If you don't have time to read all this, here's what you need to know...
- Explain the production process of an evidence-based essay with the help of this bold boardgame style visual.
- Get the paper version to use as a straight-forward poster for display
- get the fabric version to use as a poster, scarf, bandana, wrap for items (including bottles), etc.
- While it won't come mounted on a board, you can get it as a game: the fabric version PLUS 20 'chance' style cards (10 themed on Research and Analysis, 10 on Writing and Review), 6 coloured pencil top erasers to use as tokens, 1 dice and a set of rules.
- and there are also pdf versions of a handout!
If you want to know more details, here's the story:
In the beginning...
In 2015 I decided to collect the strategies I used in teaching first year university students how to write basic evidence-based essays and put them into a workbook called Writing Essays by Pictures. I started a Kickstarter campaign (have a look here) that was successfully funded and allowed me produce 120 risographed copies of that book and distribute them all over the world. This book was well received and people started asking how they could get copies for their students, friends and family. As I didn't really have that many spares, I decided to 'remake' the book with an independent publisher (incidentally one of my Kickstarter backers) and a new and improved version came out in September 2016. It had 16 more pages, particularly adding more space for students to write in, turning it into the workbook it was always meant to be.
However, one of the things I never really addressed in either version of the book was an overview of the process of researching, drafting, re-researching and rewriting an essay. Not because I wasn't aware of it, but because it didn't quite fit into the format of a book. A book is linear, but this process is not only linear (in a way), but also circular. A page, or even a spread, didn't give me the right format to show this properly. Rather than explaining it with too many words, I decided to leave it out.
And then, I came across a visual way of explaining this that did work: the boardgame.
The Boardgame Blueprint - Visualising Process
After this realisation I started to work on what could be considered the next chapter of Writing Essays by Pictures (although it is quite independent of it): The Boardgame Blueprint. As the name suggests it is designed in the style of a simple boardgame using the image of the iceberg to show the visible work over the waterline (drafts and finished essay) as well as the work that goes on (or should go on) out of sight of the official outcome (research, structuring, more research, restructuring, even more research, etc) - and how this process is cyclical in a way.
This is something my students seem to struggle with - they barely make it round once! They also often don't understand the relationship of the sessions we do in class, guided tasks (homework) and the independent work of researching and writing the actual essay. So I made a version of this boardgame visual showing sessions in class, tasks and independent work - and through colour coding showed how this was more scaffolded at the beginning of the course, for example.
I also made a version of just the process as a handout for my second year students to remind them of the stuff I taught them the year before.
Some of my students really loved it, two even mentioning it as part of the module feedback process as really helpful. So I thought: let's do this properly and share it on a larger scale!
I defined my designs and got some help to turn them into a digital format, and we came up with this mock up (so far printed on paper):
(Please note that this is not quite the finished thing. There might be tweaks in the design - and the colour will almost certainly come out lighter, the printer we used for this prototype is always on the dark side.)
The Gaming Aspect
Initially I only wanted this as a visual, but since it looks like a boardgame I thought it might be nice if it could actually be played like a boardgame as well. So I have also designed 'Chance' style cards (availble as part of the 'Game' reward options and printed by moo.com as rounded corner business cards), points and rules - and I want to use the time this campaign is running to have some people test-play it to see if anything needs to be tweaked (or significantly changed).
A Boardgame without a board?
While this is modelled on a boardgame, I decided not to produce it on a board. There are a number of reasons for that, the most obvious is technical: mounting prints on a board that folds is quite tricky if done to a high standard and would have been very time consuming for me (not to mention included numerous false starts); having somebody else do it (or print it onto board directly) would have been quite expensive. The other main reason not to go for a board is that it becomes more difficult to transport - you end up with weird dimensions and something that is heavier, which makes posting it more expensive. Just leaving it as a print on paper, however, doesn't quite work either. While that is perfect to display, transportation is potentially awkward and needs a cardboard tube to protect it. When playing on it there are potential problems with the paper wanting to roll back up into transportation mode.
What I am trying to do instead is to have it printed on fabric. While this is more expensive than printing on paper, it has a lot of advantages:
- it is more durable than a paper version.
- it can still be displayed as a poster, particularly on a pinboard.
- if displayed on a pinboard, you can also use pins to add information to it, for example what session you are dealing with this week, what stage students should be up to at this moment, or flags with deadlines for drafts on them. (Doing that on a poster or board would leave marks and couldn't be done more than once.)
- transport becomes really easy, as it can be folded and packed and it is lightweight.
- printing it on fabric allows you to think of it as a furoshiki - a Japanese Wrapping Cloth.
Going off on a tangent - a furo-what?
'Furoshiki' is the name the Japanese give to square pieces of fabric, often elaborately designed, used in a number of ways, but mainly to wrap things, either to carry or to give as gifts. There are a number of different ways of wrapping specific types of items (like a book or a bottle) just using folds and knots. For me it's a way of reminding me that this artefact is not just a poster made of fabric, or a non-board boardgame, it also makes me consider other ways in which it could be used: it could be a scarf or bandana, a tablecloth, it could transform into a bag or a dustjacket.
