Leah was given the brief to write an approximately 1000-word article about the risks of social media and how to escape those risks. This article was published as part of a fellow student's final submission: a fashion magazine themed around escapism. 

Always committed to producing strong submissions, Leah dedicated her time to researching the topic in-depth, and passing on the advice of mental health care professionals and advocates to deliver an informative and empowering article, showcased in its entirety.

ESCAPISM IN THE DIGITAL AGE

If you’re a millennial like me, you remember what it was like to go from squeaky dial-up broadband, scribbling on Microsoft Paint for fun, and playing Snake on a Nokia 3210, to being able to do literally anything on a slimline smartphone with WiFi and 4G data. Even if you’re a Gen Z’er, you no doubt remember getting your first smartphone and sending an inaugural Snapchat to everyone in your contacts list. In fact, we probably all shared the same excitement when we realised: I can Facetime my best friend! I can order anything from anywhere online! I can stream whatever I want without leaving my bed!

 

The internet and social media bring huge benefits to our lives. We can video chat with loved ones who live far away, share photographs of special occasions, be entertained on-demand, organise our lives, access information and knowledge that empowers us, and even find online support networks that our non-digital lives may be lacking (which, if you’re an LGBTQ+ kid in red-neck Hicks-ville, is undoubtedly a crucial lifeline). From health and well-being support to emotional empowerment, the internet undeniably has a multitude of applications that enrich our lives.

 

But with the increase of self-harm, eating disorders and mental-health issues, we can hardly claim that the internet is all fun and games. So how can we understand the risks and arm ourselves against them?

 

The Risks

 

  1. Mental Health Issues: A 2019 study in the British Medical Journal reported a link between higher social media usage and an increase in depressive symptoms. Common depressive symptoms include low mood, feelings of sadness and helplessness, irritability, a lack of motivation or energy, a change in diet or sleep patterns, avoiding social interaction, or no longer enjoying life. Some sufferers may even struggle with thoughts of hurting themselves or ending their life.

  2. Body Dysmorphia: Statistics from 2014 showed a 16% increase among 16 to 19-year-olds being admitted to hospital for eating disorders, with numbers also rising in other demographics. Not only that, but in 2018, 72% of surgeons in the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) reported an increase in cosmetic surgery and injectables in patients under the age of 30. 97% of surgeons feel celebrities have an influence on plastic surgery, and 93% report that Botox is the most popular procedure for both men and women, followed by filler.

  3. Self-harm or Suicide: Suicide is now the second most common cause of death for under 25’s globally. Evidence increasingly shows that this behaviour is linked to the use of social media, particularly in teenagers, as The Guardian reported in the case of 14-year-old schoolgirl Molly Russell. In 2017, The University of Manchester found that self-harm has increased by 68% in girls aged 13 to 16, between 2011 and 2014. When addressing the cause of this increase, the study’s co-author Professor Kapur said, “The internet and social media can be really helpful in preventing self-harm, but could have negative effects too.”

 

Taking Responsibility

It’s human nature to want to seek out the parties responsible and demand they improve things. But playing the blame game can be dangerous, and ultimately, no-one wins. Why? Because as a society, we’re all collectively responsible for building the kind of world we want to live in.

 

In response to the Molly Russell case, children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield called for social media platforms to enforce stringent controls over the content available on their sites. And yes, it’s legally necessary for social media giants to accept this degree of responsibility over their own property. Equally, parents need to accept the lion's share of responsibility for what their children access online. But when we reach adulthood, we have to take the reins of responsibility for our own personal safety and well-being.

 

I’m going to bet that you probably wouldn’t relocate to a town that was affected by nuclear radiation. And you probably wouldn’t start snorting rat poison for a laugh, even if it became a viral challenge. In fact, you probably don’t want anything toxic going inside your body, whether it’s physical or digital content. Whether we consume something through our eyes, ears, mouth or lungs, it can still affect our health in a very real way.

