Get active- watch TV

Jason Williams mid-way through our ‘Challenge Jason’ scenarios as we explore media-enhanced teaching and learning in practice

My colleague Jason Williams at ARU’s DigiFest (#ARUDigifest) introduced our academics to Box of Broadcasts (BoB), a service provided by the British University’s Film & Video Council (BUFVC). The service provides access to 65 ‘free-to-air’ channels and their current and legacy programmes for subscribing UK universities.

While in my work on media-enhanced teaching and learning, I gravitate towards the value of user-generated content by staff and students and the benefits associated with co-creation of knowledge through authentic learning, BoB would seem a remarkably ‘passive’ and unfocused service; not at all the epitome of active learning.

I wanted to set out two or three learning design scenarios that challenge this perception.

BoB for scenario-based learning

Problem-based learning (PBL) situates the active learner amongst authentic problems that foster epistemic curiosity and which develop strategic thinking and behaviours. Coming up with good problems and articulating them convincingly is one of the keys to problem-based approaches. Creating a credible conceit is fun, but nevertheless challenging for academics. It requires imagination, some risk, and a taste for adventure! At the heart of this challenge is the question of how to present it. Two answers to this are: as a scenario and using video and audio. If that media is ready-made, so much the better – the challenge is just to find it.

Scenario-based analysis sits within the realm of PBL (though it has other uses, e.g. usability testing (Carroll, 2000; Fowler, 2004). Carroll gives us clues for designing good scenarios and I run workshops on this. But we use scenarios as part of our everyday parlance in the same way that we use metaphors and anecdotes. When we do this we are conjuring up conceits, illusions, and conundrums in a natural, conversational way.

Ready-made downloadable video provides us with a rich panoply of materials. How often does a student or an academic say, “Did anyone see [such and such] on TV the other night?”, often referring to an example or a situation and not necessarily the whole programme? Often, we are looking to develop some empathy when we do this, but usually we are trying to provide some vicarious insight; a shortcut to explain a significance idea or an alternative way of presenting and clarifying an idea or situation. But that’s fine for the 5% who may have also seen that. What about the rest?

If you see something you think you might use as a catalyst for conversation or to present a situation or metaphor, make a note to go to BoB and grab it. BoB allows you to build a personal collection of professionally made video; either whole programmes or selected clips.

BoB for co-creation and peer assessment

My second suggestion is to ask students to create exemplary scenarios. This is a fine formative activity. It epitomises co-creation. Ask students to interrogate BoB and to find videos and produce clips that will work as problems, scenarios, metaphors and illustrations to establish an authentic conundrum. They’ll develop their information skills in the process, hopefully discover many useful resources, and hopefully begin to build their own collection of clips (with ready made citations). They can construct their conundrum around the video and test it on peers in next week’s session. Peers can assess these. Warn students about ‘rabbit holes’ – getting distracted and losing time by following their curiosity and interest too far – but this is an essential information skill anyway, and it may be refreshing to see how such skills are applicable to working with a range of media – not just text.


In both of the above suggestions, what may have seemed passive has become a catalyst opportunity for deep, active learning once situated,.


Box of Broadcasts

Carroll, J. M. (2000). Five reasons for scenario-based design. Interacting with Computers, 13(1), 43–60.

Fowler, C. (2004) Scenario-based design. Chimera: Institute of Social and Technical Change. Online at:

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Polycontextuality, spheres and headphones


Photo by Alex Alvarez on Unsplash

Space, including learning space, can be thought of as ‘spheres’ and ‘atmospheres’. Ash (2016) looks at the implications of this for studio studies. For me and my own interest in studio-based learning and my longstanding interest in the ‘digital voice’ as a space for learning, I pick up on one of the vignettes Ash uses in his chapter on video-game design studios. He considers the interference of game testing when headphones are not available to the game developer. My thoughts are about the consequent interference to immersion in the material space.-


Spheres and atmospheres

Spheres, as psychosocial spatial constructs, can be understood as being both material and ephemeral and they can be applied to human participants and non-humans (objects and material environments) (Sloterdijk, 2011). As Ash demonstrates in his own case study, the concepts are equally relevant in the digital domain; in his case video game environments. I would extend it to the media and the sensual stimuli that adds to a context. Atmospheres (Anderson, 2009) extend this idea by incorporating the significance of the affective. Ash explains, “An atmosphere is an open assemblage of elements that change when new elements enter or leave the scene. “ (2016 p. 94)

Metaphorically, spheres and atmospheres can be conceived of as bubbles of influence describing the effect of humans and objects on each other within a space. “Developing aspects of Anderson and Sloterdijk’s account, we can define atmospheres as the affects, forces and affordances contained and brought into being by the specific objects that make up a sphere, which in turn create the appearance of objects as being discrete and spatially differentiated from one another.” (p. 94) I summarise ‘affects, forces and affordances’ as ‘influence’, but he has chosen each of the ideas carefully. Affects acknowledges emotional and aesthetic influence, forces alludes to material interference and impact, and affordance suggests purposeful functionality or role.

