Studio for All – ecologically inclusive

I have met with a colleague today who comes from a studio-based discipline and is thinking through how she will engage her international students. Immediately I find two fascinating dimensions here – the studio as an inherently inclusive space i.e. one that is designed for student-led co-operation. Second, if we are talking about internationalisation, the need to explore its significance. For example, is our interest about,

  • international professional standards
  • internationalising the curriculum
  • inclusive curriculum
  • distance learning
  • student exchange and placement opportunities
  • collaborative provision
  • intercultural learning and experience

In this case I think we were talking about several aspects of internationalisation; however, we agreed that there is a danger of problematising the international student even where the ‘international dimension’ introduces specific experiential and practical matters. Instead, we noted that a more useful way of thinking about a learning space, in particular, the studio, is to adopt an ‘inclusivity for all’ outlook by adopting a learning ecologies philosophy. In this way, we appreciate that every student has their own history, present and future. and that a Studio for All philosophy is fundamentally inclusive. A studio space is one that is ideally co-operative and challenging, acknowledging that each student brings their experience and their aspirations to

While I have been thinking that a Studio for All philosophy is primarily interested in disciplinarity, the conversation this morning has made me aware that it needs to fundamentally consider inclusivity. This has led me to see an ideal studio space as being co-operative and challenging, one that acknowledges how each student brings their experience and their aspirations to the space and that, potentially, this brings benefits for all. Further, this reflects the social diversity they will experience in professional life beyond university.

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The future ain’t what it used to be – looking at key drivers for change in HE up to 2020 #uogapt

I was invited to be a panel member at the University of Greenwich’s APT 2017 conference in lieu of George Siemens who had been scheduled as keynote, but who was unable to make the journey over from Texas due to illness. Myself, Helen Beetham, Viv Rolfe and Liz Cable addressed the theme ‘The future ain’t what it used to be: inventing and re-imagining higher education practice’. That’s the sort of title I really like – whatever you say, tell us how things will be different.

And then we were joined by George Siemens, via Skype who became a ‘big brother’ figure to the panel, looming above us. Quite fitting.

George Siemens and the panel at APT

Thanks to Dom Pates for tweeting this picture

I prepared some notes prior to the panel and I have written these up to share here.

If I look ahead, reflecting on the first iteration of the TEF in part, but mostly looking at the student experience of learning at university, I believe we need to rethink and be clear about the changing purpose of a higher education. The drivers for this are the TEF, but more importantly, the driver of uncertainty around the future destinations for students and a graduate’s need for resilience and agility preoccupy me. Since the massification of higher education and the introduction of fees following the Dearing report (1997)  [see The Guardian’s 10 years on summary], the employability discourse has become omnipotent. While some academics may be scathing of this, I am not. However, I take a very broad view of what it means, noting the benefit from an employability focus for developing graduate aspirations and capabilities for lifelong and lifewide independent learning.

I would argue that the purpose of a higher education requires educators and students to pay much greater attention to:

  • the experience or learning,
  • developing our learning and lifelong identity,
  • developing learning habits, and
  • having the space to learn safely.

These foci affect student futures more than the epistemological knowledge around which we tend to design curricula, often superficially engaging students through the driver of assessment. We must look at how we challenge students through engaging pedagogies so that they become fluent in deeply interrogating knowledge and confident in interpreting and applying findings from their enquiry. In other words, excellent teaching is about developing excellent learning.

The name of the TEF suggests we need to value excellent teaching much more, but one of the lessons from the TEF (nb: the 10 lessons from the TEF from the Chair of the TEF panel is being updated at the time of posting) is that we need to understand and focus on student outcomesnot inputs such as teaching or ‘the content’ we give students.

That means, as academics, we need to understand what excellent learning means and how we can develop learning capability in our students. Learning capabilities, I argue, are not left to key skills developers, but fostered through the learning environments that academics construct pedagogically. Authentic learning and situated learning strategies allow us as academics to accommodate our students’ lifewide and lifelong learning needs, developing their expectations, so they develop the agility they now need through life.

However, generally, we are not set up to do this. At this conference, with its attention on technology, we can look to social media for learning for an example of the changing environment within university and life beyond.

Social media makes networked communality explicit. It empowers each one of us to ‘place make’. Social media gives us agency. When we use it wisely, we become responsible for ourselves and others. In a higher education learning space, we can develop our familiarity with networked living to become critical, digital placemakers. By developing good digital habits and ‘ways of being’ we become agile and responsible citizens, able to respond with confidence and authority to professional and personal opportunities and challenges.

However, this requires a step change – not just academic innovation around the edges. We need to develop student and academic expectations to create a shift from the relative safety of a knowledge and assessment paradigm to a capabilities paradigm in which knowledge is scrutinised by the learner through its critical application. If we can work out how to make this shift in our teaching and our infrastructure, we can begin to develop confident and agile graduates who are able to refresh their learning independently and socially throughout life.

This is partly about reframing employability to accommodate digital nomadicism through having good learning habits – employers want employees who can adapt, and graduates need to have a sense of their greater autonomy over their futures. Digital nomadicism suggests more of our students will be their own employers in the future (I am not sure if ‘self-employment’ will remain an adequate way of describing this as future life patterns and motivations are changing so much).

So, educators and students need to become much more engaged in the idea that a typical undergraduate experience is one that equips the graduate for uncertain futures by creating safe spaces within university to develop resilience and a student’s own sense of self.

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Studio for all #uogapt

I studied as an artist in a studio for five years. During this immersive experience in the 1990s I learnt about the role of the studio as a place and context for learning. Perhaps the strongest outcome of being an art student for me is best understood as that ‘way of being’ that the artist develops. Not the whimsical airs and affectations of the stereotype, but that way of seeing, thinking, experiencing the world and of valuing the aesthetic, and the meaning that comes from making through collaboration and co-operation. Donald Schön argued that studio-based learning can serve as a way for all students to learn to participate in the cultural practices of their discipline (Schön, 1985; 1987). The premise for my workshop last week at Greenwich was that studio-based disciplines produce creative students who excel in conceptual thinking. Furer, that studio ‘ways of learning’ can deliver immersive learning experiences for all. Conceptual knowledge and thinking, together with metacognitive self-knowledge, defines graduateness for me. I find it bizarre that often in higher education we tend to anchor our pedagogies to factual and procedural knowledge, seeing conceptual and metacognitive learning, not as a starting point, but as a desirable outcome enjoyed by the few. The studio inverts this, taking a need-to-know and just-in-time philosophy to technical matter. The studio does demand technical and epistemological fluency, but this comes through committing to and revealing our ontological fluency. First ‘we are’, then ‘we become’. On first look this is audacious, on second look it is focused and challenging.

The studio I used last week at #uogapt (Academic Practice & Technology Conference) was constructed by me and my participants through our collective commitment to using and exploring studio pedagogy. (It was really a classroom, but because we called it a studio it was a studio. ‘C’est n’est pas une pipe’!). What this means is ‘studio’ is much an attitudes as it is either a pedagogy or a space.

I knew that I needed to offer and explore these ideas about Studio for All with others because has been preoccupying me, while the 20 or so people who walked through the door to join me did so through their own volition, having their own reasons. That’s all a classroom cohort can know: we are here, and we each have good reason for being here. A learning space is not a learning space until it is shaped by the intentions and actions of the people using it. I immediately made this collective commitment real by involving everyone in moving four desks slightly to the right! It was a minor exertion, but a significant one. Find a way, any way, to get students to own the space! This action took less than 30 seconds, it involved strangers in introducing themselves, demonstrating their commitment to being there, and then co-operating in a trivial albeit important task. This allowed me to thank the participants and acknowledge their input before we had really started.

I was excited to be running a workshop on ‘Studio for All’ and had already had great fun with playing with the ideas by designing the session around the theme of Vorticism and hyperbole. I have conducted a literature review this year on studio-based learning and from this, I delighted in creating a manifesto in the spirit of Wyndham Lewis’ hyperbole – Blast! I felt the use of hyperbole would bring a note of eccentric humour to our experiment and allow people to ridicule (and thereby reconstruct) the spaces with which they are most familiar in their day-to-day practice.

The idea of a manifesto is the perfect device for hyperbole. It is positively unacademic. Therefore, its utter pretension establishes a safe space for critical exploration of the ideas it projects in an academic context – we have no need to respect it as anything other than a collection of superficial statements, each with some truthful essence, and therefore a fantastical stimulus for imaginative conversation.

The workshop involved participants selecting two ideas each from the manifesto (a collection of cards) and discussing the worth of their selections with peers. Each person or small group was then invited to create a work of art in a medium of their choosing to convey their idea of reconstructed learning space. At a mid-point I invited ‘espionage and collusion!’ – in reality, a tour of the studio to review the work in progress of other participants. Inspired by peers, during the last 20 minutes we mounted an exhibition and discussed the art works using a peer crit method: one minute for artist clarification and peer feedback.

