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Festival of Creative Learning 2019

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Medieval Abbeys Under Siege: A Trip to the Scottish Borders

May 23, 2019 - 14:21

By Hannah Purtymun

Hannah is a native of Los Alamos, New Mexico. She graduated with dual bachelor’s degrees in Economics and International Studies from Colorado State University in the Spring of 2018. She is currently pursuing an MSc in Medieval History at the University of Edinburgh where she is also President of the Late Antique and Medieval Postgraduate Society.

Group photograph

The Festival of Creative Learning trip “Medieval Abbeys Under Siege” which was organised by the Late Antique and Medieval Postgraduate Society at the University of Edinburgh took students on a trip into history.

Visiting four different abbeys along the border between Scotland and England, students were able to learn about and envision a period of history ranging from the foundation of the abbeys in the early 12th century to their declining or changing usage in the 17th century.

Abbeys provided an important function in medieval society, housing monks and nuns of religious orders while also providing care, refuge and sometimes even education to those in need. Not only were these abbeys places of life and religious practice, they also currently act as the historic final resting places of Sir Walter Scott and (possibly) the heart of Robert the Bruce.

The medieval abbeys that rest on the Scottish border experienced hundreds of years of unrest as they were the perfect target for attacks during the Wars of Independence and the Protestant Reformation. The abbeys of Dryburgh, Jedburgh, Kelso and Melrose are maintained by Historic Environment Scotland and provide the perfect medium for hands-on and creative learning.

Abbey Photo

The Life of an Event

May 23, 2019 - 10:20

A book event in 8 steps, featuring ‘The Life of a Book: with 404 Ink and Chris McQueer

Written by Kirsten Knight

Much in the way that a book can require months of writing and production to produce a living, breathing novel, events are also a painstaking process which mercilessly drain morale and resources. I’m kidding, I promise. Putting an event together is an absolute joy. The aim of the enterprise is to gather a group of like-minded (in this case, lovely and bookish) people together, and entertain, inform, perhaps even enthral them. In this wee piece, I will outline the process of creating an event using the framework of our recent event ‘The Life of a Book’. I hope that it entertains, informs, and perhaps even enthrals you.

The Life of a Book Event - people at the event

The Idea

Who is your audience and what do they want to see? These are the most important considerations to make and will ensure that anyone who comes along will have a grand old time. For ‘The Life of a Book’, we wanted to give our members the chance to hear from real-life industry professionals, giving an accessible overview of the process of bringing a book to life. From there, the decision to have a publisher and their author was a no-brainer, to specifically have 404 Ink and Chris McQueer even more so. Choose the people who are at the heart of the concept you want to put on stage.

Find Some Funding

There is so much funding available for events run by very determined people! Especially if you are a university society, like us. Knowing that this event was going to have more costs than our usual ‘pens and paper for the writing workshop’, we scoured the Student’s Association website for a fund to suit us. We found out that our event could be part of the Festival of Creative Learning, and through our enthusiasm and a clear plan, we secured enough funding to bring our wonderful speakers to the stage. Thank you FCL! (A shout out to your sponsors never hurts).

The Life of a Book - Panel

Contacting Speakers

You are the politely worded email, the politely worded email is you. In our case, we were contacting experts who we had a fairly distant connection with, so professionalism and enthusiasm were key. In much the same vein as emailing to ask for a job or internship: find out the name of the person you are emailing, be clear and give them as much information as possible (the date, the event outline, what you will pay them, etc.), show a genuine interest in what they do (you obviously have one!), and tell them a bit about your organisation and what your members will get from the event. If people know that you would value their contribution, they will be a whole lot more likely to say yes.


This one can be tricky. The best way to go about things is to figure out exactly what you want and find somewhere that caters for your requirements. We needed a stage, four microphones, and seating for around 80 people. A bit of Googling showed that the Pleasance Cabaret Bar had all of those things, so there we were! It’s good to be looking into the venue at least 2 months before the event, just to save yourself running around town like a headless chicken and eventually trying to squeeze 60 people into the corner of St. Andrews Brewing Co. Not that we would know.


Pester your designer friend to make you a fancy banner for your event and you are off! Alternatively, pay a professional designer, or wap out Paint and give it a go yourself. We shared ‘The Life of a Book’ fairly relentlessly through our newsletter, Facebook and Twitter, increasing the frequency of the posts in the lead up to the event to drum up a bit of excitement. Getting wee bios and pictures from your speakers/performers is a great way to put some variety in what you’re posting, and always remember to tag them – they might even share the post so you can reach a wider audience!


Make sure to keep your speakers/performers updated in the run up to your event – the last thing you want is them panicking, because then you’ll panic, and then everyone will be panicking and no one wants that. We made sure to send over updates on the content of the event, venue confirmations, information about invoicing us and any other relevant details. Keeping it cheery is always a good shout – you’re excited about the event and they should know that!

Running the Event

This is (hopefully) the easy bit. You’ve already planned it, after all! Get to the venue ridiculously early because twiddling your thumbs is always better than sprinting around like mad people (again, not that we would know). Welcome your speakers, check in with them, get them a glass of water… or perhaps a double gin and tonic, depending on the evening. Then nervously wait for that ‘2 minutes before start time’ rush of attendees, and you are good to go! At ‘The Life of a Book’, this was the point where the committee was able to sit back, relax, and watch our wonderful speakers do their thing.

The Aftermath

Be sure to thank everyone! Thank your speakers, your fellow organisers, the attendees, the bar staff, the tech guy, the person who accidentally wandered in and quickly ran back out – no person shall go unthanked! And gather feedback; a concise Google form does wonders for letting you know what your audience enjoyed, and what they’d like to see. Follow up on all the last wee things with your speakers and venue – i.e. payment, and more thank yous! Then get prepping for your next event, because chances are it’s only a couple of weeks away and you need to get sprinting (we would know).

The Life of a Book - Committee Group Photo

“No unicorn books… please!”: Illustration in Publishing in review

May 9, 2019 - 16:30

Written by Doe Charles, Illustrated by George Williams

Too often illustrators and designers are neglected in the publishing world. How often do you hear about the author of a novel, or even the house? It’s pretty often; now compare this to how often you hear about the illustrators – it’s vastly different. In an attempt to quash this difference (albeit on a small scale because we are but one society) PublishED decided to host a panel event on illustration in publishing, an event affectionately now titled: No Unicorn Books… Please. Some pretty amazing speakers came to talk to us, from a range of different backgrounds, and they shed light on various aspects of the industry. What’s that? You couldn’t make it, I hear? Fortunately, we’ve got you covered. Phewph, that was a close call.

Rather than outline the whole evening – which would take a while: the talk was an hour and a half, guys… – instead I’ve grouped things together into general themes/topics, each alongside an illustration of one of our guest speakers by the lovely George Williams. How topical of us. So without further ado, and with far less rambling, here goes:

Catriona Cox

What is the industry like?

As with everything in publishing, the general consensus was that it’s pretty hard to define what the industry is. But, this is a good thing – it means there’s loads of room to find your own area, and there’s more room to work in a way that might suit you better. Arguably, the industry is less focused on the process itself, rather the end product, something that was highlighted by each of the speakers. As Alan Windram said, it’s about ‘getting that reaction from children’: an ethos that can be carried across the different age groups and sectors.

The main takeaway about the industry: collaboration is everything, you will be working with other people all the time. Learn to collaborate.

Vivian French

What are the interactions between illustrator and writer?

Another fickle one to answer, as there isn’t a straightforward response. Augusta and Eilidh noting their own experiences which differed greatly. In short, a lot depends on the publishing house: each has their own process. Lucy also noted that cost is a big factor in this – some houses and writers are able to interact more with the illustrator, others aren’t because it is too expensive. The main takeaway here was that no two experiences you have will be the same.

Lucy Juckes

The journey of a book.

There are a lot of variations to this, and things will shift around, and flow back into each other, but, here is one flowchart of one ‘journey of a book’

Dummy –> Spreads –> Colour Palette –> Final Spreads

Please bear in mind, this is highly subject to change, and a more accurate representation would involve about 80 more arrows… at least.

Alan Windram


If you take only one thing away from this article, and I really hope that you take away more, take away this: credit your illustrators. Without illustrators, you get some pretty boring books, especially for kids, so start crediting them please and thank you. Also, in the process, let’s work on getting the press to stop cutting out information about illustrators – yes, we know they do it…

There is a great hashtag across social media, and it’s well worth checking out. So go and empower yourself, and more illustrators. Pictures really do mean business.

Eilidh Muldoon

What lends itself to illustration?

This is more a question of what doesn’t lend itself to illustration. The general themes were: avoid rhyming like the plague – it’s a faff, and it doesn’t translate well; and, no unicorn books – stop consistently using what is popular, and think outside the box. Another useful tip from Augusta was to use your surroundings for inspiration.