Survival Tips

 

  1. Talk: Professor Kapur says: “We know talking treatments can help.” If you’re struggling, talk to someone. Anyone, really. A friend, a parent, your GP, even a charity like Samaritans. Most of us like to think that we’re completely capable and self-reliant, never losing face, never looking weak. But here’s the thing: all humans are vulnerable. And all of us need help sometimes. If you’re struggling, reach out. And hey, it’s a two-way street, so if you’re worried about someone else, let them know you’re there for them. Try not to force it, but certainly a gentle offer of support can go a long way. 

  2. Switch off: Author Matt Haig writes extensively about mental health issues, particularly about the pressure to be constantly “switched on”. In extreme cases, Haig suggests social media could even become an addiction for some. His advice? Switch off. Our health needs to come first. There’s a balance between “information is power” and “ignorance is bliss”, and that balance is self-awareness. If you’re feeling resilient and thirsty for knowledge, then by all means, dive into the fray. But if you’ve had a bad day, steer yourself away from things that could make you feel worse, and practice some self-care.  

  3. Digital Detox: The phrase ‘digital detox’ is getting uttered more and more, and could have an application for all of us. It certainly seems like our reliance on technology isn’t going anywhere, considering that what is the time was the second most-Googled question of 2018 (which beggars belief when you know the 1,830,000 people per month who typed that in were already on a digital device). If our reliance on technology starts to affect our health, happiness, relationships, education or careers, it might be time to make a change. Whether it means setting an achievable limit for how long you use your devices each day, or going the whole hog and booking a weekend away in a remote place, it might just be time to have a break from the ol’ screens, and enjoy life without a smartphone lens.

 

So let’s make technology work for us, rather than us being a slave to it. Let’s enjoy all the wonderful aspects of it, but take control over how much we rely on it. William Ernest Henley once wrote, ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.’ He probably wasn’t talking about smartphones, but I’m sure he’d be happy to know that his ethos was being applied in whatever context it might help people. 

© 2020 L H Squires

 
 

As a life-long gamer, Leah was eager to showcase how her writing ability can flourish, even when discussing technical aspects. The complex and controversial  2020 release of 'Final Fantasy 7 Remake' afforded precisely that opportunity.  Although her review is not exactly brief, Leah wrote this article out of her twin passions for writing and gaming. As it is unpublished (for now), she decided she could be a little indulgent with how much she allowed herself to write.  

At present, Leah is still considering putting these points into a YouTube video, but between drafting and editing several creative projects at any one time, she doesn't yet have the video-editing skills to attempt such a challenge.

FINAL FANTASY 7 REMAKE: REVIEW

Final Fantasy 7 Remake was arguably one of the most anticipated games *of all time*. After numerous delays, fans were finally able to dedicate their abundance of hours in lockdown to playing the first instalment of the new series of remakes. One week on, the content (and spoilers) of the new game is being widely discussed. Here’s the low down on the Top Five features of FF7R, including its strengths, weaknesses, and everything in between. 

 

(Warning: Spoilers!)

  1. Aesthetics

From the off, this game is visually stunning. Those who eagerly watched each new trailer that came out, or played the early-release demo (and descended into a dark abyss of gamer rage when trying to defeat the scorpion sentinel), will attest to this. But even when players are deeply immersed in the gameplay, the visuals during combat, cut-scenes and cinematic sequences are breath-taking. The characters are infinitely more human-like than in the original game, but stay true to their stylised anime roots, with trademark hairstyles that defy gravity. (Influencers, take note: this is how you glow-up.)

Although this first instalment is set solely in Midgar, Square Enix have expanded and developed the world to breathe new life into the vast array of different locations. The Sector 7 slums are perfectly dirty, with homes cobbled together out of debris, whereas Aerith’s house in Sector 5 gleams with a sun-dappled garden, plush petals and a flowing waterfall. Even the Shinra buildings (which players are supposed to want to destroy) are intricately constructed and textured. The most impressive location by far is the maze-like streets of Wall Market in Sector 6, complete with neon signs, hanging lanterns, dark alleyways and shady establishments.

