A co-operatively run ‘Social Science Centre’

UPDATE (01/02/2011): This idea is now developing into an autonomous Social Science Centre. Click here for the website.

The university has a staff suggestion scheme that rewards good ideas from staff. I’ve just submitted a proposal to the university for help in setting up a Social Science Centre. This is based loosely on an unsuccessful bid to HEFCE that we made a couple of months ago to develop an ‘academic commons’ of sustainable, co-operatively run centres for higher education, somewhat based on the Social Centre model. Initially, as you’ll see below, we’re proposing that courses are run in existing public spaces, with a view to buying or renting a city-centre property further down the line. Attached to this (preferably on the premises) would be some kind of co-operatively run business (I like the idea of a decent bakery – you can’t buy real bread in Lincoln), which would bring in an income to help cover running costs and act as a way to connect with local residents apart from and beyond the educational provision of the Centre.

Anyway, here’s a brief overview of the idea which we’re keen to develop over the next year. If you’re interested and in Lincoln, then a few of us are meeting In Lincoln at 5pm on the 25th September to discuss the practicalities of this idea further. Members of the Cowley Club and Sumac Centre will be there to talk about their experience setting up their respective Social Centres. Email me for more details.

The proposal is that the university support the development of an independent Social Science Centre in Lincoln. The Social Science Centre will offer credit bearing courses in Sociology, Politics and Philosophy, programmes not currently available as part of the University of Lincoln’s portfolio. A key aspect of the Centre is that students would not pay any tuition fees. The Centre would be community based, utilising already existing public spaces in Lincoln, e.g., libraries, museums, schools, community centres. The Centre will be ran as a co-operative, involving local people in the managing and governance of this provision. The courses will be provided by academic members of the co-operative on a voluntary basis. The role of the university will be to provide accreditation for the programmes and an advisory role in establishing the centre as well as an ongoing supportive input. There will be no direct ongoing costs for which the university will be liable. An important principle for the Centre is that it is sustainable and, for that reason, the number of students will not exceed twenty in any academic year. It is intended that this model of sustainable, co-operatively run centres for higher education will act as a catalyst for the creation of other centres for higher education.

Open Education and Sustainability

I’ve just given a 15 minute presentation as part of a session on ‘sustainable practice in OER‘. My slides are below. I’ve presented as one of a number of speakers on this subject before, discussing the more obvious ideas around sustainability that have arisen from leading the ChemistryFM project. I didn’t really go over them again today, preferring to think about sustainability in the wider social context and beyond the specific outcomes of our project.

A few ideas that we, in the Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD), are working on and leading at the University of Lincoln, are included in the slides below, but I’d like to highlight them here so you don’t miss (or dismiss) them based on the outline in my presentation.

The main message about sustainability that I tried to push across in the presentation is that for OER and Open Education in general to be sustainable, we need sustainable societies and a sustainable planet. These are, arguably, not sustainable in their current form, so how can Open Education both contribute to sustainability in general and therefore become sustainable in itself as a paradigm of education?

Following Prof. Mike Neary’s lead in my department, I suggested that the ideas of ‘student as producer’, ‘pedagogy of excess’ and ‘teaching in public’ are attempts to not only change education at the university so that it is sustainable (among having other positive attributes), but can also be usefully adopted by advocates of open education and help develop a wider framework of sustainability for the ‘revolutionary’ changes in education which proponents of Open Education keep referring to.

Under those three headings, I have highlighted a couple of other ideas worth engaging with by ‘open educators’. They are ‘mass intellectuality’ and ‘commonism’, both of which have been developed in the area of political critical theory. The best thing to do if you’re interested in these terms, is to follow the links in the presentation, some of which I also include below.

There’s no certainty that any of this will achieve our goals of sustainability, but personally I am satisfied that it is a practical and intellectually rigorous direction to pursue with all the critical energy I can manage.

On ‘Student as Producer’ see the book chapter that Mike and I wrote and read about how this is starting to be developed as a core principle and practice at the University of Lincoln.

