conference tips – the old-school handout


We’ve all been to that conference session where the presenter puts up a slide with a really complicated table. Or a very dense set of quotations. They don’t do this to deliberately confuse people or give them eye strain – they want to show their evidence. Without this table or set of quotes their argument might not fly.

But a screen filled up with a table in tiny 10 point? A three paragraph quotation?We can barely read what’s on the screen. And we certainly can’t read all of it in the time allowed, make sense of it, and take in what is being said at the same time.

So if you want avoid the cluttered evidence slide, what can you do? Well, there’s one old school-strategy that still works – the conference handout.

Here’s some handout basics.

  • Use a single sheet of A4.

Put the table or complicated quotes onto the sheet together with the title of the presentation and your contact details. You might add a lead to a published paper if the material is already out in the open. But nothing more than these essentials.

Use a largish font. Take some time formatting the handout. Draw attention to the information you want people to focus on– use highlights, circles, annotations – new school capacities now available on every desktop/laptop.

  • Put the handouts on the seats before people come in rather than try to hand them out in the session.

Handing out your sheet wastes time and if you talk as well as hand out people are easily distracted and may not hear what you are saying. That defeats the point of the handout.

The downside of putting the handout out early is that people might read while you are talking – the way to try to avoid this is to announce at the start that you will be referring to the handout later and please don’t read now. You also need to be sufficiently engaging so people want to listen to you rather than read your handout at the wrong time.

  • When it’s time to use the handout, tell people to turn to the page.

Walk the audience through your content making very clear the point you want them to remember.

  • Pick up any handouts at the end of the session so they don’t bother the next presenter – and find the nearest recycling bin.

The downside of handouts is that you may not know how many to print. If you have a packed house you may just not have enough. But sharing is OK. It’s just as likely that you’ll have some left over. And that points to the problem with handouts – they are paper and create waste.

So that’s a very helpful pointer. We all need to think about whether we actually do need that table or complex quote at all. Is there any way you can do without it? If you really really really must have it, then you’ll need to add the paper to your conference carbon footprint.


Ive written a lot about conferences  –  you can find most of them by searching the keyword ‘conference’. Or you might like to check out these particular posts:

Choosing a conference

Conference survival essentials

Should I go to the conference dinner?

Who’s coming to my paper?

 Dealing with ‘post paper’ questions

Post conference follow up


Photo by ål nik on Unsplash


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three thesis writing modes

It’s pretty common to hear academic writing described in three stages – (1) thinking and preparation or pre-writing, (2) writing, and (3) post writing revision. In the doctorate you do pre-writing until you get to ‘writing up’. And that’s when you write and revise.

But it’s not really like that – lots of thinking goes on as the thesis is being written and polished. And there’s been lots of writing in order to get to the point of thesis writing. The reality is that you think and write all the way through the doctorate, and most of that thinking and writing is directed to the final thesis text.

I’ve often wondered if there was a better way to describe the way that writing happens during the doctorate. Something better than pre-writing, writing and post writing revision. I think I’ve finally come across it in one of the many books about creative writing I’ve been accumulating.

Graeme  Harper tackles the problem of the three stages writing model in his book Critical Approaches to Creative Writing. (2019).

71TNomO7CsL.jpgThe problem with the very idea of three stages, Harper says, is that it’s linear.  The writing process  is represented as the writer moving through each stage in turn. One after the other. First of all you prepare, then you write and then you revise.

 But this is not what actually happens in practice, he says. While you might do a lot of preparatory work at the start of writing a novel, you may not actually stop doing thar kind of work for quite a while – you may well find that you have to go and search for additional information or do some additional plotting as you are writing. And you may find you are revising some parts of the text as the same time as you are writing new sections. It’s not a question of a neat sequence of steps, each distinct and separate from the other, but something much more messy.

Harper’s description of the creative writing process rang bells for me. His description of overlapping processes seemed a lot like thesis writing where there are often various types of writing happening at once.

