This research project was funded by the Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication and the project leader was Dr Mark Pope, Teaching Fellow, Change Makers.

Introduction

This research entails a correspondence-based project where student pairs from different modules send each other weekly postcards detailing their experience of their own module to gain insights and share a student perspective on the various learning activities.

This project builds on prior staff-led research.

Aims

This project aims to privilege the student voice and perspective of an ongoing educational activity at Imperial. The students will be exploring their own perspectives of participating in three Change Makers modules (Global Village: Innovation Challenge, Global Village: Visual Arts Challenge and Creative Futures). These modules are entirely aligned with the values of the learning and teaching strategy and are at the forefront of educational innovation. As such, the learning experiences are often very different to what the students expect or are able to describe in conventional terms.

This project will support students in developing their own views on these activities and communicating their own perspectives in a novel and creative form.

Students will work in correspondence pairs to develop an ongoing dialogue about their classroom experience across the 20 weeks.

Each pair will exchange a weekly postcard detailing some aspect of their learning experience that week. The student pairs will be able to develop their own priorities in terms of communication (for example, they might choose to have a different theme for each weekly postcard, or they might choose to develop some metrics or themes for description that will be added to each week).

The use of postcards encourages both visual and written communication, and the students will be supported in the production of the postcards.

Each postcard will be electronically captured (photographed) before posting, and the received postcards will then be retained for the final dissemination event, as well as captured for online display and communication with future students about the nature of these modules.

This correspondence style project is inspired by the ‘Dear Data’ project conducted by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec, where the two participants shared different aspects of their lives over 52 weeks.

The analogue nature of the project makes it entirely accessible to any student who is interested in participating and ensures that the project will be low impact in terms of time and commitment alongside core studies. The visual component can be drawn, diagramed, photographic or of another convention that the students select.

In addition to developing a student voice and perspective that we can use to better communicate the nature of the modules to future students, the project will produce an interesting physical product.

The student partners completing the project will also experience beneficial additional learning and experiential reflection that will enhance their engagement with the modules and provide additional pedagogical value. The value of reflection has long been recognised in educational literature, from John Dewey to David Kolb – however, the mode of expressing the reflections is usually limited to writtenprose (see for example, Ashley Denton’s 2018 study on ‘The Use of a Reflective Learning Journal’ inPsychology, Learning and Teaching).

Here, through postcards, student partners will be using a multimodal form of communication, allowing the representation of multiple layers of meaning in a succinct format. Ultimately, this should help ensure the project meets its aims to provide richer, more reflective and more personally creative communication materials of real value and interest to students.

As this project has the potential to produce an interesting and highly tangible final product, there may be scope for secondary analysis of the project for research purposes or presentation at a conference.

Method

Our staff partner will introduce the nature and medium (postcards) of the project and support the student pairs in developing their own ‘postcard grammar’ or way of using the postcards to exchange their week-to-week perspectives of their own modules.

As an example, the Dear Data project will be used as an exemplar for this type of communication, and will provide some visual examples to help inspire the students’ own ideas. Once each pair has developed their communication exchange strategy or postcard grammar, the staff partner will take a step back but be on hand to offer ongoing support.

It is anticipated that once the project has commenced, the student pairs will be relatively self-sufficient in their production and sharing of the postcards. The staff partner will have some ideas and resources to assist in the production of the postcards, but will also be glad to adopt any ideas that the students may have with regards this.

For example, if the students choose to use photographs for the visual element, we can assist with cameras, photo-printing or the use of polaroid images. We will also provide stamps and other materials as required.

In case of any postcards going astray in the postal system, all postcards will be photographed front and back prior to posting, and our office will be used as the postal address for privacy reasons. Students will be able to come to collect their received postcards each week.

As the students will end up with the post card record of their student pair (the postcards that they have received) by the end of the project, their final task will be to create two final summary postcards, one for their own experience and one that summarises what they think has been important to their student pair. This will produce additional insights.

Ethical approval for this work was granted by EERP, Imperial College.

Outputs

The initial output of this project two sets of postcard correspondence. As the postcards are currently under lockdown and inaccessible, a summary has been produced featuring some of the previously captured images of the postcards. The postcards will eventually be photographed and assembled into a book prior to further analysis being conducted during this coming academic year.

Note on the impact of Covid 19

The global pandemic interrupted this piece of research during the latter stages of postcard production. Fifteen weeks of postcard exchange were completed successfully before campus shut down and the students returned to their homes for safety.

The physical postcards received prior to lockdown are currently inaccessible and locked in an office on campus. Some photographs of the postcards are accessible. Some postcards (posted prior to and during early lockdown) are currently not accounted for and may exist with unsorted post on campus. Following lockdown, the students were invited to produce final postcards to conclude the project, which they posted and have been included in the project.

The outputs were initially designed to be shared at a public seminar and viewing event. The researchers would have given brief introductions to the work and to their own experiences and the production of the postcards. The postcards would then have been displayed/performed at a reception following the seminar with the audience able to interact with the researchers and the outputs.

The postcards are of such high quality, that we have decided to collate them into a printed book as well as disseminating them online. In the meantime, please review some examples from the postcard collection in the following review.