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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


A Creative Challenge

By Janina Dewitz, on 22 June 2015


This post is several weeks (months?) overdue. Motto: Good things come to those who wait. Maybe. It’s been a laborious project. Some things just take a while to compile.

Back in April, UCL had its annual Teaching and Learning conference. My colleague Mira and I had proposed a session on Domain of One’s Own. Our session had been accepted, however, we had been allocated a mysterious new conference format: Fair.

From the FAQ:

The fairs are being tried out because we could not accommodate all the submissions that the reviewers wanted to accept. Instead of a room where a single presentation is going on, there will be three or four (or five, in one case) parallel ‘fair’ sessions of half an hour each. The rooms are quite large so this should be perfectly viable.

Each fair presenter will be allocated a table area which seats 8 people maximum (but there is no reason not to expand that group within practical constraints on the day if needs be). In other words, it is a tutorial-size arrangement.

Um. Ok. I have to be honest: I was disappointed. I had hoped to have a bigger audience. And also: how was this supposed to work? Would we have screens? Projectors? Wifi? No idea. Would it be a laptop or simply a tablet in the middle of the table and eight people craning their necks in order to see? The fair just didn’t seem fair at all. Meh.

When life serves up such annoying little hurdles, I grumble a lot at first¹, then eventually reach for my favourite Tom Stoppard quote:

We keep to our usual stuff, more or less, only inside out. We do on stage the things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.

[Player, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead]

But how do you turn a big traditional conference slideshow inside out? Well, of course, you make it small and on paper, but keep to the usual stuff, the slideshow, more or less. – No, not A4 handouts. That would be lame.

The only format that seemed truly suitable for this type of conference session was ………..


Only one small hiccup: I had never made a pop-up book before. How does one make a pop-up book?! One turns to YouTube, of course. Isn’t that what everyone does these days when the need to learn anything arises … ?

And so over the course of a day or two  I watched probably every video tutorial there is on pop-up cards and books, from the simple

to the impressively complex (but downright scary):

Ok, so it was clear that Peter Dahmen’s creations were way beyond what I would be able to accomplish. Yet I still added his tutorials to my watch list because he provided ideas and insights into the different techniques I could consider using for my much more modest project.

I started with a rough draft of a storyline and possible pop-ups for each of the main slides in the slideshow Mira and I had presented at previous events.


Next, I cut paper. Lots of paper. Occasionally the paper cut back. Ouch².


Towards the end of a long weekend of snipping and gluing, my living room looked like it had been attacked with a confetti bomb.

under construction

The resulting pop-up book was interactive: full of little hidden surprises, it could be passed round for the audience to take active part in the session. It was a resounding success.

“You should make a video of it””, my audience demanded.

Oh noes! Another creative challenge. *grumble*

Luckily, the list of video tutorials I had watched during prep included this gem:

I tried the photography method suggested in the TED video, but found it so difficult to get any kind of stable continuity. There are too many little interactive bits and my A5 book is much smaller than the one in the TED video: it lacks the weight to stay firmly put in one spot. Also, there’s not much scope for hiding any kind of stabilisation props, such as paper clips and bulldog grips. The whole thing was very frustrating. In the end I found it easier to just set my phone camera on time-lapse and edit out any duff frames afterwards.

photo setup

Editing was another painfully fiddly process. It took several days to do. Many re-edits later the result is still far from perfect, but I give up now trying to improve it further. Life’s too short. So much to do, so little time and all that.


Looking back on it, in spite of the niggles and frustrations this has been a very rewarding project to do. I learned so much about paper folding and video editing in the process. Most of all, it’s been a fantastic project for practising patience!

It was absolutely the right thing to do for the round-the-table session format: tangible and much more memorable than just another slideshow.


¹  It’s part of my creative process – a bit like a problem identification and assessment system. Or something.

²  I truly suffer for my art. 😉

3 Responses to “A Creative Challenge”

  • 1
    Amit Rathi wrote on 24 June 2015:

    Hi Janina, It was a good read. It’s a nice idea, I mean to present with a pop-up book and you also learned a bit of new things. It also removes the boredom from the slideshow sessions.
    Online Corporate Training

  • 2
    Matt Jenner wrote on 25 June 2015:

    It’s a nice take on a creative output. How do you explain something when what you want to cover doesn’t exist? By taking it to a layer of abstraction of course! It’s a great concept. There’s still a burning problem though; this takes creativity, time and patience. Slideshows can too but often they _*REALLY*_ do not.

  • 3
    Janina Dewitz wrote on 26 June 2015:

    @Matt I come from a slightly different angle perhaps: whenever I give presentations, I try to start with the audience, not the message that I need to get across.
    How can I best capture *their* interest?
    What would make the presentation memorable to *them*?
    How can I surprise and tickle *their* curiosity?
    I guess my performing arts background means that I put the audience first in whatever I do on stage because I know that I can have the most important message and the best script in the world (and even the most informative slideshow), but if that special spark, i.e. that almost hypnotic audience focus on the performer, isn’t there, then I’ve wasted my time (and theirs). The product has to delight the audience, not necessarily the creator.
    Sure, this was a lot of effort for a half hour presentation that only a handful of people got to experience live. But they are still talking about it months later, telling their colleagues about it, and I still get queries about *that book*. So in that sense, it’s been a great investment of my time.

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