The influence of spheres can be understood as emergent or dynamic, reflecting the interactive or psychological relationship between humans and other humans or non-humans. “Objects, spheres and atmospheres are therefore linked to one another in processes of co-emergence.” (Ash, 2016 p. 95). These ideas are also evident in Actor-Network Theory, the social theory that explains how humans and non-humans in the social and natural worlds exist in a constant flux of relationship networks (Callon, 2001).


Ash describes a video game design studio. Within this, he considers the use of headphones by members of the development team during their regular game testing episodes. He draws attention to the role of sound in the game environment to not only create a rich sense of context but to provide critical information. Specifically he notes how the absence of sound invalidates testing.

The focus on headphones is pertinent to understanding components in assemblage theory, objects in ANT, and spatial polycontextuality. Headphones encapsulate and represent these ideas of interdependent constellations graphically. Headphones, as an object, wrap around the human’s head with the aim of transmitting a sound space. Their dual purpose is to exclusively capture the individual’s sensual attention: their duality is to not only provide stimuli but to remove unhelpful or distracting stimuli. Headphones in the game environment isolate the listener from their sense of the material world to create a sense of game immersion.

While Ash discusses atmosphere within the game and the implications of not hearing it, for me, a more significant point is the isolation of the player from their material environment. First, it indicates how studio presence is multi-sensual. Second, it draws our attention to the real implications of the human and non-human relationships in the environment – in a learning environment we talk of ‘the built pedagogy’ for example. Third, headphones, as an obstacle with either intended or non-intended consequences, set the subject apart from the environment, human and non-human spheres of influence and atmospheres and the ‘actor-network’ is unhelpfully disrupted.

My concern (ironically given that I have written so much about their positive use to support orality in learning) is that that the incidental communal interplay of the studio, as in other aspects of our life, becomes unintentionally lost. The headphones are one of several modern-day ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs (others being phones, tablets, woolly clothing, hoodies, some footwear, and holding open books!). However, headphones are commonplace and pervasive and not only signal a desire to be ignored, but actually cut off communication channels. They become an obstruction to casual and incidental exchange; a fundamental quality of a co-operative learning space.


Does this suggest that higher education and advocates of studio-based learning need to develop spatial literacy as a part of academic literacy, not only in formal learning spaces, but in encouraging self and social determination in learning?


Anderson, B. (2009). Affective atmospheres. Emotion, Space and Society, 2(2), 77-81.

Ash, J. (2016). Theorising studio space: Spheres and atmospheres in a video game design studio. In Farias, I. & Wilkie, A., eds, Studio studies: operations, topologies and displacements. Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 73-89.

Callon, M. (2001). Actor Network Theory. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioural Sciences, 2001, pp. 62-66.

Sloterdijk, P. (2009). Talking to myself and the poetics of space. Harvard Design Magazine, 30.
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The Connected Classroom – “The Hub of Connectivity” #activelearning #hybridlearning


I am preparing a workshop for #ARUDigiFest titled ‘Digital collaborators: developing a digital classroom approach of connected learning’ (Cambridge 9th September and Chelmsford 11th September). Working with my colleague Uwe Richter, we will explore the idea of the digital classroom as a hub of connectivity and aim to co-create a statement about the digital-active classroom as a collective outcome of the session. Who knows, this may take the form of a #manifesto!

The workshop will bring into focus two pieces of work I am leading on at the moment: media-enhanced teaching and learning (#METaL) and a multi-faceted learning spaces project. Both of these are within the contexts of developing Anglia Ruskin University’s Active Curriculum, as well as our remit to develop digital learning. I find this really exciting. As in my book, the focus is the connected place, and the diagram above (which isn’t in the slightest meant to be comprehensive): it describes learning space as a hub or cauldron of possibilities in which the teacher’s role is to create a loose structure for learning.

So, this idea of “The Hub of Connectivity” is a device around which the workshop can discuss ideas towards generating some form of collective statement of ‘what we think’!

I decided to blog about this because I liked the slide I produced. While there are all sorts of ideas and theories behind this, I just wanted to present a stimulus for discussion. I aim to ask people to pick up on a word or a connection that has caught their eye, or to spot connections that are missing, or ideas that are missing. We might begin to annotate the connections like a concept map.


While the aim is to explore the ideas (however much any participant knows), the idea of co-creation is important here. It is about agreeing to work through our respective knowledge and experience with the purpose and motivation to co-create an articulation of what we collectively conclude.

I like that I have both co-creation and co-production on the slide. While they are compatible ideas, they mean different things.

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Teaching ‘whole people’ holistically – understanding co-operative learning


Individuals together. Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

Andresen, Boud and Choen (2000) set out criteria for experience-based learning.

