Productive failure, drawing and erasing – exploring visual literacies #twalk #possibilities

Walk cards with proposition statements and visual trigger

Walk cards with proposition statements and visual trigger

More walking, talking and Twalking (just about)

I co-led a Twalk today on the subject of visual literacies as part of Sheffield Hallam University’s Learning & Teaching Conference with my colleague Helen Rodger. It was billed simply as a learning walk and it was only this morning that I put it out there as a #twalk. Strictly speaking it wasn’t as I had not published the route, questions/topics, or engaged other walking groups in other places (hence, the defining qualities of a Twalk are revealed by what I didn’t do). But this morning I did put it out there because I realised that there was interest beyond SHU once I had tweeted that I was leading a walk.

The conference theme of conversation and learning experience was very apt for exploring the walking methodology. The nature of conversational learning is central to the ideas of learning walk, Twalks and tweetchats as spaces for learning.

The idea for the visual literacies focus for the walk today was a response to my own daily involvement with Instagram as a dimension of my leisure walking and my personal observation that the act of having to take a photograph each day has changed my visual acuity. Looking deeply is a practiced habit. I thought this would feature in this walk, but when it came to submitting the proposal I decided I wanted to see if this came out of conversation rather than by pre-populating the conversation, so to speak. As far as I am aware, it didn’t! Another day for that then…

Normally I hand out a walking ‘map’ to guide my learning walks and Twalks: itinerary, questions, hashtags, etc. This time I used laminated cards (see above). One-sided A6 postcard-sized with a title, a proposition statement, and an image. Each card was used to scaffold 10 minutes of the walk. I had produced 4 sets, and there were 10 of us. The cards felt good and were practical. Originated in PowerPoint, I was able to segue from in-class intro slide for backgrounding the theme and ‘problem’ to projecting the first ‘card’. This meant I could

  1. explain how the cards should be used to scaffold conversation on the walk,
  2. switch off the projector,
  3. ask people to look at the very same card in their hand, and
  4. invite them to walk and talk.

All in one breath! That worked very well. I liked everything about the card-based approach especially the provocative image and proposition statement. I could have included a single Twalk hashtag – but that was an afterthought today.

It’s the third Twalk I have done in a conference setting and I think it is particularly appropriate. You really notice the change in tone as you bring a group into a conversational mode and, I believe, people feel very comfortable with walking and talking. In my intro I said, “You know, it should feel just like it does when you go out for a Sunday walk on Stanedge Edge with friends and family.” (Most Sheffield people do that ‘promenade’ in the Peak District every now and then because it is so near and very accessible).

From walk propositions to Twalk questions

Deciding to twalk-ify my walk created one problem. The proposition statements were too detailed for a Twalk, though provocative for a walk. You can see them on the cards above. Prior to the session I opened a Google Doc, framed them as questions, and included the relevant hashtags. During the walk i kept the document open and pasted the questions periodically. I began with one or two lead-up posts as you normally do in a tweetchat:

  • “#twalk #visualliteracies #possibilities join us in person or on twitter for 4 questions between 1 and 2pm #SHULT18”
  1. #twalk #visualliteracies #possibilities Q1 How do you visualise information in your teaching? #SHULT18
  2. #twalk #visualliteracies #possibilities photograph an object and explain how it will help us to save the world! #SHULT18
  3. #twalk #visualliteracies #possibilities Q2 How do you visualise metaphor in your teaching? #SHULT18
  4. #twalk #visualliteracies #possibilities Q3 How does visualisation promote confidence and fluency amongst your students? #SHULT18
  5. #twalk #visualliteracies #possibilities Q4 How does visualisation promote creative and critical thinking amongst your students? #SHULT18

Note I had 4 questions but threw in an extra challenge activity mid-way to photograph an object. One of the walkers asked me to photograph the train station in response to this which I did for her. She didn’t have a smart device with her or didn’t want to use it if she did.

As I noted at the University of Liverpool last week in my virtual visit, most photographing and tweeting were done by a dedicated person and today it was the same. I was not only doing most of the facilitating at our ‘pause points’ but doing the photographing and tweeting too. On another day, I would look to have a ‘scribe role’ looking after the social media as we did at the mini-Twalk at #socmedhe17.

Health and safety was an issue for me: walking down several flights of stairs, going through a revolving door, and crossing one of Sheffield city centre’s busiest roads twice – all while tweeting in the shiny sun… not sensible Andrew… Be warned!

Visual literacies

The topic was great. Very fitting for this conference and the staff group. I have previously published a continuum framework on the use of images and their relation to playful learning (Middleton, 2015). Today we explored some of this beginning with image as conveyor of information, then looking at the use of visual metaphor. But we also considered the visual in the context of creative and critical thinking and in relation to the ubiquity of the screen, mobile technology, and social media.

In the walk we talked about the various ways in which graphic media are incorporated in teaching and learning: photographs, infographics, CAD, web pages, diagrams, drawing, flow charts, concept maps, and visual elements such as tables within texts. We discussed how images give us access to situations and objects that are inaccessible due to cost, location and size. That brought us to a discussion about simulation. We talked about visual representation of complexity or organisational structures and we talked about the ubiquity of screens and the habitual use of photographs in social media.

We discussed how images lend themselves to divergent thinking and open-ended discourse and how divergent thinking is not always desirable in some disciplines where exacting processes and convergent thinking are needed.

I keep finding myself talking about the learning value of productive failure, uncertainty, and complexity in my thinking about studio-based learning. This makes me think about the ephemeral and, in terms of graphics, ideas such as sketching, drafting and drawing, and erasing. We discussed the value of ambiguity as a context for conceptual thinking, but the malleability of the visual – as in redrawing and reshaping – is also important if we are thinking about the versatility of the visual in comparison to written text.


We started, albeit briefly, in a classroom and we returned to the classroom for a 5 minute plenary discussion. This is new for me – normally learning walks have begun in a specific non-formal location and ended at whatever the 5th landmark turned out to be. But I have to say, I liked it today. Getting back to the class with enough time to wrap up was useful. And indeed, nobody was in a rush to get out of the room so the conversation ran over 5 or 10 minutes because I think everyone bonded on the walk and didn’t really want it to end!


I had to cancel a walk a couple of weeks ago. It was a twilight walk for senior managers that conflicted with England’s first game in the World Cup. It didn’t feel right to compete. Tonight we have the semi-final, but plenty of time to get home first.

So I am still thinking about rescheduling the twilight walk, but I think it will have to be next academic year.

On 3rd October I am meant to be leading the #GlobalTwalk – an induction-focused Twalk on the D3BC concept. It’s time for me to finalise plans, maps, etc for that. So stay posted!


Middleton, A. (2015). Room for imagining: The playful mind. Creative Academic Magazine, ‘Exploring Play in Education’, June 2015.

About Andrew Middleton

NTF, PFHEA, committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.
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