I think it is safe to say that one of life’s great pleasures is meeting someone who is interested in your passions. Putting hard work and effort into something can often feel unrewarding, but when your enthusiasm is reciprocated there is arguably no greater feeling.
On a windy Thursday behind the curtain of the Forest Café that artists and scientists alike enthused about their work. Mixers are always scary. What if nobody likes each other and there’s nothing to talk about? However it soon became clear that the artists and scientists were more than compatible, and no matter how hard we tried we could not get anyone to participate in the mixer questions. The conversations were simply flowing too well. There were clay sculptures and fish bones being passed around as well as copious amounts of coffee being consumed. The art forms ranged from clay to AR programming and the fields of science showed similar diversity. That night there was truly a collection of crazy, brilliant minds sitting at the small tables of the Forest Café. The artists had been matched up with a scientist each, based on the feedback given after the speed dating mixer and given a week to prepare ideas for their postcards. The week passed and we met at the ASCUS lab to put those ideas into practice.
The ASCUS lab was packed with paints, felt, clay, hairdryers, glue, card and many other materials. A video of one artist performance played quietly in the background as colourful pieces of card were painted and stuck onto a black piece of paper, representing amino acids. One pair made an AR postcard, that when you held your phone up, became alive with fish and turtles, a gentle marine themed tune playing. Charcoal was smeared all over the hands of one pair and another team pressed shells and rocks into clay to make stamps. Despite all the hard work that was being out into the postcards the conversation still flowed, everybody talking about their current work together. However it could be said that everyone in the lab bonded over a particularly difficult to open bottle of medium; it remains unopened to this day. As the session came to close the postcards were dried and photographed, ready for the exhibition.
We returned a week later to the Forest Café for the exhibition and panel discussion. The panel was made of 2 scientists and one artist, all coming to the conclusion that science and art require the same creative mind set, and that working together felt very natural. There was no sense that the artist had done all the work in creating the postcard and the overall experience was one of great fun. The conversation drew people from around the café in and audience members asked the panel questions.
As part of the Festival of Creative Ideas in August 2019, JL Williams and Daphne Loads facilitated two reading workshops in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh; one for staff and students of the University of Edinburgh, and one that welcomed the general public.
Beginning in the cottage, Daphne and Jennifer offered an introduction to the ancient contemplative practice of Lectio Divina which allows the reader to slow down and engage deeply and intuitively with a text, so that a range of layered meanings emerge. Together we reflected on six concepts:
Jennifer asked participants to think about silent reading versus reading aloud, and about individual reading experiences versus collective reading experiences. She asked them to consider the feelings associated with different types of reading; reading for pleasure, reading poetry, reading newspaper articles, reading a speech or lecture while delivering it, and so on.
Daphne encouraged participants to read “Heron” by Robert Macfarlane with their whole bodies, enjoying and becoming aware of the taste of the words in their mouths, the movement of the air through their lips, where the sounds touched them and moved them, in their hearts, their guts or on their skin. This was embodied reading.
Readers’ responses to “Heron” were funny, insightful and honest.
Moving outside into the rain-fresh garden, we each took a song lyric, a piece of prose or a poem, to be digested slowly, in the open air. On our return, we brought two or more small items discovered in the garden: twigs, berries, even a dead wasp (!) and shared our responses to the readings with reference to these objects.
Interestingly, according to Illich (1993):
‘The root of the English word “to read” connotes “to give advice,” “to make out,” to “peruse and interpret.” The Latin legere comes from a physical activity. Legere connotes “picking,” “bundling,” “harvesting” or “collecting.”’(p58)
Again we were re-embodying an abstract concept and enjoying its physicality. Together we re-enacted a richer form of reading, in contrast with the frenetic skimming, scanning and scrolling in search of quick information that so often seems to be expected of us today.
Illich, I (1993) In the Vineyard of the Text: a commentary to Hugh’s Didiscallion Chicago: University of Chicago Press
With thanks to Laura Gallagher of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
One of the
most engaging teaching methods in anatomy education is arts-based learning, and
one which creates a relaxed and fun environment.