Augusta Kirkwood

Hot top tips:

‘Publishers want texts that knock you sideways’ – Lucy Juckes

For illustrators, writers and publishers:

  • 12 double page spreads of story
  • Limit of 700 words
  • Start at the beginning, head to the end, and then do the middle
  • Send at least 3 texts to show you’re not a one off
  • Send independently as either a writer OR an illustrator

There we have it, a brief summary of the event, and an attempt to outline an incredibly vast industry. We have lots more talks coming up, including one detailing more closely the process of writing a book, from conception through to production. It’s well worth checking out our Facebook page or Twitter for more information.


May 2, 2019 - 10:34

Art and Science on a Postcard at the 2019 Festival of Creative Learning

by Dr Jilly Hope

Here at InterSci, we love bringing different perspectives together. And what could be more different than art and science?

Quite a lot it turns out. These two seemingly polarised cultures have some uncanny similarities. They both require unyielding creativity and curiosity, for example. It is similarities like this, as well as key differences, that make the collision of these two worlds so exciting to explore. So we thought we would.

Last year, we brought artists and scientists together in a workshop co-created by ASCUS Art & Science, an Edinburgh based non-profit organisation dedicated to bridging the gap between art and science. Inside the ASCUS lab, microscopes lined the worktops and conical flasks sat on the shelves; you’d have never guessed that we were actually in an art studio. In our workshop, artists and scientists paired up to collaboratively create pieces of art on postcards based on the scientist’s research and the artists creative medium. It was so successful, we decided to do it all again.

Creative Collaboration at Art Sci Event

This year, our workshop brought together scientists in cancer biology, microscopy, analytical chemistry, laser technology and astrophysics and artists in printmaking, jewellery making, writing, textile and sculpture.

I participated in the workshop as a member of the InterSci team because I wanted to explore my PhD project from a different angle, having no background in art. The artist I worked with is in Fine Art and is interested in thinking about our place in the universe and how things come into being. Together, we created two postcards based on my research looking at the changes in DNA that cause epilepsy and autism. We decided to create one postcard focussed on epilepsy and the other one autism. We based these postcards on the emotions an individual may feel if they have epilepsy or autism: fear and loneliness respectively. Through this workshop, I learned that art can be very therapeutic and it made me think about my work in interesting ways that I never would have considered. Exploring the boundary between art and science, for me, was a worthwhile thing to do. I would highly recommend this process to other scientists who want to step out of their comfort zone, do something a bit different and see their work from a different perspective.

Creative Collaboration at Art Sci Event

Reading the Newspaper like a Mathematician

April 15, 2019 - 16:03

FCL 2019

Imogen I. Morris

“It’s time to let the secret out: Mathematics is not primarily a matter of plugging numbers into formulas and performing rote computations. It is a way of thinking and questioning that may be unfamiliar to many of us, but is available to almost all of us.”

From ‘A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper’ by John Allen Paulos  The Daily News, A mathematician read a newspaper!

Newspapers and online articles are filled with an attractive, addictive jumble of gossip, headlines, statistics, quotes, tips, life-changing news and celebrities. How do we sort this mess into fact, fiction, or, as I suspect forms the majority, somewhat meaningful half-truths? Making this task harder, is our innate wishful-thinking. As humans, we find it hard to look past our emotions and biases to evaluate articles and arguments in a rational objective way. This is where maths, particularly logic and statistics, can help us. And contrary to common belief, this doesn’t mean we need big calculations, abstraction from reality or number-crunching. Rather, we need to creatively imagine alternative scenarios to encourage a healthy skepticism; we need to puzzle-out mind-boggling statistical paradoxes and we need to use rational-thinking to find a clear path through an otherwise misleading and overcrowded junk-heap of ‘facts’.

 In our workshop for the Festival of Creative Learning 2019, we applied a few simple concepts to analyse a selection of print articles and online articles on current news topics. One of the most useful concepts was the difference between good arguments, which are merely those which are reasonable, and valid arguments, which are those that if you believe the assumptions, you have to believe the conclusion. We are more likely to believe an argument is valid if we believe the assumptions and the conclusion. Can you spot which of the following arguments is valid? 

  1. Tidying our houses means that our possessions are easy to find. Therefore tidying our houses makes us feel better.
  2. Cannibalism is a personal and acceptable choice although it causes harm to people. Therefore it is okay to inflict harm on people.

In the workshop, attendees chose to analyse a varied range of article topics from various sources. The body language of Shamima Begum, the health benefits of pomegranates, a rise in Chinese applications to Scottish universities, antibiotic resistance and a politically-charged article on the SNP investment plan are just a few. Almost universally, we found that the articles appealed to unnamed ‘experts’ for facts, unnamed ‘studies’ for statistics and unnamed ‘critics’ for opinions. Emotionally-charged language such as ‘back-of-a-fag-packet’ or ‘massive ego’ abounded and so did unexplained sciencey-buzzwords e.g. ‘phytochemicals’. The domains of statistics were unspecified. Apparently ‘a quarter of Chinese applications are to Scottish universities’. Is that likely? We believe the author meant ‘out of those to UK universities’. Arguments were never out of a logic textbook, but reconstructing implicit premises and reasoning, we found many that were reasonable. However, particularly the politically charged articles tended to be one-sided, presenting mostly arguments from one side.

Why not have a go at analysing a news article yourself? Here are some tips for conducting a logical and statistics-savvy investigation. Compare your analysis with the way you normally read an article. Do you find that you see flaws in statements that you would usually take on trust?

  • Try to determine the thesis of the article. What are the author’s conclusions? What is being argued for and against?
  • Is this intended to be one person’s opinion or as an objective news article? Has it been clearly labelled as opinion or fact?
  • Search out emotive language. Is it helpful in understanding the feelings of other people, or is it exaggerated and manipulative?
  • Look for counterexamples to every conclusion drawn. If they are outlandish, the conclusion is probably reasonable.
  • Work out the underlying reasoning behind arguments. Once you have found what you think is the general structure, think again whether the argument is reasonable.
  • Look for some reference for every fact (e.g. to a study, expert, book) and evaluate the quality of the reference.
  • Do the statistics make sense? Is the value expected or surprising? Sometimes a news article can present the statistic in different ways to make it seem big or small. For example, they could say ‘1000 people in the UK get disease X every year’ which seems like a lot. Or they could say ‘the chances of anyone getting disease X are 0.0015%’ which seems unbelievably small. But in fact, they are equivalent statements! So think of alternative presentations of the statistic before you decide it is large or small.
  • Are there any implicit assumptions, including stereotypes or assumptions based on our culture?
  • Is the article balanced and fair? Would anyone feel offended by what the article says?
  • Is the headline relatively accurate compared to the actual content of the article?
  • If there are any photographs, visuals and graphs, do they contradict the content of the article? Are they emotive or do they mislead? Have they been accurately labelled and explained?

If you would like to explore this topic further, here are some of the resources I found inspiring when putting this workshop together.


‘A mathematician reads the newspaper’ by John Allen Paulos

‘Logic’ by Wilfred Hodges


Some interesting resources on using argument technology to analyse an ethical debate:

Collections of spurious correllations:

Guide to logical fallacies with examples of politicians making those fallacies:

BBC podcast on spotting statistical fallacies in the news and understanding statistics in our lives:

Looking Back at The Dissection of Medical Dramas

April 9, 2019 - 09:24

The Dissection of Medical Dramas was a fun and interactive workshop that used role-play and popular television medical dramas, such as Grey’s Anatomy, Chicago MED and Scrubs to identify and discuss ethical issues that arise in the medical context. It aimed to enhance the audience’s understanding of the issues.

Dissection of Medical Dramas Poster

The workshop covered various issues, such as:

  • The four governing principles in medical ethics
  • Consent
    • Explicit and implied consent
    • Consent and refusal of consent
    • Informed and valid consent
  • Rights of refusal in relation to competent adult patients
  • Rights of refusal in relation to women in late pregnancy
    • Limits to autonomy in pregnant women
  • Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR) Orders
  • Advance Directives/Decisions
  • Children
    • Mature Minors and Gillick Competency
    • Parental refusal
    • Best Interests
  • Mental Capacity
Dissection of Medical Dramas Slide

The audience members were very engaged during the discussion of these matters and raised some extremely relevant and interesting questions, allowing for reflection and consideration of some controversial, topical and emotive issues. Most audience members participated and we had some illuminating discussions as a result of the questions raised by the audience members. This was extremely rewarding and added to the overall value of the experience.

