If you’ve been reading this blog for the last year, you’ll have seen a number of posts relating to what Richard Hall and I have called ‘Resilient Education‘. One of the early influences on our thinking was the use of the term ‘resilience’ by the Transition movement. I’m therefore pleased that Richard, Mike Neary and I will be attending a ‘dissenters’ conference‘ on the 5-6th February that aims to consider “whether an alternative frame of reference for universities can be meaningfully and practically developed.” We’ll be holding an ‘open space’ workshop at the conference where we’ll be raising some of the ideas we have, based on ‘resilient education’, our recent Leverhulme bid (more on that another time), and our plans for a Social Science Centre. If you’re interested in attending the conference, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s cheap (£25 with concessions available) and informal accommodation can be arranged.
Not a post about my own work but that of my colleague, Mike Neary, who leads the Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD), where I work. When I first joined the University of Lincoln, Mike asked me to contribute to a book chapter he was writing on the Student as Producer (read it here). More recently, Student as Producer has become a major university project, funded by the HEA. The project aims 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.
Underlying the practical ambitions of the project are a number of theoretical ideas, which draw from critical social theory. Recently, Mike has written about these in his paper, Student as Producer: A Pedgogy for the Avant-Garde and another book chapter, Pedagogy of Excess: An Alternative Political Economy of Student Life, authored with Andy Hagyard, who also works in CERD.
Pedagogy of Excess looks to the world-wide social protests of 1968, in which students played a central role, for inspiration for the notion of research-engaged teaching. Grounded in critical social theory and based on historical material that deals with the events in Paris, Pedagogy of Excess describes 1968 as a moment when the students became more than students, and acted as revealers of a general crisis by demystifying the process of research. The students did this by engaging in various forms of theoretical and practical activity that took them beyond the normal limits of what is meant by higher education. It is the notion of students becoming more than students through a radical process of revelation that provide the basis for our concept of Pedagogy of Excess. At the end of the chapter we discuss Pedagogy of Excess in relation to other critical pedagogies, and set out a curriculum based on the principles of pedagogical excess. ((Download pre-print of book chapter here))
Both the journal article and book chapter focus on a radical re-conceptualisation of what it means to teach and learn. I found them really stimulating and I hope you do, too.
I am conscious that it’s been almost a month since I last wrote here but that is largely due to my work on other projects, websites and blogs. Here’s an overview of some of the work I’m currently involved in. If you’re working on similar projects or want to discuss or collaborate on any of this, do get in touch.
I recently wrote a brief summary of the work I’ve been doing under the ‘Learning Lab’ banner, since I started my work as Technology Officer in the Centre for Educational Research and Development. WordPressMU occupied a large chunk of my summer, though I feel I have a good understanding of it now and can relax a little while supporting staff and students who wish to use it. It will soon be moving to the new, permanent home of http://blogs.lincoln.ac.uk
One of the unexpected outcomes of working on WordPressMU was the realisation that not only training but a different model of support is key to sustaining and improving the use of blogs and other Web 2.0 tools. I’m keen to advocate and support the user-to-user support model that most open source and social web services develop rather than the traditional user-to-professional, ‘Help Desk’ model that exists for much of the software provided by the university. Models of user support are not something I’ve taken much of an interest in until recently, but the reality is that I alone am unable to support the growing adoption of WordPressMU at the university and I need to encourage staff and students to help themselves wherever possible.
Having said that, with colleagues in the Library and Research Office, I’m also planning to offer regular staff training sessions on the use of Web 2.0 tools in education and I’m visiting classes to give one hour introductions to WordPress, which is a good opportunity to work with and learn from both students and staff. In addition to this, I’m contributing towards the revision of policy documents which ensure that these new tools are used effectively and appropriately.