This is the second year in a row I have run a Festival of Creative Learning workshop using modelling as a teaching method to learn about the muscles of facial expression. I believe everyone should know their own anatomy, understand how it works, and even know what we look like underneath. The use of modelling, such as plasticine as we used in this workshop, aids in our haptic understanding of the structure of the muscles of facial expression, along with offering a nostalgic experience in which people remember playing with plasticine when they were little.
historic Anatomical Museum was the setting for this workshop, allowing
attendees to experience the history of Anatomy and Medicine at the University
of Edinburgh through our fantastic comparative anatomy collection, before
getting hands-on with their own anatomy. This workshop required no prior anatomical
knowledge or artistic skills. Over 3 hours we recreated a selection of the
muscles of facial expression (there are 43 muscles in the face!) in plasticine
on to life-sized plastic skulls, whilst thinking about their attachment sites
and what facial expression and emotion they allow us to convey. Anatomical
terminology originates from Latin and Greek, and when it comes to the muscles
of facial expression there is no escaping the terminology! A good example of
this is Levator labii superioris,
which means “elevator of the upper lip”, a muscle that allows us to show anger
and bare our teeth. I like to talk attendees through the terminology and the
origin of the words, as this allow us to understand the function and structure
of the muscles better.
At the end of the workshop all attendees step away from their work to appreciate the physical outcome of their learning. Although everyone has modelled the same muscles, every face looks different, showing anatomical variation, because we all vary in different ways from each other. Lining all the skulls up at the end is a great moment, seeing the attendees’ work and the different facial expressions the attendees have unwittingly given their plastic skulls.
Arts-based learning is a fantastic way to learn or revise your anatomy. Being hands-on allows us to visualise the three-dimensional structures of the human body, making it a perfect teaching method for all knowledge levels. To find out about public engagement events, including arts-based workshops, run by Anatomy@Edinburgh, please visit the website – https://www.ed.ac.uk/biomedical-sciences/anatomy/public-engagement .
Thank you to the wonderful attendees, and to the Festival of Creative Learning for funding this workshop.
You may have
noticed some colourful ducks in Levels café earlier in the month. They were
making a guest appearance as part of “Staying Afloat: Anxiety and The Winding
Way to Peace of Mind” on Wednesday 22nd May.
Part of the
University of Edinburgh’s Festival of Creative Learning, this interactive talk
brought together 15 students and staff from all over the university to talk
about anxiety over coffee and cake. It was facilitated by Annie Lee, an
experienced trainer and facilitator who promotes good mental health and
wellbeing. The ducks are her mascot and trademark! Annie, like many others, has
experienced anxiety. She uses her knowledge and experience to encourage us to
look at it from a different point of view. She has worked with lots of
different people in different circumstances, including those experiencing
domestic abuse, asylum seekers and people who are unemployed.
So what learning
did people take from this event?
has its benefits
a challenging question: if it were possible, would we eliminate anxiety from
our lives altogether? Or does it have some positive aspects?
person said, “There are things about anxiety to keep and even treasure.” Some
felt that their anxiety motivated them to work to a high standard. Others
acknowledged that sometimes if it weren’t for anxiety, they would have trouble
getting out of bed in the morning.
comfort from the fact that others had similar experiences, and felt the
benefits of sharing and being open.
are ways of coping
We each put
together a personal toolkit of our current strategies, and new ideas based on
how other people manage their anxiety.
introduced the idea of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing ceramics with
precious materials, so that the mending is not only visible but beautiful. This can be a metaphor for healing.
can share our learning with others
“ Don’t confine yourself in your own sorrow or
space; be open minded.” “If I have ways
of dealing with it, I can help others find ways as well.”
agreed that they would like more of these spaces and opportunities to share.
“It would be
great to have a series of these workshops or something like a community meet up
at the University.”
that the uni offers this support for STAFF!” ·
wonderful! I would like to do this at least once a month regularly.”
The ice cream wasn’t just for eating. The point was to understand a little more about its chemistry and what it takes to get a nice smooth texture. From fat concentration, to churning time and even thickening agents!
A new touch to this event was a fairly uncommon kitchen tool called a whipping siphon. Think of it as a reusable whipped cream canister that can make much more than whipped cream. It’s perfect for examining the effect of pressure on food. We made a variety of foams, which admittedly sometimes tasted better than they looked!
It would’ve been a sad textures workshop, if we hadn’t touched upon the fun world of gels. We made some gels that were fluid, and others that were bendable (literally!). All peculiar, no doubt. But used with finesse, they can take culinary sensations to a new level! We were impressed by how the same liquid ingredients would give a very different taste sensation, depending purely on texture.
In the spirit of the Festival, the participants got creative. Inspired by their new superpowers, they concocted new recipes. No doubt, you’ll see them at gourmet restaurants soon.