Harper doesn’t stop with debunking the three stages approach. He offers an alternative framework for thinking about creative writing. Rather than serial stages, he proposes three modes of writing which are blended throughout a project. He calls these three modes foundation, generation and response.

  • Foundation is all of the work that underpins the actual writing – think of it as architecture or infrastructure, Harper says. Foundational work grounds and holds writing together.
  • Generation is writing new text. Generating text involves drafting and some redrafting until you get to the point where you have a whole working text. Harper says generation is best thought of as a process of initiation and creation.
  • Response is when you come at your text anew, reflect on it in its entirety and refine it. Response takes something which is not yet fully fashioned and fashions it. Response is the writer reflecting on their own text, but could also include other readers’ responses too. Harper argues that response also encompasses thinking about how the final text will be published and distributed for wider public response.

Now the key to Harper’s argument is that these three are not linear stages. They operate as a kind of plait. While foundation might be dominant at the start of writing, the other two are also often involved.

I reckon Harper’s three modes of writing are helpful in thinking about writing a thesis too.

In the doctorate we can therefore think of:

  • Foundation as – reading and noting, keeping a research journal, field notes, transcripts, data files, records of analysis, mind maps, plans, spread sheets, storyboards, emails, blog posts, writing for supervision purposes, annual reports and reviews, chunks about specific aspects of research…
  • Generation as – producing a research proposal, writing a confirmation or upgrade paper, writing a conference paper, journal article or book chapter, writing the thesis text…
  • Response as – getting feedback on and refining the research proposal, a confirmation or upgrade text, a conference paper, journal article or book chapter, and the thesis text. Developing a publication plan from the thesis…

We can see that these three modes helps us to see the writing going all the way through the doctorate. And to see that each mode of writing is important and can’t be ignored. Failing to do enough foundational work means that both the generation and response writing stages will be stymied. They won’t have the necessary strength to stand up. And failing to spend enough time on response, thinking that generation of text is sufficient, means that the writing will be incomplete and unrefined.

And an added bonus. The three writing modes can be used to begin to (re)think how writing gets done in the doctorate. Harper’s three modes shows time marked not by linear stages but by the various kind of texts that need to be produced at different times.

I imagine a doctorate might go a little like this.


OK, so I’m not the best at illustrating but I’m sure you get the idea.

But perhaps you might like to play with your own doctoral timeline, thinking about the ways in which the three modes of writing might occupy your week and year variously, depending where you are up to in the path to the final doctoral thesis.

And perhaps you too will find Harper’s three modes of writing a more helpful way to think about the writing that has to be done – all the way through the candidature – in order to produce a good thesis.

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blogging my research

Last week I published four “live” posts about my ongoing research with the Tate Schools and Teachers team.

I’ve been going to Summer Schools now since 2012, although I did have a year off last year.

That’s seven lots of five days. There’s usually some other SS-related meetings before and after too. So probably about fifty days worth. In ethnographic terms, this is starting to be a respectable time, long enough to talk with some certainly about patterns and differences.

I didn’t always blog about this research. So why did I start and what do I think I’m doing in blogging?

You’ll have noticed I haven’t started a separate blog about Summer School. That’s been because the collaborative work with the Schools and Teachers team is quite sporadic, spread out over a year. I am not sure that there would be enough to keep up the regular posting you need for a good blog. So rather than establish a separate research project blog – which I often do, see for instance the Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement blog – I’ve just chosen to hijack this one for a bit. I hope that the content doesn’t put off readers who aren’t interested in education or the arts.

But why blog my research at all? Well, there’s two main reasons.

First of all, the blog provides information about the research, particularly to those involved.

A lot of research in my field involves researchers hanging around a ‘site’ for a long time – a school, a college, a university. Other people who are present – their name usually changed from teacher or student to the ‘subjects’ or ‘participants’ – often don’t get to know much about what the researcher is thinking and doing, at the time or for a long time after.

