NOVA Activity: What is “Student Engagement”

Posted on  by Tesni Ellis

Captured from our SERT session November 2019

The so-called “non-objectifying visual analysis” (NOVA) exercise is a tricky one to explain and facilitate – I’ll do my best to write it out. To begin NOVA, each of us draws an image in response to a prompt – in our case, for our first NOVA we considered our personal definitions of student engagement.

So, how the activity works. Each of us writes an explanation of that drawing of ours, creating a written response to the same prompt. Then, the drawings are circled around the group and another team member interprets the drawing, writing an accompanying note in response. So, first the drawings are interpreted by someone else without their accompanying explanation. Next, the drawings and their creator’s explanation are circled around the group and again, a fellow team-member responds to these – this time responding to both the drawing and its accompanying explanation. 

Finally, all the responses and original drawings are returned to their creator – providing them with two interpretations, one that had an accompanying written explanation and one that relied on purely the visual. The insights that come from this exercise continue to astound me – we’re confronted with the ways in which interpretation is highly subjective, with the ways in which drawing alone can evoke something unique that writing does not, and the ways in which the researcher’s personal interpretation or explanation can only tell one part of the story. Reading the NOVA exercises always gives me a bit of a thrill – it helps us practice the art of interpreting others’ stories and data without supposing there is any “one” or “real” truth to be discovered. The exercise helps illuminate the biases or perspectives the researcher brings to their participants’ stories and that cannot be separate from interpretation – and neither should they be. It’s also a great activity to practice sharing perspectives on the same thing as it illuminates the ways a group is thinking similarly, differently, and creates a space for new ideas and connections to emerge, new ways of describing or illustrating a thing to be made.

Here’s what we made out of this first NOVA exercise for SERT 2.0

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