Curriculum Development and Storytelling

buildings mirroring in a horn (Instrument)

Post 21 of 30

The posts are becoming more and more dispersed due to a long weekend, evenings spend hammering hundreds of carpenter nails into the deck, or marking. But I am slowly catching up again.


How to tell a story? So one of the things I want to achieve, but not entirely sure yet how to is to make sure the new course my colleague and I develop has a story. It is coherent. I know we are going to hit the participants with some fairly complex theories, and challenge the invisibly authored framework for learning and teaching in higher education within which we act. Maybe ones we have constructed the framework more solidly we need to deconstruct it again for teaching. Introducing the layers within the context of each session.

One aspect I very much enjoy with blended learning and teaching strategies is how easy it is to integrate multimodal texts within the learning environment. This is more than just text, it can also be images, documents, music, art, layout, behaviour patterns (e.i.: Kristina, 2017). The engagement with the environment and texts is going to be fragmented, due to the nature of the course, so we need a strong story-line to enable meaningful engagement with the course content.

So how to tell a story?

I really like Ken Adams Story Spine (1991) adapted by Izzy Gesell (2017) into the following:

  1. The Balance: Once upon a time … and every day …
  2. The Un-Balance: But then one day …
  3. The Quest for a Resolution: … and because of that … and so … until finally…
  4. The New Balance: … and ever since that day.
  5. The Lesson Learned: …The moral of the story is

When reading this I noticed the similarities with various models of narrative arc so decided to draw it out to help with modelling the principles of digital storytelling across. Anyhow, as I was drawing it I noticed something. The narrative arc created by the story spine is like a section from the heuristic spiral. This in turn gave me the idea to apply this to course design. So each session has Ballance—Un-Ballance—Quest for a Resolution—New Balance—Lesson Learned. However, this structure is also the overall structure for the course, the introductory session creates (intentionally) un-balance, and sends the participants on the quest for a resolution. In the last session we bring the complex theoretical framework we have developed, and are sharing in an iterative process throughout the course, together creating a new balance.

Storytelling and Lesson Planning 01

Trying to map storytelling with principles of digital storytelling.

Narrative Arc and Digital Storytelling

* Kristina,Diah.(2017). Discourse analysis and language teaching. Lecturing Modul of Sebelas Maret Univerity, Indonesia

Thinking Thoughts

sepia photo of renaissance woodwork from a German country castle during reconstruction

When you stuff your brain glutinously with ideas and paradoxes that push you into cognitive dissonance trying to come up with a story and there is no anti-acid—or granny’s really expensive gentian-schnapps—that can help the brain to break the thought-food down as it does with overeating during the holidays, then what do you do?



Do you push the boundaries?

Sit with contradictions?

Can you actually live with contradiction?

Like Kösel suggests in his Subjektive Didaktik, the only theory in education holding its own negation within.

Can you accept that what you think you know about learning is true and not, and something entirely different, all at the same time?

How about liminality?

Is your professional acculturation already so manifest that you rather live with an illusion of conformity instead of challenging the notions that lie beyond the performative system and question if your knowledge is actually just a junction in a landscape of cross-roads, and not a point of truth?

How much are we able to challenge our Selves? (intentional upper case)

Because our ability to measure the impact of learning can—for the time being—be but an uncertainty principle. We can only ever measure one (or some) variable(s), and the closer we look at it/them the less we see of others.

Take multiple-choice exams. How much learning do you actually observe there?

The brain-effecting-gentian-schnapps would come in handy right now.

Feeling a bit like that (wait for it … wait for it):

So I was asking all these questions and developed a rough sketch of a framework, which will be much more differentiated and tamed later down the line.

For now. What would your questions be?

If it doesn’t work…

Day 19 of 30

If it doesn’t work pull the plug

I vaguely based this ‘writing for 30 days and see what happens’ on articles like this one by Glen Allsopp. However, it doesn’t work. Maybe it works for keeping the notes to yourself until they are ready to be shared. But it doesn’t work for me to do this without being able to reflect, read, think…and the writing slowly but surely meandered from going down the rabbit hole and only being able to think about frustrations of being an academic, into creative writing away from the writing semi-academically. So I should probably pull the plug and stop this experiment.