  • The goal of experience-based learning involves something personally significant or meaningful to the students;
  • Students should be personally engaged;
  • Reflective thought and opportunities for students to write or discuss their experiences should be ongoing throughout the process;
  • The whole person is involved, meaning not just their intellect but also their senses, their feelings and their personalities;
  • Students should be recognized for prior learning they bring into the process;
  • Teachers need to establish a sense of trust, respect, openness, and concern for the well-being of the students.

These criteria can be applied to any description of student-centred active learning and they struck me as a useful lens for considering a co-operative, studio-based pedagogy too. In this post, I’ll pick up on a few of the ideas they suggested to me.

The first two criteria highlight the need to engage each participant, personally. Experience in this context suggests meeting the student halfway, so to speak, allowing for their learning ‘momentum’ or flow. Engagement comes from creating a space in which the next idea is allowed to flow from the previous idea, or whatever is intrinsically motivating for the student. It allows the learner to engage wherever their ‘head is at’. In a painting studio, one work leads to the next. The art student is taught to be tenacious and push ideas in all directions to reveal new truths and new ideas. In my responsibilities for developing employability within the curriculum, an important theme this week has been developing student creativity – not as a skill, but as a mindset. Experiential learning, as defined here through these criteria, alludes to the creative mindset by identifying meaning that is personally significant as a condition of a student’s learning.

The third criterion, on reflective thought processes, is the essential flipside of a creative learning context. Learning has to mean something and, to find and interrogate that meaning, the learner must critically analyse their experience habitually. This is the painter’s mode. The to and fro action of walking to the canvas, standing back, analysing the mark in the broader context of the canvas and the situation (the idea in the context of a body of work for example), evaluating it, and moving forward to make the next mark stands as a metaphor in microcosm for reflective learning. When this process is enacted in a social context, amongst peers or others in a studio, the vibrancy of the reflective learning activity is enhanced exponentially. If ‘to and fro’ is a metaphor for experiential learning, what might that learning look like for the non-painters?

It was the next point that caught my attention initially. It says, “The whole person is involved, meaning not just their intellect but also their senses, their feelings and their personalities.” First, the ‘whole person’ is an important phrase for me. It is so important that it is the central mantra to the work I am leading on employability in the curriculum. While employability schemes get caught up in dissecting what we are after by identifying skills, attributes, capitals, and so forth, at the end of the day we are all interested in developing qualities that are individual, life-affirming, and unmeasurable. Yes, we can and must look at the particular dimensions that make up a graduate, and students need to do this too if they are to explore, consider and articulate their strengths, but we must bring it all back to ‘the whole person’. A student must have a sense of themselves, of their own growth and a tangible sense of who they are becoming. More than this, the criterion draws our attention to develop a student’s the use of their senses (being aware and receptive), their feelings and gut intuition, and to the personality that is developing through the experiences that they have while at university. Education creates a fragile space which all students have to learn to navigate safely. Not only navigate, but negotiate. This makes a higher education learning space a living lab in which the learner is their own subject. Supporting the development of the learner’s metacognitive and reflexive skills is, arguably, the most important outcome of a university education, yet one that is too often ignored. A co-operative, studio-based education is the natural home for fostering a learner’s ability to navigate and negotiate their own development.

The penultimate point, on prior learning, feels different. Initially, it suggested to me that conducting a formal skills or knowledge audit would be a good idea. Perhaps. But more important than that, for me, is the need to recognise the values of difference and diversity, and of personal learning ecologies. In an art studio, this becomes apparent immediately. Just as it is easy to recognise the work of any famous artist by the way they put their work together (we know a Picasso or a Gaugin when we see one), it is also true for the student artist. In the same way that we recognise different handwriting, in a studio, we have more clues that tell the viewer that each and every student is exceptional, even as they are learning and experimenting with the marks, subjects, colours, and the many other variables and parameters that define their work.

The final criterion brings us to the qualities we should expect from an experiential and co-operative learning environment. Such an environment should exude trust, respect, openness, and concern for each other’s well-being. It is a space of mutuality in which peer and tutor presence signify the co-operative values of association.

The studio stands out, not only as a learning space for artists, but as an experiential environment that can challenge, support and inspire any learner.


Andresen, L., Boud, D., & Cohen, R. (2000). Experience-based learning. In G. Foley “Understanding adult education and training, 2nd edition.” Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

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Blogging as a site of embodiment, co-production and enculturation


Franz Kline – I read Kline’s paintings as armatures or structures

In this post I look at blogging as a studio space by reflecting on how and why I blog. A study of studio is a study of embodiment: the “embodied occupational engagement in constructing meaning [and how] the occupations in which we choose to engage are shaped by our pre-existing occupational being. The doing and being of a group or population reflects its communal ‘culture’”. (Bilandzic & Johnson, 2013 p. 249)

One way of understanding ‘studio’ in this context is as a ‘site’ or situation in which there is a ‘connected production of things’ (Hennion & Farias, 2016). It is a sociomaterial construct in which there is an entanglement of factors. Actor-Network Theory (ANT) (Latour, 2005) and Assemblage Theory (Delanda, 2016) are helpful for understanding why sociomateriality is useful for analysing the blogging space. Blogging, as with other social media, or other types of mediating space, can be understood in terms of “infrastructure as a sociomaterial assemblage, an entanglement, with scholarly learning, teaching, institutional agendas, architectural intent, technology, staff, students, pedagogic outcomes, and built form [with] all participants in an active symbiosis of becoming” – a relational ontology (Acton, 2017) in which learning is a synthesis of a student’s spatial experience.


I explored co-production in the previous post where I set out a number of core principles derived from the work of Edgar Cahn and others who have gone on to build upon Cahn’s idea of the core economy (Cahn, 2005; Filipe et al., 2017; Humphreys & Grayson, 2008). The essential idea of co-production is one of free exchange for mutual benefit. It recognises the value that any of us bring to a situation or problematised event, whether that is knowledge, skills or, more simply, time and interest.

That idea of reciprocity is interesting when considered in the context of ANT in which many of the actors are non-human. I hope to explore this in a future post.

Distributed cognition and distributed creation

Distributed cognition (Gieri & Moffat, 2003; Hutchins, 1995) offers a theoretical explanation of how learning happens in a networked environment. It considers how collaboration takes place across individuals, artefacts and internal or external representations as one cognitive system. The idea of distributed creation takes this further and allows for “the active and enabling role played by the materials and technologies participating in creation processes…” (Faria & Wilkie, 2016 p. 5). They share, with ANT, an appreciation of the non-human factors in a process, and are useful for understanding studio, not as a built environment, but as a dynamic context for learning.


If I am using the lens of co-production and the concept of studio, the obvious starting point is to look at who is the ‘other’. ANT provides an answer and reveals that there are many ‘others’ – the human as well as the non-human objects, ideas, and process actors. I define ‘other’ here, then, as those mediating forces that shape my blogging practice. Here are a few examples: myself; those who subscribe to my blog; those who may subscribe to my blog in the future; those who may find a blog post by stumbling across it; the Tactile Learning blog itself as a self-referential actor; any other post with specific connections e.g. on studio or co-production; other people and blogs, books and their authors (etc, etc) that have or may have a bearing on a the topic in hand, or that I may imagine to have a bearing on the topic in hand.

The idea of blog as studio can be seen as a busy space of co-operation (as in mutual association and intersection) therefore. While not necessarily laboured, every word and image can be considered in that context, with consideration also given to how they establish associations with any other components*: self, people as individuals and as networks, digital and physical artefacts, and so forth; and all of this vibrant, if not sentient. These components exist, or rather live as continually changing constellations of components or actors. (Smirnoff et al., 2017; St. Pierre, 2011) (*components is the term used in assemblage theory to describe the emergent entities that coalesce to form the assemblage.)

Ontology of space

ANT and Assemblage Theory are analytical frameworks and have a tendency to depersonalise the construction being examined. Acton (2017) cites Kincheloe’s (2003) idea of critical ontology which offers a way to better “‘explore what it means to be human and to negotiate the social and ideological forces that shape [my] pedagogical consciousness.'” For both, it is about finding a way to explore “‘the ways power shapes us, the ways we see the world, and the ways we perceive our role as teachers.’” For me, blogging as a critically ontological act is also about understanding myself, but mostly it is about understanding studio space, for example blogging as an example of a constructive learning space more generally, not necessarily one that the teacher imposes on a student, but one that the student as learner experiences and (literally) comes to appreciate. For me, ‘studio’, as represented by the idea of blog, is an expression of a coming or a commitment to understand the intrinsic meaning and value of the space. I am interested in studio, and space more generally, as sites that promote the co-operative exchange of challenge in balance with support: challenge as an imposition of constraints, traditions and risks, such as personal or professional exposure; and, support as legitimation or as a constructive frame.

Challenge is also evident in Schon’s (1985) notion of studio as ‘problem setting’ and this presents the idea of studio and blog as ‘stage’ for an event involving actors in a moment; a moment being transitory and temporary, albeit persistent when understood simply as a legacy artefact with latent value.

My appraisal is that blogging, like painting, like writing music (other forms of studio space I use), can be an intensely lonely space; even, and perhaps especially, when other people are co-located. It can feel like the antithesis of that notion of busy co-operation I mentioned. It is a place of productive struggle and always potentially an alienating take on the idea of Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1978) where the learner’s uncertainty can obstruct their reach to knowledge. Nevertheless, blogging is a space that I come to that serves a purpose for me, or at least challenges and has expectations of me. It is a space I am responsible for. In the past I have run many other ‘studios’ – podcasts, blogs, hashtags, networks – which make demands on me in a mutually beneficial, if challenging, productive relationship.

