#LTHEchat187: The Value of Fiction in Learning and Teaching

Guest host Professor Joanna Verran @JoVerran

I think we all tell stories all the time. Think of any conversation! Storytelling dates back to when humans started to speak: they helped us to survive, and we remain receptive to a good tale!

Teaching medical microbiology, I found that stories of disease outbreaks, or personalised case studies helped me to better convey the principles of epidemiology, contextualising the facts, crossing disciplines (into history or geography for example), and helping to knit the facts into a more memorable setting. Indeed, much of my teaching practice (and my lab-based research) encompassed cross-disciplinary collaboration ( Who inspired my thinking? – The co-factor: conversation, collaboration, co-production DOI: 10.14324/RFA.04.2.12): I believed this made microbiology seem more part of the world we live in. Of course at the moment, it is not easy to escape from microbiology in the real world!

But what about fiction? Does fiction have a value in learning and teaching other than in English Literature? I set up the Bad Bugs Bookclub (https://www.mmu.ac.uk/engage/what-we-do/bad-bugs-bookclub/ ) in 2009. Initially the bookclub was unrelated to my teaching. My aim was to get adult scientists and non-scientists to read fiction in which infectious disease formed part of the plot. Meetings are informal, and everyone has something to bring to the discussion, since we all have read the book. Eleven years on, the website, documents meetings and provides reading guides for more than 60 books. I have found the format useful for education and science communication in a variety of settings including undergraduate projects, tutorials and school book groups. I have certainly also learned a lot myself ( https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2020/09/29/joanna-verran-the-bad-bugs-book-club-a-study-in-infectious-disease-and-humanity/).

Since turnover time is very quick from posting this blog, to hosting the chat on 21st October, can I suggest some preparation activities? Look at the website and check whether you have already read any of the books (or watched the movie!). Look at the meeting notes for that book, and see if the fiction can be used to discuss ‘fact’ within your discipline.

Joanna Verran is Emeritus Professor of Microbiology at Manchester Metropolitan University. In addition to her laboratory-based research, Jo always strove to encourage the development of ‘transferable skills’ in her students, through the use of art, design, literature and public engagement. She was awarded an NTF in 2012, and PFHEA in 2016, and the AAAS Mani L Bhaumik award for Public Engagement with Science in 2019, alongside an MA in Creative Writing (of which she is particularly proud!).

Beyond the #LTHEchat on 21st October;

If your tastebuds are tickled, set up your own one-off bookclub (I can send you our discussion questions), and join our Twitter meeting on November 19th, where we will be discussing The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith. The novel addresses antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and the meeting is being held during World Antibiotic Awareness Week.

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