This is something I’m developing to promote and support the various initiatives at the university which provide Open Access to our research, teaching and learning. I started working for the university on a JISC-funded project to develop an institutional repository, having been working as an Archivist and Project Manager of a Digital Asset Management system in my previous job. Then, a few months ago, I heard about the difficulties people in the Lincoln Business School were having trying to establish a series of ‘Occasional Working Papers’ (OWPS) using existing portal software provided by the university. At the same time, I was looking at the Open Journal System for publishing Open Access journals, so I suggested that we set up the OWPS using OJS. Seeing what a great piece of software OJS is, I then suggested we use it for NEO, a planned journal of student research which we intend to launch in the Spring. Finally (and this is where it gets really interesting for me), Mike Neary, Dean of Teaching and Learning and Head of the Centre for Educational Research and Development, is advocating a more critical engagement with the debates about the marketisation of higher education through teaching practice. He’s calling this critical engagement, ‘Teaching in Public’, which encompasses the idea of an Academic Commons.
Professor Neary argues the uncertainty over the university’s mission requires the notion of ‘the public’ to be reconceptualized, so as to remake the university as an academic project that confronts the negative consequences of academic capitalism, and the commodification of everyday life. He will present Karl Marx’s concept of the ‘general intellect’ as an idea through which the university might be remade.
A project I’ve been leading for some months now is the installation of an Access Grid node at the university. We were fortunate in being approached by the Mental Health Research Network (MHRN) several months ago who offered to fund the installation of an AG node at the university to support their staff who work at the university and provide a facility that is otherwise missing in Lincolnshire. It’s been a really interesting and useful project for me as I learned about how the university undertakes a tendering exercise and I’ve been able to work with colleagues from across the university. The node should be available to use sometime in January. The Access Grid project is yet another technology-based initiative at the university which further improves our research infrastructure and supports collaboration and the wider exchange of ideas among colleagues worldwide.
This is a new project that brings together three, originally separate proposals, that the ICT department and CERD were proposing to take forward. It covers:
- ubiquitous wireless networking
- so called ‘thin client’ technology as an alternative to desktop PCs and the management of software applications and resources
- access via user-owned devices, such as low-cost and increasingly popular ‘netbook’ hardware
We’re just starting to look at how we might offer the same user experience and services on our wireless network as we provide on our wired network. Currently the wireless network only offers Internet access. At the same time, we’re interested in evaluating new virtualisation technologies for the desktop. The ICT department are concluding a server consolidation project which is virtualising much of our server infrastructure. This brings many benefits and allows the ICT department to provide a more flexible service to users. Our new study will look at whether similar virtualisation technology can bring benefits to desktop users, too. The third part of this project is based on a proposal I made a few months ago to evaluate the user experience and support issues that the new generation of ‘netbooks‘ introduces. Smaller screens, Linux operating systems, an emphasis on web-based applications and the rapid adoption of these low-cost devices often aimed at the education sector, require a better understanding of the impact of this technology and the influence it may have on driving students to use more and more web-based applications.
Are you working on similar initiatives? If so, please leave a comment and share your experiences.
Next week I am going to a conference in Helsinki called ‘Higher Education: Spaces and Place for Learning, Innovation and Knowledge Transfer‘.
Higher education is changing and the facilities need to support this. This conference looks at this change and how facilities need to respond. Starting with an evaluation of change as it affects higher education, it focuses on the spaces where learning, innovation and knowledge transfer happens, be it in classrooms, offices, research labs, clubs, cafes and the places between, inside or outside them.
The formal and informal exchange of knowledge takes place not only within the university but with collaborations between universities, the community and business. Spaces and places need to reflect this. Spaces and places for universities are not just confined to campuses; other types of space such as research parks are emerging too.
Clearly the conference in Helsinki ties in closely with the HEFCE funded Learning Landscapes project, of which the University of Lincoln is the lead partner. The project’s objectives are to
promote closer collaboration between academics and estates professionals in the development of new learning landscapes, so that the strengths of the traditional academic environment are not lost when new spaces are developed to foster innovative approaches. It aims to develop a high-level framework, pathways and tool set to facilitate the dialogue between HEI senior academic managers and their estates directors concerning the future direction of teaching and research practice and its implications for the built estate. Process tools will be piloted at steering group institutions and a training programme developed.
Mike Neary, Head of CERD and Project Manager of the Learning Landscapes project is unable to go to Helsinki and I was fortunate to be able to take his place and accompany another colleague from CERD. I’ll be blogging from the conference and intend to post some video of the site visits when I return.