Beyond the loneliness and sense of responsibility, the space is open and, in many ways, apparently undemanding; the archetypal blank canvas. It is a space I chose and to which I return with no real obligation. It is a space in which I make marks and respond to those marks, and see the ‘painting’ grow in relation to other recent works or works from years ago, and indeed those works I have in mind to pursue in the future. It is also a space for creating works in public – and this notion suggests it is not a studio (Farias & Wilkie, 2016). Though, like a studio, it is a place of ideas, proofs, trials, and tests that may involve “times, moments and precise people gathering.” (Hennion & Farias, 2016). Like studio (and unlike the lab), the blog is not a space of resolution.

How and why I blog

Returning to my key questions, I value blogging as an accessible and challenging space. I have been blogging in various places prolifically since 2004. Blogging creates a frame or a semi-constrained structure in which I interrogate and creatively unravel problems to not necessarily find or offer solutions, but to discover personal insights that may have value to others: my future self, or other readers.

I do this in different ways. In the past I would use blogging more as a space for reporting, sharing information, and reflecting on innovation (e.g. Reflecting on Educational Podcasting), but increasingly the space has become one for constructing and testing my ideas and my own understanding. As such, blogging is a risky space and a lonely space: a paradoxical space for learning through jeopardy. I am conscious, for example, when I talk to other academics about blogging that most professional people would regard exposing one’s ignorance, and even one’s act of learning, as foolhardy: ‘professional suicide’ is a term that springs to mind. Paradoxically, rather than death by my own hand, my blogging exemplifies another artistic virtue; that of life-affirming transgression and defiance. I was trained as an artist and, as Orr and Shreeves (2016) explain, studio spaces and their signature pedagogies train creatives to fail safely by taking and navigating risk defiantly.

My aim as a blogger is not to report, but to think through and construct ideas that have little certainty for me and, using what I know and what I seek out, I construct misshapen armatures upon which I attempt to construct and form a body of cohesive knowledge. This post is an example of that. It is incomplete, put together quite quickly, identifying further unknowns and routes for continued exploration, forming a constellation of ideas, some of which may have some use to me/others.

I have learnt a lot from writing this. That’s the point of the studio. This post, like much of my thinking, is situated within a hypothesis of ‘studio for all’ – that is, the idea of studio as a learning space comes from traditions associated with art, design and performance but its rationales and practices have values for all. By writing this post, and reading around, I have reflected on the importance of enculturation and embodiment. Many art lecturers deny they teach and, in so many words, explain their practice as enculturation through the affirmation of values and traditions (Orr & Shreeves, 2016). There is also the idea of disposition and questions about nature and nurture (Barnett & Coate, 2005). These ideas make me question whether studio can be for ‘all’, although many concepts touched on in this post and in my own emergent idea of ‘studio’ are pedagogically universal. Undoubtedly, as a blog post, I have raised further questions for myself that require me to find out more.


Acton, R. (2017). Place-people-practice-process: using sociomateriality in university physical spaces research. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 49(14), 1441–1451.

Barnett, R. & Coate, K. (2005). Engaging the curriculum in higher education. London: Open University Press/McGraw-Hill.

Bilandzic, A. & Johnson, A. (2013). Hybrid placemaking in the library: designing digital technology to enhance users’ on-site experience. The Australian Library Journal, 62:4, 258-271, DOI: 10.1080/00049670.2013.845073

Cahn, E. (2000). No more throwaway people: the co-production imperative. Washington: Essential Books.

Delanda, M., (2016). Assemblage theory. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.

Farias, I. & Wilkie, A. (2016). ‘Studio studies: notes for a research programme’ in: I. Farias and A. Wilkie, eds, Studio studies: operations, topologies and displacements. London and New York, Routledge, pp. 1-21.

Filipe, A., Renedo, A. & Marston, C. (2017). The co-production of what? : knowledge, values, and social relations in health care. PLoS Biol 15(5): e2001403.

Gieri, R. D. & Moffat, B. (2003). Distributed cognition: where the cognitive and the social merge. Social Studies of Science, 33(2), 1-10.

Hennion, A. & Farias, I. (2016). ‘For a sociology of maquettes: an interview with Antoine Hennion’ in: I. Farias and A. Wilkie, eds, Studio studies: operations, topologies and displacements. London and New York, Routledge, pp. 73-88.

Humphreys, A. & Grayson, K. (2008). The intersecting roles of consumer and producer: a critical perspective on co-production, co-creation and prosumption. Sociology Compass, 2(3) pp. 963-980. DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2008.00112.x

Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the wild. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.

Kincheloe, J. (2003). Critical ontology: visions of selfhood and curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 19, 47–64.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: an introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Orr, S. & Shreeves, A. (2016). Art and design pedagogy in higher education: knowledge, values and ambiguity in the creative curriculum. London and New York: Routledge.

Schon, D. A. (1985). The design studio: an exploration of its traditions and potentials. London: RIBA Publications.