Sure, people have a plain language ethics statement and consent form which they have signed. But I’ve become increasingly concerned about whether this is good enough. Is a couple of pages really sufficient to explain why the research, what it’s for and how it’s related to research that’s been done?

Now, sometimes researchers are able to have long meetings with research participants, and they can really discuss what’s going on. However, this is not really possible with Summer Schools where people have paid to attend a professional development programme, not engage in a long conversation about research. Blogging everyday provides an opportunity for SS people to see what the research is about and to talk with me about it if they want to. It’s not secret business. The posts demonstrate a willingness on my part to be open about what I’m doing.

Secondly, the blog is an integral part of my research. Not an extra.

The blog works partly as a log of activities, a descriptive record of events. (Think of a ship’s log – official documents about course, speed, navigation and so on.) There’s nothing particularly contentious about simply logging what happens how, when, where and who was involved.

Summer School artists and participants may even find it helpful to have basic information about the event compiled in one place. I do know that the artists who run Summer School are always interested to compare what I’ve noticed with what they were thinking about and doing.

But having a record of events is not all that counts in research. Logs can do more than this. Logs focus on a limited topic. They usually stick to a common formula of set of categories, presenting information the same way each time an entry is made. Logged information thus allows patterns of behaviour or events to be tracked over time. So while readers might see each daily post as a distinct thing, they allow me to see patterns across the five days, and across the series of Summer Schools I’ve attended.

Of course, not everything that happened fits into a blog post. I always end up with a load of other stuff in my field notes as well as artefacts and images that still need to be typed out, and sorted. Logged post blog.

However, the posts do more than log. I do have the occasional diary moment – a diary is a personal and idiosyncratic account of everyday life. I do occasionally put something in a research post that is of this order. But mostly, posts are logs – and part of the research journaling process.

A research journal is a tool for reflection. A research journal offers a place for critical and evaluative thought, as events and conversations are revisited – and remixed. Journals are where interpretation happens. They are often the places where analysis begins and is developed. Writing and sketching in a journal are a means of processing experience, of bringing events and conversations into dialogue with ideas taken from reading, with ideas formed through previous research.

Writing a journal as well as field notes is a time-consuming process. It is why doing ethnography requires full body immersion. You note and make images as best you can during the day, and then at night, you complete the log of events, and write immediate thoughts in your journal. Logging and journaling is a process of distancing from the events of the day, switching thinking into a more analytic mode. Keeping both a daily log and a journal also means that you can catch the points where information is missing, and you may decide that tomorrow you will pursue a particular issue that emerged from journaling.

A daily blog is simply one part of a research journal.

In other Summer Schools I’ve focused the journal aspect of a daily post on the pedagogical principles that the artists were using to design, sequence and pace activities. In this Summer School I was more interested in surfacing questions to which I didn’t have any answers but was thinking about. Musings I called this.

Blogging as journal becomes a kind of thinking in public. And thinking in public stems from my view that the researcher is not the only one who can interpret and make sense of events and conversations, who can theorise practice. Rather, meaning-making can be a shared activity which encompasses multiple perspectives and positions. As this research is a collaboration with the Tate Schools and Teachers team, it is already open to multiple ideas. Opening out to more views and perspectives does amplify the possibility for messiness to be sure, but there is also the potential for new insights and other ways of thinking, feeling and knowing to be included.

I hope that in making my thinking public the blog is an invitation to participants to come back to me with responses to my initial thoughts. I’d love them to help shape my musings into something more refined – inclusive of their critical reflections too. Blogging can perhaps be a small step towards a more democratic research practice.


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summer school day four


Who is here – no guest artists today, just us.

What did we do? Today was focused on the theme of hierarchy and expertise – two relational practices endemic to education. ad about power. of knowledge, of position, of wealth, location and so on. We were also to concentrate on research.

We began the day perusing the books located in the library room established in the Exchange. We were to find things that interested us, photocopy relevant pages and identity a question that we wished to pursue during the day. We then gathered in a circle to report on our individual questions. India and Remi identified some common themes among our concerns; we then had time to play with and remix their initial sort.