On ‘Pedagogy of Excess’, Mike and Andy Hagyard, who also works here in CERD, have a book chapter due out in September. If you want to read a draft, I’m sure they will oblige, so please do ask.

On ‘Teaching in Public’, I have a few notes from a presentation, and we have just got the go ahead from the publisher, Continuum, to write a book on this subject, which all members of CERD are contributing to. I will be writing about Teaching in Public in the context of open education, thinking about Burawoy’s statement that “students are a teacher’s first public”.

On ‘mass intellectuality’, we write about it in the Student as Producer chapter (see above), but are drawing on a history of this terms’ development in political critical theory. Most sources seem to lead back to Negri and Hardt, which draws on the work of autonomism, which has developed Marx’s ideas around the ‘general intellect’. I would strongly recommend Dyer-Witheford’s book, Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism, for a good discussion on both the ‘general intellect’ and ‘mass intellectuality’, especially how it might relate to open education. We drew on this book for our book chapter.

On ‘commonism’, again, see this article by Nick Dyer-witheford, where he attempts to elaborate the idea. I think that those who are advocates of ‘the commons’ and P2P might like the ideas that are developing around ‘commonism’.

Finally, here are today’s slides:

Student as Producer

CERD‘s Student as Producer project has been awarded funding by the HEA! The whole department is really looking forward to working on this institution-wide project. Here’s the executive summary of our proposal.

The drive to connect research and undergraduate teaching to create a productive and progressive pedagogical framework has become one of the most significant areas for academic development in higher education.

The Student as Producer project develops this connection by re-engineering the relationship between research and teaching. This involves a reappraisal of the relationship between academics and students, with students becoming part of the academic project of universities rather than consumers of knowledge.

Key to this process of re-engineering is to establish research-engaged teaching and learning as an institutional priority at the University of Lincoln, making it the dominant paradigm for all aspects of curriculum design and delivery, and the central pedagogical principle that informs other aspects of the University’s strategic planning.

Research-engaged teaching and learning is defined as: ‘A fundamental principle of curriculum design whereby students learn primarily by engagement in real research projects, or projects which replicate the process of research in their discipline. Engagement is created through active collaboration amongst and between students and academics’.

Although focussed on one institution the project will engage fully with other higher educational institutions, at the local, national and international level, so as to ensure maximum impact across the sector.

For more information, go to the project website.

Information Technology is a fundamental driver of income inequality

Stuart Staniford is one of the sharpest bloggers I know of and I just wanted to point to something he posted a few days ago which examines the significance of your level of education and ability to use technology in relation to your income. He’s commenting on US data and projections, but it’s still of interest to the rest of us. Click the image to go to his original blog post.

Clearly, using technology always increases your value, but the more education and skills you have, the bigger a multiplier technology gives you.  Thus information technology is a fundamental driver of income inequality.

A few slides about Virtual Research Environments (VRE)

Just a few slides I threw together that might save someone else the effort. The links on the penultimate slide are a useful quick reference to JISC’s work on VREs. Useful if you’re trying to introduce the idea in your university. It’s interesting to see VREs described as ‘socio-technical systems’ and the emphasis that is put on community in a bottom-up approach to building a VRE.

Towards a manifesto for sharing

One of the conclusions I’ve come to over the course of the ChemistryFM project is that sharing doesn’t need institutionalising. I don’t think we need to develop policy and processes for sharing the work we do. I’ve been drafting the final report for the ChemistryFM project this week and have written that “the overall approach taken throughout the project was to not treat it as a project.” Basically, despite being Project Manager, I’ve just let the teachers and students get on with the work we said we’d do and prompted them simply to remind them of obligations we have to finishing the project on time.

The idea of formalising the process of sharing teaching and learning materials is something I’ve found myself increasingly resisting throughout the project. Academics don’t need more constraints on their working practices, they need less. They need more freedom to share and a hand in doing so when they’re hesitant about how best to share their work; they need support when they’re unclear about how to license their resources.