Smirnov, N., Easterday, M.W. & Gerber, E. M. (2017). Infrastructuring distributed studio networks: a case study and design principles. Journal of the Learning Sciences, DOI: 10.1080/10508406.2017.1409119

St. Pierre, E. A. (2011). Post qualitative research: The critique and the coming after. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (4th ed., pp. 611–625). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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The core principles of co-production

Co-production, as defined by Filipe et al. (2017), is “an exploratory space and a generative process that leads to different, and sometimes unexpected, forms of knowledge, values, and social relations.” It is more than a matter of ‘production’ being an outcome of participant involvement, rather, the generative process requires participant agency and intention in what is invariably a dynamic situation. It is also much more than a matter of collaborative learning and, while social media may create a suitable context for imagining new forms of learner interaction, co-production is not dependent upon technological connectivity. This is all made clear by examining the principles that define co-production.

The following definition and principles, articulated by the NESTA Foundation (, capture and begin to make practical Edgar Cahn’s ideas about co-production (Cahn, 2000). Like Cahn’s original context, they are situated in the domain of social care.
“Co-production can be defined as a way of doing that sees all the actors involved as equal contributors towards the same goal.” NESTA identifies the following core principles of co-production:
  1. Recognising people as assets: equal partners in the design and delivery of services;
  2. Building on people’s existing capabilities: co-produced services start with people’s capabilities (not needs) and look for opportunities to develop them;
  3. Mutuality and reciprocity: co-production is about a mutual and reciprocal partnership;
  4. Peer support networks: peer and personal networks alongside professionals;
  5. Blurring roles: blurring the distinction between professionals, users, family members, community representatives;
  6. Professionals as catalysts of change: Enabling professionals to become facilitators and catalysts of change.”
The term ‘co-production’ was coined originally in the 1970s by Ostrom (Alford, 2014; NEF, 2008). Adopted by Cahn, his ideas have been adopted more widely (Filipe et al., 2017; Humphreys & Grayson, 2008), including in higher education (McLoughlin & Lee, 2008). Filipe et al. point out that the meaning and scope of co-production changes according to its context. It is a useful concept with applications for government, services, and practitioners. My interest is university strategy, curriculum design and academic practice. I believe the NESTA’s principles are valuable to rethinking the teaching-learning nexus, especially in the context of active learning and what I have described as the hybrid learning studio (Middleton, 2018). In this post, therefore, I review NESTA’s principles. My aim is to make them more widely applicable by clarifying how co-production is a valuable construct to education and other domains. The post concludes with a revised set of principles; one that helps to explain the ideas underpinning the hybrid learning studio.