We next sorted ourselves into one of four groups, each of which had a initial shared interest. Each group went into the gallery to see what kind of resources the art works of building itself might offer us – resources which might help to clarify, modify or extend our shared interest.

Lunch has been a feature of the Summer school and today was no exception – it was a delicious Ethiopian feast. Our long dining table has been an important place for sharing ideas, finding out more about each other and continuing conversations.

In the afternoon, we worked in our groups to investigate what the public might have to offer us. Each group worked on an activity or an intervention which would solicit information from the genera public -we devised a question or an intervention. what we did had of course to be carefully negotiated with gallery staff as it was important that we didn’t disrupt people’s enjoyment of the art, or do something dangerous.

The group I was in was interested in what people ‘got’ from engaging with art. We situated ourselves at the exit to the Eliasson exhibition, and asked exiting members of the public to register their feelings about their experience. We found that our initial plan of how to elicit information and our expectations of what we would be told was rapidly modified. What we got back from people was far more interesting and expansive that we had initially imagined.

The day ended with each group reporting back. The experience of initial plans and expectations being changed was common to us all.


Looking back on today, it is clear that we were being encouraged to develop a practice-based inquiry in a short time frame. We were drawing on five resources – our own interests and experience, the experiences of the group, books, art works and the public. These were not data, not sources of information, but rather resources to help us pursue a line of thinking.

With more time, we could extend these resources to include for instance media texts, historical materials, specialist knowledges in books and in person, materials, and perhaps specially constructed experiments designed to test out an idea.

The emphasis on spending time thinking through a question, and holding off coming to an answer, is typical of artistic practice. It is a practice that teachers particularly in the senior years of secondary schools want their students to do too. I wonder if the explicit focus on diverse “resources for thinking” is one that will be useful to Summer School participants. i also wonder if the emphasis on resources to thin with might be helpful for university students worried un terms such as “literature review”.

Time was also a resource. The imposition of a deadline does propel you to particular kinds of activities and I am sure I was not the only one left wondering whether we might have come up with something very different if we had had longer to prepare. Or would we just have taken longer do do much the same? The imposition of a deadline in what otherwise has been a pretty leisurely paced programme also drew attention to time economies and what they may and may not enable.





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summer school day three


Who is here? Today we were joined by Amina Abbas-Nazari, a designer working with sound and artificial intelligence.

What did we do?

We began the day outside the Eliasson exhibition. India and Yemi assigned each of us one of the five senses, and then asked us to stand in a line from the sense most valued in education to the one least valued. Our line was, in descending order, sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. We were asked to stand in the order of the sense we most preferred – and the majority chose sight. ( Probably not too  surprising for a bunch of people interested in art!). We were challenged to think about the hierarchy of senses in education, and consider how this might be particularly problematic for neuro-diverse young people and adults.

We were then given a bag which contained five sensory tools to  play with in the exhibition. We all had headphones and a mirror; there were a variety of tools for taste, touch and smell.

Many of us were approached by other visitors inside the exhibition who wanted to know why we had headphones and they didn’t – these had become markers of difference which made us visible in the gallery space.

After about an hour we returned to the Exchange floor and discussed our various experiences.

Many people had felt sensory overload in the crowds, chaos and noise of the exhibition rooms. Adding in tools which drew attention to other senses reduced our filtering capacities. Many of us found that having the headphones on was a way of producing a bubble of calm.

The final morning’s activity was to play further our with senses on the dining table, before and during lunch.

Inventory of the sensory dining table: squishy jells soaking in water, headphones, eye masks, plasticine, sound triggered by microphone, camera projections, stones, coloured paper, scissors, stone chips, tape.

Some people took sensory eating way more seriously than others!


After lunch we were introduced to Amina who talked to us about focusing on sound. We wore silent disco headphones to intensify our attention on what we heard. Amina asked us to think about listening – (1) deep listening, (2) active listening, and (3) machine listening. We were asked to think about how technology might allow us to listen to things that we wouldn’t normally hear. We were challenged to make a tool that would enable us to hear something that would otherwise be silent. The hidden sound might be something external  – so make a listening tool that would bring the world to us – or internal – so a device that made something inside us available to the outside world.

Still wearing our headphones and listening to sounds beyond the human ear but recorded via specialist technology, we played with a range of materials in order to develop our concept. We took turns to present our designs to the group.

A final group discussion canvassed the possibilities for using sensory teaching aids in the class or lecture room. How could we disrupt  the ocular-centrism of dominant teaching approaches, India asked us.


I’ve been really aware of pace in the last few days. There’s now a lot of general talk in education and beyond about slow – slow working and slow looking. Summer School offers a space and place to go slow. While there is a programme with time limits on activities, there is also an emphasis on taking time for experimentation without the imposition of expected outcomes. Many people have spoken about feeling calm and relaxed and that seems to come from the flexibility of time and the apparently  leisurely sequencing of activities  that are built into the programme.

Summer School is always about embodied learning and a range of ways of knowing and learning, Today was an example of how the body can become the primary medium of learning. The focus on senses and reflecting on sensory learning, connected to issues of inclusion and equity, made the bodily aspects of learning explicit.

dsc00098The arts afford what my colleague Chris Hall and I have called immersive professional development –  people need to plunge in, commit all of their self/selves to learn – emotions, bodies, senses.  Not just intellect. It’s a full-bodied experience. Engaging in discipline-based professional learning in the arts is never simply cognitive, never simply sit and listen. Not coincidentally,  the haptic nature of experience is also of concern to Eliasson – engaging with his work is one of the Summer School avenues for moving from feeling/doing/experiencing/ to thinking/naming/explaining.

The arts offer lines of ‘doing’ which can interrupt our usual ways of doing things. It’s not at all uncommon in Summer School for people to be asked to look without seeing, to work in silence, to communicate without words, to hear the unheard. Removing our taken for granted ways of  making meaning forces us to do what researchers call “making the familiar strange”. There is perhaps quite a lot for those who teach research methods – and thus ways to understand things as if for the first time – to learn from artistic ways of being/knowing,








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summer school day two


Who is here? Today we were joined by Lawrence Watson, photographer.

What did we do? We began the day by visiting the Olafur Eliasson exhibition. We were asked to think about reflection, and “how you are you in your work”. The environment in which we worked was important too – “how do we benefit from the places in which we learn?” We were also to think about the differences between formal and informal learning, being taught and teaching ourselves. These questions all connected to Eliasson’s works and his studio practices.

Lawrence had chosen his favorite piece from the exhibition, The Blind Passenger (2010), a k a the fog. Thirty nine meters of fog to be precise, which twenty people at a time can experience. It’s quite disorienting. We were also able to spend time with other pieces in the exhibition.

After this we met in a space outside the exhibition, and were given blank cards. We were to write on each of eight cards eight key moments in our journey with art. Then, in four groups, we talked about the key moments to find connections and patterns. These connections were made both verbally and with twine. We then met as a whole group back in home base of the Exchange to talk more. Most people had talked about the importance of family, school, travel, mentors and serendipity. This was a way to get to know each other, as well as ourselves, better.

After lunch, Lawrence talked to us about his career in photography, and showed his work for the NME and with musicians. We then experimented with photographic techniques, using fabric, celluloid, projections, mirrors, lights and tubes. This was a time when people were free to “teach themselves”.

A post-practical-activity discussion focused on what happened when the emphasis on finished product is removed and we are just able to play and experiment, when we move to trial and error and unknowing.

The final activity was a brief introduction to our ‘teaching aids’ – we had all brought in something that we used in our teaching. This was a quick activity but one which opened up new avenues for personal and group exploration tomorrow.