But the devil is in the details. And much of the game’s beauty can be found in its small features. One favourite is the blue benches and vending machines that signify rest spots. Japan locals or tourists will instantly associate these with the vending machines that can be found in what feels like every main street, every side street and every station in Japan. Statistically, Japan has one vending machine per 23 people, and whilst they don’t appear quite so frequently in FF7R, the joy of finding one with discounted Hi-Potions and Ethers echoes the happiness of stumbling across a vending machine that sells everything for only 100 Yen. 

Other details that deserve a mention are the insignia of groups like Avalanche, Shinra and Stamp the dog, the addition of jukeboxes to play Nobuo Uematsu’s beautifully remastered soundtrack, and of course the visible materia slots in the weapons and accessories equipped to each character. 

   2. Characterisation

Square Enix has done a worthy job of reinventing Final Fantasy VII’s cast of characters, all of whom have been brought up to date in their own ways. Whether it’s elements of their clothing that are more refined - such as the flower detail on Aerith’s necklace - or the subtle emotions that can now be conveyed through their facial expressions, the remake allows us to experience these characters in a far more in-depth way than the original game. 

During the first mission, it’s Erica Lindbeck’s portrayal of the upbeat and flirty Jessie that steals the show. But as the game progresses, Britt Baron emerges as the jewel in the crown of FF7R’s cast, lending her voice to fan-favourite character Tifa Lockhart.

Baron’s representation of the Sector 7 barmaid brings resonating emotional authenticity to Tifa’s moments of hope, despair and internal conflict. As a voice the player will hear throughout the game, it’s impossible not to empathise with Tifa or become endeared to her. 

Physically though, Tifa’s character design lacks cohesion. As a martial artist, you might expect her arms to have a little more muscle definition, and with a hard-working sports bra, you also might expect her breasts to be slightly less prominent. Tifa is known for her idealistic values, her combat capability, and her loyalty to her loved ones, so it may disappoint Tifa fans (particularly those who are female) that she is still often defined by the size of her breasts. 

Vocally, Aerith is a softly-spoken, higher-pitched contrast to Tifa’s dulcet tones, but Briana White convey’s Aerith’s defiant innocence with equal conviction. Cody Christian brings the perfect balance of being effortlessly-cool-whilst-containing-any-affection-for-others to Cloud Strife’s voice. And John Eric Bentley steamrolls players with his impassioned portrayal of Barret Wallace, who leads eco-terrorist group Avalanche with righteous anger towards Shinra, as they strive to protect the planet from being exploited for its Mako energy. 

Many of the secondary characters are gifted with more screen time in the remake, namely Biggs, Jessie and Wedge. However, with the exception of Jessie, the personalities of these other Avalanche members aren’t quite fleshed out. Biggs fits the stereotypical mould of “Hollywood Heart-throb”, with a character design reminiscent of a young, chiselled, Charlie Sheen. Wedge fails to develop much of a personality other than simply “being fat” until the very end of the game, when his dedication to Avalanche’s cause sees him enter the Shinra building to try and aid the party’s escape. 

Among the new characters introduced is Leslie, whose depth and backstory adds a touching contribution to the nefarious reputation of crime lord Don Corneo. The Don’s character design - particularly his head tattoo - is somewhat cringeworthy, but this just makes him more detestable as a bad guy. And speaking of which...

Sephiroth graces our screens with as much deadly wrath as we should expect from such a well-crafted antagonist. New players may not understand his megalomaniac motivation until the end of the game, but will still be struck by the dark, villainous timbre Tyler Hoechin’s performance lends.

   3. Themes

FF7R has arrived in a politically apt era - during a global pandemic - and at a time where climate concerns have been escalating for a number of years. 

 

The player primarily experiences the game through the lens of mercenary Cloud Strife, who joins Avalanche’s mission to blow up a Mako reactor. Avalanche’s leader Barret Wallace explains to Cloud that “Mako is the lifeblood of our world. The planet bleeds green like you and me bleed red.” Whilst Avalanche’s actions are vilified by Shinra, the party stays on course, advocating for the preservation of the planet’s resources. On more than one occasion, Avalanche reminds the player of what Extinction Rebellion might become if they dialled it up to 10 and engaged in more violent forms of protest. 