I’ve been reminded of a paper by David Noble where he argues that universities are responsible for “the systematic conversion of intellectual activity into intellectual capital and, hence, intellectual property.” He goes on to bemoan

the commoditization of the educational function of the university, transforming courses into courseware, the activity of instruction itself into commercially viable proprietary products that can be owned and bought and sold in the market. In the first phase the universities became the site of production and sale of patents and exclusive licenses. In the second, they are becoming the site of production of — as well as the chief market for — copyrighted videos, courseware, CD–ROMs, and Web sites.

Of course, the OER movement is in part a reaction to this very commoditisation of education and an effort to counter the transformation of courses into commercial courseware.

I worry though that by institutionalising OERs, we’re producing constraints that go against sharing. Scaling up the production of OERs to an institutional level where sharing is considered in terms of an IP Policy, business case, marketing and ‘best practice’ will kill the potential that already exists to share. We have the Internet, we have the licenses, we have an abundance of resources to share. We don’t even need to measure success in terms of resources shared. Rather, we should be measuring the success of the OER movement by our willingness to resist the systematic conversion of intellectual activity into intellectual capital. To justify OERs in terms of a business case is just another way of creating capital out of immaterial labour.

In terms of our contribution to the academic commons we’ve already argued that the teacher-student relationship needs to be defined by an alternative organising principle where the student is a co-producer in the construction of mass intellectuality.

this requires academics and students to do more than simply redesign their curricula, but go further and redesign the organizing principle, (i.e. private property and wage labour), through which academic knowledge is currently being produced… creating a teaching, learning and research environment which promotes the values of openness and creativity, engenders equity among academics and students and thereby offers an opportunity to reconstruct the student as producer and academic as collaborator. In an environment where knowledge is free, the roles of the educator and the institution necessarily change. The educator is no longer a delivery vehicle and the institution becomes a landscape for the production and construction of a mass intellect in commons.

When there’s equity between teacher and student, then sharing will come naturally, it will be unstoppable and grow exponentially. When teaching and learning materials are evaluated, packaged, branded, standardised and archived, they’re turned into learning objects consumed by objectified ‘learners’. That is, if they ever get as far as becoming learning objects as each step in their production is another barrier to sharing.

Scott Leslie has got it right when he says, “if you want to share, you will”. If we help create a desire, (a compulsion is what I feel), to share in both teacher and student academics, then any existing barriers will be irrelevant. We do that, not by institutionalising sharing, but by showing the humanity in sharing; the joy of giving and receiving; the immaterial wealth of knowledge that already exists and the pleasure of creating social relations that resist the organising principle of private property and wage labour.

I’m currently reading Do It Yourself. A handbook for changing our world. It’s basically a book about taking direct action. There’s a section in there on ‘popular education‘, which I think the current debate around the institutionalisation of OERs, as clearly seen from the comments and pingbacks on Scott’s post, could learn from. It’s written by the Trapese Collective, and walks through the key aspects of popular education:

  1. A commitment to transformation and solidarity
  2. Learning our own histories and not his-story
  3. Starting from daily reality
  4. Learning together as equals
  5. Getting out of the classroom
  6. Inspiring social change

There’s no emphasis on technology or networks or even the conscious act of sharing. The emphasis is on grounding education in the reality of our social relations, the struggle of daily life, the hierarchical relations between institutions and people, and between academics and students. The desire for autonomy is also a desire to re-instate the commons, to break the enclosures that currently inhibit sharing. The conscious act of sharing is both a move to resist oppression and a drive towards autonomy. After all, we share our work in education so that one-day we might become free through education, don’t we?

The title of this post is ‘towards a manifesto for sharing’. If we were to write such a manifesto, what would it contain? Feel free to start writing it in the comment box below. Thanks.

Becoming a scholar activist

I’ve been looking for information about ‘scholar activism’ and recently came across an MA in Activism and Social Change at Leeds University. It’s run by Dr. Paul Chatterton, lecturer in the School of Geography. His colleague has written a really interesting, reflective paper about setting up the MA degree, and Paul has written a couple of related papers on making strategic interventions inside and outside the neo-liberal university, and about academia and activism.