Photo of attendees at Dissection of Medical Dramas

The feedback we received from the audience on our event was very positive. All of the audience members who provided feedback said that they would recommend the event to others and that they learnt something new. Almost all of them said that they found the event to be very useful. Upon reflection of the event, we felt like we would need to better manage our time should we run our event again in the future as we were unable to cover the role-play segment on the day. We had an unexpected, yet welcome, enthusiastic and highly engaged audience that raised several questions and issues after each clip. It was more important to have audience engagement than cover everything we had planned, however, in future we aim to better prepare for this so the audience gets to experience both segments, while ensuring that they can still be actively engaged.

Furthermore, the event might have benefited from a different room as the lighting, which would not turn off, reduced the quality of the images and video clips we showed.  The room boasted terrific views of the coast line and the Firth of Forth, but unfortunately the window blinds had to be drawn.  Another feature that could be considered should we run the event in the future would be acquiring a smaller, more intimate space as this one was quite big, making the number of audience members look smaller.  Some people mentioned that the room itself was not the easiest to find and possibly a more easily accessible room would increase numbers.

This experience has nevertheless been amazing and certainly highly rewarding. The event has had a great impact as shown by the positive feedback we received and we have also been approached by members of staff to discuss our event with the purpose of sharing it with others.

Zahra Jaffer

LLC Blethers

April 1, 2019 - 16:09
Image of Veronica Vivi, this year's LLC Blethers Lead OrganiserVeronica Vivi is this year’s LLC Blethers Lead Organiser

LLC Blethers has once again been part of the Festival of Creative Learning and it has been a success! Looking back at the months of organising and planning that preceded the event, I can say that LLC Blethers was a team effort and that the hard work paid off. 

LLC Blethers is an evening of a series of lightning talks, where presenters support their presentation with 20 slides each lasting 20 seconds. The format requires fast talking, confident presentation skills, good timing and the ability to engage with the public while delivering more or less complex and academic topics. The series of talks is then evaluated by a jury formed by Edinburgh University staff and/or members who will decide the overall best presentation and will also award different prizes for other categories (such as ‘best use of the format’, ‘most creative’, and so on). This year we had the pleasure to be joined by Michelle Keown, Alan Binnie, Miriam Gamble and Niki Holzapfel. 

The event took place at The Counting House as we always strive to organise the event at an informal venue to promote students and staff to mingle in a context outside university which fosters communication and interpersonal relations. 

The plethora of presenters who joined us this year and which were selected through a Call for Presentations earlier in January were from the Postgraduate community in LLC and they all did a superb job at crafting and presenting their talks. We had the chance to display a variety of interests and academic research, from table-top role-playing games about climate change, to a feminist overview on banning the Disney princesses, to how to make a movie on a micro-budget. 

No less importantly, the event would not have been the same without the support of local businesses who kindly offered prizes and vouchers for the winning presentations. 

You can find more about LLC Blethers at

People, Soils, Microbes

March 21, 2019 - 17:35

by John Moriarty, 2019 Festival of Creative Learning Event Reporter

On Monday (18th February 2019), I headed over to the ASCUS Lab in Edinburgh for a workshop called ‘People, Soils, Microbes: the Evolution of Inhabited Landscapes’. Despite my background being in physics, I like to get out of that comfort zone whenever I can. That this event was part of the Festival of Creative Learning and was a hands-on workshop rather than a presentation was a major bonus!

ASCUS is a non-profit that tries to bring the arts and sciences together and to democratise science. The lab this session took place in was created so that anyone can have access to a basic wet lab with donated equipment from across Edinburgh.

The session was split into two parts. The first, delivered by Dr. Nikos Kourampas, was about geoarchaeology – applying geology to archaeological questions. The presence of humans and other creatures in an environment causes change in that environment, and those changes can be preserved in the ground – the geologic record. All sorts of things can be preserved, from bones and shells to tools and ash.

A sample of this sediment is like a slideshow of all the things that happened there, with more recent events at the top and older events at the bottom. If we can identify things preserved at different times, we can discover the story of a place and understand how people, other animals, plants or environmental forces have shaped the environment and in turn been shaped by it.

Perhaps the most fascinating example is bats in tropical caves. When bats roost in a cave, the CO2 that they exhale gradually dissolves the nearby rock due to its slight acidity. Over long enough time, the bats inadvertently ‘dig up’ through the rock, making more space for them to roost.

One way to study these samples is under a microscope. By injecting a sample with resin so it holds its shape and then slicing it into very thin (30 micrometres thick, about the same as a human hair) the samples become see-through. In addition to ‘normal’ microscopy, this lets us use techniques like polarised light microscopy, which makes features of the sample’s microstructure visible to the human eye.

This was our first activity of the session – to take a sample (or two, or more) and examine it under the microscopes and try and create a story to explain how the features we saw in it were laid down over time. Our experts were on hand to help with identifying specific things like bone or shell, but the idea was to stimulate creative thinking to tell the story of the places our samples were from.

For example, my sample had a central region in it that was much darker in colour and contained several fragments of bone (which by the way appears as a bright rainbow under polarised light), which I reasoned was a sign that this was an area that early humans had come to at some point in the past, lived there for a time leaving behind ash from their fires and bones from their prey or themselves, and then moved on as part of their hunter-gatherer existence.

I’ve no idea whether this is true, I’d need to know much more about the sample and others nearby to say that, but it gave me an appreciation for how geoarchaeologists use this kind of approach to investigate the ancient past before recorded history.

After we finished with our samples, we were treated to another short talk, this time by Dr. Jiří Jirout on the subject of microbes and microbiology. This was a subject we’d touched on earlier: once something has settled underground it doesn’t just stay there but rather keeps changing as microbes interact with it, much as it did above ground with humans, other animals and plants.

Microbes are amazing. They were the earliest life forms to arise on Earth and are the most numerous too – there are more microbes in a handful of soil than there are humans on Earth. If we could lay out all the microbes in the world out in a line, they’d stretch beyond the edge of the observable universe!

On top of that, most of those microbes are unknown to us. Only about 1% of microbes have been identified. From those we have identified though, we know that they serve an incredibly important function as the last step in a long chain of processes that break down organic detritus. Without microbes we’d be knee-deep in… well maybe better not to think about it.

Some of them are also incredibly tough, although if we’re giving out prizes the winner probably has to be deinococcus radiodurans.

deinococcus radiodurans

This little critter doesn’t care about acid, cold, vaccuum, starvation or – especially impressively – enough radiation to kill a human 1,000 times over! Maybe you’ve heard of tardigrades (a.k.a. water bears)? They’re kind of famous for being radiation-proof, but a dose that would kill even them doesn’t seem to phase our little friend up there. If you’ve heard of extremophiles – life forms that can thrive in extreme environments – deinococcus radiodurans is a polyextremophile – it can happily live in a mix of them.Wait, how does something evolve radiation resistance like that?

After the second presentation, we moved on to our other practical activity: making Windogradsky columns – a sort of microbial zoo! To do this we took a plastic flask, filled about a third with a pond mud and raw egg (to give the microbes some food), a third with soil (more and different microbes) and a third with pond water (more microbes and nutrients).

This forms an enclosed microbial ecosystem that over time will change as the different microbes thrive in different environments – air-breathing (aerobic) ones at the top and airless (anaerobic) at the bottom. After a long time these columns can become incredibly colourful and intricate as the microbes multiply. A great example of this is Bacteriopolis– an art installation at the San Francisco Exploratorium that is a giant Winogradsky column.

Bacteriopolis– an art installation at the San Francisco Exploratorium that is a giant Winogradsky column.Image credit: Rhododendrites (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The pacing of the workshop was great, the talks were entertaining and detailed without ever seeming to drag and left plenty of time for the practical sessions where we could explore the concepts in more detail. The creative aspect of telling a story through the samples we examined was especially interesting to me, as it bears striking similarity to the first steps in a scientific investigation – you make your initial observations and form a working theory that you revise as more information comes to light. Being able to bring home my own little Winogradsky column was a nice touch too.

a microbe colonyMy very own microbe colony! In a year or so it should be thriving in technicolour!

I found the combination of subjects in this workshop fascinating – soil forming the link between geoarchaeology and microbiology isn’t something I’d have thought of before, but like microbes soil is a near-constant presence beneath our feet. We are inextricably linked with the soil as we change it and it in turn changes us, and as we change things above ground, invisible hosts of microbes continue to shape and be shaped by the environment beneath it, gradually creating a record in the Earth that will persist for many millennia into the future.

References, Notes and Information for the Curious

1. Soil Analysis Support System for Archaeology – If you want to know more about geoarchaeological methods.

2. Geoarchaeology – Using Earth Sciences to Understand the Archaeological Record – Historic England’s guide to the subject.

