CLM Focus Group II – DR000277 Adam: Hello, thank you for coming. I’d like to start by asking for your overall impressions of the module having just finished it. How did you find the module?
Speaker 1: My impression changed quite a lot from the beginning to the end. Originally, I wasn’t very enthused by the whole idea because it seemed quite out there, and I didn’t really know where it was going, there wasn’t a lot of idea. Obviously we had the outline of what each section was going to briefly entail, but we didn’t understand what that was going to be. But by the end, I did appreciate more, I appreciated the dramatic element which was one of the things I resented a lot to begin with. I appreciated that a lot more by the end because it has helped a lot of the presentations I’ve done since. I had some for the other modules where I have put a bit more physical impetus to my presentations and a bit more visual aid to make the presentation better. Before, we would have just stood up and it would have been a lot of talking, not a lot of visual stimulus whereas now I appreciate that side a bit more. The book review – I liked it, I liked reading up on current issues. I like the fact that it was a mix of current issues and some stuff that I’d heard about before like Bay of Pigs and Enron. I liked that it was issues like that we were doing, it wasn’t just some random article about a business strategy or something that wasn’t really interesting to me at all. So I did like reading up on that and then putting across my view across on it. But I think there should have been a bit more advice on how to do the book review – that we needed to be critical as opposed to just a book review. I thought of a book review more like a book club where they all just say what they think of the book ‘that was quite interesting, I enjoyed it’. Whereas it should be ‘this was what’s good about it, this is why it’s towards this slant, this is why it’s a bit hazy in some areas’.
Adam: I’d like to ask you about the reflective pieces. How did you find writing your reflective piece?
S1: I didn’t really put a lot of effort into the first one because I thought it was a bit fairy. I didn’t feel comfortable criticising the module because I thought even if they wanted to hear that they would naturally, almost subconsciously, mark it down because they didn’t agree with what I was saying. I found it was just me saying that I liked the module, when during the first reflective piece I wasn’t too keen on the module. I wasn’t honest in my first reflective piece. If there was more of a guarantee that you weren’t going to be marked down, they’d get more honest reflective pieces. I don’t know how honest most of them were. My second reflective piece was honest, I said what I liked that we’d done, because it was about the book reviews, what I thought could be improved and how it had actually benefitted me. I think it was a bit fairer, I thought the fact that you were reflect on the module to the people that were writing the module, and that they’d be marking you on that, it was always going to be a bit flawed. You would never massively criticise that if you didn’t enjoy it. It was dangerous in the way it was set out, although it was good to get the feedback.
Adam: So what made you write the second reflective piece more honestly than the first?
S1: Maybe getting to know the module leaders a bit better. I had more trust that they wouldn’t mark me down, particularly Grier. He wouldn’t mark me down if I was critical of it, he’d want to know more. In which case I still don’t think writing it as an essay is the best way of doing it, maybe a reflective piece in a one-on-one way where you can actually talk about it, that might be better. If they want a reflective piece to give them some feedback then maybe it would be better to do this kind of one-on-one structure. It depends on what they want out of it.
Adam: Did you not feel as though it was clear exactly what kind of reflections were required?
S1: Definitely. Whether or not you were just reflecting on how you were finding the module, what they should do better, or how it’s developing yourself, there are loads of ways you could off with it.
Adam: Having now finished the module, were there any reflections that stay with you, any conclusions that stay with you, about the module you’ve taken, how it was run, or what you felt you learned?
S1: The way I present has changed quite dramatically, and my opinion on the word ‘critical’. When I look at the word critical now, I look at not just the article, and whether I agree with the article – I linked that word to criticism, you just have to say what you don’t agree with in the article. Now I realise what critical means. That sounds like it’s what they want to hear, but that is how I actually look at it. You look at the source and you look at the slant they might put on it, and you look at what they’ve said and what they’ve omitted, and how they’re looking at one issue or a broader issue. I’ve definitely improved on how to be critical, taking into account the broader issue. I think that’s the biggest thing that’s stayed with me, and the presentation – how to present a bit better, how to improve presentations.