Reviewing the core principles of co-production

The idea of ‘services’ in NESTA’s articulation of the principles unnecessarily limits their application to other contexts, including their application to education. Filipe et al. suggest that “the process of co-production must take into account the participants’ understandings of participation and co-production, salient differences between them (e.g., identity, mobility, forms of communication), and power dynamics that may be reconfigured.” We need to open up the possibilities for adopting co-production therefore.
In the first principle, rather than ‘services’, it would be more useful to describe people as having equal value in the co-construction of knowledge. In the second principle, it is more useful to simply say, building on and developing people’s existing capabilities.
While challenging the dominant role of the ‘professional’ is central to Cahn’s original proposal, as the context for co-production is developed to embrace other domains, professional identity can be expanded without undermining the integrity of Cahn’s original proposition by adding ‘expert status’. The fourth principle becomes ‘Peer support networks: peer and personal networks alongside professionals or people assigned expert status’. Assignment can refer to status both as it is conceived or perceived. This can be further enhanced by recognising roles as having potential value. In other words, the contribution of professionals is defined and arguably limited by their knowledge and expertise. I argue that co-production can be enhanced by appreciating the potential of any contributor; potential that is actual, latent or yet to be developed. Co-production is not only about what we assume about each other and the nature of the contributions such roles are assumed to offer.
Further, co-production is itself an authentic and agentic activity: the activity is dynamic and, as it develops, its context and possible outcomes are likely to change. Through this change, we should expect the opportunities for participation to change and the potential of all participants to grow. In education, for example, we should value the activity as an authentic experience that aims to construct new knowledge and an experience that will change both the learner and the teacher. That suggests a new principle would be helpful that highlights the value of co-production to addressing the authentic and dynamic potential of a situation.
The fifth principle is unnecessarily located in social services: it points to professionals, users, family members, community representatives. It seems to be challenging the inward-looking attention given to defined roles and reminding us to look to the value of others who have an interest and who can offer value. It could be enhanced to become, ‘blurring the distinction between people assigned expert status, including professionals, and others whose formal or informal interest, experience, knowledge and commitment are not sufficiently valued or recognised.’
The final principle, which focuses on the role of the expert as change agent, could be improved by changing it to ‘Expecting experienced and knowledgeable people to lead and facilitate change, acting as change agents in activities that lead to development and learning.’
NEF (2008) offer another set of principles. In the main, they reiterate these ideas, however, they add the following:
  • Devolve real responsibility, leadership and authority to ‘users’, and encourage self-organisation rather than direction from above;
  • Offer participants a range of incentives which help to embed the key elements of reciprocity and mutuality.
These are useful to educationalists. The idea of devolving responsibility addresses learner engagement and the need to be explicit about what is expected of participants. The second raises the idea of incentivisation and again considers the need to engage the user community (the learners), although I see this more as developing intrinsic motivation by being clear to the learner about why they should be interested in participating in the core economy (the exchange of effort and skills for mutual benefit).
By developing the principles, my intention is to align with, clarify and develop the adoption of Edgar Cahn’s original thinking (2000). Latterly, the ideas and principles have been adopted more widely, including in education to some extent. In higher education, for example, the term ‘co-production’ has been used in relation to rhizomatic ideas of pedagogy in which there is less emphasis on the exchange of ‘a knowledge’ between individuals towards a greater recognition of knowledge as being socially constructed, fluid and dynamic, especially where social media promote the exchange of knowledge; hence networked learning. To paraphrase thinking in several circles circa 2004, co-productive knowledge relates to ideas such as harnessing collective intelligence, the richness of user experience, space as platform, open-ended development, agile development, co-operation over control, users add value, agentic data, and so forth (O’Reilly, 2005; Siemens, 2004).
The term ‘co-production’ in education tends to be used interchangeably with ‘collaboration’, ‘co-creation’, and ‘co-design’ and such usage blurs and reduces the original intent in Cahn’s ideas which suggest there is room to develop a co-operative pedagogy. Humphreys and Grayson (2008) look at the intersecting roles of consumer and producer (the idea of ‘prosumer’) and offer a critical perspective on co-production, co-creation and ‘prosumption’. The difference between co-production and co-creation becomes clear in Marketing where it points to the customer’s or end-user’s involvement in making, assembling or customising goods and services. In other contexts such as education, therefore, the implications are that the learner (as ‘user of education’) can be more agentic in their studies, e.g. negotiating their assessment subject. Key to both are ideas about how value is defined. Humphreys and Grayson (2008) note that in co-creation both producer and consumer work to create value in the product. As Marx (1867 [2001]) argued, what differentiates the two roles is whether the value-creation activity produces ‘exchange value’ or ‘use value’. Humphreys and Grayson (2008, p. 965-6) explain that “Understanding the distinction between these two types of value helps to shed light on the potential impact of prosumption, co-creation, co-production, and related activities…  The ‘exchange value’ of an object is its relative worth ‘when placed in a value or exchange relation with another commodity of a different kind’ (Marx 1867 [2001], 88)….  Products have value, however, beyond what they can fetch on the market. They also have an intrinsic utility to whoever owns or purchases them, which Marx refers to as use value. Use value exists for a person to the extent that a product ‘directly satisfies his [or her] wants’ (Marx 1867 [2001], 61)… Conceptually, an object’s exchange value is independent of its use value.”

Revised core principles of co-production

The core principles of co-production are:
  1. Recognising people as partners having equal value in the co-construction of knowledge;
  2. Building on and developing people’s existing capabilities by creating opportunities to develop them;
  3. Valuing mutual and reciprocal partnership;
  4. Valuing the potential of peer and personal networks alongside the input of professionals or people assigned expert status;
  5. Blurring the distinction between people assigned expert status, including professionals, and others whose formal or informal interest, experience, knowledge and commitment are not sufficiently valued or recognised;
  6. Expecting experienced and knowledgeable people to lead and facilitate change, acting as change agents in activities that lead to mutually beneficial development and learning;
  7. Devolving real responsibility, leadership and authority to participants, and encouraging self-organisation rather than direction from above;
  8. Expecting all participants to grow their capabilities and make use of them as changing situations allow;
  9. Offering participants a range of incentives which help to embed the key elements of reciprocity and mutuality.


Alford, J. (2014). The multiple facets of co-production: building on the work of Elinor Ostrom. Public Management Review, 16(3), pp. 299-316, DOI: 10.1080/14719037.2013.806578
Cahn, E. (2000). No more throwaway people: the co-production imperative. Washington: Essential Books.
Filipe, A., Renedo, A. & Marston, C. (2017). The co-production of what? : knowledge, values, and social relations in health care. PLoS Biol 15(5): e2001403.
Humphreys, A. & Grayson, K. (2008). The intersecting roles of consumer and producer: a critical perspective on co-production, co-creation and prosumption. Sociology Compass, 2(3) pp. 963-980. DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2008.00112.x
Marx, K. (1867/2001). Capital: a critique of political economy. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England. New York, NY: Penguin Books in association with New Left Review.
McLoughlin, C. & Lee, M.J.W. (2008). The three P’s of pedagogy for the networked society: personalization, participation, and productivity. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 20(1), pp.  10-27.
Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining spaces for learning in higher education. Palgrave Learning & Teaching.
NEF (New Economics Foundation) (2008). Co-production: a manifesto for growing the core economy. Online at:
O’Reilly, T. (2005). What is web 2.0: Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software. Online at:
Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2 (10), pp. 3–10.
Voorberg, W. H., Bekkers, V. J. J. M., & Tummers, L. G. (2015). A systematic review of co-creation and co-production: embarking on the social innovation journey. Public Management Review, 17(9), pp. 1333–1357.
Posted in active learning, Co-operative pedagogy, Possibilities, social media for learning, studio-based learning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Competition and co-operation in the #activelearning classroom


Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

I have been reading a great paper this morning on the use of Instagram memes by students studying art at Central St Martins (Burns et al., 2016). Amongst the many themes present in the paper, I picked up on one of several ideas that helps me to think through the implications of co-production as a learning philosophy. Within my study, I am examining the value of co-operation (rather than collaboration) as a way to understand the learner-generated context of the hybrid learning studio – that is, a different way of conceptualising social learning space.

One of the ideas behind this thinking is the relationship of competition to co-operation. Are they mutually exclusive? Can they be co-present ideologically and practically? Can a single activity be framed as both a competitive and a co-operative endeavour? Hence, my recent postings on gamification and co-production, for example. Until recently, I have always assumed that co-operation and competition are opposites and while I always challenge binary conceptions, if there ever was a valid exception, this would be it. Surely. I have come to realise this is not the case.

I have always been uncomfortable with competitiveness. I am not driven that way and I tend to rile against anything that values one person over another. I believe everyone has value and that society’s challenge is to create conditions that allow any person’s worth to flourish! Simple. Possibly naive. But it suits me! So, competition and the attitudes it suggests (e.g. ‘me against him’, ‘me or him’, ‘I am better than you’, ‘I deserve more than you’, etc.) always seem counter to an inclusive learning environment. I know there are good pedagogic arguments for competition, but you won’t get me espousing them here! Well, this post heads in that direction…

So, you can see that co-operation and competition, as dimensions of a learning philosophy, have a certain frisson.

Returning to the article by Burns et al., the students use Instagram to post memes (selected images superimposed with key quotes from the literature they are studying). Teams of students were given 30 minutes to craft their own Instagram post. They explain,

“Students made brief presentations citing the aesthetic and conceptual rationale behind their image or video. The class (and members of the external public) could register their approval or disapproval by ❤ing or not ❤ing the post. An element of competition became important in EPO [Every Phone Out] lessons. Once every group had presented, their respective scores of ❤s were counted and a winning team announced.”

To analyse this, the team-based approach is co-operative. Individuals collaborate towards a common goal in a co-creative activity (co-creation is different to co-production, being concerned with the end-user adding or giving value to the product) – to co-construct a meme and post it to a common space (the shared Instagram account). Posts were then the focus of a studio crit. A ‘crit’ is perhaps the educational epitome of co-production in which effort is shared for the common learning good, representing a principle of Edgar Cahn’s model of core economy; an economy which is neither market-driven nor professionally determined. (Cahn, 2000)

So far in this description, the pedagogy is clearly co-operative: everyone is working together with both individual and social learning outcomes in mind. The activity is mutually beneficial with the value of one team’s endeavour being offered in reciprocation of the effort of the other teams. A classic 2+2=5 scenario – the sum of our parts is greater than the whole.

The pedagogy is working fine, but then it gets a boost because the ‘crit’ is elevated beyond the usual physical location of the studio into the ‘instaphere’ of the socially mediated world of Instagram. It is not only possible to introduce another social dynamic, but arguably inevitable that an informal form of peer assessment, through ❤ing, would happen. And, given this, the competing element of totalling the number of ❤s received by each team becomes an added layer to the design. It gamifies the approach and adds some competitive fun to the method. In fact, it seems to make an important statement that helps to define the formative nature of the activity – ‘this is serious and academic, but it is also a demonstration of the value of learning together as a supportive group’.

This statement clarifies that both co-operation and competition, in this example, are mostly motivational factors. However, the ethos of the studio pedagogy also leads to the co-creation of new knowledge, supporting the theoretical basis of the course knowledge is expounded and expanded through the students’ interrogation and exemplification of what they discover and make collectively. In this example of a co-productive learning environment, there is value in working together on complementary tasks (the different memes each team produces) and this gives us ‘co-operation’: a shared commitment to activity of mutual benefit. Coinciding with this, the example demonstrates competitive learning value as a collective framework of evaluating the essential outcomes from each piece of work and the overall meaning of the conceptual basis of the study.

Yes, co-operation and competition are mutually compatible frames of learning!


Burns, E., MacLachlan, J., Charles Rees, J. (2016). Everybody phones out: teaching experiments with Instagram. Spark: UAL Creative Teaching and Learning Journal, 1(2). Online at:

Cahn, E. (2000). No more throwaway people: the co-production imperative. Washington: Essential Books.

Posted in Academic innovation, active learning, Assessment & Feedback, BYOD, Co-operative pedagogy, creativity, gamification, learner engagement, learning space, PhD, social media for learning, studio-based learning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment