Lego in HE

I recently attended a Lego in HE workshop ran by Dr Alison James and Chrissi Nerantzi. It was based on the workshops that Alison and Chrissie had run in the HE environment. Both Chrissie and Alison were clear that it doesn’t exactly follow Lego Serious Play, but there are similarities between them. The general premise is that lego is a tool to visually express thoughts and complex ideas, with individuals build models to represent their ideas.

Recommended reading is http://davidgauntlett.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/LEGO_SERIOUS_PLAY_OpenSource_14mb.pdf and Alison’s report on the HEA website https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/innovating-creative-arts-lego

The workshops that Alison and Chrissi have ran have a series of activities, each posing a question and involving the steps of building, sharing, and reflecting, with reflection leading to action.  The idea of the workshops is that people have space and creativity to explore and that they enable everyone to have a voice. It is based on constructivist approach where people learn best when they are making/creating. I saw huge similarities between this approach and Ketso workshops I’ve taken part in.

Alison and Chrissie reported that these workshops were particularly effective with international students as the focus is on the model not themselves, although they acknowledged that generally accepted thinking on teaching international students is to move away from metaphor and symbolism.

They have ran Lego workshops to look at student engagement, in development sessions to get staff to reflect on their roles and their learning, on team modelling, doctoral inductions, module evaluation and mapping out learning journeys. In the case of doctoral inductions it was used to explore how new PhD students felt about their research. In the group I was in some of the attendees had used lego in teaching, their example was using lego to demonstrate building a product and taking it to market, it was interesting to hear their experience of teaching with lego and it would have been interesting to hear of more teaching examples during the day.

One activity early on was to look at an unusual Lego brick and try and describe it. This is it.

The brick was passed around the group and each person had to say what they thought it was.

It’s actually the base of a ladybird from a duplo set. In the workshop setting this was demonstrating how people might interpret things differently and why we shouldn’t interpret other people’s models. I could see this working well as an activity to demonstrate finding keywords and synonyms when searching. I’m looking forward to trying it out in our next training session.

Some of the activities we undertook on the day were:-

  • To build a model of an animal with four legs and a face.
  • To add something to the animal that represented ourselves
  • To work as a team to build the longest bridge we could
  • To build a model of what we wanted to get from the day
  • To then work as a team to build our own representation of HE
  • To bring out models together as a team to HE
  • To then build an ideal model of HE as a team
  • To build an individual model of an idea for how to use Lego back in your workplace.

The idea through the workshops is that you build up participants metaphorical ease through activities, starting with simple ideas and models and then let the ideas that the models express become more complex.

For most individual activities we were given 2 mins to build and group activities 10 mins to build. They recommend that sessions cannot be less than 90 mins and ideally longer.

At the end of the day, they also brought in playdoh so we could discuss the difference of working with playdoh compared to Lego. The general consensus was lego was better, but there were a few attendees who preferred playdoh due to it’s flexibility.

All through the day it was interesting to see the participants continually play with the Lego throughout the day, even during discussion and Q&A times.

A timely reminder

This week I found myself back in the role of a learner, and in an uncomfortable position of a learner struggling to grasp even basic concepts. I was learning a new craft, or more correctly struggling to learn a new craft (the experience is posted here, if you want a read).

There is a particular section

“Three hours later and I’m questioning if I really like weaving at all. I am overwhelmed by alien terminology, a lack of knowledge of what each process achieves. Forums are a no-go area, full of language beyond my understanding and pictures of beautifully woven objects. I feel an outsider and I can only join when I pass an initiation test and make some beautifully woven fabric.”

And this was when I realised I was in a real life example of Lave and Wenger’s community of practice. Or rather outside of the Community of Practice trying to find a way in, but there were a lot of obstacles in the way.

A real life example of learning that has served as a timely teaching reminder. Not everyone comes with the same background knowledge and understanding, not everyone can pick up ideas quickly, nor does everyone pick up ideas at the same pace. Sometimes what appears simple to some is incomprehensible to others. We all have our smooth flat journeys and we all have our steep mountains to climb.

What I can do as a teacher is acknowledge and respond to an individual’s background knowledge and understanding, think about that alien terminology (and in libraryland it abounds) and what I can do to translate it, develop teaching that allows for individuals pace of learning, remember that there is more than one way to learn and definitely don’t expect a masterpiece on the first try.

This isn’t to say that I don’t approach teaching with this mindset anyway, but there is nothing like feeling unhappy, out of your comfort zone and clueless to remind you that maybe sometimes this is how your students feel. With a lot of teaching ahead in the next few months, I’ll be updating these sessions with those feelings in mind.