Dawn of the Unread for the casual reader is a sumptuous eight page comic that appears on the 8th of each month. For those of us working behind the scenes it’s a right pain in the arse. The minute one comic is published we immediately start on the next. Fortunately we have an incredible team behind us and it’s time to give a big thumbs-up to our latest placements from NTU.
Nottingham Trent University runs a ‘humanities at work’ placement and from this we are lucky enough to gain access to history, politics, media, creative writing, computing, and trainee teacher students. I would strongly advise anyone thinking of putting together an ambitious digital project on a tight budget to approach their local university and tap into some of this talent.
This is how the process works. I write various definitions of roles and these are marketed to the students through the Employability Team. I then give a few talks at the university giving more context and feedback sessions.
Students apply for a role. We meet up and have a cuppa. I explain what I need and then listen to them about how they suggest implementing this. They are then added to our googledrive database which is a never-ending hell of folders and subfolders. It’s quite surprising how few students use googledrive and so it’s a great experience for them to see how a project is broken down into parts and managed.
Once we have all of the applications together I then get the students into small teams. This is primarily so that they can skill share and to avoid duplicating work. We then meet regularly because emails and databases are too impersonal and should only be used as a functional guide. Projects die when people stop looking each other in the eye.
Here’s one case study regarding schools.
We have a database of every school in Nottinghamshire. A team of six to ten students emails and rings up each school to see if we can go down and give a free ten minute assembly talk to pupils. This is a lot more difficult than it seems because teachers are really under pressure and so getting through to the right person at the right time is near on a miracle. Learning how to break down barriers and get through to the right person is a really important lesson to learn and wherever possible, I try to get students to experience frustration…
When an appointment is made the students can either ‘shadow me’ on a visit and see how (or how not) to give a talk or they give one themselves, thereby gaining experience of public speaking. I’ve given loads of lectures throughout this project to hundreds of students, at academic conference such as Durham on the future of the digital humanities, to the British Library, to computer fans at Game City and at various literature festivals such as the Festival of Words and Memories of the Future. But nothing compares to a school visit with thirteen year-olds who scare the living daylights out of you with their blank stares and occasional giggles.
On 10 March we are doing a whole day of events at Djanogly City Academy. This has been made possible because of the enthusiasm of Laura Ewart, the school librarian. Five students will be joining me and are helping with the following:
- Djanogly has 65% of non-English pupils as it’s situated in Forest Fields, a really culturally diverse community a mile or so outside the city centre. We have one student who speaks Russian who will give a workshop in Russian to a few pupils to give them specific attention and help support the teachers. A lot of these kids arrive in a new country with no cultural reference and poor English. This is a great opportunity, for one hour, to get some specific learning and feel part of events that simply wouldn’t be possible in a normal day.
- Another student is creating a fact finding exercise whereby pupils have to answer questions based around the literary figures in our comic.
- A couple of students will film the events, hopefully the pupils will feel proud to see themselves in a small documentary and this will raise aspiration.
- Another student is giving a session on reading comics, using the student library to see what kind of things pupils are interested in and to guide on how to read through panels.
- Students will give 30 minute talks to pupils across all age groups throughout the day.
- In addition to this, some of our commissioned writers will also be attending, offering specific workshops such as producing a comic for the day that showcases work produced by pupils, as well as sessions on how to write poetry about your local community.
None of this would be possible without the talent and time of these students. And now it’s time to end this blog because I have to speak to a student who is going to be our Storify Editor (a form of social media we have not used so far) and I need to buy some out—of-date biscuits for Corrina Rothwell (I’ll explain in another blog), the artist for our next comic. This is the condition she has set to allow two students and I into her home to record a video on how to make a comic.