Friendship and the classroom

I attended a seminar today given by my colleague Emma Heron. I was fortunate enough to mentor Emma through a year-long research project looking at the role of friendship in the student experience. It was good to catch up today after several months and connect some of my own work on learning spaces to what Emma has found. It is not surprising to find connections across our work because, in our own ways, we have been convinced that fostering student belonging is critical to student success.

If you read no further, my connection is that the configuration of the classroom, as we ‘welcome’ new students onto campus, is significant. I will now reflect on some of the points made by Emma and then return to this point about the classroom.


In brief, Emma brought student friends together to record semi-structured friendship conversations. She will be publishing on the detail of this method in her our right, however, the method elicited a rich data set about the importance of friendship.

Some ideas to reflect on

Establishing and losing friendships preoccupies students, especially in their first year. Friends are critical in this period, being key to developing confidence. A key point here for my interest in learning spaces, according to her work so far, is that students report that they will often decide not to attend class if they know their friends will not be attending. Walking into a lecture theatre or classroom on your own can be intimidating for some students. The implications of this are enormous. What, as academics, can we do to alleviate this anxiety without mollycoddling our students? From a learning space design point of view, doors that allow students to enter from the back of the lecture theatre, rather than the spotlight of the front, could help.

The happiness of students, and the role of friends in fostering happiness is key to retention. I discussed this through my time supporting Emma with her research because it related very much to my own interest in the development of non-formal learning spaces. I have case studies of students where they discuss perching spaces or spaces that they determine as being useful for ‘in-between’ learning. The idea of ‘adjacent space’ has come up in my own work and others have written about ‘working alongside’ (Harrop & Turpin, 2013). These spaces are difficult to own and, in part, this explains why I refer to in-between spaces as non-formal. In a similar way, the concept of friendship is difficult to own.

Today, in the seminar, we had the discussion about what can ‘we’ do if, as we believe, friendship is fundamental to student success? Student services provision and pastoral support in tutorials tend to operate as deficit models or as safety nets to catch those with identifiable problems whereas Emma’s work, and my own thinking about non-formal learning space, is about recognising conditions that foster belonging and becoming. But, who owns this and how can it be owned? Without a sense of ownership ideas like friendship and non-formal space are assigned to experience (being) and student agency over their place is lost. This, then, relates to thinking about placemaking.

In conclusion...

At this time of year, we should be looking for practices that inhibit friendship and addressing arrangements that alienate students.

Immediately we can reconfigure our classrooms so that students sit facing each other and we can build interactive practices around such configurations. In lecture theatres we need to be smarter, thinking perhaps about adjacent space and how we advocate its use before and after sessions, and perhaps how we allow extra ‘gathering’ time and seed pre and post-lecture activities and conversations.

If our students are sitting in rows they are not engaging with each other in class. What does that say to a new and possibly anxious student about university?

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#audiofeedback – join me in building a toolkit

I would like to invite you to share your experience of using audio feedback and to become part of a network of voices. For those of you who use audio feedback, video feedback or screencast feedback this should be easy to do and, I hope, rewarding for you.

What’s involved:

  • Create an audio file lasting up to about three minutes that explains,
    • how you have used audio, video or screencast feedback (context and method)
    • key benefits of this method in this situation
    • up to three tips you would give to someone
  • Share links to papers or guidance that have inspired or helped you
  • Share links to any of your own publications on using audio feedback

(For each different method you use, consider creating a new audio file)

Return your audio and links to me by commenting on this post with a link (e.g. to Soundcloud or your own site or blog), or via twitter @andrewmid

What I’ll do:

  • I will incorporate what I am sent into a toolkit that anyone can use to support the development of good practice.
  • I’ll promote this and encourage you to promote it!

I would like to include the names and contact details (twitter name, email address?) of all contributors and this way I hope we can establish an informal network to develop good practice. But if you don’t want your details included let me know.

If you are willing to do this, please plan to do this today or tomorrow (depending on when you see this i.e. it should be a ten minute task that could easily get forgotten). I would like to refer to and use the toolkit in a conference workshop on 15th September.

I hope this is of interest to you.


