Abstract: Can teachers and students use creative approaches incorporating metaphorical ways of writing and the drawing of rich pictures to enrich teaching-learning in university classes? We have found that incorporating these into learning journals can be a way of balancing the technicism that so often dominates technologically oriented disciplines.
In this paper we will briefly discuss the idea of metaphors and rich pictures as part of learning journals in university business computing classes. We will then give examples of how two mature age students used these concepts in their education.
For example, the rich picture below (figure 1) was drawn by a first year student at the end of the foundation unit (Information Systems I - MIS1100) to help her understand the various elements of the unit and how she made sense of it to achieve her goals. She used an Apple Macintosh computer for the first time for 20 minutes to create this simple rich picture.
The rich picture can have an IN (or input), and area filled with relevant pictures of important areas, an ON GOING (or output), a WASTE (or wastage from the system) and REFLECTIONS (or feedback to the system). This student sees that she entered the course as a small bird and went on from the course as a powerful eagle. The learning journal provided a form of feedback in the unit and stress was the waste in the system. The icons in the rich picture are metaphors used for creating rapport and for communicating the nature of shared and unshared experiences (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980).
He is very concerned that educators be aware of their moral responsibilities to use language in a way which helps students become part of communities and cultural and natural ecologies. For example, in critiquing the work of a computing expert, he asserts that: "The metaphor of an 'Information Age', which is the most recent expression of liberal ideology, serves to hide the moral/spiritual nature of the ecological crisis." (1993, p.93). Bowers understands that the metaphors used in education are of crucial importance - do they point to technicism or to something else? He sees current computing education as dominated by a nineteenth century mechanistic root metaphor.
Bowers (1987) understands that a much more morally responsible way as placing teaching and learning within an historical and linguistic context that assists the process of cultural-communicative competence which involves bio-regional and ecological sensitivity and self-reflexivity. In his book, The Promise of Theory, (1984), he explored in detail the way in which classroom socialisation and cultural/communicative competence are interwoven. Teachers largely control whether the students gain the language to be able to reflect on life on culture in a mature way within a community and a social and cultural and bioregional ecology. If the students do not gain this cultural-communicative competence they continue to unknowingly live by the exhausted and inappropriate assumptions from previous times.
"I have given up a section of my life for the last 12 weeks to MIS1100. I have given my time, energy, frustrations, tears and laughter, a minute fraction of my life's travel and I have been rewarded twenty fold. Regardless of the mark on a piece of paper at the conclusion of this unit, I have passed. I have gained knowledge and confidence in the area of computers. When I look back I was panicked in the early part of the course, not in the lectures, but in the unfamiliar areas of word processing, setting up files, all the everyday things I employ others to do. I had a string of adventures, and I have become friendly with the systems maintenance people across two campuses. My job is to make people feel good by filling up their otherwise boring evenings getting me out of scrapes. I wish to heap accolades on these people, and suggest if all students had some real interaction with them the knowledge would flow, and the campus would be a much friendlier place to work and study in. I no longer inwardly panic, I take pride in getting into a mess and fighting my way out, and if there are people to help me along the way, how much richer is the experience." (learning journal, 12 November, 1993).A mature age student working as the head of an accounting section, Susan was a hard-working person with a very positive view of life. She took up the challenge of university study balancing this with a rich family and community life in addition to her responsible career position. As she commented in an interview: "I have come from a stage of panic to non-panic - this is a big step for me. It is not really competent yet but non-panic is a real gain. I'm not panicked by computing and computers anymore." (interview, 23 October, 1993). In this quote and the quote above, note the metaphors of "stage of panic to non-panic"; "a big step"; "a minute fraction of my life's travel"; "a string of adventures"; "heap accolades"; "I take pride in getting in a mess and fighting my way out"; and "knowledge would flow". Let us look at the rich picture Susan created at the end of the unit.
The laboratory group which Susan was a part developed a lively and friendly community camaraderie giving each other nicknames - hers was the self-styled nickname "the little old dinosaur". We see how she sees herself entering the course as a slow moving turtle with "lack of confidence" and, although time was seen as waste from the system, she emerges as a strong dinosaur. This is a curious metaphor and could easily been seen in a negative light. However, in Susan's case I think it represents a humorous way of expressing strength and growth in the context of a rich learning community.
....So I used this metaphor about going down the yellow brick road and the castle, it' a bit corny but it seemed to be what he [the lecturer] wanted so I let go, I started to do a lot of creative writing and a lot of landscapes and people coming in and so it's turned into a novella...I found it good to do although doing it over 14 weeks it becomes harder to bring in new characters and it gets a bit corny but I actually have enjoyed doing it that way....If people are allowed that sort of scope then you can write it as a novel, you can put into any sort of format you want. It's something I wasn't aware of. Because as I said you have to do structured things in other subjects I only sort of moved the margins a bit so that slowly I filled them out. (interview, October 21, 1993)The above metaphors are legion. Nigel's creative talents found expression in this way of educating. His positive approach to life is reflected in a comment made in one of his learning journals about Robert Frost's poem which heads this paper: "This paper is about not being one of the sheep in life". That said, he stated that with his background in systems installation much of the benefit of the unit was in the actual technical knowledge gained. He saw himself as "a pirate in the high seas of IT and picking the gems" (interview, October 21, 1993). This is mirrored in his rich picture (figure 3 below).
By incorporating metaphorical language and rich pictures in learning journals in university business computing, we have observed considerable numbers of students and teachers express themselves in ways that are unusual for this discipline. In this process we suggest that their has been a kind of educational wholeness, a blossoming towards balanced attitudes, a balancing of the technical with the artistic. In our more poetic moments, we see this as hints of human splendour within an otherwise instrumentally rational and technocratic milieu.
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|Please cite as: Campbell Williams, M. and Dobson, P. (1995). Using metaphors and rich pictures in university education. In Summers, L. (Ed), A Focus on Learning, p36-41. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Edith Cowan University, February 1995. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1995/campbell-williams.html|