet
  4. How old are you ? from 0 to millions of years old
  5. What work do you do ?  A job ?
  6. What do you dream of doing ?
  7. What secret have you never told anyone ?
  8. What is your name ?


The Task:

The ‘students’ are asked to open their envelopes but not show it to the neighbour. Then immediately they are to answer a series of questions. Each time they answer their question they are to hand the picture and answer sheet to their left hand neighbour. From the first move you must consider the last question and answer. Once the 8 answers have been answered the group will collectively agree to choose 1 questionnaire that has by now formed a character. They then need to agree which other character (from the remaining questionnaires) would be the best companion for the first choice.



Four completed questionnaires:


Four images randomly chosen from sealed envelopes:










The time went quickly, a bit of procrastination as the start but all the questions were answered within the allocated 5 minutes for the first stage. There were only 4 in the group (a Prop Maker, a student designer, a friend of mine and a friend of a friend – they had not to know each other or else the collaborative element might not have worked) and therefore it was relatively straight forward to get a compromise / collaboration of ideas flowing in the second section. I think that if the group were much younger then the outcome may not have been so straight forward. The feedback reiterated this and it was also mentioned by one person that she thought that the second part of the session felt like an add on…  this was partially correct as the original Insights brief was for the individuals to go on to draw their character that they started with and then to make a 3D version out of it in wire, newspaper and plastercine. there simply wasn’t enough time to do this so the brief was changed according to the 10minute rule (baring in mind that the original brief wasn’t about collaborating . The group loved the ‘choose a companion’ from the remaining characters which led to much fun debating and laughing as all four characters were described and compared…I do feel that this would have, as designed, broken down any barriers or shyness between the group members as it is important for the atmosphere to be fun and a bit frivolous. It was also noted how much the group members strayed away from the original photos but not from the answer from the previous person; perhaps this is a ‘out of respect’ phenomena? The feedback ‘session’ continued with laughter and much ‘what if’s’ so the group had obviously enjoyed the process.

I would like to try this brief on some Diagnostic students when they start on Foundation in September 2018 to get a more accurate reaction. It is hard to quantify collaboration with larger groups and with some rooms containing between 30 and 60 students dividing them into groups of 6 or 7 would be most suitable but then one lecturer can  not listen in to the second part of the session – perhaps this might not be necessary if the noise levels increase thereby telling me that they are all talking and enjoying themselves and the project. I have found this a very rewarding and fulfilling project which gives me the confidence to think up others that might have an equally deserved effect.

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