Adam: You’ve mentioned the performative or presentational aspect of the module, which is one of the things that makes the module unique. How do you see those performative aspects fitting in with the overall objectives of the module?
S1: What objectives of the module?
Adam: How do you see it relating to the book reviews, could you elaborate on that?
S1: In a way it was something completely separate. I don’t see how they really overlap. Maybe in the presentation of your book review to your group. In all the presentations I saw it was very dramatic, it was presenting the issue as if in one of those drama documentaries on the TV. So it was very dramatic, and I don’t think that’s how you’d ever do a book review. The only thing it benefitted, the only way it overlapped, was that you were more comfortable in front of the people you were reviewing the book to. Once you’ve acted in front of them your insecurities go a little bit, so you feel more confident to speak, to really put across your opinions. You lose a lot of the reservations. But I don’t really see the overlap at all.
Adam: We’ll get on to that maybe a bit later. But before that, how did you find working with the group?
S1: We had six people in our group. Three of us were confident to speak in the group and bounce ideas by the end of it off only ourselves because the others wouldn’t speak. One was a really proactive worker who would pursue… once we gave her a role, basically, she would research that role, research what she was going to say, and in the scenes you were working with her, she knew what she was meant to bring to the table. She was quite good to work with. But two of the people were impossible to work with. One didn’t say a word, even in book reviews, I think I heard her say a few words this year. So it’s difficult to work with. And another person was difficult to work with, he seemed to lack just basic speaking skills in some ways. It was difficult to work with. We tried our best to involve people, so it was a good exercise because obviously you’re going to have to be put into different groups all the way through your life, especially in professional environments, but in professional environments I think two of the people in our group wouldn’t survive, they wouldn’t be kept on because they didn’t add anything to the group. We tried to make it less offensive when we asked them for input but they wouldn’t come forward with any suggestions, wouldn’t come up with anything, wouldn’t even speak. So it was really frustrating to work with. But it was a good learning curve to have done it in a group. We did develop ways to get stuff out of them, to work with them. It was good, but it was frustrating because our presentation suffered because in the feedback we got from Grier and Rob, they said they didn’t understand the roles of a couple of people and we knew exactly who we meant. In their roles, neither of them are an English native, they couldn’t speak properly. They couldn’t get their lines across and it was crucial to get the lines across to show that we had considered the issues and that we had analysed the issues they were after. It was all in the words and they weren’t getting the words across. At some points it was difficult to hear any of the words they were saying at all. It was frustrating because we put so much effort into it, and some of what we did was really good, but it was dragged back completely by some of the other stuff.
Adam: Do you feel you would handle group situations better in future having had this experience?
S1: Yeah, I think so. I’d be better prepared that some people in the group may not be as able to contribute in one way, but could contribute in another way. It was a challenge in this one so hopefully I’ll get with different people in later groups.
Adam: How did you feel before you attended the sessions with Rachel? Did you feel apprehensive, did you have any idea about what was going to happen?
S1: What happened was a lot closer to what happened. I knew she was going to want it to be really dramatic, we prepared really well for the meeting so we knew what we wanted to do in the presentation. So we let her elaborate on it, then we wrote down all the notes, everything she said, took note of it, then kind of reined it in for our one. So I wasn’t too nervous, I knew what it was going to be, she’s not too intimidating so no one was nervous to talk to her about it.
Adam: How helpful did you find her advice in doing your presentations?
S1: It was helpful. There were some things that were useful to put across what we were trying to say in this scene without using words. So she was clever in the ways she asked us to put people about, and maybe have people back to back if they’re not next to each other but are communicating with each other. She was useful, she was useful in the visual element of the presentation which is something we’re not good at. We could write down the presentation but we couldn’t make it visual stimulating and keep people engaged, she helped us. She was helpful.
Adam: Do you think that helped you with the critical aspect of the course?
S1: Improving the visual aspects of the presentation?
Adam: Improving any of the dramatic aspects?
S1: Not so much the critical, because the way I still see critical is in my analysis of it, that’s more written word, dialogue in reviews. I don’t think the dramatic elements have helped me get across any of my critical reviews.