But then I had an idea: I could write creatively about academia—this might work. After all during my PhD there was PhDzilla. Anyhow, the whole issue with struggling to write daily, and thinking about pulling the plug reminded me of something:

Pulling the plug in teaching

Have you ever stood in front of a full lecture theater and noticed that you lost almost everyone in the room? This happened to me at various points.

When I was faced with this situation the first time, I felt like I was wading through treacle. No matter what I tried I could neither shift the energy in the room, nor connect with my students. So I pulled the plug. I remember that first time vividly. I just stopped. Shook my head and then said: ‘This isn’t working, is it?’

After looking a bit confused and surprised, relief spread through the room and the students shook their heads, and some even said out loud: ‘No.’

‘Okay.’ I said. ‘What do you need? What is it I can help you with?’ And thus we started a conversation.

Sometimes, pulling the plug on something is the most reasonable thing to do.


That Friday Feeling

Okay not writing about marking or other forms of feedback today. That was earlier. Now as a little weekend treat. In post 18 of 30 I share our own tiny version of mystic garden.

Routines Paradox

spring leave of beech hedge against evening sun sepia

Post 17 of 30

An ADHD paradox

When thinking about context switching—and today was a Tigger day of bouncing between projects, teaching planning, admin, organising a symposium, meetings, and catching up with marking—routines emerged again as a topic. Or rather as a non-existent entity that I ought to start getting a hang of.

I still cannot establish routines. Like the ‘write first thing in the morning for half an hour’ thing. Every single evening I think, I ought to do this tomorrow. Every single morning there is something else popping up—an urgent good cause from a student, a colleague popping into the office, having forgotten to buy food or having forgotten the food at home and not had breakfast (which by far is the most common distractor with about 3 out of 5 days). I haven’t had a single working from home day this week which makes matters worse.

How do people do this? Make food. Buy food and not forget to bring it along. Remember to moisturize? How does this work? I prepared all the stuff for my yoghurts, and even had mango slices … there are frozen berries and I leave the house without food. Back to sticky notes on the front door…

The thing is routines would help with ADHD effects but because of The Brain they are near to impossible to establish. Hence the paradox.

A cuppa: the holy grail of meetings


16 of 30

Meetings of death

Good gracious … we have so many meetings at the moment that I barely manage to get my lunch-break. If I take lunch-break I won’t answer emails, or I answer them during the meetings, or in the evenings. I am currently trying the not working in the evenings or on weekends thing … and I am wondering why we have long meetings where people basically just repeat what other people have said about five times in a row. It hurts my brain.

I have recently had meetings with colleagues who just schedule their meetings for half an hour. I love this! I think this should be the standard for 1-2-1 meetings with the exception of meetings that have a pastoral or mentoring element to them.

So yeah for half hour meetings!

The other type of meeting I have become very fond off and drag my poor interns and colleagues into are walking meetings. These are ideal for The Brain. Also if I suspect some writing down needs to happen at some point, working in the Westend of Glasgow is great, the parks have benches or if it gets too cold or wet you can sit in the beautiful Kibble Palace (and there is a coffee cart right next to it).

So yeah for walking meetings!

Video-chats. Working from home video chats have become more regular. I love them. I hate speaking to people on the phone, so much goes missing there. All the non-verbal cues, face expressions … that’s missing. So much better via Skype.

However, if you need more bonding or if you are someone who is really emphatic and the dynamic created by a physical meeting is something that informs your decision making and cognition as much as the words said, video chats can still feel a bit as if a significant part of the information you rely on is not communicated.

So maybe (but still much better than phone calls or emails) for Video-Chats

Sanity coffees. You might have heard of the Swedish Fika Culture (in Scotland we would say: let’s meet for a cuppa*) this has been my saving grace, my sanity monitor, my project generator, my network builder, my friends-maker for years. During our PhD my friend and I met regularly to moan about supervisors, the cut-backs in academia in our final year and what that means for our future, the darn methodology chapter, and all things related to life in general. In work, this is the space where you can be honest, you are usually off campus (but this is mainly because the coffee on campus is pretty dire!), you get informal mentoring, and learn how to mentor. A cuppa creates breathing space. It’s a time where all the politics which are part of being in academia are left at the door. It’s the Switzerland of academia. It’s an amnesty for honesty. As you can see big fan of a cuppa here.

