Archives for posts with tag: conference

Sensei, students and the spoken word: Learning and teaching in a Japanese koryū dōjō


Nostalgia for ‘samurai’ pervades Japanese society in advertising, television and film, not least in portrayals of teaching and learning which parody the teacher-student training relationship. Such comedy sketches work because they are based on well-known stereotypes of martial arts master, student and the mysteries of the martial arts; all of which are familiar to a Japanese audience. The extent to which these characterisations reflect current learning and teaching practices remains unclear, particularly in the koryū bujutsu, which continue to play a role in contemporary society, despite being based on pre-modern foundations. Developing an awareness of the social aspects of interaction in the dōjō is key to understanding the impact of martial arts practices. This paper takes conventional representations from mainstream media as a starting point to examine current practices of learning and teaching in a koryū bujutsu, with a particular focus on the role of kuden (lit. ‘oral transmission’). The primary sources of data are participant observation and interviews carried out during fieldwork at a Japanese koryū dōjō. The research provides insights into how actual learning and teaching compares with the esoteric and archaic forms of knowledge transmission frequently portrayed in the Japanese media.


Still from Ken no shugyo comedy sketch. Click on the image for video.


Here is the abstract for a paper I presented at the Student Education Conference and Digital Festival, “Evidencing Excellence” in at the University of Leeds, 8 January 2016.

“Shut up and write!” Making academic writing social

Writing is an area with which many students (and academics!) struggle, particularly as it is inherently a solitary practice. “Shut up and Write!” (“SU&W!”) sessions make academic writing social. The format which has recently become popular with researchers (Mewburn et al, 2014) can also be a powerful tool when shared with taught students. “SU&W!” was a departure for Skills@Library with a stronger experiential emphasis than traditional workshops can allow. This session will address how and why “SU&W!” helps students tackle procrastination and lack of focus. Skills@Library first trialled “SU&W!” for taught students as a one-off experiment. Feedback was extremely positive, so in summer 2015, ten “SU&W!” were offered, targeting primarily Masters students. This session uses personal reflections on the “SU&W!” process and analysis of student comments. “SU&W!” provides structured and focussed time with clear goals, providing students with immediate feedback on their writing process. Peer pressure prevents distraction; peer support helps with motivation and encourages student-to-student exchange of strategies for becoming better writers. Sessions are relatively simple to run and can act as a catalyst for students to set up their own groups.
By the end of this session, participants will have learned how and why “SU&W!” can be a powerful tool for reducing student isolation and developing excellent writing practices; and will have the tools to set-up sessions within their own context.

Link to Evidencing Excellence theme
“Shut up and write!” develops self-awareness in managing academic writing through modelling best practices. The session will also highlight applications and digital resources which can be used to support the writing process, both face-to-face and online.

How do you evidence excellence in use of this initiative and/or technology?
“SU&W!” sessions work with undergraduates, taught postgraduate and research students. They fit well with peer support initiatives; study skills sessions taught within modules as well as central provision. Once students have experienced the format they are encouraged to run groups themselves. Similar sessions could target other study skills, such as “Shut up and Read/Revise!”.
“SU&W!” may also be particularly appropriate for supporting part-time and distance students, using Skype.

Ways in which content or technology could be used in other disciplines / services
The session will include the student voice through examples of feedback on “Shut up and write!” sessions, including how it has informed/improved their writing practices.

Here is the hand out as used in sessions with students: Shut up and write2.



Here is the abstract for a paper I presented at the BAJS conference in September.

Kuden: The use of oral transmission in a traditional martial art

This paper will explore the role which kuden play in the learning of the classical Japanese martial art (koryū bujutsu) of Takenouchi-ryū Bitchūden (TRB). Kuden refers to the oral transmission of knowledge characteristic of other traditional arts, including tea, garden design, and calligraphy. Kuden are found in Japanese performing arts, such as kyōgen, dance and music; and the term is also used in Buddhism. Although kuden are often mentioned in relation to koryū, these (secret) teachings are reported with little explanation of how the kuden relate to the rest of the curriculum; their purpose; and how they are perceived by teachers and students.

In TRB, the kuden come in different forms, including those traditionally attached to particular kata, whether in the movement itself or the kata names; explicit precepts; or newer forms such as those the current head teacher has derived from a retelling of the TRB foundation myth and recorded in his blog. This paper will explain how the kuden are used as teaching tools and explore how contemporary practitioners relate these teachings to their life outside the koryū. The primary data source is fieldwork based at the head dōjō. The koryū are impenetrable, even for Japanese, however, a longstanding association provided unprecedented access to conduct in-depth interviews with both new and senior group members. Selected data from participant observation—including fieldnotes, photographs, and records of online discussions—will be used to document examples of kuden. The kuden associated with a core kata from the TRB curriculum will be explained in detail to show how practitioners have applied its principles in the business environment and personal relationships. Far from being esoteric and archaic forms of knowledge of only historical interest, the research shows that kuden continue to permeate the daily lives of modern practitioners.