Interested in this stuff? Got any links and references to share?

We scream. Two grant proposals on ‘sustainability’ and education

As always, I think it is good practice to share what I am doing. Here are two ‘expressions of interest’ we made today for the HEA’s Small Education for Sustainable Development Interdisciplinary Grants.

UPDATE: Neither submissions were accepted. We were told that #1 was ‘not deemed transferable enough’ and that #2 was ‘not pedagogical enough’.

1. We scream. In and against the notion of sustainability

In the beginning is the scream. We scream. … This is our starting point: rejection of a world that we feel to be wrong, negation of a world we feel to be negative. This is what we must cling to. (Holloway, 2002)

We propose to develop a course module that attempts to articulate Holloway’s notion of ‘the scream’ in student-academics and develop both a theoretical and practical framework for negativity that recognizes the unsustainability of our lives and leads to a negation of unsustainability that informs direct action. The proposed module would be research-engaged, scaffolded by the ‘pedagogy of excess’ (Neary & Hagyard 2010).

The pedagogy of excess involves a critique not only of the politics of consumption but the politics of production whereby student-academics recognize that the principle of capitalist excess is not adequate for the sustainability of human life. Informed by the history of struggle inside and outside of the academy, students as producers move beyond their anticipated experience of university education, exceeding their expectations about the potentials and possibilities of student life. (Neary & Winn 2009)

A curriculum for a pedagogy of excess engages participants with multiple critical discourses across disciplines and proposes research projects that, for example, establish new indices of well-being beyond monetary measures; new capacities for democratic planning afforded by technology and systems of allocation outside of wage-labour, which enrich a critical, political economy with ecological knowledge adequate to the scope of what a progressive and sustainable humanity might become (Dyer-Witheford 2005, 90-91).

(249 words)


Dyer-Witheford, N. (2005) Cognitive Capitalism and the Contested Campus, European Journal of Higher Arts Education, 2.

Holloway, John (2002) Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today. London, Pluto Press

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience. London, Continuum, pp. 192-210.

Neary, Mike and Hagyard, Andy (In Press, 2010) Pedagogy of Excess: an alternative political economy of student life. In: The Marketisation of Higher Education: The Student as Consumer. Eds. Mike Molesworth, Lizzie Nixon, Richard Scullion. London, Routledge


Joss Winn, Mike Neary (NTF), Richard Hall (NTF)

2. The student as producer and the development of a ‘mass intellectuality in commons’

In an environment where knowledge is free, the roles of the educator and the institution necessarily change. The educator is no longer a delivery vehicle and the institution becomes a landscape for the production and construction of a mass intellect in commons. (Neary and Winn, 2009)

This project asks, “How can we live in and against an unsustainable world? How can student-academics act against that which they know is not sustainable?”

We propose that universities and the nature of academic work are ecologically unsustainable and that a critique of the social relations of capitalist production is central to understanding the notion of ‘sustainability’ and living sustainably. This project will propose methods and tools for remodeling the idea of a student, from consumer to producer, undermining the organising principle, (i.e. private property and wage labour), through which academic knowledge is currently being produced.

An exemplar alternative organising principle is already proliferating in universities in the form of open, networked collaborative initiatives, which at their most radical, attempt to ensure the free and creative use of research materials. Initiatives such as Open Access are attempts by academics and others to lever the Internet to ensure that research output is free to use, re-use and distribute without legal, social or technological restriction.

By participating in such subversive movements, the student-academic becomes a critical, socially and environmentally active individual, who works against the “systematic conversion of intellectual activity into intellectual capital and, hence, intellectual property” (Noble 1998), acting within yet against an unsustainable world.

(250 words)


Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience. Continuum, London, pp. 192-210. ISBN 1847064728

Noble, David F. (1998) Digital diploma mills: The automation of higher education. First Monday [Online], Volume 3 Number 1 (5 January 1998)


Joss Winn, Mike Neary (NTF), Richard Hall (NTF)