Adam: How clearly do you feel you understand or understood the assessment criteria for the module?
S1: I knew the weightings they were going to attach to each of them, but I definitely didn’t understand the assessment criteria for the presentation at all. We didn’t know how dramatic they wanted it, how much content they wanted, if they were marking 80% on the content, 20% on making it look pretty. That would have been a nice way to put it across. Particularly because in the feedback for the other presentations we weren’t given a mark. We were given feedback saying ‘it was good’ but that doesn’t help because you’d say it was good if it was awful, you’d say it was good if it was good or really good, you’d say it was good. But they were there to offer critical feedback. We had no idea what they liked, what they didn’t like. Rachel was really really vocal about the dramatic aspect, about her feedback, she’d have a long list, she’d be up there talking for a while. Grier and Rob were more… ‘It was good, I liked it, I liked how you did this, I liked how you did that’ and then when it came down to it, Rachel wasn’t there and it was marked by Grier and Rob. So we’ve almost tacitly improved it for Rachel because that’s all the feedback we were getting. Then it was marked by Grier and Rob so we went in a bit blind as to whether it was going to be good or not. That was one of the biggest themes we kept saying to each other – ‘We have no idea if this is going to be great, this could be a first, it could be a third’. Don’t know what they’re marking it on. It definitely could have been put out lot more clearly.]
Adam: How comfortable were you with the dramatic aspects of the course that you did?
S1: Not very comfortable at all. I do law and business, I did drama in year 9, gave it up when I could. Saying that, I wasn’t comfortable but that was what was good about this module, that I wasn’t comfortable. It was good to be put out of my comfort zone because I’m going to be put out of my comfort zone in a lot of scenarios in future. Presentations in front of hundreds of people, if I’m trying to sell them something, it’s good that I’m not just used to my comfort zone of writing long documents and I’m put there, ‘tell them about it’, and I’m really nervous. This has made me a bit more confident to speak in front of a lot of people, and just stay calm. I won’t be as nervous to act again. I will be able to get across what I want to say. Let me say it differently. When I do future presentations, I’ll be being me. It’ll be a lot easier and I’ll be a lot calmer than when I was trying to act and be someone else. I don’t think I’ll ever be that far out of my comfort zone again, so in that way it makes things that would be bad, not so bad because I’ve had to do something much harder. In that way it’s good that I’ve had to be out of my comfort zone.
Adam: So what application then do you see some of the skills that you’ve built up during this module beyond the parameters of this module, whether it’s other academic scenarios or professional scenarios?
S1: Both. I’ve got another year here and we’ll almost certainly be doing more presentations, so the dramatic aspect will help because I’m going to try to add that into most presentations, adding a bit of visual stimulus, adding a bit of dramatic nature, it doesn’t have to be ‘I’m acting it out’ but I’m making the presentation of it more dramatic just to keep people intrigued – that will be useful in presentations. In terms of the acting part, that will be practical. Whereas the critical review, that’s practical because I’ve learned more about how to be critical which is important in giving feedback, knowing that it’s not just about criticising but also considering everything about what I’m reviewing.
Adam: Has doing this module encouraged you to do more research or follow up some areas of interest, or even engage in more discussion with your peers, more than the average lecture or seminar would you say?
S1: Definitely. I wouldn’t like to say just because of this module, but it has opened my eyes a bit to how much is going on, and it’s opened my eyes about how little I knew about the stuff that was going on. I think I should have known more about Enron, I should have known more outside of that. It encouraged me, I subscribed to the Economist because I want to read more about it in that way, in that style of article. The stuff we were given was really good literature. It wasn’t all textbooks and factual, it was someone putting across their opinion and I found them really interesting to read. It opened my eyes to those type of articles and I realised the Economist was somewhere where I’d find more of them, on current issues. Luckily there was an offer, twelve for twelve pounds on the Economist so I took that up, I’ve been reading the Economist. That’s definitely useful, to have realised that’s a better way of getting the news and having a look, being given an opinion of it. As I’m reading it, I’m critiquing it in my head and reviewing it, so it’s been useful in that way.
Adam: So do you think the module has been helpful in enabling you to develop your own opinions about these kind of matters?