These are the abstract and slides for a session which I gave with my colleague Anika Easy at the University of Leeds Student Education Conference, “The Leeds Graduate – the distinctive journey”  on Friday 9 January. If you are interested in hearing more, please get in touch.

Learning to experiment – workshops and activities for key transition points

Skills@Library provides a core programme of workshops on particular topics. Last year we ran two additional weeks of workshops targeting specific groups of students to provide dedicated help at key transition points: Experimental Week and Postgraduate Week. Sessions included: lunch-time referencing drop-in clinic located in the Library foyer; using Twitter to support academic learning; active writing sessions for postgraduate students during their dissertation-writing stage; drawing for review and learning at exam and project revision stages. This meant that practical support was available and tailored to students at times and places when they needed it, showing understanding of and empathy for the transitions within their University development.

This session will give a brief overview of the activities, highlighting what helped students (and ourselves) reach those ‘A-ha!’moments, and show how the exercises can be replicated within modules or as additional sessions when required.

Transferability: The applications of these initiatives are University-wide.

The following abstract and slides were from a paper I gave at the International Symposium on Japanese Studies in Bucharest 1-3 March 2014.

 ‘The importance of doing and being myself’: The impact of traditional martial arts practice on the lives of contemporary practitioners.

My research takes an ethnographic approach to examining the classical martial system of Takenouchi-ryū Bitchūden (TRB), exploring it as a form of education and character development.  Students devote years to this intensely mentally demanding and potentially dangerous physical combative art.  What practitioners learn; the impact it has on their lives, identities and conceptions of self; and how koryū bujutsu1relate to life, leisure and education in Japan are the main focus. Fundamentally, the aim is to discover how and why the practice of TRB affects the lives of its members.

Research on martial arts includes translations of samurai literature; studies of the samurai; histories of the martial arts; modern writings on techniques and philosophy; catalogues of extant koryū and their characteristics; and popular manuals. However, studies taking an ethnographic approach are concentrated almost exclusively on modernmartial arts and there are very few in-depth explorations of the koryū. Although they no longer play a central role in the training of the élite, the koryū ethos and values continue to influence both current sports and wider aspects of contemporary culture.

This paper will focus on individuals’ experiences of and attitudes towards this traditional practice and the role it plays in their modern lives. The primary source of data is from fieldwork carried out at the head dōjō. The koryū are impenetrable, even for Japanese, however, a longstanding association provided unprecedented access to carry out in-depth interviews with both new and senior members of the group.

The research shows that far from being ‘just a hobby’, for exercise or a form of historical reenactment; what people learn influences their daily existence, including work and relationships with others. Long-term participants see it as an integral aspect of their lives, an important source of well-being and intrinsic to how they deal with the challenges of life in contemporary Japan.

1 Koryū bujutsu = ‘old’ style pre-Meiji martial traditions

This is a poster I put together for the ‘What does it mean to do a PhD today?‘ interdisciplinary conference at the University of Manchester, held on Monday 2 December, 2013.

The spiral represents how all members of the system experience the same elements of the curriculum repeatedly at different points in their journey. I have also included some of the ideas and opinions on learning taken from recent interviews carried out during fieldwork in Japan. I think there are elements of learning a koryū which have parallels in the PhD process and I want to explore this further. A deeper understanding of what it means to engage in an intense learning process within a small group and how this can be facilitated are possibly going to be the most transferable outcomes of my research.

Poster presentation: What does it mean to do a 'koryū' today?

I have been using Mendeley to manage all my bibliographic information for over a year now.  It does have limitations but ease of use and accessibility are proving a boon. I’ve become something of an evangelist and will be running a workshop at the ALDinHE conference in April. Here’s the abstract.

Manage your information social life using Mendeley

Mendeley is free academic software (Win, Mac & Linux) which enables you to manage, share, read, annotate and cite your research papers. It provides a research network to manage your papers online, discover research trends and statistics, and connect to like‐minded researchers. This workshop will introduce the key features of Mendeley for new users and explore examples how it can be used to set up collaborative projects, work and discuss in groups, and share data. It will be useful for anyone who needs to manage their own research or who supports students to do the same.

A Mendeley group for this workshop can be found at

There’s also a webinar coming up introducing Mendeley for Librarians which is actually a general introduction. Sign up here.