The environment that has been created for us is one in which people are already able to say if they feel anxious about doing something. We heard for instance of worry about documenting everything, of time taken to let go of wanting to produce something “good”. Yemi and India have presented themselves as questioning and changing; they have not been defensive about anything that could be read as critical – they have set aside time to talk about feelings with all feelings equally OK. They haven’t talked about the need for a safe space per se, but have made one. Given the ongoing focus on the tensions, erasures and visibilities of the personal in the professional, this safe place is clearly important.

And today India talked about Vygostky and scaffolding and whether the notion of scaffolding was useful outside of classrooms. Her reference made me think that there are multiple forms of scaffolding going on here – in particular the experience of making scaffolds the development of abstract ideas which in turn scaffolds a different experience and so on. Scaffolding is integral to the “circling in” to key themes and concepts.

I noticed the term neurotypicality used today, perhaps seeded for tomorrow?


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summer school day one


Who is here?

The artists running the Tate Summer School this year are Yemi Awosile and India Harvey. 

There are eighteen of us in the Summer School – a mix of art teachers and museum educators. About a third are from international schools.

What did we do?

After an introduction from  Leanne and Emma from the Schools and Teachers team, the day began silently. Well, there was a soundtrack but there was no talking. We were invited to try shibori dyeing, a form of resist dying –  pieces of fabric are folded and tied and then dipped. (Old hippies will recognise this as tie dye.) We unwrapped our handiwork and hung up the results. Because the fabric was relatively soft and porous most of us hadn’t managed to get a lot of those characteristic rings. In my case, subtle was probably about the kindest word that could be used.

Yemi and India then introduced themselves and their practices. Both avoided definitive categorisation; Yemi said that she refused to be seen as either an artist or a designer but was often both and more.

After lunch, we then sat at the long lunch table to introduce ourselves. A speed dating format was used to get us to move around and to answer three questions:

  1. Who are we as professionals?
  2. What do we not say when we describe ourselves as professionals? What do we hold back?
  3. And if we have seen other people self censor, what do we do about it?

A further exercise then took the idea of erasure, and the complexities of maintaining a sense of identity in a professional setting, into fabric printing. We were able to use heat transfer to print on permanent and dissolving fabrics to show what feelings associated with our professional work we wanted to keep, and what we would get rid of.

We finally visited the Takis exhibition to see sculptures made with the invisible powers of magnetism and sound. (But it wasn’t entirely functional.)

Concepts and authors mentioned during the day – feelings, emotions, Loose Parts (Nicholson), Winnicott, authenticity, professionalism, liberation, constraint, democracy in hands, sensory, naughtiness, play.


At the end of the first day I’m thinking about two aspects of the day’s pedagogy.

First of all, I’m thinking about the strategy of not introducing everybody at the very start of the day. It is almost de rigueur to do this, to make sure that everyone knows who is in the room right at the start of any professional learning activity. Why? Is it to establish ‘group ness’ – safety or familiarity perhaps? Clearly you don’t have to do introductions to achieve this.  I’m interested in the way in which today’s silent making created sociality among strangers. Feeling part of a group doesn’t mean you have to know anything about anyone else. It can come from shared endeavour. From being and doing together. As in writing groups too. But how to best describe and understand the affective?

Second, I’m thinking about today’s focus on process as the means. I’m considering how an idea develops – perhaps emerges as if through Eliasson’s fog – through making, talking and then making. How exactly does the circling-in process build individual and shared understandings, I wonder. What needs to be spoken and what can remain unsaid? What needs to happen in order to ensure that the key concepts do come in to land? (I’ve already noted some other threads that I suspect will be picked up during the week and emerge in the same way over a longer period of time; we’ll see if I’m right.)

And I’ll just note a question was raised during discussion – it was about authorship of what is made made during collaborative projects. The question was in response to a description of work with young people which led to an exhibition. Their work. The artists. Or both. It seems that we will discuss this further during the week.

But… not all plain sailing. I’m pretty frustrated with my new camera. I’ve managed to leave the cable connecting the camera to my laptop at home and I’m struggling a bit with wifi transfer to iPad and then another  transfer of photos onto my laptop. It ought to be seamless but… .




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