By Robert Pembleton, Enterprise Officer at Edinburgh
My job is endlessly rewarding. I have the privilege of
working with University students who are looking to become entrepreneurs, often
bringing to the table some really exciting, innovative, and delightfully
preposterous ideas. Sometimes, however, they are interested in joining the
entrepreneurial community and becoming a company founder, but they haven’t come
up with an idea yet. For those students, my team has developed a few iterations
of a Find Your Startup Idea workshop, which has been run successfully for a few
years and has generated a bunch of great business ideas based on students’
skillsets, available resources, and – most importantly – passions.
However, it can be difficult to find a time that students
are able to attend and to find a location that suits everyone. So, as an
experiment, I decided to try to bring this workshop online: Find Your Startup
Idea Workshop: Blackboard Collaborate #FCL19. At first it would have to be a
synchronous session, but ultimately the hope is that this can be made interactive
and accessible by any student at any time. Because sometimes you want to try to
come up with a business idea at midnight on a whim, and that should be okay.
What better time to experiment with a new way of educating
students than the Festival of Creative Learning? To inform my methodology I
enrolled in the Institute for Academic Development’s course on Blackboard
Learn, Introduction to Online Learning. My learnings from this can be reflected
in the ultimately delivered workshop: using Blackboard Collaborate over other
tools to deliver a synchronous session, ensuring that students feel as if it
reflects a human interaction via personalising myself as a facilitator, and
ensuring that students had an opportunity to co-create, personally generate,
and provide feedback during and after the event.
Planning the event seemed straightforward at first. This is
a workshop that we have been delivering consistently, successfully, for a
couple years; the content had been developed, tested, and re-built. Plus,
Blackboard Collaborate is a flexible tool that allows for activities which
mirror lots of the interactive, physical activities which have made this workshop
effective. However, transferring these activities into Blackboard Learn and
Collaborate came with some speed bumps, meaning that the project took more time
than I had allotted for it and some of the grand ideas I started off with had
to be shelved. Of course, when I run this session online again, all of these
challenges will be translated to learnings. If I run it consistently, it will
become just as second nature as running the physical workshops.
As part of the Festival of Creative Learning, we enjoyed the
huge advantage of opening up this workshop to an audience which we don’t
normally reach, including a number of sign-ups from outside the country. When
delivering the session, I didn’t realise that one of the participants was
getting a distance learning MSc and attending our session from the Caribbean.
Other attendees mentioned that they don’t normally have the time to attend our
in person workshops, and having it online allowed them new access. It was
amazing to see learners actively collaborate on innovative business ideas, in
real time, with no barriers between them.
My intention to deliver this workshop alone without any support, as proof that it could be done with limited resources was… ambitious. I realised shortly before the session that my usage of breakout rooms, and keeping track of ideas generated while also facilitating wouldn’t be possible. Luckily two of our student ambassadors (Alison Wood and Victoria Pi) stepped in and helped me manage those breakout rooms, troubleshoot IT problems, keep track of ideas, and generally keep morale up. They were essential to making it work this first time, and as Victoria said “That went better than I thought it would!” I’ll call that a success.
I think next time I could possibly do it myself or with one
other person, and scale up the event to more learners. I’m hoping to have the
chance to give this a go in the next academic year, as it was great to be able
to reach out to our distance learners and others that don’t normally attend our
in-person events. Many thanks to the Festival of Creative Learning for the
opportunity! If you want to chat best practice about delivering this type of
workshop or about how Edinburgh Innovations supports the University’s student
entrepreneurs, feel free to hit me up at Robert.Pembleton@ei.ed.ac.uk
In this week’s post Access Officer Louise shares her experience of hosting a creative writing workshop…
As part of the 2019 Festival of Creative Learning, I helped run a creative writing workshop that invited students to learn about the history of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital and to write poems and short stories using archival records as their inspiration.
I was fortunate enough to be joined on the day by Ellen and Natalie from the University of Edinburgh’s creative writing and publishing society PublishED. Ellen and Natalie were a tremendous help and took over when it came to the creative aspect of the day by producing a series of tasks designed to get everyone in the creative mindset. We started the day by asking groups to list words that they associate with asylums and had an open discussion about what they perceived to be the treatment of mental illness in the Victorian era.
I then provided some context and discussed what we can learn about the conditions and treatment of patients within the Royal Edinburgh Hospital from the collection held within our archive.
We looked at a variety of records including photographs of the building interiors/exteriors, patient photographs, letters and clinical records as well as extracts from the patient magazine the Morningside Mirror.
To kick start the creativity Ellen and Natalie led two short exercises designed to get everyone writing (including myself and our recent intern Emma). The first of these was to write a bad poem in one minute using nouns picked out from the following picture showing a hallway within Craig House:
A number of people were brave enough to share with the rest of the group what they had written (and it was at that point that I realised that only I had written a truly bad poem).
As well as sharing out loud with the group some people were also kind enough to leave their writing behind and I have included some extracts below:
Others shoot and hit, yet I am always falling short, not cut out for any sport which follows precise lines. I take comfort in the ice the brilliance of crystals perched against one another, stacked close, like cell mates joined in the suspended flow.
Stand still. Please allow me to capture you, Let me take those harrowed eyes, that sour frown, Move not, lest you blur in time and in mind, Suppress those shivers; please dull down your twitch, Talk not, the shutter retains no sound
My friends, The time has come. The days are short and the odds are long but let me be clear: there will be no miracles here. We have long been told that change is coming, long held out for change that is coming, long put faith in change forthcoming. Change will come when we create it. A system built to subdue and divide us cannot stand if we do.They want to keep us hidden because we do not conform to their definition of “normal”. Because we do not conform to what is acceptable. Who are they? The rich? The educated? The powerful? Why should they be the gatekeepers of society, of what is normal, of what is allowed.
The feedback from the event was very positive and as it was my first writing event I asked people to comment on what worked and what didn’t work so that we can put on a similar and even better event in the future!
The second event I attended during the Festival of Creative Learning was pitched as an exploration of the issues around catastrophic climate change through role-playing.
Perhaps you are wondering what that long, ominous-looking word (pronounced ch-too-loo-seen) in the title means. So was I! I’d heard of the Cthulhu Mythos before – a collection of stories by H. P. Lovecraft. Though dated now, they’re known for starting a genre known as cosmic horror. In these stories the sense of horror comes not from a monster or violence, but from humanity’s utter insignificance in a vast universe governed by forces beyond our ken.
This seemed like a promising starting point for an exploration of catastrophic climate change. The climate systems of Earth are immense by human standards after all. Even our meteorological models, while impressive, rely on supercomputers to predict the weather, pushing them well beyond human comprehension.
The term Chthulhucene is a more recent invention from sociologist Donna Haraway (the extra ‘h’ at the start is intentional, to distinguish the concept from Lovecraft’s work) as a change in perspective from the so-called anthropocene in which we live today1.
Why anthropocene, or any other -cene?
Where the anthropocene is concerned with humanity’s impact on the environment (which is already pretty terrifying – humanity is in the process of causing a sixth mass extinction), the chthulhucene is a vision of the future in which humans come to see themselves as a part of something much larger and more complex than themselves alone.
Chthulucene Dark is a role-playing game (RPG) where a group of players take on the role of characters in a science fiction setting out to explore these themes. It’s a relatively straightforward system as RPGs go: you play a character with a profession and some kind of sci-fi augmentation – I played an archaeologist with a bionic eye that spent most of the session seeing much more than he wanted to.
I’ve previously played a variety of tabletop RPGs2. The main difference between those and Chthulhucene Dark is they had a lot more rules for a lot more things. I like the complexity, but that kind of detail would only bog down a short game, and the idea is to spur thought and discussion about the themes, not to mess with lots of rules!
When you try to do something in this game, you roll a 6-sided die (d6) to see how well you do, if it’s related to your profession or you’ve got some help, you roll 2 dice and take the better result.
It gets a little trickier when you use your augmentation. If you can think of a way to use it to help you accomplish your goal you can roll an 8-sided die (d8) as well and, as before, take the best result. BUT! If your d8 rolls higher than your other dice, your augmentation pushes you beyond what the human mind was meant to cope with and you gain 1 Strain.
Strain is the system’s way to gauge insanity (a recurring theme in cosmic horror), it starts at 1 and goes up to 8. If you reach 8, your character goes mad and is removed from play. You also have a chance of gaining Strain if you roll a 6 or higher on any roll, as you find out too much about the disturbing truth. In these cases you roll a d8. If the result is higher than your current Strain, you gain 1 Strain.
This means that while you’re likely to pick up some Strain in the course of play, it’s quite hard to go right over the edge unless you get overenthusiastic with your augmentation. Despite my best efforts my character didn’t get above 4 Strain, and he was one of the more unhinged of the group.