I have previously produced an academically themed furoshiki and given it to workshop participants instead of a conference bag.
Delegates really appreciated receiving this special keepsake, which also kept their conference pack together and could double up as a poster reminding them of one of the key theories discussed on the day.
Having designed a similar artefact before, I know a company that can produce these digital fabric prints at a high standard on cotton lawn fabric (a very lightweight cotton) with overlocked edges - and they are local to where I live, so I could pop round if there are any problems.
Wrapping it up
So, two years on from my intial Kickstarter project, I am back on here to share this next one. I've decided to do it this way because
- the printing of the fabric gets cheaper the more you order;
- I want to raise some money to pay Richard, who helped me turn my ideas from the back of an envelope and roughly drawn initial handout into a digital (and thus printable) format;
- ...but mainly I hope that you will find this helpful in your own practice, whether as a teacher who teaches or supports essay writing, or as a student, who struggles with it.
What I want to produce:
The game'board' design, digitally printed on cotton lawn fabric, with overlocked edges. Size approximately 70cm x 70cm. Officially this is dry clean only, but I have washed a similar one on a cold wash and it came out absolutely fine. And they are really easy to iron if you are worried about it creasing too much. As you can see, we are pretty far already in the development of this, although the design might be tweaked slightly, depending on feedback from people who test it for me. (The colours at the moment are likely to be much lighter in the finished artefact.)
While I like the fabric format, in case people would prefer a paper poster, I am including one reward that is just that: a paper printout. The size will be approximately 70cm x 70 cm. (Again, I am expecting the colours to be slightly lighter than they seem to be at the moment.)
!Please note that if you want to display either of these as a poster, the design comes at a 45 degree angle, so will take up more wall space than 70cm if you don't want the iceberg to be significantly leaning!
An A4 handout version of the game, slightly simplified and in black and white. This is what I currently use for workshops and what I will probably make available to everybody via the Tactile Academia website at some point. As a backer, you will get this as a pdf version sent straight to your inbox.
An A4 template version of the game. Here we only keep the iceberg and empty fields on the way from the centre to the outside finish. This will be exclusive to backers, again as a pdf, so that you can customise the concept for your own context.
The Game. While you can play this as is with just a dice and some tokens, I have also designed this to work as a slightly more involved game. Here the green and purple fields can work in the way of 'Chance' in games like Monopoly. For those of you who want the game reward I will include 20 game cards - 10 themed on Research and Analysis, 10 themed on Writing and Review (e.g. fall foul of Plagiarism, USB stick failure, or improve your work by attending library workshops on referencing), these will be business card sized with rounded corners (probably printed by moo.com, who make beautiful cards). I will also include a dice and 6 colourful pencil eraser tops that you can use as tokens, plus some simple rules. And I'll put it in a box, too, so you can keep it all together.
How you could use it.
As a student
- you could review it to remind yourself of the circular way of essay production and how many steps are hidden from sight.
- you could use it as a template for the planning of your work and to keep track of where you are.
As a teacher
- you could use it to help your students visualise the process of essay writing.
- you could display the poster to give students something to read while they are waiting in the corridor outside of your office. Who knows, something might stick ;-)
- you could give out the handout (an electronic pdf version included in all the rewards) to your students so that they have a reminder on hand when doing the work. Also great colouring-in potential in case you want to colour code something, such as sessions you are teaching or deadlines.
- you could use the handout template (an electronic pdf version included in all rewards £15+, and exclusive to Kickstarter backers) to customise the journey either for individual students or a whole class, potentially including taught sessions and deadlines.
- you could use the handout template to customise the journey of a non-writing process - as long as it is a process it should work!
- you could use it to get student groups to play the game while you are busy doing tutorials with some of them.
As neither students nor teacher, you might still want this because
- you could go for the 'Twin Set' reward to start your own collection of academic furoshiki. (I might make some more in the future...)
- you could give it as a gift to a beginning student - or use it to wrap another gift.
- you could use it as a scarf, bandana or table cloth because you like the colour and design, rather than the message.
Thank you for your interest in this project. I hope that you support it and enjoy the game!
Risks and challenges
I think there is very little risk to this project: I already have a digital draft of this, which is backed up, so I will only be in trouble if there is a multiple file corruption.
I haven't yet tried the game mechanics, but this is something I want to test in the next months, so the rules I have initally drawn up might change, as might the game cards, but neither of this will make a big change to the concept.
The only thing that might happen is that my line drawings are too intricate for the fabric printing process. Having had work produced by the same company already, I don't think this will be a problem, however, if it turns out that I am not happy with the printed fabric versions of the game, I will send everybody who ordered one an additional complimentary paper version.
- (26 days)