S1: It has just opened my eyes how to critically review something. Not to just criticise it but consider everything about it, where it’s from, who’s written it, why they’ve written it, at what time they’ve written it, stuff like that. So when I’m reading these articles I’m thinking about when they wrote it, where they’re writing from, are they writing it for a certain audience. It’s made it a lot easier to do.
Adam: To what extent do you think those benefits you’ve got from doing this module are down to the dramatic aspects of the module rather than say, having a good reading list?
S1: I would say without the dramatic aspects it wouldn’t be the same module, it wouldn’t have the same benefits. The dramatic aspects help indirectly, in terms of being more comfortable with your group. It definitely improved the confidence of everyone who’s taken this module, everyone’s confidence is a lot higher. Everyone that’s taken the module seems a lot more relaxed with each other as well. It would be good as a first year module, you get to know everyone in your group better, and you see them act, you see them well out of their comfort zone, so you feel a bit more relaxed, you joke with them. You get to know people a bit better. It’s been good in that sense, and the dramatic aspect would take that away. In terms of how much the dramatic aspect has helped how much we achieved in the module, academically, I don’t know – I still don’t know how they’re marking it. We didn’t do too well in our presentation, so I can’t say I did well in the dramatic aspect.
Adam: So what about writing skills? Can you see any relationship between the performance and presentation skills of the kind you’ve been developing throughout this module, and writing skills generally?
S1: Yes. Because even when you’re reading something, even when I’m writing something for someone else to be reading, I’ve got it more in my mind now that you want to make it entertaining. Especially when they gave us the long essay to read, we all thought ‘This is so boring, so hard to read’ – the performance, not as in how we performed but the idea that when you want to get across a message, when you want to get across what you’re saying, you should be making it entertaining, make it cleverly done, and cleverly constructed, to eventually get your message across rather than try and get your message across by repeating it in words and words and words and words. But in terms of written word, that’s about as much as I think the performance could apply to it.
Adam: So you think it’s helped in terms of thinking about how to structure the way that you convey information?
Adam: A final question. Overall then, having done this module, what do you think about bringing creativity and critical skills together in the context of law and business? Has it been valuable?
S1: That’s a pretty big question! Will you say it again?
Adam: You can interpret it how you like. In the context of business and law, what do you think about bringing creativity and critical skills together? Has it worked for you?
S1: Yes, definitely. I have recommended the module to people and said that this is good. I think it is useful particularly for our students, half are going into law and half into business, that’s the kind of split we’re seeing at the moment. Creativity is useful in both of those worlds because you need to add creativity to everything you do. It’s been done so many times before, everything we’re going to do, there’s not a lot we’re going to do that hasn’t been done before, so to add creativity is brilliant. That’s what they’re going to look at. They’re going to get the message but it’s how we put the message across that I’ve realised is so important. ‘This is my point’, this is a good point, but you make it better, you make it stand out with the creativity, and how you make that point is crucial. We learned that. The critical element is going to be useful just because, it’s going to be useful academically, we’ve got another year – it’s going to be useful in the academic scene because we’re always asked critically review this, critically analyse this. Before this module my view of what they are asking me to do there is a lot different to what I now realise they are asking me to do. This module should be a lot earlier because it’s taught me how to look at what you’re reading, not just ‘I need to critically review it, say what’s good but then slate it’ and say what it improved, I need to review why this article was written, what they’re trying to say, what wider issues it’s bringing in and looking at the wider scenario rather than just looking at what it’s saying. It’s added another dimension to reviewing a piece of work, that’s going to be useful. I’m not sure how much in the professional world, I’m not there, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to need to do.
Adam: It does that more so than other modules, other lectures and seminars?
S1: Yes, definitely. Lectures and seminars in almost all the other modules, they tell you what they want you to learn, you learn it, then in the exam they put across ‘critically review this’, ‘read this and give your opinion’, which is all well and good but in this, we’ve been reviewing the whole way through, we’ve been developing our ability, having the facilitators there, telling us how to improve what we’re doing, has been really useful. How to improve how we’re putting across our critical review has been really useful.