DevXS: Improve, challenge, positively disrupt

Even student hackers need to rest

I’ve spent the last five months helping to organise and host DevXS, a national student developer conference. The conference on 11-13th November was fully booked and a great success. Over 170 students attended from across the UK, representing 37 universities, as well as a further 20 tutors and developer mentors working in the Higher Education sector.

You can read more about DevXS on the conference blog which was updated throughout the weekend by a superb team of media students. There are lots of videos and presentation slides on the blog as well as pictures and information about the prize winners and their applications.

It was a really exhausting and satisfying experience to be involved in and not only was it the first conference of its kind in the UK but it looks like it will become an annual event hosted by a different university each year and organised by the JISC-funded DevCSI project.

You can read a report about the conference on the DevCSI website. The Guardian also published an article (originally titled ‘Hacking the Academy’) in the run up to the conference, which I wrote with Mike Neary.

Aberystwyth hardware hackers

Aberystwyth hardware hackers

Team HTTP Error #418

Team HTTP Error #418

Some brought their desktop rigs

Some brought their desktop rigs

The Aberdeen team raised sponsorship to attend

The Aberdeen team raised sponsorship to attend

The venue

The Engine Shed, where we lived for two days.

 

 

Roundhouse Student-led Conference on Critical Theory and Education

Last Tuesday, I attended the Roundhouse Conference on Critical Theory and Education, organised by students at the University of Leeds, who run Roundhouse: A Journal of Critical Theory and Practice. It was a great, inspiring day that reminded me of what it was like to be a student1 and why students are well-placed to affect change in universities, whether it’s pressure from the outside or covertly from the inside.

Rather than simply moaning, there was some good negative critique about the role of universities with both staff and students shifting between anger, despair and inspired subversion of the neo-liberal agenda.

A few things in particular caught my attention on the day. The first followed Mike Neary’s talk during ‘The State of Pedagogy and the University’ session. He referred to the ‘student as producer‘ and this phrase kept returning throughout the day as staff and students seemed to like it. The conference itself was a good example of student/staff collaboration and there were no apparent hierarchies in the running of the day. Students were more than capable of organising, moderating and running a day-long session that critically discussed pedagogy, the role of the university and how it might be transformed.

Secondly, the current industrial dispute at Leeds over job cuts, was a recurring theme during the round table discussions over the course of the day. This helped ground the theoretical critique in a real crisis that staff and students at Leeds are actually part of.

Thirdly, there was a discussion about parallelism, with one of the speakers saying that there was no hope of meaningful reform and that the time has come to contemplate the end of the university as a site of critical thinking. He argued that by remaining within the university, we collude in our own oppression and suggested that new autonomous spaces needed to be created apart from the agenda of neo-liberal education. There was some sympathy with this view, although another speaker referred to the time when Charles Clarke questioned the state funding of Medieval History in favour of subjects that benefit the economy. The point being made was that parallelism would still serve the interests of the State by removing the responsibility of funding ‘uneconomic’ subjects. In effect, parallelism would act as a form of efficiency under the neo-liberal agenda.

Finally, I was really pleased to hear about a couple of student run initiatives at Leeds:

The Peanut Gallery, an autonomous student-run social centre.

I hope they can keep this running as it sounds like there’s pressure to close it down.

The most inspiring aspect of the day for me was learning about The Really Open University, which “sets out to change the expectations that people have of university life, and by extension the rest of our lives.”  The conference was leafleted with a recent copy of The Sausage Factory [PDF], describing their launch.

The public launch of ROU took place on March 2nd, when over fifty students, staff and members of the larger community came together to discuss, ‘What is a Really Open University?’ This group was brought together by a recognition of the need for alternatives to the current educational system which puts everything – teaching, learning, our daily lives – up for sale, and makes efficiency drives such as the current budget cuts seem inevitable. Through a collective and participatory process, this group developed several vision statements about what education without restraints would look like.

The Really Open University website has opened my eyes to how students are using the web for education-related activism. The Really Open Union site is a good example that brings together initiatives elsewhere. I agree with Leon’s comment on the Roundhouse blog that The Really Open University is a good example of putting theory into action and should be supported.

  1. It’s been ten years since Graduate School and I don’t have much contact with students in my current role []

Join the lunchtime ‘Blogging and the Social Web Interest Group’!

Do you blog? Are you interested in blogging and other aspects of the Social Web? Do you know that the university has its own WordPress blogging and social networking platform to support all students and staff in their research, teaching and learning? (You probably do if you’re reading this on my blog!)

Blogs are modern, easy to use websites for personal, team, project and departmental use.

The Centre for Educational Research and Development are starting an informal lunchtime ‘blogs and social web interest group’. The group will meet monthly and is open to all staff and students to drop in and talk about how you use the social web and how you would like to use the social web. Share ideas and what you know; learn from other members. Bring your lunch and your laptop if you have one. Some laptops will be available during the hour.

The first get-together is on Wednesday October 14th, 1-2pm in MB1009 (the ‘Bean Bag Room’). Here’s the full calendar for the year. Click here to subscribe to this calendar or use the Google button below.

Leave a comment below, if you have any questions.