A Creative-visual and Intercultural-related Workshop at UCLan

In this post, I will share my experience of giving an intercultural-related workshop by using creative visual methods at the University of Central Lancashire.

(Fun facts: the two flowers are Lancashire roses.)

Following the IALIC conference in Beijing, UCLan invited Kelly and me to give a 3 hours workshop for their students. The main purpose of the workshop was to provoke students’ thinking about intercultural communication through creative-visual activities. The students were a mixture of diverse cultures, languages, ages and levels (e.g UG and PG). Below, I add some pictures of them participating in the workshop.

We carried out three creative-visual activities: ‘blind’-portrait, a map of intercultural journey, and film-postcard. The students responded to these activities very positively. We were also continuously stunned and inspired by their creativity and meaning-making ability. Their course leader and lecturer gave us feedback saying that they were happy to see the students who were usually quiet in the class was active in the workshop. Below, I share with you some of the paintings created by these students – as insightful individuals:

The intra-personal- and interpersonal- interconnectivity in intercultural communication – by Y.Y.Y

The ever-changing ‘weather’ in intercultural communication – by Q.S.

My main reflections of the experience this time are:

a) The Audience:
It is not a easy work to always keep ‘who is the audience?’ in mind when we plan for a talk/seminar/class. I am practising it and still find it quite challenging. I was informed that the students will be a mixture of nationalities with different levels of English language skills. Then, I thought our use of visual methods will be suitable for the audience as the visuals could assist their language expressions. It also turns out that the students were very happy with the visual activities.

However, wearing my own research hat, it is my first-time experience to present/use my study with a group of audience most of whom are not from academic-backgrounds. Although we only use 30 minutes to present our studies in the 3 hours workshop, many of the students still seemed to be more interested in the activities than a dry talk. A student also suggested me to do the activities with them first. When they found the activities interesting and had got more involved with the topic, we could then give a short presentation in the end – serving as a summary, a theoretical debriefing or an extended stimulation.

b) From Methodology to Pedagogy:
It was a really interesting experience for me to convert my research methods into a practical teaching method in the classroom. It required me to shift my research-oriented thinking to be educational-oriented. When I used creative visuals as a research method, my focus was on maximising the insights that they could enable from my participants. Nevertheless, when I used them as a teaching method, I had to hold myself back in the aspect of desiring and attempting to dig out interesting answers from the students. On the contrary, I tried to focus on maximising the educational potential (e.g. to provoke thinking, understanding, and reflection) that the activities could enable for the students. With this shift of moving from thinking as a researcher (i.e. What can I learn from the data?) to thinking as a teacher (i.e. What can the students learn from the activities?), I changed the way how I asked questions in the activities. I also added more prompts for the students to think/reflect rather than to enable them to give a satisfactory answer right away.



  • Susan Dawson

    Thank you for sharing this Min – I always find your reflections fascinating and this is no exception. I think I also recognise the ‘blind portraits’ in action in the photos!
    I think one of the great things about visual creative methods is that they can be both methodology and pedagogy. Maybe I still tend to come at things from a teacher point of view, and immediately think how I might use something in the classroom – so I used your blind portrait idea with some teenagers. I used a photo voice activity (similar to the one we did in our first year class with Kirsty) to get my EAP students thinking about different ways of organising ideas into paragraphs, and drawing pictures of how they felt about giving presentations and sharing that with each other as a speaking activity. None of them were to ‘collect data’ – although I learnt a lot about how my students think etc. from all of them. I suppose the key, as you say, is audience, purpose, and priorities – is it student learning or data collection? And as you also say, it’s not always easy (for me at least) to make the shift from one to the other, although personally I find the move from teacher to researcher the harder direction to move in.

    • Zhuomin Huang

      Thanks for sharing your interesting experience of moving the other way around, Susan. I agree it is somehow harder to shift our hats from a teacher to a research in many aspects. When I used these methods in the classroom, I felt the results these methods enables became more open-ended and implicit within the students, which also did not provide direct answers to any ‘research questions’. In this sense, it was a bit more difficult for me to manage the learning outcomes in the class than in a research context. P.S. You are right about ‘blind-portraits’ in the photos! 😉

  • Richard Fay

    Many thanks for this Min. I was particularly struck by your comments about remembering your audience (and not getting stuck thinking about what you want to say/do). This reminds of the distinction between the stage of thesis-writing which is very much writerly (when the researcher is thinking hard about what they want to say) as compared to the (usually later stage) which needs to be readerly (when the researcher is thinking what the reader, i.e. Examiner, needs to read). I was also struck by the research methodology/pedagogy relationship and thinking about the difficulty some students have in seeing Needs Analysis (e.g. In their dissertations) as an exercise in course materials development rather than an exercise in Research (with a capital R).

    • Zhuomin Huang

      Very interesting comments, Richard. I find these shifts of modes of thinking (e.g. the teacher/presenter/writer-centred <—> the audience-centred; and the research-oriented <—> the education/practice-oriented) very inspiring and useful.

    • Susan Dawson

      Thanks for the (timely) reminder that writing a thesis is not about what I want to say (however cathartic that might be), but about what the examiner needs to know. Think I’m still at stage one …