 

Following Cloud through the story, the player also witnesses the substantial class divide between those living on top of the plate and those living in the slums below it. Many of the side quests thematically link to this inequality, as Cloud is tasked with delivering water filters so residents can drink sulphur-free water, protecting slum-dwelling civilians from escaped Shinra monsters and collecting medicinal ingredients so injured people can be treated after the Sector 7 plate falls.

 

Trauma is another recurring theme of FF7R. On multiple occasions, Cloud manifests symptoms of psychosis, imagining the fires of Nibelheim, the image of Sephiroth, and the symbol of black feathers from a single wing. The lines between his memory and imagination are blurred as Cloud’s story unfolds, with his adolescent promise to Tifa anchoring him to his moral compass. Aerith experiences similar moments of turmoil, such as Hojo’s graphic description of his tests on her mother, Ifalna, but also through communing with the planet and fighting the tides of fate. 

 

Cloud’s “drag” disguise into Don Corneo’s mansion fulfils its purpose of providing comic relief to a thematically dark game, but the culture in Wall Market provides a lens through which male players can empathise with the street harassment that many female players will be all too familiar with. As Cloud and Aerith make their way through Wall Market, the NPCs of Sector 6 catcall and jeer with comments about their appearance. While Cloud and Aerith are well-equipped to thwart any threats, it’s important to acknowledge that many females IRL wouldn’t be. In this small way, Square Enix crafts a scenario wherein the disparity between society’s treatment of men and women is clear and relatable. 

 

Aerith and Tifa’s friendship exists within a similar theme, which deepens as a result of their shared selflessness, altruism and loyalty. For decades, fans have argued over which female character is the best love interest for Cloud, but Aerith and Tifa refuse to enter into competition with one another. Instead, they work together to help each other - and the party - at every juncture. The portrayal of two defiant and capable female characters who support each other serves as a refreshing representation of collaborative feminism. 

   4. Mechanics 

   4(a). Combat

The game has three modes - Classic, Easy and Normal. The Normal battle system in FF7R combines elements used in both Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XV. Bashing 'Square' allows the player character to melee attack, as in Final Fantasy XV. Attacking then fills characters’ ATB gauge, at which point different commands can be executed, such as casting spells, using items or executing special attacks, which players of Final Fantasy XIII will remember well.

Pressing left or right on the direction pad allows players to switch between the characters they wish to use in combat, allowing each character to effectively be utilised a different kind of ‘weapon’. Cloud and Tifa handle similarly; dealing heavy melee damage and occasionally evading enemy attacks, whereas Barret and Aerith are more capable of range and magic-based attacks. 

 

The option to ‘dodge’ in battle is rarely effective, and each character has their own style of dodging - some more effective than others. Barret and Aerith’s movements are much slower than Cloud and Tifa’s, which results in them taking more damage, then depleting MP and Items on rigorous healing during battles. 

 

Even supersoldier Cloud struggles to dodge attacks from basic enemies, which feels disjointed when we see him leaping 20 feet in the air and slicing through concrete in multiple cut-scenes. These feats of Mako-powered athleticism - which fans loved to see in Advent Children - may feel true to the franchise, but Cloud’s limited movement in-game lacks continuity and feels a lot less fun compared to, say, Noctis’ warp-attacking abilities in Final Fantasy XV

For those who struggle with the multi-tasking required of Normal mode, the difficulty mode can be switched to Classic, in which characters will automatically attack and defend, leaving the player to execute commands once the ATB gauge is full. If players don’t want to return to this turn-based combat style of the original game, they can also try Easy mode, which (as the name suggests) is just… easier. 

Easy and Classic modes appeal to players who wish to enjoy the story without worrying too much about combat, but they don't allow for much of a challenge. And while Normal mode gives players a greater sense of achievement after battles, they have to persevere through a lot of frustration to get to that point. 

 

FF7R’s battles are incredibly tactical and the usefulness of the ‘Assess’ materia cannot be overstated. Players need to know exactly when to block, when to attack, and when to cast specific spells on enemies. 