Teaching Writing for the Web to Students

March 18, 2019 - 16:01
(c) Mihaela Bodlovic 2019 Festival of Creative Learning Over the Festival of Creative Learning, I ran a workshop to teach Writing for the Web to students and had them demonstrate their newfound skills through a collaborative writing exercise. Why Writing for the Web

We read online differently than we do in print, and because of this, we need to structure our content differently to accommodate for this.  

I first did Writing for the Web training as part of a web editing internship while I was an undergraduate, and it’s what led me to the role I’m in today with the University Website & Communications team. 

My hope with the session was to teach students a skill they wouldn’t be learning at university, but that could help them if they were looking to pursue a writing or communications-based career. 

Session format

The session was split in two halves – training in how to write for the web, followed by a collaborative writing exercise.

The collaborative writing exercise used a technique called pair writing, which got students to work together to write a web page about their student experience.

I was especially keen to teach pair writing to students as it introduces them to a more collaborative way of working that will be important in their careers.

When you write essays for university, your name (or identification number in the case of anonymous marking) is attached to your work and it must be in your own words. 

In the working world, though, you may be writing on behalf of a company where authorship isn’t stressed, and writing together can facilitate a shared sense of understanding and ownership of content in an organisation.

Creative effective content quickly with pair writing (blog post)

Pair writing results

I was absolutely impressed with the webpages the students wrote. 

After a short amount of training, the pages demonstrated web writing best practice, including: 

  • beginning with effective summary sentences
  • using lists with keywords pushed to the left-hand side
  • breaking up content into subheadings and short paragraphs
  • ending pages with calls to action

It was also great to hear the discussions going on between pairs as they worked together, including hearing how helpful they felt it was to have a second pair of eyes look at their work.

How it can help students going forward

On my feedback form, I asked the students how they would use these lessons going forward as I wanted to know more about what made them come to the session.

Answers included:

  • working with digital content in their career
  • making their personal blogs easier to read for their audiences 
  • making online job applications and cover letters more concise

There is no doubt learning about how to write for the web will help in all of these cases, so I’m happy I had the opportunity to deliver this training to students in person.

Want to try it for yourself?

Our official Writing for the Web course (called Effective Digital Content) is open to all University of Edinburgh staff and students through the Learn VLE.

Effective Digital Content course

Author bio

Lauren Tormey is a content developer in the University’s Website & Communications team. She leads on content projects including website builds and audits, while also providing editorial support for the University’s web publishing community. 

Walking with James Hutton through Time

March 7, 2019 - 18:25

2019 Festival of Creative Learning Event

© Mihaela Bodlovic 2019 Festival of Creative Learning

James Hutton (1726-1797) is one of Edinburgh’s great thinkers, and his insights have changed forever how we think about the world. Our walks in the 2019 Festival of Creative Learning followed in Hutton’s footsteps, through the streets that he called home, and allowed us to reflect on the passing of time: the time since Hutton lived here, the time that it has taken Edinburgh’s landscape to form, and the time we spend in Edinburgh.

© Mihaela Bodlovic 2019 Festival of Creative Learning

We visited the site of James Hutton’s house at St John’s Hill, where he spent the last three decades of his life, and the place where he died in 1797. The exact spot is now a memorial garden, created by the University of Edinburgh and other organisations. The garden includes several boulders that illustrate Hutton’s ideas about the natural processes that have shaped Scotland. There is a boulder of conglomerate, containing rounded pebbles that could have come from a beach or river today, but are actually 400 million years old. And a boulder of metamorphic rock from Glen Tilt, with cross-cutting veins of granite, demonstrating Hutton’s understanding that granite is an igneous rock, formed by cooling of liquid magma deep underground. You can find out more about the Hutton Memorial Garden here.

© Mihaela Bodlovic 2019 Festival of Creative Learning

Hutton’s great insight into how the world works, drawn from decades of thought and investigations around Scotland, was that the planet is shaped by slow, natural processes that operate on unimaginable timescales. And that these processes have not stopped: “the chain of physical events connected with the present state of things, sees great changes that have been made, and foresees a different state that must follow in time, from the continued operation of that which actually is in nature…”. Standing on the grass below Salisbury Crags, next to one of the boulders that has plunged down the steep slope in the last few years, we can glimpse the slow evolution of Edinburgh’s landscape and a “different state that must follow in time”. Edinburgh may have a big impact on us, but our individual impact on this landscape and this city is pretty insignificant – these crumbling hills will still be here long after we’ve gone!

© Mihaela Bodlovic 2019 Festival of Creative Learning

Angus Miller, Centre for Open Learning

Listening with Your Eyes Interactive Drama Workshop

February 28, 2019 - 16:14

Being playful and experiencing joy are part of being human, but often not what comes to mind when living with dementia. ‘Listening with Your Eyes’, a workshop delivered by Nik Howden from Vamos Theatre Company, which ran as part of the Festival of Creative Learning 2019, challenged this mindset.

Festival of Creative Learning Flyers
© Mihaela Bodlovic 2019 Festival of Creative Learning

Through a series of exercises, carried out in a reflective and whimsical way, we learnt to pay attention to the way that communication and connection with another person depends on so much more than words, and to think about how that feels: the sense of loneliness and boredom that comes when another person avoids eye contact; how the touch of only a fingertip can build a relationship of trust as we are being guided along an unfamiliar path; how so much meaning is held in the tone of our voice.

As a group we were invited to let down our guard and open ourselves up to one another, as without this we cannot be playful. We tuned into each other’s movements and danced with strangers. This touched something in us which, in the busyness of life, can remain dormant: the silent dancing provoked spontaneous applause. It was simple and yet it was profound because each of us knows that we have a fundamental human need to connect with others and to be held in relationship.

For people with dementia this can be so difficult in our hypercognitive culture which puts such as high value on words.  But we are so much more than our words. This workshop helped us to slow down, to notice, and to be present. In the UK there are 850,000 people living with dementia, 39% of whom live in care homes, places that many people fear they will spend their final years. The artist Camille Pissarro said ‘Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing’. Care homes are humble places yet beauty can be found there if we care to look.

One workshop participant said that the thing she was going to do after the workshop was go and see her grandmother – she felt more able to do this. One of the best things about the workshop was the range of people it attracted. There were people from care homes, student nurses, medical students – all of whom already work with people with dementia. What was especially encouraging were those who came along who don’t work with people living with dementia but know them in their communities and their families and recognise the value of holding them in relationship, living well together.

In the absence of a cure for dementia, or indeed old age, it is compassionate communities which foster hope. (Re) discovering the precious art of ‘listening with your eyes’ is a step towards establishing compassionate communities and seeing beauty in humble places.

Dr Julie Watson

Edinburgh Centre for Research on the Experience of Dementia/Nursing Studies

Should we stay or should we go? A Tale of Five Referendums

February 25, 2019 - 15:30

Dr Coree Brown Swan 

Teaching Fellow, Centre for Open Learning 

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre on Constitutional Change 

The past four decades of UK and Scottish politics can be analysed with reference to five referendums – two determining the UK’s place in Europe, with three more determining Scotland’s (and in 1979 and 1997 Wales’) place within the United Kingdom. With further referendums, whether on EU membership or on Scottish independence considered likely, it seems appropriate to consider these referendums, placing them in historical context and considering common threads and arguments. We do so with reference to materials from the Scottish Political Archive, a wonderful online resource. 

In this Festival of Creative Learning session, we examined materials from each of these referendums, analysing them for common themes and arguments, and looking at how the campaign strategies and messages have changed over time. These observations contributed to a broader debate and discussion of political campaigning and strategy, and the role of referendums in making big constitutional decisions. 

Referendum One: EEC Membership 

In 1975, voters were asked ‘Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?’, which the UK joined only 2 years earlier. The campaigns focused on economic issues, including food prices, trade relationships, and jobs, parliamentary sovereignty, and national identity.


A brochure from the campaign to remain within the EEC argued that ‘Membership of the Common Market also imposes new rights and duties on Britain, but does not deprive us of our national identity. To say that membership could force Britain to eat Euro-bread or drink Euro-beer is nonsense’.


Those who campaigned against the EEC challenged these claims, asking ‘Is Great Britain to be a Great Nation, or merely a province of the EEC?’ They warned of the loss of sovereignty and barriers to trade with Commonwealth partners. Participants pointed out that many of the arguments would be familiar to keen observers of the 2016 Brexit debate, which points to the ongoing relevance of the European question in UK politics. 

Referendum Two: Devolution 

Just four years later, voters in Scotland and Wales were faced with another choice – on the introduction of devolved assemblies. The Scottish Assembly would have competences over education, environment, health, home affairs, legal matters, and social services, many policy areas that fell under the domain of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Proponents of devolution argued an assembly would improve Scottish representation and improve policy as well as see off the threat posed by the SNP.


In contrast, opponents warned of the dangers of a Scottish Assembly – of conflict, indecision, taxation, loss of power at Westminster, and the potential break-up of Britain.

The parties themselves were divided – with the SNP debating whether the assembly would serve as an obstacle or a stepping stone to their goal of independence. A majority voted in favour of devolution but the result fell short of the additional threshold introduced. 

Referendum Three: Devolution 

Although the 1979 referendum was unsuccessful, the 1980s saw civil society mobilization around issues of devolution. This included the Claim of Right and Campaign for a Scottish Assembly. In 1997, with the return of Labour to power at Westminster, referendums were held in Scotland and Wales on devolution. In Scotland, the campaign mobilised around Scotland Forward, bringing together Labour, the SNP, and the Liberal Democrats, with only the Conservatives opposing.


Opponents warned of increased taxation and the risk to the Union, by encouraging conflict between Edinburgh and London. Workshop participants noted the similarity in the arguments in the two devolution debates and in the independence referendum. 

Referendum Four: Scottish Independence 

In 2014, voters in Scotland were asked ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ The campaigns coalesced around Yes Scotland and Better Together. The debate was characterised by competing knowledge claims – currency, the economics of an independent Scotland, and EU membership. The campaign in favour of remaining within the UK focused its arguments on the benefits of union and the uncertainty of independence.

Yes Scotland emphasised a message of hope, for the present day and for future generations.

We also went beyond print media to analyse the Better Together video targeted at women who were undecided. In 2014, a majority of voters in Scotland opted to remain within the UK but Scottish independence remains a live issue. 

Referendum Five: EU Membership 

The Brexit referendum debate featured a plurality of voices and messages and competing knowledge claims about budgetary contributions, jobs, migration, and policy choices.


Participants engaged with the printed materials but also discussed reports of micro-targeting of campaigns and what impact this may have had on perceptions. They also contrasted the efficacy of the Better Together campaign in 2014 with that of the remain campaign in 2016, concluding that the 2014 messaging was more effective. 

Referendum Mania? 

Ultimately, participants seemed to identify the challenges of referendums, which reduce very complex issues to a binary choice, but concluded that they were necessary in certain areas. Participants raised the prospect of further referendums – a second referendum on independence, brought about by the ‘material change of circumstances’ outlined in the SNP’s 2016 manifesto or a People’s Vote, a vote on the final Brexit deal and brainstormed what messages and arguments they would employ if they were leading these campaigns. 

Dr Coree Brown Swan is a teaching fellow at the Centre for Open Learning and a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre on Constitutional Change. She tweets about all things politics at @Coree_Brown.

The Legal History of Medieval Fife

February 15, 2019 - 14:38

Book tickets for this event here.

This event will take you back in time to Medieval Fife, where we will be visiting several locations of historical legal interest. Central to this visit to Fife will be the case of the Culdees of St Serf’s Inch, Loch Leven v. Sir Robert de Beaune (Lochore), which took place sometime between 1124 and 1130.

It was last year that the idea for this excursion came into existence. While taking the course “Lords and Vassals in Medieval Scotland,” some of the reading material involved land grants made by the Scottish King in Fife. While looking at maps and photos, one could not help but notice that Fife is quite close to Edinburgh. It was thus that the plan came into being to organize a trip to have a look at some of the locations that had been read about in manuscripts. Sadly, this planned excursion never took place due to insufficient time for the necessary organisation. Therefore, we are very happy to have the excursion take place during this year’s Festival of Creative Learning.

Fife may very well have been the first earldom to have been held feudally by the kings of Scots after the accession of David I in 1124. Anglo-French knights who followed David to Scotland settled in Fife, and Sir Robert de Beaune was probably one of these. The grants of land David made to these knights were paid for by their providing mounted and armoured service to the king. This came to be the essence of feudalism in Scotland, and the basis for Scottish land law as it developed in the subsequent centuries.

Photo of Ruined Castle

The case central to our visit – the Culdees of St Serf’s Inch, Loch Leven v.Sir Robert de Beaune (Lochore) (1124×1130) – concerns land held by monks, or “culdees” (keledei, servants of God), who had their monastery on an island in Loch Leven. Besides the island, the monks also held some land on the lochside, including Kirkness, granted to them by the Scots king and queen Macbeth and Gruoch in the mid-eleventh century. To the south of Kirnkess is Loch Ore. On the isolated mound near the loch’s north-east one can still see standing a ruinous castle (above). This was probably the caput(head place) of the knight’s fee of Lochore that King David had granted to Sir Robert de Beaune. The dispute with the culdees concerned a fourth, or a quarter, of the lands of Kirkness.  Now Sir Robert was laying claim to some of it, to the culdees’ great indignation; but we can only speculate as to why Sir Robert thought he was entitled to act in this way. Looking at the site may give us some clues.

Other interesting historical locations and artefacts that we shall be having a look at are the Cross Macduff, where something of a sanctuary was offered to killers related to the Earl of Fife, and Markinch, the ancient capital of the Earls.

Photo of Cross MacduffCross Macduff

‘Hand-Made Archives’ at School of Scottish Studies Archives

February 4, 2019 - 13:46

Monday 18 February 09:45-16:00

Our event focuses on the traditional hand-craft of making “cleekit gloves”. 

Photo of cleekit gloves

You may be asking, what on earth are cleekit gloves? That was the very question I asked when I found a collection of letters at The School of Scottish Studies Archives (SSSA), last year. 

The collection consists of 15 letters (ref. Subject box DII: Costume) and are from members of the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute (SWRI) to the editor of Scottish Home and Country Magazine. They are in response to an article, from January 1959, seeking information on this craft. 

Scottish Home and Country was the official magazine for the SWRI and as well as connecting members and events, it used to focus on crafts, patterns, recipes and local areas of Scotland. 

We were unsure as to why our archives had come to have the letters, but to my own craft-loving eyes they were a treasure indeed. 

Along with the letters was a copy of the original article which described the craft and had a call to action for more information. It appears that cleekit gloves was acraft predominately practiced by male farm workers in 19th century Scotland, made by way of a hand-made flat hook with a tiny head, which created the dense, but elastic fabric. This craft was seen as distinct from knitting or crochet. In the letters the respondents, from all over Scotland, talked of the craft being handed on by male members of the family. 

Despite a small resurgence in interest in cleeking, thanks to the response to that article, it is something that has now been relegated to the mists of crafts past. We aim to rectify that a little this Creative Learning Week!  

At the ‘Hand-Made Archives’ event I will be delivering a talk on this collection of letters; you will be able to explore the archives yourself to find evidence of craft in our sound, photographic, video and manuscript collections; and in the afternoon we will have a cleeking workshop, led by Dr Alison Mayne. You do not have to have any craft experience to take part, this is all about having a go.

Oral transmission and handing on was such an important part of passing on the cleeking tradition and by taking part in this special day at SSSA, you will be able to give this collection of paper material three dimensions and be able to engage with our archive collections in a very tangible way indeed.

Our event is free, but booking is essential. The event will be available to book through the Festival of Creative Learning Eventbrite page from Monday 21 January. This event is currently fully booked, but please add your name to the waiting list on the Eventbrite page via the waiting list button. If a place becomes available we will contact you, but this will also help us gauge interest in running the event again. 

All craft materials, refreshments and lunch will be provided. 

If you have any questions please contact, Louise Scollay on 0131 650 4163 or email

Louise Scollay, Archives and Library Assistant

The Art of Secret Messages – Practical, Analogue Information Security

February 1, 2019 - 12:33
00. Chrystal MacMillan Building. Meeting Room 2.

Book now for The Art of Secret Messages.

Return of Information Security

            Information Security is back at the Festival of Creative Learning! After last year’s well received, if sparsely attended sessions on the parallels between Security and Medieval Siege warfare, I have pulled together something a little bit different and a lot more interactive.

            Self-congratulation aside, your first year at an event like FCL is always going to be a learning experience and mine was no different. Pushing yourself to try new concepts and ideas within your field, those side lines that often don’t get the attention they deserve, is a great opportunity. 

Breaking free from habit is always tricky. I always want to deliver a lecture. It’s what I know and I get pretty good feedback on my delivery and how I structure my content. That’s why the Festival is a great opportunity for me to push myself into doing something far more collaborative and a bit fun.

The Development Process 

            As part of Information Security Awareness week last year I ran a lecture on the history of encryption. What it is and how we got to the standards and types of encryption we have today. Feedback for it was pretty decent and it managed to get solid turnouts throughout the week, so it seemed an obvious starting point. I could even re-use a number of the ciphers and codes that I had explored during my research. 

            The History of Encryption allowed me to use a prop in the form of a scytal, an ancient means of jumbling letters in a message so the enemy could not read it. Props seemed to go down well. Something people could touch. So I started looking at other physical props that I could include and was coming up short until one evening at home when my wife was laughing at a post in Frock Flicks. In the picture, all of the ladies were holding fans….

            Some research later I found a breakdown of an entire secret language, communicated by how ladies held, flapped, opened and closed their fans: Fanology.

            So now I had a handful of ciphers, code cylinders and fans. All I needed was a challenge to set my participants.

The Challenge

            What better challenge could there be but for groups to design their own secret message process, using what they had seen at the session? It was simple, or so I thought.

            How would I determine success? Should there be a prize for the winners? Will people be up for the challenge?

For those answers, you’ll just have to catch up with me after the Festival. 

The Art of Secret Messages is running on Wednesday 20thand Friday 22ndof February from 13:00 in the Chrystal MacMillan Building, Meeting Room 2. Book your tickets here.

David Creighton-Offord is a Senior Information Security Consultant at the University of Edinburgh who spends his off time delving into history, writing poetry and playing table top board and role play games.

Festival of Creative Learning 2019 – Adult Colouring Book Workshop

January 28, 2019 - 16:33

Help us to create an Adult Colouring Book and do some colouring too by coming to our Festival of Creative Learning workshop.

Festival of Creative Learning


For the illustration we wanted to use software for the workshop that was relatively straightforward to use and that anyone could access, with no downloading or installing required. Surprisingly the choices are limited for purely online and free but we tested a few and discovered Sketchpad 5.1. It is actually pretty good and fun to use too.

If you prefer to have a break from your computer, we are including drawing the old fashioned way with a pencil and pen.


We shall be using images from the University of Edinburgh Collections, also held at Europeana Collections. We have gone through thousands of images to select the most suitable for making into illustrations for colouring. You will be able to select one from the list and choose whether you want to include it in a frame, add a background or keep it simple. See our example of the fish created using Sketchpad.

Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Jackie Aim (Author)
License Extras
Copyright © The University of Edinburgh
The original version from The University of Edinburgh collections. Our previous work

The first image we created for colouring in was for Ada Lovelace Day in 2015. It is an illustration of Ada with a diagram of the Analytical Engine in the background. The image was drawn by hand and took two days. Mechanism of the Heavens’ followed in 2017, a portrait of Mary Somerville with an astronomy background.

‘Garden of Ada’ and ‘Mechanism of the Heavens’ are Creative Commons licensed (CC BY-SA) for easy distribution and maximum reuse, so please share them freely.

At the workshop there will be images for you to colour in, and to take away and colour in at home.

How can you resist? Sign up now and join us for the workshop on Wednesday 20th or Friday 22nd February. It will be fun and relaxing.

Festival of Creative Learning

Note: This blog was first published here.

The Flipped Text: A Writing Workshop

January 22, 2019 - 19:01

Flipped Text

As part of the first University of Edinburgh November WriteFest, Daphne Loads and I offered a workshop called ‘The Flipped Text’.

Daphne and I both have intense relationships with the written word. She has used it in innumerable creative ways in her teaching and research practice and has written a wonderful book about creative writing and academic teaching entitled: Rich Pickings: creative professional activities for academics who teach, to be published in 2019 by SENSE publishers.

I am a poet ( and writing is how I explore and reflect on the world, as well as how I seek to communicate with others. For me, poetry offers a special type of language in which we can, with the help of tools such as metaphor and abstraction, come as close as possible to conveying the shimmering complexities of human experience.

In our workshop, Daphne and I were keen to help students consider the process of creating a new text by ‘flipping’ an existing text and by working with opposites. In our own ways, what we both wanted to share was the idea that by looking at texts in unusual ways, we gain insight into our own writing practise and develop innovative approaches to our work. Our hope was that attendees would leave this workshop with a new perspective on teaching and learning, creative and academic writing and reading, communication more generally and the great, wild, wonderful, turning world.

We only had an hour and were joined by a very diverse group of students from many countries, with different native languages, and varied levels of experience with academic and creative writing. I was quickly reminded that while I have run writing workshops for many years, I often work with people who have read and sometimes written quite a lot of poetry. It was a little different working with people for whom poetry, let alone very experimental techniques for writing poetry, might be a brand new way of thinking about language, but the students were very game and all produced brilliant work.

We began by reading an abstract from an academic paper and then writing it – word for word – backwards. We then made a quick ‘poetic edit’ of the backwards text, thinking about how strange words can become when we reorder and decontextualize them, but also how they can take on new meanings, or even display the heart of the original text in spite of their reordering.

Daphne then gave us words and asked us to think of opposites – one of our favourites was when one student said that the opposite of butter was ‘a box’ (i.e. structured and empty inside, rather than full and melting). Daphne then read us a gorgeous poem and asked us to choose opposites for words in the text and using these opposites to write a new poem.

From Daphne on opposites:

‘When Elie Wiesel said “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference” he showed how by identifying antonyms we can shed new light on familiar-seeming ideas. Sometimes looking for opposites can lead us into strange territory. What is the opposite of butter? Or homesickness?’

Below you can see examples of how we were working with texts. We sent our students off to continue the experiment on their own. Our wish is that they will find these ideas useful when working with academic texts and might even be inspired to write some poems. We hope you may also find inspiration in these techniques and discover ways of using them in your own literary explorations… sometimes flipping a text is the best way to see it fresh!

Jennifer Williams

This paper explores teaching in higher education through poetic transcription in order to illustrate the range of influences that shape the ways in which we teach. Through using poetry, this paper examines dimensions such as the past, emotion, humour and uncertainty, which are important aspects of teaching that are sometimes sidelined by more traditional research methods. The paper evokes the richness and complexity of academic life through placing the personal and the particular at the centre in a way that highlights the complexity. In this way it invites participation in the lives of others through providing a window into the academic experience.

Keywords: poetry; poetic transcription; higher education; academic identity

(Jones, 2010)

Steps in flipping the text:

  1. writing it backwards and breaking it into poetic lines:

Experience academic the into window a

providing through others of lives the in

participation placing through life academic of

complexity and richness

the evokes paper the

methods research traditional more by side-lined sometimes

are that teaching of aspects

important are which, uncertainty

and humour, emotion, past

the as such dimensions examines paper this

poetry using through


we which in ways the shape that influences

of range

the illustrate

to order in

transcription poetry through education

higher in teaching

explores paper


  • editing the lines into a poem

Experience academic

the into window

a providing through others

of lives the

in participation

placing through life academic

of complexity and richness

the evokes paper the

methods research traditional

more by side-lined sometimes

are that teaching of aspects

important are which, uncertainty

and humour, emotion, past

the as such dimensions examines paper this

poetry using through


we which in ways

the shape that influences

of range

the illustrate

to order in

transcription poetry through education

higher in teaching

explores paper


  • moving closer to something that looks like a poem in its own right:

Experience Academic

the into window

a providing

through lives in participation

life academic

complexity and richness


paper the methods research traditional

side-lined teaching aspects

uncertainty and humour emotion past

the as such dimensions

examine this poetry


the shape that influences


order in transcription

poetry through education

higher teaching


JL Williams working with a text by A. Jones

An Almost Dancer

Once, on a hill in Wales, one summer’s day

I almost danced for what I thought was joy.

An hour or more I’d lain there on my back

Watching the clouds as I gazed dreaming up.

As I lay there I heard a skylark sing

A song so sweet it touched the edge of pain.

I dreamt my hair was one with all the leaves

And that my legs sent shoots into the earth.

Laughing awake, I lay there in the sun

And knew that there was nothing to be known.

Small wonder then that when I stood upright

I felt like dancing. Oh, I almost danced,

I almost danced for joy, I almost did.

But some do not, and there’s an end of it.

One night no doubt I shall lie down for good

And when I do perhaps I’ll dance at last.

Meanwhile I keep this memory of that day

I was an almost dancer, once, in Wales.


A Poem of Opposites based on the work of Robert Nye, by Daphne Loads

Often, in a valley out of Wales, every winter’s night you completely froze for what you knew was despair.

Less than a minute you’d stood here on your feet missing the sky as you looked away, dreaming down.

As you stood here you saw a toad grate, a racket so bitter it numbed the centre of joy.

You dreamed your bones will be separate from the roots and that your arms   absorbed roots from the sky.

Crying yourself to sleep, you stood here in the moonlight and you didn’t know that there is everything to be unknown.

Big blankness now that when you lay down you didn’t feel like freezing. Oh you completely froze you completely froze for despair. You completely didn’t.

And all do, and here’s the start of it.

Every day of course you won’t stand up for bad. And when you do of course you won’t freeze at first.

After that you let go of that premonition of this night you weren’t completely paralysed always, out of Wales.


Works Cited

Jones, A. (2010). Not some shrink-wrapped beautiful package: using poetry to explore academic life. Teaching in Higher Education, 591.

Nye, R.  (2010) An Almost Dancer. Retrieved from

2019 Festival of Creative Learning Programme Launches Today!

January 21, 2019 - 15:15
Festival of Creative Learning Logo

We are delighted to announce the programme launch of the 2019 Festival of Creative Learning. This year our curated Festival week is 18th-22nd February during which we will host over 100 extraordinary creative and innovative events. Explore our programme and book onto events here.

Photo of the Festival of Creative Learning(c) Mihaela Bodlovic Tango or bake your way to a new understanding of mathematics! Explore the Anthropocene through a roleplaying game or by designing your very own bio-plastics! Tour Scotland’s medieval abbeys, John Hutton’s Edinburgh and experiment with fire! Come face to face with collaborative utopia in a mobile tiny hut! Mould a new face in the historic Anatomy Museum and learn how to send and receive secret messages! Photo of the Festival of Creative Learning(c) Mihaela Bodlovic

Some of our events are open to the public, so please help us spread the word about the Festival within and beyond the University of Edinburgh. For more information, check out our website or email us at #FCL19 @FCLUoE

Photo of the Festival of Creative Learning(c) Mihaela Bodlovic

Festival of Creative Learning 2019 Application Window Now Open!

September 25, 2018 - 10:11

We are delighted to announce that the application window for the Festival of Creative Learning 2019 is now open. This year’s Festival will take place from the 18th-22nd of February 2019. Send us your innovative, collaborative, mindful, fascinating, challenging, unusual, extraordinary and super creative ideas for events that celebrate news ways of learning and teaching at the University of Edinburgh. We will be accepting applications until 5pm on the 22nd of October 2018. You can find this year’s application form and guidance on our website here.

cropped-digital-screen-library_20195.jpgFestival of Creative Learning 2019

Feel free to contact us with any questions by emailing

We would also like to welcome and introduce our newest team member, Theodora Sakellaridou. Theodora is taking over from Lucy Ridley as our Projects & Engagement Administrator.

Theodora says:  ‘I am very excited to be welcomed into the University of Edinburgh family and particularly by the Festival of Creative Learning. The progress of this Festival has been significant over the last three years and I am sure the best is yet to come! Jennifer and I are here to support, encourage and empower all projects and ideas. We look forward to receiving your proposals.’

theoTheodora Sakellaridou, Projects & Engagement Administrator

Finally, I also wanted to mention that we have made a slight change in the way our funding streams are organised. Festival of Creative Learning Pop-up funding can now be applied for directly via us (rather than through the IAD Action Fund Small Grant programme). Pop-ups are a great option for anyone who would love to run a Festival of Creative Learning event during the academic year outwith the Festival week in February. Application forms and guidance are now available here. If you have a larger/more complex project in mind that would require more than £500 funding (up to £3000), you can apply for the IAD Action Fund Regular Grant, which is open this year until 15th October 2018.

Go for a walk, stretch, dance, read a poem, consider a challenging problem, play a game, climb a tree, take a nap, draw up a plan and get in touch with your Festival of Creative Learning 2019 and Pop-up event ideas. We would love to help you realise your most innovative and exciting learning and teaching dreams, ideas and experiments!




Poets and Filmmakers: from Page to Screen

July 11, 2018 - 16:34

In the following article, poets Stav Poleg (Magma) and Jennifer Williams (University of Edinburgh) introduce the collaboration of Magma Poetry with the University of Edinburgh and the Festival of Creative Learning.

 Pegasus in the Lab © Marios Lizides 2018, CC BY-NC-SA, taken at the collaboration-preview event, Adam House Cinema, Edinburgh

Film still from: Pegasus in the Lab © Marios Lizides 2018, CC BY-NC-SA, taken at the collaboration-preview event, Adam House Cinema, Edinburgh

What better place and time to contemplate a collaboration? It was the peak of the Edinburgh festival season. We met for a coffee at Dovecot Studios, discussing ways of bringing poets and filmmakers together.

We both have had our own experience of collaboration and cross-form work. Jennifer has worked with choreographers, dancers, musicians, composers and opera singers and Stav has worked with visual artists, actors and dramaturges. We discussed how meaningful it can be for collaborators to work in artistic partnership, and how the interaction between myriad intellects and their creative energies can influence the way we enter into the pact of creation.

Collaborations can also make this delicate, potent work harder. We reminisced about collaborations that went so smoothly it felt as if we shared a brain with our partner, and others that felt more like sacrifice than expansion. But we knew that the successful ones mattered greatly. They affected our work to the extent that even when we later wrote on our own, the hand of the illustrator and the eye of the filmmaker were inside us as we laid words on the page and sculpted image through sound in space.

We also remarked on the concern that is often raised that poetry is isolated, read too often only by poets and not by the general public. Film poems, and other collaborations that bring poetry out from between the covers of a book, can open a door to the world of poetry for those who are more accustomed to encountering complex images on screen or in the flesh than on the page. The delighted response we have received from poets, filmmakers and viewers of the work produced in the project that emerged from this conversation has confirmed our belief that this merging of forms can diversify and expand audiences and spark a new interest in poetry where before there was fear or disdain.

As for how the project worked in practise, Magma invited poets who were willing to let their poems be open to cinematic interpretation to submit contributions. We received over 400 submissions in the course of a few weeks from poets who were keen to be linked with filmmakers and shortlisted a selection of these poems. In the meantime, four students from the prestigious Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) Film Directing MFA/MA and teams of students from the Edinburgh Movie Production Society (EMPS) at the University of Edinburgh were recruited. The ECA students were given the shortlist and asked to each select a poem to use as a starting point for a film poem. The EMPS student teams were given one poem, and each individual/group responded to that particular poem.

The poets and filmmakers were encouraged to view the project as a collaboration and worked together via Skype, email or in person. The filmmakers were the creative drivers in terms of making the films, but we asked that they consult with the poets throughout the process and confirm with them that they were happy with the final cut. At the University, the project team delivered a workshop for the filmmakers at which we showed a variety of film poems to help convey the vast spectrum of possible styles from documentary to experimental and abstract, and encouraged the filmmakers to think of their film poems not as representations of the poems in film but as completely new works inspired by the original poems. We have been awed by the results.

We want to thank Lucy Kendra (project co-producer), the Festival of Creative Learning, Charlie Farley, Emma Davie and Juro Oravec from the University of Edinburgh, and the Magma Poetry board. Most importantly, we want to celebrate the poets and filmmakers who engaged with their collaborations with such energy and artistic integrity. We hope this will be the first film poems of many for the poets and filmmakers involved.

Please scroll down to read more about the project, to read more about the filmmakers and poets, and watch a selection of the films. We hope you enjoy them and that it inspires your own exploration of the rich and creative terrain offered by collaborative practise.

Stav Poleg, co-editor, Magma 71, The Film Issue

Jennifer Williams, Projects & Engagement Coordinator, Institute for Academic Development, University of Edinburgh


Magma Poetry in Collaboration with the University of Edinburgh
and the Festival of Creative Learning


The Films: Read more about each film here and below.


Pegasus in the Lab

Film Poem by Marios Lizides after a poem by Ginny Saunders

 Pegasus in the Lab © Marios Lizides 2018, CC BY-NC-SA

Film stills from: Pegasus in the Lab © Marios Lizides 2018, CC BY-NC-SA


Marios Lizides: I consider poetry to be closer to filmmaking than prose. Through ambiguity and symbolism you are able to communicate with the audience on a deeper, more visceral level. Even though I had created a few works that could be termed abstract and poetic in the past, I found that there were differences in the poetry and film collaboration process. In my past films, I found that their atmosphere/mood materialised mostly during the edit. In this film-poem project I had the poem as a guide and its “mood” as a reference during the shooting of the images. The sound design was also approached differently, as the images gave me clues as to what kind of sound would amplify the mood.

Ginny Saunders: When I talked with Marios about my poem I realised that it could all be traced back to when I was a student in a Biochemistry lab practical many decades ago. We were handling lab strains of bacteria and being taught how to dispose of them safely. The lecturer said something casual like, ‘but even if they did escape into the wild, we’ve so disabled them, and made them so dependent on drugs, they wouldn’t survive anyway’. That had a profound effect on me—how we manipulate and exploit nature for our benefit and don’t give the natural world a voice. In my poem I finally gave the lab bacteria a voice! I loved the idea that Marios articulated his response to my poem by comparing it to his response to a song ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ by Nick Cave. In the video of the song Cave enters a darkened stage as if from a fiery hell and when the door closes it has a big X scrawled on it. That is exactly how I worry the human race reacts to some environmental exploitations.

As far as this collaboration is concerned, it is different to anything I have done before. I see Marios as the next custodian in this chain of collaboration. Just as I had my encounter with the page without the Harvard scientists breathing down my neck (not that I would have objected to a collaboration with them if they are listening), he must now have his encounter with the lens and make Pegasus in the Lab his own.


Marios Lizides is a Cypriot filmmaker/photographer. His photographs have been published in literary magazines and his films screened at various festivals. He is currently working on his thesis film for his MA course at the Edinburgh College of Arts.

Ginny Saunders lives in Wiltshire amongst chalky white horses and enjoys writing about science. She has a PhD in Molecular Biology and last summer was Poet-in-Residence for St George’s Gardens, Bloomsbury.

Watch Pegasus in the Lab here.

Of the Daughter who Spoke

Film Poem by Simon Ray after a poem by Kristi Carter

 Of the Daughter Who Spoke © Simon Ray 2018, CC BY-SA

Film Still from: Of the Daughter Who Spoke © Simon Ray 2018, CC BY-SA

Simon Ray: It’s the dance — the sense of loosening a grip on a certain direction en route to a particular outcome and allowing something to unfold and grow — that seems a common thread in poetry writing and filmmaking. In collaborating, a third ‘dancer’ is added; a three-way conversation between the collaborators and the work, all inputting, receiving and responding.

I have worked in video production, producing films for client briefs, alongside occasional experimental film projects as part of my creative practice. The film poem is more creative and self-directed than my commercial work, and more bounded, outcome-based and ambitious than my experimental work.

Kristi Carter: Because my poem focuses on my relationship with my mother as her only daughter, which also serves as the major thread of my manuscript, I am so familiar with the thematic obsessions that working with someone else reminded me of the alternative ways into my poem. That opportunity for a different but qualified perspective on your own work is very important for any writer or artist. I have learned that the intense control that characterizes most poets is put to the side for collaboration, which is liberating.

Mixed media collaborations also function as one of the most inviting access points to readers who are either new to poetry or more flexible with their definitions of how poetry is supposed to function. I believe that while poetry does enact the work of condensing what is otherwise ephemeral, abstract, or unutterable about the human experience, poets themselves exist in conversation with the world, no matter how quiet or marginal they might assume that conversation to be.


Simon Ray is a New Zealand born artist and filmmaker. He is currently undertaking an MFA in documentary film directing at the University of Edinburgh. His work poetically explores body memory and the boundaries of consciousness.

Kristi Carter is the author of Red and Vast (Dancing Girl Press), Daughter Shaman Sings Blood Anthem (Porkbelly Press) and Cosmovore(Aqueduct Press). Her poems have appeared in publications including So to Speak, poemmemoirstory, CALYX, Hawaii Review and Nimrod. Her work examines the intersection of gender and intergenerational trauma in 20th Century poetics. She holds a PhD from University of Nebraska Lincoln and an MFA from Oklahoma State University.

Watch Of the Daughter Who Spoke here.

Anyone Can Buy a Seat in the Cinema

Film Poem by Maggie Clark after a poem by Laura Seymour

 Anyone Can Buy a Seat at the Cinema © Maggie Clark 2018, CC BY-SA

Film Stills from: Anyone Can Buy a Seat at the Cinema © Maggie Clark 2018, CC BY-SA

Maggie Clark: As my focus is primarily in documentary, the film poem has been an opportunity for me to expand my creative practice and be a little bit more playful with the way I film. It’s pushed me to use visual metaphor as a storytelling device, which is a challenge I’ve really enjoyed! Laura’s poem is about love in the face of prejudice. It carries a sincere and important message, which I hope to do justice in my film.

Laura Seymour: When Maggie and I were talking at the start of the project, I saw that one or two images in the poem stuck out visually from the rest, and also that the images that stuck out visually were perhaps the most ambiguous. The idea that readers or watchers might be more affected by ambivalent imagery was really interesting to me.

Maggie Clark is a Canadian born filmmaker currently studying for her Masters in Film Directing at the Edinburgh College of Art. Her focus is in character-led documentary, which she uses to explore female identity.

Laura Seymour’s book The Shark Cage (2015) won Cinnamon Press’s debut poetry collection award. Her poems have appeared in various journals, including Poetry Review, Poetry London, Magma, MsLexia, Envoi, Ambit, South Bank Poetry, Brittle Star andThe Interpreter’s House.

Watch Anyone Can Buy a Seat at the Cinema here.

The Wanderers

Film Poem by Ted Fisher after a poem by Aoife Lyall

Film Still from ‘The Wanderers’ © Ted Fisher, 2018

Film Still from ‘The Wanderers’ © Ted Fisher, 2018

Ted Fisher: My interest in documentary film as a practice is always connected to the power of the real world as a storyteller. In reading and re-reading Aoife Lyall’s poem, I saw it as amplifying a reality I could feel and I found myself wanting to look and listen further. We shot aspects of her life for several days, with the idea of trusting this as raw material that would meld with the poem in an editing process. I have made many short documentaries, and the best of these have been made from finding a situation where events lead to a real outcome, in front of the camera. Working in connection to a poem (and a poet) shifts this practice to one that is new for me: trying to understand past and present at once. So my approach had to include tuning in to the idea and experience of reflection and reconsideration.

Aoife Lyall: The most significant thing I learned was that the poem isn’t so much about welcoming my daughter into my life, as allowing myself to finally call Inverness home. I lived here for almost six years before she was born, and spent much of that comparing my life here to the life I had in Dublin. Walking the poem with Ted I came to realise it encapsulated what I had been missing – the accumulation of memories, moments, and experiences that layer themselves into the familiar.

As for collaborating, trust is vital: in the skills you have brought to the project, in the skills of the other party, and in the potential of what you are creating together. So there has to be a relationship there, a mutual respect, and a willingness to let someone else explore, and act on, avenues of your work that you may not have considered before. For future projects I would make the point of being able to recite the poem from memory, simply because this makes more filming options available. What would I keep the same? Working with Ted.


Ted Fisher is an American film director specializing in arts and culture documentaries. His short films have screened at over 30 festivals around the world. He is currently working toward an M.F.A. in Film Directing at the University of Edinburgh.

Shortlisted twice for the Hennessy New Writers Award, Aoife Lyall’s work has appeared in Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly, Banshee Lit, and others. She has just completed her first collection.

Watch The Wanderers here.


Ode to Summer 

Film Poems by students from the Edinburgh Movie Production Society after a poem by Carrie Etter

Film Still from ‘Ode to Summer’ © Miriam Khenissi, 2018

Film Still from ‘Ode to Summer’ © Miriam Khenissi, 2018

Film Still from ‘Ode to Summer’ © Miriam Khenissi, 2018

Film Still from ‘Ode to Summer’ © Miriam Khenissi, 2018

Miriam Khenissi (Filmmaker): I wanted to incorporated both artists in my short film: the poet and the filmmaker. I thought that using Carrie’s voice as a narration would add a lot to the film. And even though I wasn’t visible in the short film there were a few strands of my hair visible in the last scene which I added on purpose to include a small personal touch. The majority of the film was filmed on an iPhone which allowed me to capture picturesque scenes at just the right moment.


Miriam Khenissi is an aspiring young filmmaker and designer. Her short films have been screened in various film festivals around the world.

Carrie Etter is Reader in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Her fourth collection, The Weather in Normal, will be published by Seren Books this autumn.

Watch Ode to Summer films here.

Film Still from ‘Ode to Summer’ © Nicole Lai, Tiffany Garnham and Laura Pennycook, 2018

Film Still from ‘Ode to Summer’ © Nicole Lai, Tiffany Garnham and Laura Pennycook, 2018



Magma Poetry in Collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and the Festival of Creative Learning



Edinburgh College of Art

Maggie Clark, Theodore Fisher, Marios Lizides, Simon Ray

Edinburgh Media Production Society

Miriam Khenissi, Laura Pennycook, Jeremy Pestle, Louis Caro, Nancy Nighting, Sarema Shorr



Aoife Lyall, Kristi Carter, Ginny Saunders, Laura Seymour, Carrie Etter


Project Team

Magma Poetry

Stav Poleg, Co-Editor, Magma 71, The Film Issue

The University of Edinburgh

Institute of Academic Development:

Jennifer Williams and Lucy RidleyFestival of Creative Learning

Learning Teaching and Web Services:

Lucy KendraOpen Media Project

And also:
Charlie Farley, Open Education Resources Advisor –

Emma Davie, Programme Director – Postgraduate Film, Edinburgh College of Art

Juro Oravec, President 2017-2018 – Edinburgh Movie Production Society


Magma 71 cover