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Learning from the Futurists: analysis of the third Futurist manifesto

The route of the manifesto as an art form is Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto (1848). Loud, clear and confrontational, this form was later adopted by F.T.Marinetti in The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism (1909), and from this innumerable creatives have played with the form (Danchev, 2011). This first artistic manifesto was a call to revolt that succeeded in attracting attention for the small band of Futurists who associated with Marinetti in the years leading up to the first world war. The Futurists were young, male, arrogant, bombastic and fascistic. They saw the new world differently, being frustrated by atavistic entrenchment, wherever they found it. Leaving their fascist tendencies to one side, it is the clarity of their analysis and their declarative form that has always intrigued me and the many others who have played with rhetoric and hyperbole to disrupt the inevitability of social and artistic trajectories. 

Stylistically the manifesto was a proto-punk form. A gob in the face of civility. It received attention at the time making the front page of Le Figaro because it challenged the status quo at a time of exponential technical and social change when the rest of the world was, momentarily, like a rabbit caught in the fiery headlights of the machine age.

In this post , I first present the third Futurist manifesto, from 1910. I then analyse several of the points it makes, and its style. Finally, I draw parallels with the world of higher education today and ask whether there are lessons we can draw from the form and the content. 

The rapid change and dark horizons of the early twentieth century are not so dissimilar to today. In the introduction to the manifesto, Boccione et al. observe “the eye must be freed from its veil of atavism and culture, so that it may at last look upon Nature and not upon the museum as the one and only standard.” They ask, how can we claim to be innovative practitioners if our only measure is what we already know? If we are blind to our complacency?

Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto (1910)

Umberto Boccione and others

(Bruin, 2011)


  1. That all forms of imitation must be despised, all forms of originality glorified.
  2. That it is essential to rebel against the tyranny of the terms ‘harmony’ and ‘good taste’ as being too elastic expressions, by the help of which it is easy to demolish the works of Rembrandt, of Goya and of Rodin.
  3. That the art critics are useless or harmful.
  4. That all subjects previously used must be swept aside in order to express our whirling life of steel, of pride, of fever and of speed.
  5. That the name of ‘madman’ with which it is attempted to gag all innovators should be looked upon as a title of honour.
  6. That innate complementariness is an absolute necessity in painting, just as free metre in poetry or polyphony in music.
  7. That universal dynamism must be rendered in painting as a dynamic sensation.
  8. That in the manner of rendering Nature the first essential is sincerity and purity.
  9. That movement and light destroy the materiality of bodies.


  1. Against the bituminous tints by which it is attempted to obtain the patina of time upon modern pictures.
  2. Against the superficial and elementary archaism founded upon flat tints, and which, by imitating the linear technique of the Egyptians, reduces painting to a powerless synthesis, both childish and grotesque.
  3. Against the false claims to belong to the future put forward by the secessionists and the independents, who have installed new academies no less trite and attached to routine than the preceding ones.
  4. Against the nude in painting, as nauseous and as tedious as adultery in literature*.”

*nb: This is not a nod to feminism. The Futurists were very male. This is a challenge to the obsolete habits and salacious mentality of the academy.

The form

The form is typical of manifestos. The list of declarations is assertive and intentionally confrontational – the reader is left no option but to decide whether they agree or disagree. The reader, must debate each point on their own or with others, given that manifestos were distributed by leaflets or newspapers that were usually read in libraries, coffee houses, places of work or other social places. I have attempted to apply the form below, albeit in a less confrontational way.

The content

Applying these ideas and attitudes to higher education teaching and learning in 2017 is an interesting exercise. My relatively mild interpretation is as follows. I take what I believe are the essential ideas and re-present them.

A Teaching & Learning Manifesto (2017)


  1. It is not enough to imitate what has gone before as a good enough attempt at teaching. Excellent teaching comes from seeking to be original in order to deeply engage the learner.
  2. If occasionally we upset one or two people along the way, at least we should do so with integrity in the pursuit of the best we can do.
  3. Know and trust your own good intent.
  4. Understand your practice and your discipline in the context of today and the future and you see it.
  5. Praise the maverick innovator, the true innovator; one who should not be confused with the destructive rebel.
  6. Understand the value of learning ecologies to the learning network.
  7. Knowledge is dynamic and its assessment must be authentic.
  8. Essential truths are discovered, not given.
  9. Don’t be beguiled by certainty for the sake of expedience. Know that knowledge is uncertain.


(I have had to add some ‘blesses’. It is not enough to condemn.)

  1. Fight academic waffle – bless, plain English.
  2. Fight teaching and learning as a process where it inhibits generative thinking – bless, learning through co-production.
  3. Fight machismo and intellectual snobbery – bless, the challenge of inclusive co-operation.
  4. Fight complacency – bless, curiosity and fascination with the new and critical appraisal of what innovation means for the values we seek to uphold.