I think the system works really well for something in the cosmic horror and investigation genres. The rules are simple enough that you can pick them up very quickly and as your characters uncover secrets they gradually become more erratic as a natural result, a neat agreement between story and the rules.
The story was set in the far future, long after humans have abandoned Earth after climate catastrophe made it uninhabitable. You might think they’d have learned from this, but no: humanity has spent thousands of years trapped in a cycle of finding new worlds and migrating to them once the current one becomes uninhabitable. This is a bit of a departure from common sci-fi themes, but I thought it worked really well as a vehicle to consider the topic of climate change, which involves the same themes around unsustainability. It’s one thing to use up a planet, but due to the ambiguous amount of time that had passed between leaving Earth and the current date I was a bit concerned that we were in danger of using up an entire galaxy!
Our characters were part of a team sent to explore humanity’s next prospective home, which was kind of a big deal as it was the most Earth-like planet we’d ever found in our recorded history. During our research though, we discovered a mysterious black substance that frustrated all our attempts to learn about it: it jammed our drills, it poisoned people and animals it came in contact with and the most we managed to learn about it was that it was organic (that is, carbon-based) and reacted in very strange ways to certain high-frequency vibrations.
After some exploration, some new players joined who were part of an earlier expedition who had gone native and learned to avoid the mystery substance wherever possible. Not only that, we discovered the fish on the planet had evolved a degree of resistance to its poisonous effects. Towards the end of the session we were conducting an underwater drilling mission to try and get to the bottom of what this stuff was and where it came from.
I don’t want to spoil the big reveal at the end of the story, as finding that out is part of the fun in any investigation or cosmic horror story, but when it came it hit us like the proverbial ton of bricks. It would have been really interesting to continue past that point, and have our characters (who were already at each other’s throats) grapple with the revelation.
I think that is definitely a big strength of the ‘role-playing as discussion’ format: it let’s you try on different views by playing a character who you might completely disagree with and seeing how they interact with other characters. From my own experience I know that if you have a single thoughtful player in a group otherwise unconcerned with an issue, it will almost always stimulate a discussion, because groups often end up doing things by consensus. The inclusion of the mystery element worked very well too, as a way to encourage us to learn more about the situation we found ourselves in.
Well what can I say, it was a success! This year we had an amazing 60 students on day one which followed through the week to 34 applications to represent The University in the iGEM competition over the summer! The highest we have had. Every year we aim to engage the students not only in science but the impact of this on the world and the impact that as a team they could have. As always the students were enthusiastic and engaged making holding the event enjoyable and a resounding success. We have come away from this week of solving the world’s problems with science with exciting and interesting new ideas that can go forward to form the basis of this year’s project. Although we are unable to have every student on the team, feedback through the week showed that the students enjoyed the experience and the interaction with science in a fun, informative and relaxed environment. Thank you to all the students that participated. Without their enthusiasm and engagement the Sandpit would not have been the fun and exciting experience it was.
of Brain Awareness Week 2019, Edinburgh Medical School held an interactive
performance of simulated brain surgery, featuring state-of-the-art
The event required organisation from many parties to make the event a success. This included liaising with local schools to widen participation in S4-S6 pupils and communicating with various groups in order to set up several stalls.
The event comprised of an unbelievable variety of stalls, taking the attendees on a journey through the brain’s anatomy, recent research in the area, as well as the possible ways of integrating art and music with medicine. These stalls ranged from ArtBeat (who teach anatomy using art) displaying and making clay hearts, to the SurgicalSoc stall where one could get the feel of what level of manual skills are required in laparoscopy. One attendee found the NeuroSoc stall especially engaging, where a couple of model skulls with craniotomies made it easier to visualise how a surgeon can gain access to the brain without injuring its delicate structure.
The simulated brain surgery crowned the evening. With its captivating plot and professionals from the field explaining each movement, it kept participants focused throughout the whole performance. The audience interaction via Kahoot was especially successful. One participant said that ‘by challenging myself to answer the questions I not only had fun, but I could also really feel that I was a part of the event’.
inspiring to listen to the story of a survivor of brain injury and his heroic
efforts to return to normal functioning, thereby emphasising both the
importance of human willpower and the difference a good neurosurgeon can make
to a person’s life.
event, I spoke to one of the attendees who described the Neurotheatre event as
surpassing her boldest expectations and said she would definitely come again!