A cuppa: the holy grail of meetings


*cuppa = cup of tea/coffee

Influencing and Negotiating

chaffinch sepia photo

Post 15 of 30

–Developing Influencing and Negotiating Abilities


While The Brain is completely fried from a full on day of learning about influencing and negotiating, I actually have a bit more breathing space because after 13 hours (including the boot-camp) am finally putting my feet up. So today was really interesting and I am sharing a couple of learning points, although there is a sneaky suspicion that most of the insights are not yet on a conscious level and will raise their ‘heureka’ heads later.

The training day

was run by Robin (myconsultants) focusing on various aspects of influencing and negotiating, role play, reflections (Well, what computer would you buy?). We learned about some theories, and psychological concepts: aka dipped our toes into terminology.

Got me at get go

Anyhow, a couple of my ‘sins’ became apparent within the first half an hour or so of the day. My most often used question is ‘why’ … because I want to understand not because I want to judge. However, ‘why’ is a value question and it tends to close a conversation down. I remember having read about this before and in family relationships make sure not to use it. I need to be much more vigilant not using it in work context.

‘What’ is a behaviour question which opens conversations…So first lesson right there and then.

You know this was one of these things my mom would label as: ‘knowing and knowing are two different things’ thing. (Now this just was too much thingmahingy!) I ‘knew’ that ‘why’ is not a helpful question and it can make people defensive…do I still use it all the time? Sure! So sometimes relearning within a different context makes the difference between ‘knowing and knowing’.


I forget. I sometimes simply forget to ask people how their weekend was, how they enjoyed the concert, if the new movie was good, or I forget to say good morning …. …. … it’s not that I am not interested. It’s just that something else overwrote. Maybe I saw you, and noticed you looked tired and got side-tracked by wondering if it is appropriate to ask if you are well. Or you have a new pair of earrings. Or there is this really nice pen on your desk.


There is–so we learned today–a model: FORE


Maybe I can learn this like a poem and remember more often to ask?

Is this an ADHD thing?

Now one of the things I try to figure out is what is my character and what is The Brain on ‘auto-pilot’. When someone tells a story I can relate to, I happily share similar or related experiences. And mostly this is creating common ground. So far so good. This is building rapport.

However! The Brain becomes very enthusiastic about certain topics and stages a total take-over: telling stories! And I mean Telling Stories! Light the fireplace! Bring out the hot chocolate! Get a blanket! Make yourself comfy kind of stories. So. Now there is a challenge.

Don’t have a better story! After all it is about listening and creating space.

This is a challenge indeed. Good thing is The Brain loves challenges! I can trick it into accepting said challenge. Let’s see how much I do not have a better story!*

The Main Sin

or insight if you wish

Create space for people to communicate.** Do not make assumptions. You may have seen  an earlier post about creating space for students when I worked in Student Development. Now, while I always created this space for students, I don’t consciously do this for colleagues, because my expectations and assumptions are different. I am not in that caring role. And particularly when it comes to the behated emails I do not leave space for that.

But what about the duty of care for one another?

One colleague and I have an agreement she gets ‘space-holder’ emails from me that usually do not make much sense, but she knows I am popping by later or call her and elaborate. These space-holders are just a memory help. My mentor fields emails, I am pretty sure he hates them darn things as much as I do, so to make sure he responds, the subject lines usually look something like:

  • 2 questions, yes/no only
  • quick meeting request
  • 3 points: 1 question, 2 FYI

And I bullet point the email. In these two instances we have managed to create space for one another.

So the quest to analyse communication with colleagues, and identify where I ought to create that space is on!


*So far most of the successful ADHD strategies for me relate to tricking The Brain into redefining situations. This is particularly helpful with the impaired executive function issues. Where translation from I know what to do to actually doing it does not happen.

**Here is a serious ADHD issue, most people speak in perceived slow motion. It is physically painful!

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