The manifesto is a useful form, one that can be generated to support the thinking of small groups and stand as a charter to steer future attitudes, behaviours and thinking. I have used manifesto writing with student groups in the past and advocate it as a tool for course groups to use for aligning their thinking about the course and its delivery.


Bruin, R., [translator] (2011). ‘’Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto’ by Boccioni and others’. In: A. Danchev, ed., “100 artists’ manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists.” Penguin Modern Classics.

Danchev, A.,ed. (2011). “100 artists’ manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists.” Penguin Modern Classics.

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What does studio mean to you? #learningspaces

I would value your thoughts if you have ever studied or practised in a studio. Studios are used in many disciplines and I am trying to understand if there is an essential meaning and identity associated with the studio as a learning space or place of practice.

Responses will inform an article I am writing for Creative Academic Magazine.

I am using a simple survey containing a single main question: “What does studio mean to you?” You can access it here:

If you don’t use a studio, please share this with anyone who does.

Many thanks for your help.


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Peripatetic space – we twalked again, like we did last summer

The Twalk group discovered that it is not always sunny in JulyOn Friday we twalked again – that is we walked, talked and tweeted (#twalk). Unlike our hot, sunny walk in May, it rained a lot! As mentioned in the previous post, Friday’s twalk was part of ALT’s Learning Spaces Special Interest Group meeting which was co-hosted in The Diamond by the University of Sheffield and in Sheffield Hallam University’s Institutes of Art renovated ‘General Post Office’, the Sheffield Institute of Education’s Charles Street Building, and our STEM annex.

The theme of the twalk was Crossing Boundaries – a very flexible, and I think, pertinent topic.

In this post, I want to reflect on the relationships of walking, thinking, topic and place.


Walking is an interesting thing to do when your research is learning spaces because,

  • You see and pass through a range of spaces;
  • You experience spaces, not as immovable objects, but as situations. This is the experience that students and teachers tend to have. Learning spaces are scheduled or unscheduled stopping points in their day, each affording a different type of experience and serving a range of purposes;
  • Walking is not sitting. It is a lively and stimulating act that better reflects the human condition and it demonstrates how one of the main purposes of the conceived campus is to control people by enclosing them in rooms that can be managed (that is not to suggest that management and control are bad things; indeed, they are a necessary dimension of the teacher’s role which I will explore later).


Creating space for thinking (and learning how to create thinking space for yourself) is essential for learning. Thinking space is sometimes provided (designed into teaching with care), but is often a highly personal matter. I have run many workshops where I ask participants “where do you learn?” and the responses are diverse and personal. Anything from “the train” to “the bath”, and occasionally places on campus that just work.

Walking is a very interesting thinking space. It is,

  • natural and familiar;
  • physically and psychologically stimulating;
  • egalitarian;
  • ideal for groups of two or three;
  • defined in time by the length of the journey;
  • promotes reflection through conversation;
  • inspired by the surroundings.


The role of learning topic is interesting for me and we develop this in a minute. However, it begs the question, to what extent should the physical environment relate to the subject of study?


I define place here as the situation created by the participants. Place, on a walk, is viable and contrasts with space as something that is passed through. The place is psychosocial, physical and digital, being unique in time reflecting a co-constructed situation and the ecologies of the participants.

Situated topics

As I put the walk together for last week, the topic suggested itself as well as answering the problem of how to get people from one university to the other. A direct walk from one university to the other would normally take me about half an hour, but the topic of crossing boundaries suggested we take longer to explore the civic connection in relation to the student experience. The theme further developed. It allowed us to consider,

  • how our buildings interface with the city;
  • how the university relates to the students union
  • how the university relates to the train station on our door step and the experience of the commuter student;
  • the learning identities and connectivities of different disciplines and how these are described by floors in some buildings; and
  • engaging with publics through exhibitions and open access spaces.

Previously my walks have also had a learning space theme and the connection is easy to make. But to what extent do learning walks have the potential to situate other disciplinary topics? Here are some initials thoughts expressed as a framework:

  • realistic – the space relates directly to the topic, e.g. an induction tour of a lab in which the use of apparatus is the focus of discussion;
  • authentic – the learner encounters ‘the world’ and their publics, e.g. the field trip in which the learner experiences their discipline and its practices;
  • metaphoric – landmarks are identified as metaphorical symbols to focus discussion, e.g. gateways, corridors, locks, stairs, different types of seating, all have metaphorical potential useful to frame many discussions;
  • co-constructed – the spatial meaning comes from the moment. The learning group addresses a problem as they walk and the physical nature of the space is not as important as what it makes (from memory through to specific plan).