Slides from the session:


First Student Education Conference at the University of Leeds, session abstract (slides available below):

Due to unfamiliar approaches, differing expectations and perplexing uses of language, international students often struggle to negotiate the transition to the requirements of academic discourse at Masters level and may also lack familiarity with critical approaches to study.

As the proportion of international students taking Masters at Leeds increases (44% in 2010), the challenge for staff is to help students gain an understanding of the conventions of academic discourse, threshold concepts which students must to possess to enter the arena where the exchange and creation of knowledge takes place.

This session introduces a suite of workshops developed by Academic Skills Advisers, Faculty Team Librarians and Academics working within the curriculum to embed a critical approach to postgraduate research, reading and writing skills with cohorts of mainly (but not exclusively) international students. Scaffolded tasks apply a model  of critical thinking to subject specific materials, thus enabling international students to gain the academic skills required to reach their full potential.

An Indian student’s comment on an earlier version of these sessions:

Back home, all assessments were blatant copy-paste from website.  Reading literature was unheard of. Referencing was never done. Nobody heard of EndNote, let alone plagiarism. So adapting to a system where quoting three consecutive words without a citation was tantamount to plagiarism was difficult!

Here’s some follow-up on the session I ran at the ALDinHE conference in Belfast on critical thinking for international students at Masters level which I wrote about in an earlier post.

First, here were the questions and issues which people brought to the session, which I’ve grouped into themes:

  • Nature of critical thinking
    • Common question: Critical Analytical Thought, what is it?
    • CT is the reason so many students come to see us. We have a model which is also based on a questioning approach, which we encourage students to use.
    • I find critical thinking difficult to conceptualise in a non-contextualised way
    • Because I teach groups of students who struggle with ‘critical thinking’ and I want to clarify my thinking about what it is and what steps they need to take.
  • Teaching
    • Is critical thinking/lesson prep possible without having a specific issue at hand, particularly for inductive, example driven teaching?
    • Interested in the approach/model.
    • Want to design critical thinking workshops
    • My HEA-accredited course is under development to convert to an M-level model
    • Pointers to help PG students – particularly overseas students.
    • How can we support students to structure longer arguments, such as research papers or dissertations?
  • Student problems
    • Our MA students struggle with critical thinking
    • How to help students gain confidence in critical thinking – need time to practice but don’t have the time on Masters courses
    • One year course means difficulties encountered in adopting appropriate discourse that students can understand it in relation to what they already know/existing ideas of academic writing
  • My area/CPD
    • Postgrad international is my area. Most challenging – 12-16.5 thousand word report or dissertation in one year, involvement and conversation with our learning development coordinator
    • Because it addresses Masters level – most learning development focuses on undergraduate.
    • New ideas, new approaches – am I missing something?
    • Because I’m keen to learn more about academic literacies beyond my ‘own’, out of curiosity and to help my communication with students in different disciplines

More to come…

ALDinHE Conference abstract
Learning developers consider the engagement of students in academic skills development as a key aspect of their professional practice but with a decreasing number of staff and resources it is often difficult to maintain this service.

The University of Leeds has an established network of librarians working with academics to develop students’ information literacy skills and the move of the learning development team into the Library identified an opportunity to utilise this network to engage a wider group of students.

This session will describe the LibTeach programme, a collaboration between library, staff development and learning development teams. The programme used submission for Associateship of the Higher Education Academy as a motivator to encourage the transition from a ‘training’ culture to the inception of a community of practice of librarians who teach. We will look at the context; purpose; content and structure of the initiative as well as discussing the factors which have led to its success to date and follow this with an opportunity for structured discussion.

The session will be of interest to learner developers who work with librarians or who are looking for strategies to engage with (more) students. A parallel paper has been accepted for Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference (LILAC) being held simultaneously at The British Library, London. It is hoped to establish a virtual link between the sessions to facilitate a shared discussion, hopefully live, but if not through Twitter and social networking. Details will be available nearer the time.

Linking details
Carol Elston and I will be presenting at ALDinHE before Rebecca Dearden and Rachel Myers do so at LILAC. We’re hoping to encourage a joint dialogue, however, by asking people to use the hashtags of both conferences in their tweets to link the two. So if you’re at either presentation, or can’t be there but would like to comment, please tweet using both conferences’ hashtags somewhere in your tweet:

#aldcon #lilac11

To follow the discussion, either search for both tags in twitter or watch the conversation develop here. And here’s a short URL to this feed should you wish to share it:

Tweets will be archived here.

Let’s see how this attempt to link Librarians and Learning Developers works out…

Slides now available on slideshare.

The video content is available here: