Reflecting now on attending, presenting and networking at #OER16 I thought it would be helpful for me to capture one or two ideas. I hope these are useful to you too.
I went to OER because I had submitted a proposal with Kathrine Jensen titled ‘Finding the open in the in-between: changing culture and space in higher education’
We submitted this as a way to think through a strong sense of an ill-defined, but rich learning space, following up on several conversations we had had. We felt that committing ourselves to presenting would challenge us to connect and resolve our thinking. Those conversations were about ideas like liminality, third space, third place, interstiality for example. We pulled out the metaphor of borderlands following a really useful paper from Hill et al. (2015) who talk about how,
“In borderland spaces the traditional power hierarchies of higher education may be scrutinized and destabilized, enabling students to draw more freely from their own experiences and to work in partnership with each other and with faculty, prompting the construction of new identities (Giroux, 1992; Kazanjian, 2011)… Thus, borderland spaces are unprescribed and remain open to being shaped by the processes of learning experienced by their participants… Borderland spaces are permissive spaces, allowing genuine dialogue to take place and offering opportunities for co-inquiry and reflection between students and faculty (Lodge, 2005). Here, students can be empowered to participate in their learning so that they might actively shape both their learning experiences and those of succeeding cohorts.”
Terese Bird alerted me to the term ‘openish’ during the conference – a pragmatic way of thinking about OERs as I understand it. For her iTunes U is an example of ‘openish’ educational resources. The term seems to be a response to purist positions (which have their value). For me it celebrates ideas of uncertainty and ambiguity. Such ideas were very much in my mind as being very important to the ideas of ‘in-betweeness’ that Kathrine and I explored. Learning is defined by uncertainty (at least in my mind). Learning is not an objective or destination, it is an uncertain and brave commitment to the unknown made by an individual. One enters into the commitment unclear in order to develop a clarity (we may call it knowledge). Our notion of in-betweeness relates to various learning contexts, but it also applies to rethinking knowledge as perpetually emerging and unresolved. When did last enter into a period of learning with a sense of certainty? This ambiguity leads us to thinking about how learning is experienced and facilitated. For me, it is directly providing an important context for thinking about the design of learning spaces; for example, what we might or should mean when we talk about ‘the flexible classroom’ or ‘flexible learning’. In this context this is about designing a social construtionist space – now what does that actually look like?! In my mind one of the responses to that is that the relationship of formal and informal space changes, and in-between these dominant conceptualisations there exists this rich liminal space that is experienced differently by everyone nearly every time they encounter it. How or if this is rendered physically or digitally is a central to my thinking at the moment. An answer could be as simple as “make sure we have plenty of cafe-like casual, conversational spaces within reach of every classroom.” Then you might also map something onto this in relation to Oldenburg’s Third Place and accommodate ideas of habit, observation and contemplation (see the Wikipedia entry for the characteristics of Third Place). Such thinking respects the learner as being innately curious rather than innately devoid.
Kathrine sent me a link to this blog post about ‘Not Yetness’ from Amy Collier yesterday. In the post she makes the connection to ideas about ’emergence’ – this is extremely useful for me. It immediately helps me to understand ‘in-betweeness’ in terms of motivation and curiosity and not just in terms of ambiguous notions of learning between dominant binary spaces (e.g. knowing-not knowing; teaching-learning; formal delivery-informal self-direction, etc., etc.,). In thinking about ’emergence’ as a concept I have come across complexity theory and found Biesta & Osberg (2010) who say, for example,
“opening up’ is [not] necessarily good or educationally desirable or that ‘narrowing down’ is [not] necessarily bad or educationally undesirable. What is far more important is to acknowledge that in education both “opening up” and “narrowing down” involve the exertion of power and in this sense can be said to be political.”
This also echoes thoughts I have had about learning being the continuous process of convergence and divergence and criss-crossing ecologies. Amy Collier’s interest in not-yetness maps onto our own I think. So, there’s a whole new space to explore – albeit one that seems dimly lit and emergent at this stage of course. How can you disagree with this description of learning,
“not-yetness is the space that allows for emergence. Not-yetness is not satisfying every condition, not fully understanding something, not check-listing everything, not tidying everything, not trying to solve every problem… but creating space for emergence to take us to new and unpredictable places, to help us better understand the problems we are trying to solve”
Returning to the conference my highlights were, more than ever before, having conversations with people especially my co-presenter, but in the company of Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell. Catherine’s keynote set the conference off. It is not surprising she resounded with my own thinking about openness as I know she has been influential on my thinking already. Take this, for example, from her third slide and it is obvious that ideas of openness still have to be explored more deeply and beyond the relatively more superficial commitment to sharing our work:
Not concealing one’s thoughts or feelings
Not finally settled; still admitting of debate
Frances Bell kept returning in our conversations to the importance of being subversive and I took this to be a useful way of understanding openness as a critical learning. I used the word ‘responsibility’ on several occasions in relation to learning being about the co-construction of dynamic knowledge and also the scholarly responsibility of the learner to develop thinking about openness (or anything) for mutual benefit. So for me learning in the open became more clearly (but not precisely!) defined as being about action, autonomy and rhizomatic uncertainty.
Biesta, G. & Osberg, D. (2010). ‘Complexity, education and politics from the inside-out and the outside-in: An introduction’, in Deborah Osberg and Gert Biesta (Eds.),”Complexity Theory and the Politics of Education”, Sense Publishers.
Collier, A. (2015, 9th April). “Not-yetness”. The Red Pincussion blog. Available online at: http://redpincushion.us/blog/teaching-and-learning/not-yetness/
Hill, J., Thomas, G., Diaz, A. and Simm, D. (2015) Borderland spaces for learning partnership: Opportunities, benefits and challenges. Journal of Geography in Higher Education. ISSN 0309-8265