Multiple spaces, singular places

One of the outcomes of the #twalk concept is the digital connectivity that makes clear that the value of the learning and the walking is the talking. The incorporation of the tweetchat makes clear that this idea of co-constructed psychosocial place is most important.


Areas that require further exploration in relation to this topic include nomadicism and the guiding role of the teacher. The teacher’s role to control and manage the learner and the learning environment warrants further exploration in relation to learning walks.

The Peripatetic School was a school of philosophy in Ancient Greece dating from around 335 BC when Aristotle began teaching in the Lyceum. (see Wikipedia article). Peripatetic means ‘of walking’ and alludes to Aristotle’s habit of lecturing and walking through the colonnades of the Lyceum.

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Stretch your legs #lssig #twalk #TwalkBoundaries


Join us for a Twalk tomorrow, Friday 28th July between 14:15 and 15:30 BST

If you joined us at the end of May on the #MELSIG #SIGCLANS Twalk you will undoubtedly want to join us again – wherever you are. You will already understand how we can take a walk together without needing to be in the same place or time zone. If you are not familiar with the idea of a Twalk we can do this by,

  • Using similar landmarks in our various locations;
  • Being in the same space on Twitter (#TwalkBoundaries);
  • Discussing the same topics using the same schedule with walking partners near and far.

All you need to do to take part:

  • Set aside just over an hour – we should meet at 14:15 British Summer Time (BST)
  • Say ‘hello’ on Twitter at #TwalkBoundaries – a group selfie is nice!
  • Set off at 14:30 BST and follow the map. Here’s the one we’ll be using in Sheffield (UK) as we walk across the city between our two universities: (the ‘map’ is a set of instructions, timings and discussion topics associated with generic landmarks – if we all follow the discussion topics and timings we can tweetchat our way through a pleasant hour’s walk.
  • At each stage (every 10 minutes) take a photo of where you are and tell everyone what you are discussing by using the twitter hashtag. This way we can connect globally (as we did last time) around the same questions and ideas.

Our theme is Crossing Boundaries

The aim of the walk is to think holistically about our students’ experience of learning space as they cross through formal-informal boundaries on campus and beyond. We’ll be thinking about civic connections and their relationship with their environs.

Get your own map

If you are taking a group out in your location, copy this map for the Sheffield walk and add your own local details. Keeps the discussion topics and timings the same:

How many people do you need?

One. Because you’re going to be connected to us. Last time we had several solo walkers, but mostly we had walking groups of between 5 and 30 in the various locations.

It’s a great chance to get out and do some fairly serious thinking, but in a relaxed and friendly situation. Great CPD – if it doesn’t rain!

Different time zones

Last time we had people from Australia and Canada. We set off at one o’clock UK time. That just about worked for our Canadian friends – a touch early perhaps. In Australia, the walk was done earlier, and photographs taken, and then posted later (quite late actually) to sync with the walk. As long as you use the same hashtag and sequence I am sure we’ll find you when we come to put our Storify accounts and blog posts together.

Keep moving

We have 6 questions or topics to discuss, so you’ll need to keep moving. Don’t stop at landmark points, just pause, tweet your thoughts from the last few minutes, grab a photo and reset your conversation for the next section of the walk.

Danger – note

Take care – you will be walking in public spaces across a city or a campus. You will be holding and using your smart phone or tablet to tweet. You will be caught up in conversation. You will be amongst street furniture, traffic and other users of mobile devices. They are a danger to you and you to them. It is recommended you walk in pairs and keep a look out for each other.

Further information and guidance

Go here for more on the Twalk:

What else is happening?

The walk is being organised as part of an event in Sheffield, UK. The event is a meeting of the Association for Learning Technology’s Learning Spaces Special Interest Group. It will use the hashtag #LSSIG.

Details of what else is happening can be found here:

I look forward to seeing you somewhere on Friday 28th July between 14:15 and 15:30 BST.

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Reflections on workshops given on Active Learning Classrooms #activelearning

These slides capture our reflections on Active Learning and Active Learning Classrooms following workshops presented at Nottingham Trent University, Sheffield Hallam University and University of Sheffield teaching and learning events.

If you are working in this area we would love to hear from you: @andrewmid #activelearning

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