A major drawback of the game is that it takes several hours of gameplay to upgrade weapons and equipment with sufficient materia slots. At early points in the game where the party consists of just Cloud with Tifa, or just Cloud with Aerith, players can’t equip all the materia they might need for every eventuality. This leads to multiple battles where playing on Normal mode leads to a supreme ass-whooping. As a result, players might find themselves resorting to the use of game guides to prepare for upcoming combat, rinsing their stock of potions when they face an unexpected battle, or dying and reloading their save file to equip different materia for singular boss battles. 

Future instalments of the game would benefit from being able to pause battles so players can switch up their equipment, or even the ability to have materia equipped to different weapons that could be swapped around in battle. Fans have seen similar mechanics used in Final Fantasy X, where specific skilled characters could be tagged into battle to unleash targeted attacks, or in Final Fantasy XV, where Noctis could switch between a choice of four Royal Arms, each to a different effect. 

Of course, some fans may feel it’s unfair to compare FF7R to previous titles in Square Enix’s catalogue, but when seasoned players know what they’re capable of producing, it’s hard to not feel a little shortchanged in light of the issues with FF7R’s combat. Even with the minimum five years of development time, it feels that perhaps this first instalment of the remake series was just a little rushed.

   4(b). Gameplay

During gameplay, pressing Triangle allows the player to interact with the world around them, such as entering rooms, opening treasure chests and talking to other characters. But every now and again you will be asked to hold Triangle in order to open a particular door or call a particular elevator. This ends up feeling relatively pointless and time-consuming, as the effect is ultimately no different. 

 

Fans who know the game is set solely in Midgar may anticipate the same degree of linearity the Final Fantasy series has become known for, and they wouldn’t be mistaken. Many of the areas players can explore take the form of long, thin pathways, with the occasional dead-end branch or recess for housing treasure chests. If this is the first Final Fantasy game you’re playing, take heed: explore the dead ends. There be treasure. 

FF7R has several mini-games, which fans of the original game will no doubt remember fondly. The motorbike mini-game appears twice, once before the attack on Mako Reactor 5, and again when the party escapes Shrina. Each occurrence now involves a boss battle which Cloud has to survive while accelerating, braking and steering a motorbike. 

 

It takes a few tries to get the knack of controlling the bike, and blocking does little to preserve Cloud’s health, which may be frustrating for new players. If the motorbike mini-game proves too frustrating, players can smash boxes for points (and prizes) in the orphan’s hideout of the Sector 5 slums, or try their luck at the somewhat janky squat challenge in the Wall Market gym.

   5. Plot (Warning: Major Spoilers!) 

The plot of FF7R unfolds slowly for the most part, and adheres to the original game for the majority of the remake. Avalanche seeks to stop Shinra exploiting the planet. Shinra proceeds with their dastardly plans of dropping the plate on Sector 7. And Cloud, Tifa and Barret storm the Shinra building to rescue Aerith. But there are some key additions to the plot, which aren’t made clear until the later stages of the game. 

As seen in the trailers, hooded, dementor-like creatures are one such addition. We see them swirling around Cloud and Aerith when they first meet, attacking Seventh Heaven before the bombing of Mako Reactor 5, and chasing Reno away from the Sector 5 Church so Aerith and Cloud can escape. 

Towards the end of the game, Red XIII (who joins the party after they save Aerith from Hojo’s lab) explains the role of these ‘dementors’. Actually called Whispers, these creatures are “arbiters of fate”. In other words, they appear any time the characters are about to be diverted from their predestined course, and seek to make sure that doesn’t happen. The only reason these Whispers exist is to ensure the course of fate is adhered to.

In a very ‘meta’ move by Square Enix, the ‘predestined course’ in question is the plot of the original game, where Sephiroth kills Aerith in the Forgotten City, takes the black materia, and then summons Meteor, which is only prevented by Aerith’s prayer for Holy. In the final chapter of the remake, players become aware that they are actually undoing the events of the original game, effectively erasing it as the destined future for these remade characters. 

 

This revelation has been met with both hope and caution by fans. On the one hand, fans will get to experience this “Unknown Journey” without predicting what will happen next. This opens up endless possibilities for what might happen in future instalments of the game. But that can also be seen as a double-edged sword. 