In subsequent posts I will explore dimensions of the manifesto and beyond that the wider implications for adopting a Studio for All philosophy.

The workshop, involving participants from diverse discplines, demonstrated how the studio is a suitable and productive learning space for anyone. I congratulate the participants who were open minded and curious, willing to try out the unfamiliar communal space. Each person was successful, developing new dimensions to their own practice, evidence of which I hope to see at next year’s conference.

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Invitation to the Revolution! Subversion! Collusion! #uogapt #vortexspace


On Tuesday we will invent a new world inspired by Vorticists and Dynamism. We will explore ‘Studio for All!’ by deconstructing what we know about learning spaces and reconstructing a connected hybrid learning space. Wherever you are I invite you to use the hashtag #vortexspace to tell us or show us what an ideal learning space should be as we rethink spaces for learning. Images, poetry, ideas and hyperbole are needed!

My workshop at APT 2017 (#uogapt) will celebrate hyperbole! It will use subversion and collusion as pedagogies to open co-operative imagination.

Playing with ruination and destruction causes us to emotionally engage in a process of re-evaluating what is essential and what is obstructive. This is what Wyndham Lewis was doing when he published the Vorticist manifesto in the form of two issues of Blast! in 1914. It was this exclamation of frustration with the world that changed British Art and which contributed to a global shift that saw painting sitting in the boundary spaces of realism and abstraction.

In our workshop we will exclaim our frustration with tradition, and curse its limitations, to imagine a future learning space for all.

We will exclaim,

  • Ransack the Industrial Age edifices that have plagued our built pedagogy!
  • Delight in revealing the wonders of borderlands as we explore and cross boundaries!
  • Discover artists and admire their subversion!
  • Connect and form new global allegiances!
  • Construct a new REAL world of learning!
  • Think in and around the edges!

We will use our networks and I invite you to inspire us!




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Loud Quiet Loud #SHU_LT

I am having a quiet moment. My train just got cancelled and it’s an hour until the next one.

My initial commuter frustration has subsided. It’s been a long adrenalin-fueled day at our Learning & Teaching Conference (#SHU_LT), following a long day yesterday where I was presenting at Nottingham Trent’s TILT conference, and now I’m looking ahead to Tuesday where I am running a workshop at Greenwich #uogapt entitled “Visions of the revolution: how studio pedagogy reinvents the higher education learning space” which is exciting me. Later next week I am presenting at the University of Sheffield. All of these workshops are different and therefore each one presents a challenge I have given myself intentionally in order to explore ideas and hypothese I have about active learning and belonging in studio-based learning environments. The workshop format, interestingly, has become the only way I can reconcile my commitment to active learning and co-production in a conference context.

The knowledge outcomes in such settings are mostly self-knowledge. I always theoretically underpin my workshops, but I regard my job to be catalytic, creating a space for individuals and participants to generate knowledge and ideas that will hopefully haunt and inspire.

So, in my unexpected quiet moment, I am reflecting on the loud, loud day I have had chairing a large multi-participant forum and then my workshop on Active Learning Classrooms (featuring a long cast of co-presenters, but especially my colleague Ian Glover). We’ve been playing with whiteboards, talking about stand up learning, navigating concept maps, making lists and sorting lists, and ensuring everyone is talking, writing and drawing at the same time. Well I had fun (and perhaps the focus on revolutionary space for APT is begining to make sense)!

In the noise today, as we collected our thoughts in a final whiteboard activity, one of the workshoppers proposed that making quiet space is part of a good learning environment. Yes, there is something in that. For the loud, active and excited space to work we need to know that there is a quiet space that goes with it.

I will take that into next week’s revolution!

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Placemaking and digital kith #digciz

Who are your kith?

The idea of agency is implicit in the idea of kith: “a group of people living in the same area and forming a culture with a common language, customs, economy, etc., usually endogamous’ ( ‘Living’ and ‘forming’ clarify the roles we have as friends when being part of an association, whether a defined circle or community, or a set of connected and far-reaching nodes in a network. Endogamy indicates the closeness of the relationship, as in tribal affiliation, marriage and loyalty. And the digital seems to contradict this type of closeness due to the tenuous or momentary nature of the spaces it tends to create.

The idea of kith warrants some attention while thinking about students, communities, networks and place, especially in the context of the digital. This is, in part, the topic for the #digciz discussion happening this week. It also coincides with my thinking on digital placemaking and my involvement in presenting at the Civic Curriculum colloquium at the University of Leeds last Friday. I will touch on all of these in this post.

The value of discomfort in learning places

In educational development we tread a fine line between scholarship and sales, always searching for the benefits of an idea on academic practice and student learning while keeping our over-enthusiasm in check with reference to evaluations and research in the domain of pedagogic research. I notice in last week’s #LTHEchat a comment from @chrissinerantzi that ‘feeling uncomfortable is part of learning’ and this chimes with something I often say, ‘learning happens in the discomfort zone’. Other key ideas about learning of this less positive ilk are that ‘learning comes from failure’, and true learning is often hidden from sight. All such ideas remind us that learning is real and complex, being part of the learner’s placemaking story. They show learning to be a gritty endeavour requiring tenacity and enacted in the rich tapestry of life! Learning comes from dealing with challenging situations and this points to the need for us to consider friendship, networks, place and kith; phenomena that create a hardly visible environment supporting the richest learning experiences.

Community and network differentiation

I have commented somewhere this week that it is helpful to differentiate between communities and networks. I suggested one way of doing this is to understand community as a more bounded shared identity with common purpose, while networks are ecological and dynamic, and more closely related to student-centred thinking involving the individual as central node within a multi-dimensional context with short and long reach, and no bounds. The former is associated in particular with common purpose and collaboration, while the latter is more attuned to co-operation and the resilience and richness of weak ties. So while I believe my personal inclination, for example, is to be collaborative and at home in anything that calls itself a community, I think a co-operative and networked philosophy represents the way I see the world operating effectively.

The civic role of universities as places of learning

This brings me to citizenship and explains why, now that we can, we should explore the reach we have beyond the university to connect with others. In this ‘real’ (as opposed to artificial, abstracted, pure and academic) space we can, as learners, teachers and researchers, engage those who matter and who can bring our curriculum to life.

UCL’s Connected Learning Framework

I presented with my colleague Charmaine Myers on the work of our connected curriculum initiative the Venture Matrix in Leeds this week. Charmaine has led this initiative for nearly ten years and it was fascinating to see how well it exemplified the Dilly Fung’s Connected Learning framework from UCL (now written up here in this free to download book). Pretty much an exact fit. However, Charmaine and I presented on the challenge that our own success had created and found a reference point in the CL framework that will help us to articulate how we can grow the VM. The VM is about forming strong connections with organisations outside of the university (schools, business and third sector) and forming client-student relationships in the curriculum. Being a central unit, our challenge is how to take the essential methods, values and limited resources to extend the reach of the VM to the benefit all of our students at all levels. We are beginning to move from the power of will to devise more sustainable strategic measures, but this is an exciting challenge.

Civic nomadicism and multiple lives

A quick reference to Sheila McNeil’s post on #digciz titled Kith and nomads: a small thought on digital citizenship #digciz. She mentions having multiple presences online and even though she is referring to how she manages multiple identities, there is something about concurrency in the digital space that means not only can we inhabit multiple places, but we usually do these days. I use the words ‘place’ and ‘inhabit’ intentionally as they help to articulate the challenge we face/accept of having multiple belongings and becomings i.e. these identities reflect our multi-dimensional digital dynamism. No longer are we multi-tasking, we are multi-living with each existence having its integrity diverging and converging in ways that, by and large, don’t seem to discombobulate us.

Personally, I don’t see this as nomadicism unless we are expressly moving on to find new pastures for our lifewide grazing. It seems more as though we want to graze in, or inhabit, multi places and spaces concurrently while being free to find and lose places at will. Sheila also highlights the data her nomadic self leaves behind and mulls over the significance of these traces to herself and others.

This all makes me think about digital kith, presence and closeness. Perhaps digital kithness is more about valuing and immersing oneself in the moment, valuing it for what it is?

Digital kith

In the last few weeks my interests in connectivity, co-production and co-operation have directed my thinking about digital placemaking to the idea of learner agency. That is not to say learners must be autonomous and take responsibility for their own learning, but rather that students, by developing their sense of agency, can come to see their place as influential members of learning communities and legitimate agents within their networks. The community membership points to the need to set students authentic challenges from which they can exercise their social competence, developing social capital through defined collaborative activities. The latter idea of network agent suggests that the student must be given, find or create opportunities to be a co-operative member of society towards becoming agile at working alongside others through a networked mindset.

Neither of these philosophies is explicitly or generally featured in the design of curricula, by and large. However, I argue learner agency and community membership fit well with our interests in retention and student engagement. Exploring the idea of kith and ‘soft’ interdependencies as a dimension of learning place is an agenda that needs more attention in higher education.

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