The Road Less Travelled...
Updated: May 18, 2021
This blog post reflects on the role of maps and journeys in educational settings.
Hello again, as we start to take tentative steps towards more face to face teaching and living, this blog post examines the way that visually mapping our experiences and goals can contribute to learning, self-awareness and wellbeing.
One of the early Writing PAD East Midlands events was entitled 'Journeys in Visual Learning', and the mapping of various personal and academic processes has always been a useful tool when stuck, overwhelmed or uninspired.
Drawing a map can help us to understand our own learning journeys: providing insights into where we've been and offering some useful signposts for future directions.
Mapping your Teaching Identity
My recent experience in applying for a certain Advance HE award led me to re-visit the notion of visual journey mapping: in this case to identify key themes and patterns in my learning and teaching life. After grappling not too successfully with multiple post-it notes and lists about my practice, my mentor suggested that I spend some time reflecting on the past in order to pinpoint the roots of my current pedagogic passions.
The result, some of which you can see above, was not unlike a board game (look out for an upcoming post about that very subject!), containing a starting point, important milestones, roadblocks to overcome and a number of different future routes.
This was by far the most useful thing I did in planning my application: it allowed me to clearly see certain repeating patterns, gain insights about myself as a learner and educator and understand the way that formative experiences have fed into my pedagogy.
If you are involved in any kind of process where you need to clearly communicate your identity as an educator, I highly recommend creating a visual journey map. You can draw it in any way you prefer, but it is helpful to visualise your learning and teaching experiences as a journey of some kind, for example as a road or path, and to include visual as well as written content.
Create Your Own Visual journey Map
Identify a starting point: I went all the way back to childhood, but think about your earliest experiences that link to learning.
What are the key positive milestones along the way? These may be formal qualifications or career successes but can also be more personal acheivements.
What challenges did you encounter? Again, these may be personal or professional.
Were there any diversions or changes of direction along the way?
When you have drawn your map, spend some time reflecting on it: are there any recurring themes, patterns or interests? Are there any links between your early educational experiences and your current pedagogic identity?
Visual journey mapping can be very useful for students as part of transitions: whether into higher education, the next level of study or employment. For example, I worked with some Further Education students to consider possible routes into HE, mapping out what had led them to their current course and then identifying possible alternative directions that could be taken afterwards. In an earlier Writing PAD East Midlands blog post, you can see how this technique can also be combined with free-association collage in an employability setting. In this case the map is used to consider 'How I got here', then a collage is created to consider future employment options: finally, connections between the two are identified and reflected on.
The Hero's Journey
At a pre-lockdown Academic Afternoon Tea run by the always inspiring Alke Groppel-Wegener, I was able to explore an array of pedagogic morsels including the framing of the student learning experience as Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey (a classic cycle involving 12 stages, prompted by a Call to Adventure). This video by video by Matthew Winkler and Kirill Yeretsky explains each stage, and how so many familiar myths, stories and films have this same journey in common.
Alke's workshop involved (you've guessed it) map-making: we were invited to draw a map of the Hero's Journey from a learner's perspective, depicting the Unknown World that we invite students into. Mine depicted the student setting sail for the undiscovered land of Higher Education, which presented many challenges, including translating the often alienating language of academia. Perhaps a visual map of the post-pandemic landscape might be useful in helping us all to charter these rocky educational seas?
Maps as Writing Prompts
Creating maps can also offer an alternative approach to writing, whether for educators or learners. At https://writingmaps.com/ you can see a range of inspirational Writing Maps such as Write Up Your Street and the City of Inspiration (see below), which present a series of writing exercises in a map format. There are some lovely, imaginative activities here, such as exploring your local neighbourhood as a framing device for story writing, visiting the same place at noon and midnight and comparing the current city scape to vintage images. The Write Around the House: Writing Prompts for Indoor Spaces map would seem especially timely: it is based on a 1790s book by Xavier de Maistre entitled Voyage Around My Room. This mischievous piece of 'anti-travel writing' muses on the details of the room in which the author is confined in the style of the Grand Tour: I wish I had discovered this at the start of lockdown!
At a time when we are unable to physically explore further horizons, playful map and journey making offers us a reflective route (pun intended) for imagining new possibilities amidst the shifting global and academic landscape.