 

Fans who wanted a truthful remake are now met with the possibility that Tetsuya Nomura, who is known for directing the convoluted time-travel storyline of the Kingdom Hearts saga, may give their best-loved game the same treatment. The ending, which showed Zack Fair surviving the events of Crisis Core in a seemingly alternate reality, leaves a number of unanswered questions. Will Sephiroth’s plans to summon Meteor and inherit godlike power now end differently? With Zack no longer dead, how will Cloud’s backstory be navigated? And with Aerith’s demise no longer destined, will we see another major character death?

 

One thing's for certain. This is a remake no more. 

Conclusion

Despite FF7R’s mechanical drawbacks, I remain obsessed with it for its numerous fun and enjoyable elements. The remastered soundtrack is faultless, as is the development of the main characters and the expansion of the world. However, the absence of Aerith for roughly the second half of the entire game is a shame, and removes a great deal of agency from players who aren’t able to choose their party line up, or learn and use different abilities on their first play-through. 

When looking back at the game with the benefit of hindsight, it does feel as though a significant amount of time is spent fulfilling side quests for NPCs and engaging in combat challenges, such as Chadley’s battle requests, Don Corneo’s colosseum, or Shinra’s VR battle simulator. For a game totalling around 50 hours of play, the amount of cut-scenes containing actual story-line are few and far between, with what feels like a lot of filler to keep players occupied. That’s not to say the filler wasn’t fun and rewarding in its own way - it often was - it’s just probably not why most people bought the game. 

Director Tetsuya Nomura has given Final Fantasy VII fans a huge amount to enjoy with this first instalment of the remake, but how much of it is enjoyed through the lens of nostalgia? FF7R might have benefited from a younger director; someone who’s more attuned to contemporary gaming mechanics and could have incorporated the ease of battle systems from games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, as well as some of the open world elements and dialogic standards seen in Red Dead Redemption

If FF7R’s developers create masterful elements to their games and actually execute them to their full potential, they’ll no doubt be able to recapture the magic the Final Fantasy series has become known for. And with future games set for release on the PS5, fans can certainly hope for a more seamless gaming experience. But in order to achieve this, developers need to resist the urge to rush future games, and instead take the time to resolve these issues. Only that will make the future of the series worth the wait for fans. 

When it comes to FF7R's future, further instalments will either redeem Square Enix’s teetering reputation, like Holy protecting Gaia from destruction, or cause it to crash and burn, like Meteor falling onto Gaia, with absolutely nothing to stop it. 

© 2020 L H Squires

After working alongside her degree tutors at 2019's 'Young Adult Literature Convention' (YALC), Leah co-authored an academic paper, alongside a fellow student and a course tutor. Although all authors contributed to all areas of the paper, these excerpts highlight Leah's primary fields of study. 

After exploring the application of collaborative, student-centred learning, Leah utilised these approaches in the final year of her degree, to deliver a series of creative writing workshops to a local school group.  See the project entitled 'Environments' on the home page.

CREATIVE COLLABORATIONS: AN ACADEMIC PAPER

Whilst navigating this spontaneous space, our conduct intuitively fluctuated between the traditional lecturer/student dynamic and the new, more equal roles within the team. For example, the students naturally assumed their ambassador roles –identified under the collaborative learning principle of taking ‘individual accountability’ – successfully engaging with the public at large, but regarding more detailed interactions with industry professionals they first observed the lecturer/s networking before joining in. Not only did this process provide a ‘transformative learning experience’, one of Healey’s assertions for partnership work, it also aligns with collaborative learning, which is “mediated in accordance with the context and experience with peers [illuminating] the causal relationship between social interaction and an individual’s cognitive development” (Lin, 2015, p.12). Such silent mentoring, arguably facilitated by our inhabiting a more spontaneous space, is recognised by Vygotsky in his ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ (ZPD), which illustrates how a learner progresses from the actual development level, to the potential level through “mentoring provided by more knowledgeable persons […] who engage in activity with less experienced persons in a process of guidance or collaboration” (Lin, 2015, p.12). The distinction of more / less experienced, however, did not remain limited to the traditional dynamic. For example, where the students possessed an established interest with reading and writing Young Adult (YA) fiction, the lecturer was less acquainted with this field. As such, she also underwent a ‘transformative learning experience’ and progressed through Vygotsky’s ZPD, looking to the students for advice and following their examples, with the students assuming the leading role of educators, rather than remaining in the more equal dynamic suggested in the term ‘partners’.

 

3. Balancing Spontaneous and Predetermined Activities

 

So far, the discussed elements of partnership and collaborative learning occurred spontaneously – and therefore subconsciously – only being identified through retrospective reflection. In many ways, this mirrors the creative writing process, where ideas and inspirations converge and collide, both through spontaneous creation and predetermined reflection, to form the elements of an evolving draft. Uncertainty and risk are necessary in the creative process, but only become effective when they are balanced with periods of deliberate analysis. Striking a balance between spontaneous and predetermined activities seems equally important in partnership work.

 

Our presence at YALC took logistical co-ordination, and so some of our conduct was structured around predetermined goals. Vygotsky differentiates between collaborative goals, where the team achieves their goals together, and individual goals where there is no relationship between the success of each team member, and the success of the team (Lin, 2015, p.19). We developed a combination. Our collaborative goals included marketing and promoting AUB, the Creative Writing BA Honours degree, and the upcoming MA, engaging with industry professionals, and recruiting guest speakers. Individual goals depended on our own writing interests, attending specific panels and networking accordingly. Whilst we did not explicitly label discussions as ‘our goals’, the shared needs of the team were navigated and the individual desires of members were enquired after and met, with each of us making compromises so that everyone stood to gain.

 

Another predetermined aspect can be found in Rogers’ student-centred learning theory, in which “the learner has full responsibility for her/his learning; participation [is] necessary for learning; the relationship is more equal, promoting growth, [and]; the learner sees [themselves] differently as a result of the learning experience” (Brandes & Ginnis, 1986, cited: O’Neill et al, 2005, p.31). Whilst originally describing the classroom, since learning stretches beyond the classroom, this theory cannot be limited to physical space and at YALC these elements were experienced on all our parts. We met each other in a middle-ground, engaged in active and reactive learning (see Smith, 2008; Jones 2019; Kallunki, 2013) where our experiences were intertwined with trust, and we were “confident [in being] treated with respect and fairness” (Healey, 2014, p.15). In practice, the students updated the Twitter feed, operated the stand unsupervised, upheld the values of AUB, and took any action they deemed necessary and appropriate. Such equality is only possible when leaders are “sufficiently secure within [themselves] and in [their] relationship to others that [they] experience an essential trust in the capacity of others to think for themselves” (Rogers, 1983, p.188).

 

Again, we did not explicitly label our conduct as ‘student-centred learning’; this ethos is at the heart of Creative Writing at AUB, and so we naturally carried these priorities beyond the classroom and into the exhibition space. A space which not only engendered spontaneity, but also required predetermined logistical decisions to be made, and the underlying basis of these were influenced by our student-centred ethos.

 

Balancing predetermined activities with spontaneous interactions draws parallels with Schon's concepts of ‘reflection on’ and ‘reflection in action’. Schon describes reflection-in-action as the ability to think on one’s feet and adapt in the moment. By contrast, reflection-on-action is retroactive, taking place after the situation has occurred (Smith, 2011, online).  Sharing knowledge gained from attending panels at YALC – and the subsequent writing of this paper – emerged from predetermined intentions and became opportunities to practice reflection-on-action. The team’s ongoing spontaneous intuitions occurred as reflection-in-action, “which is central to the ‘art’ by which practitioners sometimes deal will with situations of uncertainty, instability, uniqueness, and value conflict” [our emphasis] (Schon, 1983, p.50). Our success at YALC could be attributed to our intuitions, assisted by our rapport as creative writers, or, it could be attributed to the predetermined trust established by a foundation of student-centred learning. Either way, it was our existing in a space with the potential for spontaneity that encouraged our partnership work to flourish.

© 2020 Rachel Brown, Dr Lauren A Hayhurst, Leah Squires